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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers Suriname

11 August 2015

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined thirteenth to fifteenth reports of Suriname on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Introducing the report, Henry Mac Donald, Permanent Representative of Suriname to the United Nations in New York, said that since 2010, Suriname had adopted crucial legislation relating to guaranteed minimum wage, health coverage for every citizen, and a pension for the elderly, while basic health care was provided free of charge. The Government was faced with the challenge of bringing the full spectrum of services to all corners of the territory, because of remoteness of some places and a lack of financial and human resources, but there was no discrimination in access education, health and social services based on race or ethnic origin. Consultations with indigenous peoples and Maroons were ongoing on land rights issues, the use of resources, development planning, and potential relocation in areas that were traditionally inhabited by indigenous and tribal communities. At the same time, Suriname was developing a model that would reflect the principle of free, prior and informed consent in a clear manner, within the existing traditional structures.

In an interactive discussion Committee Experts noted that indigenous peoples and the Maroons made up some 25 per cent of Suriname’s population and expressed concern with the lack of recognition of the collective rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, contrary to the judgement rendered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Legal provisions were coercive and exclusionary, allowing the Government to declare 45 per cent of the indigenous territories as natural reserves, thus putting in question the survival of indigenous people who relied on forests for subsistence. The delegation was asked to explain what hampered the progress in the legal recognition of indigenous rights, and to comment on the ongoing debates in the country concerning better respect of the rights of indigenous people in relation to distribution of benefits from exploitation of natural resources. Experts enquired about policies to support the multitude of languages spoken in the country, and the efforts to ensure bilingual education and the use of minority languages, particularly at primary level.

In concluding remarks, Alexei Avtonomov, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for Suriname, said that the concluding observations would predominantly deal with the recognition of indigenous and tribal people and their land rights, integration of migrants and refugees, and language policy.

Mr. Mac Donald said that the dialogue with the Committee was a learning experience and that many of the questions asked, including on language, culture, and tribal communities, would help the country to better itself.

The delegation of Suriname included representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Police and of the Permanent Mission of Suriname to the United Nations in New York.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. today when it will begin its review of the combined eighth to tenth periodic report of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (CERD/C/MKD/8-10). The country reviews can be watched via live webcast at http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.

Report

The combined thirteenth to fifteenth reports of Suriname can be read here: CERD/C/SUR/13-15

Presentation of the report

HENRY MAC DONALD, Permanent Representative of Suriname to the United Nations in New York, introduced the report and said that Suriname was known as a nation with around half a million people with a bouquet of at least seven different ethnic-cultural traditions, consisting of Hindustani (27 per cent), Creoles (15 per cent), Javanese (13 per cent), Maroons (21 per cent), Chinese (7 per cent), Indigenous peoples (20 per cent), Afro-Surinamese (0.7 per cent), Mixed Race (13 per cent), Caucasians (0.3 per cent), and the rest (1.9 per cent). Since 1989 the Inter-Religious Council had been the venue for consultation and dialogue between the main religions; it was composed of the principal representatives of the main religions practiced in the country, which had been instrumental in bringing solutions to major national political impasse.

Since 2010, Suriname had adopted crucial legislation relating to guaranteed minimum wage, health coverage for every citizen, and a pension for the elderly, and basic health care in the interior was provided free of charge the Medical Mission Suriname. Indigenous and tribal peoples had been elected to the Parliament and the local levels of Government, and 15 out of 51 representatives in the National Assembly were of indigenous or tribal descent. While the Government was faced with challenges to bring the full spectrum of services to all corners of the territory, because of remoteness of some places coupled with a lack of financial and human resources, all necessary measures were taken to ensure that everyone had access to education, healthcare and social services; there was no discrimination based on race or ethnic origin when it came to access to services, in particular education, health and social services. Draft legislation establishing the Constitutional Court had been submitted to the Parliament, which had appointed a commission to conduct consultations on the matter.

A State Decree had been issued in the last quarter of 2014 concerning the establishment of a National Human Rights Institute and the mandate, structure, recruitment and selection and hiring process were currently being prepared; the Institute would guarantee transparency and would be independent. The Government would continue to consult with indigenous and tribal peoples on the land rights issue, in partnership with indigenous people and Marrons, to ensure that the solution to land rights issues would preserve the unity of the nation. The Government had practically already acknowledged traditional authority and draft legislation would only mean formalization of this important relationship.

The Government consulted regularly with indigenous and tribal peoples with regards to the use of resources, development planning and potential relocation in areas that were traditionally inhabited by indigenous and tribal communities. Given the many aspects that were yet to be dealt with regarding the guaranteeing of collective land rights to indigenous and tribal communities, the improvement of consultation mechanisms was of great importance and the Government was in the process of developing a model that would reflect the principle of free, prior and informed consent in a clear manner, within the existing traditional structures. With regards to the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, Suriname recognized legal personality to organizations and not to an ethnic group of people; the only way to create legal personality was for the indigenous people to organize into an association with legal personality.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Expert acting as a Country Rapporteur, said that indigenous people comprised 3.8 per cent of the population and wondered about policies in place to support the multitude of languages spoken by the population, and what support was in place to ensure writing for the oral languages in an effort to preserve them. What efforts were in place to increase school enrolment in the interior and also to ensure bilingual education?

