Suriname: ICJ resumes trial monitoring of former President Desi Bouterse

On Friday, 30 October 2020, the Military Court of Suriname (“Krijgsraad”) is expected to resume the appeal process against Suriname’s former president Desi Bouterse. The ICJ will maintain its longstanding monitoring of this trial, which began in 2012.

As of 2020, the trial monitoring exercise will be led by Godfrey Smith SC who is a Senior Counsel, former Attorney General of Belize, and a former High Court judge and acting Justice of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

The Court has announced that the general public will not be permitted to attend the hearing due to the COVID-19 measures.

While Suriname has a general obligation to ensure that trials are public, some restriction on public attendance of a trial maybe appropriate and even necessary to protect public health.

However, the authorities retain a duty to make accommodation for public access to the proceedings, for example by making the proceedings available through video transmission.  In this respect, it is critical that efforts be made to ensure transparency, both in the process and in the outcome of the hearing.

Background to the 2020 Hearing

Desi Bouterse was sentenced on 29 November 2019 to 20 years in prison while he was still president of the country. He was found guilty of planning and ordering the murder of 15 political prisoners on 8 December 1982 at the military barracks of Fort Zeelandia. No arrest warrant has ever been issued in relation to either the charge, the conviction or the sentence.

The appeals process started on 22 January 2020. However, after one of the judges fell ill, the case was postponed to 31 March 2020. The merits of the case have not yet been heard.

As with many pending matters in Suriname, the trial was postponed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ICJ maintains that the judicial process should run its course with due impartiality, independence and fairness to all parties concerned, and insists that the principles of the rule of law be respected by all.

The ICJ reminds the authorities of the State’s obligation to ensure a fair trial by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal as guaranteed under article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Suriname is a party.  It also recalls the obligation to ensure accountability for gross human rights violations, including the extrajudicial killings of which Desi Bouterse is accused.


Godfrey Smith SC, ICJ monitor of the trial of former President Bouterse, t: 501-610-3114, e: godfrey(a)