OEA/Ser.L/V/II.77 rev.1
doc. 7
17 May 1990
Original:  Spanish




The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has issued two special reports on the human rights situation in Suriname since the Constitutional Government in that country was toppled by a military coup in 1980.  In addition, the Commission has reported on human rights in Suriname in its various annual reports since 1983.  The Commission has also conducted four on-site visits to Suriname and one to neighboring French Guiana (to investigate the situation of Surinamese Maroons living there in forced exile) during this period.


So in 1987, with the adoption of a new Constitution, the celebration of national elections, the selection of a new Chief Executive and cabinet, civilians all, and their legal installation in early 1988, the Commission and indeed the people of Suriname, looked forward to a return to a constitutional democracy, social peace, and the withdrawal of the Surinamese Army from civilian governmental functions to their barracks.


Unfortunately, things have not gone according to plan.  In its 1988-89 annual report, the Commission published five resolutions on individual and collective cases–all involving violations of the right to life–in Suriname.  To date the Government of Suriname has not implemented any of the recommendations contained in those resolutions.


During the period covered by this report, contrary to the Commission’s findings in the previous two years, the incidence of alleged human rights violations, in particular, and violence, in general, have escalated notably in Suriname.


To understand these developments, it is important to place them in their historical context.  Starting in late 1986 and continuing into 1987, a Maroon guerrilla movement, known as the Jungle Commando, led by former Sgt. Ronnie Brunswijk, rose up against the Army headed by then military dictator, Lt. Col. Desi Bouterse.


Army repression was swift, harsh, and indiscriminate against the Maroon people.  (The Maroons, also known as Bush Negroes, are descendants of escaped African slaves.  They constitute about 10% of the national population).  As a result, thousands of Maroons and hundreds of Amerindians were uprooted from their homes.  Over 200 were killed including women and children.  Approximately 10,000 Maroons fled to French Guiana and an equal number moved to the capital, Paramaribo.  The resolutions referred to above dealt with some of these cases.


However, in 1988, a new democratically elected Government was installed and one of its first tasks was to negotiate an end to the fighting between the Army and the Maroons.  To that end, a tripartite agreement was drawn up among the Governments of France and Suriname and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide for the safe return of the Surinamese Maroons who had taken sanctuary in camps near St. Laurent, French Guiana.


In addition, the Government negotiated a peace agreement known as the Kourou Accords with the Jungle Commando.  This pact provided, among other things, that the Jungle Commando would serve as a police force in Maroon areas in eastern and south-central Suriname.


Before the Kourou Accords could be implemented, however, Army Chief, Lt. Col. Bouterse denounced them as “treason” and “unconstitutional.”  Since that time, the role of Lt. Col. Bouterse and the Army has grown to the point that the duly elected civilian authorities have, in reality, a secondary role in the peace process, supplanted in practical terms by the Army.  This began with a series of private, fact to face meetings between Lt. Col. Bouterse and Jungle Commando leader Ronnie Brunswijk, in which the two apparently achieved, for a period, a sort of modus vivendi.


Thus, early October 1989, the city of Moengo, the bauxite center of Suriname, was peacefully occupied by the Jungle Commando with the acquiescence of the Army.  Sometime thereafter, however, a group of Amerindians called Tucayama Amazons, allegedly organized and armed by Army, conducted a raid on the Jungle Commando forces in Moengo.  It has been reported that 20 persons died in the fighting.


The Commission has been informed that the Army has taken advantage of ancient grudges held by some Amerindians against the Maroons who were relative latecomers to lands originally occupied by the native Amerindians.  It appears that the Army has convinced some Amerindians that the Kourou Accords granted unfair advantages to the Maroons.


Since the initial attack, the Amerindians have divided into pro-Army and anti-Army camps with the former engaging in proxy fights with the national police on behalf of the Army, the historical rivals of the police.  They have also been involved with the arbitrary detentions and killings of other Amerindians who oppose the Army’s militarization of the Indians.


Evidence of complicity between the Army and the pro-Army faction of the Tucayana Indian leaders held a televised press conference in Lit. Col. Bouterse’s Paramaribo office.  The leaders publicly “declared war” on the national police force and threatened two journalists by name.  Although Lt. Col Bouterse denied having prior knowledge of this event, but did not disavow it.