The Country Rapporteur asked the delegation to explain the methodology applied to the preparation of the report and expressed concern about the lack of recognition of the collective rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, stressing that indigenous and tribal rights were not a challenge to development. Could the delegation explain the position of Suriname on the issue and clarify the opinion concerning the jurisdiction of this Committee concerning individual communications?

Mr. Avtonomov welcomed the decision to amend the 1974 Law on Nationality and Residence to ensure gender equality in the transmission of the nationality and asked about the situation of migrants and foreigners in the country. The absence of national asylum and refugee legislation compatible with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol prevented the equal treatment of refugees and migrants present in the territory of Suriname was also raised.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In a series of questions Committee Experts expressed concern about the treatment meted out to indigenous people and the Maroons, noting that indigenous people had been living in their territories for thousands of years and had therefore acquired certain rights. There was a serious weakness in the manner in which Suriname addressed indigenous issues and it did not really recognize indigenous people, contrary to the judgement rendered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Maroons were of African descent and their particular problems should be addressed too. Legal provisions in place were coercive and exclusionary and Suriname had taken about 45 per cent of the indigenous territories for natural reserves, which put in question the survival of indigenous people who relied on forests for subsistence.

Another Expert noted that the 1992 Constitutional reform had left some loopholes with regards to collective rights of ethnic groups in Suriname and ethnic diversity was not sufficiently respected. The delegation was asked to explain what hampered the progress in the legal recognition of indigenous rights, and to comment on the ongoing debates in the country concerning better respect of the rights of indigenous people when it came to distribution of benefits from exploitation of natural resources.

The lack of reliable statistics was an obstacle to understanding the true situation in Suriname and it was a tool for a State without which it could not properly function; it was the State which needed to put in the necessary resources to obtain the reliable data. Separation of power was an issue of concern and an Expert asked how was it that the legislative power could be working on a law together with the Government which was the executive? The Constitutional Court had not yet been established which put in question the constitutionality of the law applied was in question; there was also concern over predictability of the law in the country.

Indigenous people and the Maroons made up more than a quarter of the country’s population, and yet their rights as defined by the International Labour Organization Convention 169 were not respected. Could the delegation explain the difference between indigenous and tribal people and the laws that governed their rights, particularly in relation to land? All countries in the region recognized land rights of indigenous minorities, and it was not feasible to ignore their right to consultation and the search for solutions to the problems. Indigenous populations must be recognized as right-holders. It could not be said that there was no racial discrimination in the country; maybe the State did not have discriminatory policies in place, but the racial discrimination did exist.

Experts asked the delegation to explain the ethnic make-up of the population and what the recognition of “indigenous” meant, and the lack of progress on the legal recognition of indigenous rights; to comment on the lack of compliance with judgements rendered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the explicit rejection of its Universal Periodic Review recommendation concerning the recognition of rights of indigenous and tribal peoples; and about the lack of measures to address cast-based discrimination among the Hindu communities, which Suriname regarded as cultural practices.

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the recognition of Suriname as a multicultural and multi-ethnic society, and the multitude of official languages in the country, and asked about access to health services of indigenous people in particular those suffering health problems due to mercury contamination caused by mining operations.

Response by the delegation

HENRY MAC DONALD, Permanent Representative of Suriname to the United Nations in New York, thanked the Experts for their questions and comments and said that everyone who went to school spoke Dutch and that the population also spoke Sranan which was Suriname’s lingua franca.

Responding to the questions and comments made by the Committee Experts, the delegation said that it would be possible to eradicate poverty only if gender and violence against women were properly addressed. In Suriname, women enjoyed equal access to education and as a result of the recent election, the representation of women in the Parliament had been increased from five to 13 of 51 representatives.

Concerning the lack of reliable statistics and data, the delegation acknowledged the importance of data for policy making and said that Suriname was strengthening its capacity in this regard, and was advocating within the United Nations for the technical assistance and capacity building in this regard for developing nations.

The official State Decree had been issued in 2014 for the establishment of the National Human Rights Institute, which enjoyed firm commitment of the Government. The draft legislation and the Parliamentary Commission were now in place for the establishment of the Constitutional Court, which was an evidence of the Government moving from words into concrete actions.

Suriname did not make a distinction between indigenous and tribal peoples, as they shared many characteristics in terms of their way of life, and the Government traditionally considered them as one group. There was no overlap between territories of indigenous and tribal people, they lived in separate parts of the country.
The draft legislation considered dignitaries of indigenous and tribal peoples as traditional authority. In the consultations on land rights, indigenous and tribal peoples were considered as partners and not opponents, and it was a dialogue between equals in the search for solution; the Government was now developing a model for free prior consultations.

