Suriname: prison for ex-prez in 'December Murders'

The High Court of Justice of Suriname on Dec. 30 upheld a 20-year prison sentence for former President Dési Bouterse in connection with the murder of political opponents during his regime in the 1980s. Bouterse, who served as president from 2010 to 2020, initially rose to power as Suriname's de facto leader from 1980 to 1987 after launching a coup and establishing military rule. It was during this period that the murder of 15 prominent opposition figures took place. The "December Murders," carried out that month in 1982, included victims who were lawyers, journalists and military officials. They were tortured and executed without trial for their criticism of Bouterse's dictatorship, or for their involvement in an attempted counter-coup of March 1982. At the time, Bouterse claimed in a national broadcast that the victims—whom he called "detainees"—had been fatally shot while attempting to flee.

Bouterse was initially convicted in 2019 for his role in the murders, following the overturning of a law pushed through by members of Bouterse's political party to grant immunity to suspects in the December Murders. The amnesty law was protested within Suriname and internationally, with human rights organizations unanimously condemning its passage in 2012. The Netherlands, which exercised colonial rule over Suriname until 1975, immediately suspended 20 million euros in development aid to its former colony.

The amnesty law was eventually overturned by a court ruling. In November 2019, a Surinamese military court handed down a 20-year sentence to Bouterse for the murders. He appealed in January 2020 and remained free while awaiting the outcome of the case. The new decision taken by the High Court on brings an end to the lengthy legal battle.

Under Suriname law, Bouterse has the right to petition his successor, incumbent President Chan Santokhi, to seek clemency. It appears unlikely that a petition for clemency will be granted, however. In an interview with the Dutch television program Nieuwsuur following the decision, Santokhi insisted that it is inevitable that Bouterse will be imprisoned. "There is no other choice," he remarked. "The laws of the country must be followed."

Five other suspects have been sentenced in connection with the killings, with an additional two convicted, though they are believed to have fled Suriname. The Dutch embassy in Paramaribo has issued a warning about the possibility of unrest within the country following the ruling.

From Jurist, Dec. 22. Used with permission.

Former Suriname president fails to report to prison

Former Surinamese President Desi Bouterse failed to report on Jan. 12 to prison following his conviction for the 1982 "December murders." Bouterse’s whereabouts remain unknown. (Jurist)

US imposes entry ban on former Suriname president

The US Department of State decided on April 12 to prevent former President of Suriname Desi Bouterse and six former Surinamese military officials from entering the US because they were involved in the "extrajudicial killings of political opponents during the December Murders of 1982." (Jurist)