Violence between pro- and anti-Army Indian groups was particularly intense during February of this year.  On February 5, 1990, the Army, in an attempt to protect its Indian allied, attacked the insurgents and reports reaching the Commission indicate that at least 14 Indians were killed.  In addition, a number of insurgent Indians were captured and held incommunicado.


A peculiar case reportedly occurred in the wake of these hostilities.  Eleven insurgent Indians fled to Guyana for safety but were subsequently delivered into the hands of the Surinamese Army by the Guyanese immigration authorities.  All were removed to Paramaribo where they were held in detention.  On or about February 19, 1990, four of prisoners were allegedly taken in a small plane to a place in western Suriname called Apoera where they were to provide testimony regarding their anti-Army insurgency.  They were transported by a pilot and an Army officer who later claimed to have been unarmed.  The officer and pilot claimed that suddenly some 30 masked unknown men appeared and took the four Indians away.  They have never been seen again.  The pilot and officer then flew back to the capital.  Since this occurrence, the Commission has opened a case on the matter (Case No. 10.520) and is awaiting the Government’s explanation of what actually transpired.  In the meantime, the wives of the 11 Indians have conducted a sit down strike in Paramaribo in front of the National Palace demanding an accounting of the situation of their spouses.


Besides these events, which by and large, took place in the countryside, a number of disturbing incidents have occurred in Paramaribo.


On December 6 at 3:00 a.m., an unidentified person fired seven shots at the home of Stanley Rensch.  Mr. Rensch is the leading human rights advocate in Suriname.  The next day, Mr. Rensch fled for his life to Holland where he lives at this time.


In addition, other human rights activists have been threatened in recent months. 


There have been other instances of urban violence in Suriname a country with a traditionally low crime rate.


Thus, in December of 1989, a “drive by” shooting took place in downtown Paramaribo.  One policeman was killed and two others were wounded.  No one was charged with the crime.


On December 8, 1989, unknown men set fire to the Court House in downtown Paramaribo.  It burned to the ground.  No one has been brought to justice.


On December 30, 1989, a hand grenade was thrown through the window of Finance Minister Munzur’s home, destroying much property.  No one has been brought to justice.


In January 1990, the wife of a policeman was killed in a “drive by” shooting.


On March 26, 1990, two body guards of Ronnie Brunswijk were arrested while watching television in Paramaribo.  The body guards Steward Deel and John Apai (a.k.a. Doltge) were taken out and alleged summarily executed by the heads of the Military Police, Lt. Rupert Christopher and Lt. Melvin Linscheer.  At the same time Brunswijk was detained, held for two days and released.


More recently, Lt. Nelom, indicted three times for the alleged murder of Humphrey Wanabo in 1988, had his case dismissed on technical grounds by the Court in April of this year.


Moreover, there have been reports of police brutality (not torture), interference with the mail, strip searches of travelers by military police at the airport, and limits on travel to the interior.


The picture which emerges leads to two general conclusions.  First, the duly elected civilian authorities have no real control of the military situation in Suriname.  Second, the Army is the de-facto power in the country.  It acts with impunity, violating human rights of citizens, be they policemen, civilian leaders, bush Negroes or Amerindians, when it considers it to be expedient.  Of great concern is that it has used the already sensitive relations that exist among and between different racial groups in this ethnically diverse country to advance its own ends, namely the maintenance of its virtual monopoly on power.  One of the most serious consequences of the ethnic-Army violence has been the lack of food and medicines reaching the interior of the country, from which alarming reports of hunger and sickness have been forthcoming.


Despite the fact that the Army has resorted to excessive force and violated Humanitarian Law in internal conflicts, a number of human rights contained in the American Convention on Human Rights are paradoxically respected in Suriname.  So for instance, freedoms of religion, assembly, and expression are generally practiced.  Of importance is a bill recently passed by the National Assembly but as yet not signed into law by President Shankar which would strip the military police of Suriname of arrest powers of ordinary citizens.  The Commission believes that the enactment of this law would represent a significant advance in the respect for human rights in that country.


The promulgation as law of this bill would constitute a first step toward the establishment of a true democracy in the sense that the military must be subservient t the elected civilian authorities.  In addition, it is imperative that the legal authorities in the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General’s office and the civilian police force take appropriate actions to investigate and prosecute crimes, which constitute human rights violations.  Unless and until the constitutional authorities of Suriname can and will exercise real police powers for purposes of assuring public safety, democracy in Suriname will not be effective.



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