The three nature reserves had been created on the basis of the legislation with the aim of preserving endangered animals and habitats; indigenous and tribal peoples retained the right to traditional way of life in the reserves. The Government was very concerned about mercury pollution as result of mining activities and was teaching small-scale minors how to use alternatives to mercury.

The official language of instruction and curriculum was Dutch, and the lack of trained teachers throughout the country, not only in the interior, was a challenge in providing bilingual education. Indigenous languages were oral, while all the population of Suriname spoke the lingua franca for which a dictionary had been recently issued.

Free basic health care was available to children up to the age of 16 years and to persons over 60 years of age; the rest of the population had to pay through medical insurance provided by their companies.

The legal regime in Suriname recognized the supremacy of legally binding international instruments over domestic legislation. The President and Vice-President were elected and discharged by a two-third majority of Members of the Parliament; if the Parliament was unable to reach that decision after two sittings, it would then be made by the United Peoples Assembly which consisted of all Members of the Parliament and all representatives of district and local authorities.

The official language in Suriname was Dutch, and in order to ease the transition to official language learning, children in Kindergarten and first years of primary school received instruction in their own languages.

Questions by the Committee Experts

A Committee Expert noted the need to update the common core document which was now obsolete considering that it had been presented in 1998, and expressed concern that the State Party’s report had not taken into account the Committee’s concluding observations. Suriname should address the need to ratify the International Labour Organization Convention 169, considering that it was already implementing certain parts of it. The Expert asked whether tribal and indigenous dignitaries were a part of traditional structure, or were created upon the request of the colonial power, and whether they were accepted as the authority by the population.

ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Vice-Chairperson and the Country Rapporteur, said that it was important for the Committee to have the information on indigenous peoples and Maroons, but the mandate of the Committee was to combat discrimination against all ethnic groups and therefore it was important to receive information about the situation of other ethnic groups in Suriname. Lack of complaints by an ethnic group did not mean that they did not experience discrimination. Such was the case of caste based system of the Hindustani, or the treatment of Haitians who suffered discrimination in practice if not in policy and law.

Responses by the Delegation

Asians were well regarded in Suriname and had the reputation of being hard workers. The statistics on regular and irregular migrants was not available, but the number of stateless persons would be included in the next report. Suriname agreed on the need to speed up the dialogue with its neighbours concerning border crossings. An updated version of the common core document was available and would be soon submitted to the Committee, the delegation said.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In further series of questions and comments, Committee Experts asked whether all tribal people in Suriname were indigenous, whether indigenous people belonged to tribes, and about terminology used by the colonial power with regards to indigenous people. What Suriname called “recognition” of indigenous people fell well short of the requirements of the Convention, said another Expert and asked what action would be taken to ensure full recognition of indigenous and tribal peoples and other persons protected by the Convention, from laws, legal amendments to special measures. What measures were being taken to ensure that minority languages were being used in school, particularly at primary level, they also asked.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that only Amero-Indians were considered as indigenous people, while Maroons were considered tribal people composed of six tribes speaking six different languages, and said that there should be greater balance in the issue of natural resources.

The Creole language in Suriname was the lingua franca created during the colonial times and contained elements of Dutch, English, Portuguese and some African languages which had been created to speed up the communication between slave masters and slaves. As far as indigenous languages were concerned, it was important to say that most teachers were indigenous persons themselves and spoke to young children in indigenous languages.

Suriname had recently adopted the United Nations Decade of People of African Descent and played an active role within the Caribbean Community on the subject. There was no definition of “race” in the domestic law; having ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, it was necessary to amend the legislation and include a clear definition of race therein.

A delegate agreed that rejecting a recommendation made during its Universal Periodic Review was not a positive sign, but said it remained an option for a State undergoing the process. The rejection did not mean that the Government was not committed to a resolution of the recognition of indigenous people and their land rights, but at the moment it was unable to accept that recommendation on the matter.

Answering a number of questions concerning population and languages, the delegation said that Afro-Surinamese were a very small group, some 4,000 people, who did not identify themselves as Maroons, and who mostly believed in Winti culture of worship of ancestors. Some Afro-descendants maintained their language to a degree that they were able to communicate with people in the African continent. The six original Amero-Indian tribes, such as the Awaraks and the Caribs, were still present in the country.

Concluding Remarks

ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Vice-Chairperson and the Country Rapporteur, welcomed the constructive style of the dialogue and said that the Committee’s concluding observations would predominantly deal with the recognition of indigenous and tribal people and their land rights. Other issues of concern that would be raised in the observations would include the integration of migrants and refugees, and the language policy.

HENRY MAC DONALD, Permanent Representative of Suriname to the United Nations in New York, said that the dialogue with the Committee was a learning experience and that many of the questions the Committee Experts asked, including those concerning language, culture, and tribal communities, would help Suriname to better itself.

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