Today, the ICJ has taken note of the 29 November 2019 conviction by the military and civilian chambers of a Court Martial (“the Court”) in Suriname of President Desiré Delano Bouterse and acquittal of others for crimes under international law relating to events that had taken place in December 1982 in Suriname.
The Court imposed a 20-year sentence of imprisonment on Bouterse, albeit it did not order an arrest warrant to be issued against him.
Bouterse and his co-accused faced charges of torture and murder — by means of extra-judicial executions – of 15 people – lawyers, journalists, soldiers, businessmen, academics and a trade union leader – who had been openly critical of the regime at the time, following a military coup led by Bouterse.
Bouterse, who remains the country’s President, was abroad when the Court delivered its verdict; he returned to Suriname two days later.
The ICJ is concerned at apparent efforts to circumvent the Court’s verdict. Since his conviction, Bouterse has made statements amounting to a deliberate undermining of the judicial process and rule of law, such as calling on the court to “come and get me”.
The ICJ further takes note that there is a possibility of appeal and calls on all parties to respect the rule of law and to allow the legal system to run its course, in accordance with international fair trial standards, without further delays, threats or other forms of executive interference.
Background to the 29 November 2019 verdict
The trial against Bouterse and his alleged accomplices began in 2007. On 19 July 2010, Desiré Delano Bouterse was elected President of Suriname, taking up office on 12 August 2010. On 4 April 2012, the country’s Parliament adopted an amendment to the 1989 Amnesty Law in existence at the time, which had the effect of granting an amnesty to President Bouterse and others in relation to any wrongdoing in connection with the December 1982 events. This led to a decision by the Court to suspend the trial of Bouterse and his co-accused indefinitely pending the establishment of the constitutionality or otherwise of the 1989 Amnesty Law. As the ICJ noted in its report of 29 May 2012, which followed an ICJ mission to the country to observe the trial, there were a number of unresolved questions regarding the legality of the 1989 Amnesty Law, including its incompatibility with Suriname’s international law obligations.
Since its initial mission in 2012, the ICJ has frequently expressed concern at the persistent delays in the proceedings. Eventually, in June 2016, the Court declared the 1989 Amnesty Law unconstitutional, and ordered the proceedings’ resumption; however, delays continued to beset the proceedings. On 2 August 2016, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed its deep concern about the then ongoing delays in the resumption of the trial. Eventually, by early 2017, the Court decided to have the charges put to the accused and ordered the prosecutor to read them out in court.
Persistent efforts by Bouterse to use his authority to have the trial declared a threat to national security or a danger to the country’s economic stability were unsuccessful, and the trial resumed, albeit with continued delays, prompting the ICJ to issue a further statement in May 2017 calling for the resumption of the trial without further delay.
Eventually, in June 2017, the public prosecutor issued his full list of charges against President Bouterse, accompanied by a request of a sentence of imprisonment of no less than 20 years on conviction, thereby moving to the trial phase proper of the proceedings.
Suriname-Bouterse case-news-press release-2019-DUT (PDF available in Dutch)NewsPress releases