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Suriname must respect judicial independence over president’s trial, UN expert urges

GENEVA (15 August 2017) – The independence of the judiciary in Suriname must be guaranteed by the State, the United Nations human rights expert on the independence of judges and lawyers has said, amid concerns over a long-running murder case in which the country’s president stands accused.

Special Rapporteur Diego García-Sayán condemned the threats to judicial independence and the repeated delays which have dogged the case against President Desiré Delano Bouterse.

President Bouterse is among the defendants standing trial for allegedly murdering 15 political opponents in 1982 in a case known as the “December murders”.

“I am concerned that there have been repeated attempts to interfere with or delay the trial,” said Mr. García-Sayán, whose specialist mandate deals with judicial independence.

The trial process began in 2007 – 25years after the murders – with President Bouterse among the 25 defendants. 

But in 2012 the country’s parliament granted amnesty to all the accused after changing the law in order to do so. 

“It is the State’s duty to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary, by allowing judges to decide cases impartially, without any improper influence, pressure, threats or interference, by either the executive or the legislative branch.”

He added: “The independence of the judiciary, as enshrined in the Constitution of Suriname, as well as in several international human rights instruments, must be guaranteed by the State, particularly when dealing with serious human rights violations.”

The Military Court in charge of the trial later found the Amnesty law unconstitutional and ordered the proceedings to start again.

Mr. García-Sayán praised this decision, highlighting that amnesty measures could not be applied under international law unless States had met their obligations to investigate crimes and punish those responsible.

“A failure to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of human rights violations would be in breach of international law instruments,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“The absence of a fair and expeditious trial of the 1982 murders would also endanger the victims and their families’ right to truth, as well as the general fight against impunity in the region and globally,” he added.

President Bouterse has previously labelled the trial as a threat to national security. 

Mr. Diego García-Sayán (Peru) has been Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers since December 2016.  As Special Rapporteur, Mr. García-Sayán is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: Suriname

For more information and media requests, please contact Mr. Stefano Sensi (+41 22 917 9237 / ssensi@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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