Will impunity rule in Suriname?

We have an interesting situation in northern South America.

Desi Bouterse, the former dictator of Suriname, was elected president in fair and free elections and was sworn into office August 12. IFEX calls the election a “breathtaking case of impunity.”

Reporters Without Borders joined in:

We respect the will of the Surinamese people but we cannot forget that Bouterse continues to be charged with the murders of five journalists in 1982, while he was dictator. Even if legal proceedings are suspended for the duration of his presidency, it would be unacceptable it these murders were to go unpunished indefinitely.

Bouterse first came to power in a coup in 1980. He stayed in power until 1987 and again 1990-1991. During his iron-heel rule, Bouterse was accused of violating just about every tenant of human rights.

The journalists — Andre Kamperveen, owner and manager of Radio ABC, Frank Wijngaarde, a Radio ABC reporter, and three print media journalists, Leslie Rahman, Bram Behr and Jozef Slagveer — were among 15 pro-democracy advocates who were slain December 8, 1982 under the presumed authority of Bouterse at the Fort Zeelandia military barracks.

After the execution, soldiers torched the offices of broadcasters Radio ABC, Radio Radika and the daily newspaper De Vrije Stem. Under Bouterse only the state radio SRS and the daily De Ware Tijd newspaper were allowed to operate. Press freedom was dead under the Bouterse rule.

Following the murders, the United States and the Netherlands suspended economic and military cooperation with the Bouterse government.

In addition to his violations of human rights, a Dutch court sentenced Bourterse – in absentia — to 11 years in prison in 1999 on a charge of drug trafficking. He is still facing a 20-year prison term in Suriname if convicted of the 1982 massacre.

While Bouterse claims to have apologized to the families of the Fort Zeelandia victims and to have recognized his political responsibility for the massacre, he has never admitted to being directly involved in their deaths.

Elections were held in 1991 following a series of military run governments. Bourterse’s National Democratic Party, formed a coalition in the parliament in 1992 but was ousted when the coalition fell apart in 1996.

Legal proceedings against Bouterse and others accused of the 1982 executions started in Suriname in 2007. The trial began in July 2008 and continues.

So we now have to ask: Will the trial of Bouterse and those others charged with the execution of journalists continue under the Bouterse government?

Don’t hold your breath. While opposition party leader, Bouterse tried several times to get parliament to enact an amnesty law to cover the actions taken by the government and military during his dictatorship. And now he controls the parliament.


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