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Suriname: UN experts welcome landmark ruling against former President Desiré Bouterse, urge implementation

15 January 2024

GENEVA (15 January 2024) – UN experts* welcomed the recent decision by Suriname’s highest court, the Hof van Justitie, to uphold the 20-year prison sentence of former President Desiré Delano Bouterse for the torture and extrajudicial execution of 15 political opponents in 1982.

“The verdict demonstrates that there is no statute of limitations, special immunities for heads of State, or amnesties for serious human rights violations for crimes under international law, including enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings,” the experts said. “Despite the lapse of 41 years since the crime occurred, justice has finally been served to the victims.”

Bouterse and his co-accused were charged with the torture and extrajudicial execution of 15 prominent lawyers, journalists, soldiers, businessmen, academics and a trade union leader who were openly critical of the regime that brought him to power in a military coup in 1980. The victims were arbitrarily arrested, tortured and summarily executed. The executions were analysed in a 1984 visit and report by Amos Wako, the first UN Special Rapporteur on Summary or Arbitrary Executions, as the mandate was then known. Bouterse remained in power until 1987 and later served as President of Suriname from 2010 to 2020.

“The highest court that recently upheld the verdict and the Court that convicted a sitting President in November 2019 must be commended for their independence and courage,” the experts said.

In 2012, the country’s Parliament adopted an amendment to the 1989 Amnesty Law, which had the effect of granting President Bouterse and others amnesty for the 1982 crimes, leading to the suspension of the trial.

The amendment to the Amnesty Law was ruled unconstitutional and a Court in 2019 convicted then President Bouterse and sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment. On 20 December 2023, the verdict of the highest court in Suriname upheld this conviction. Despite an arrest warrant issued on 10 January, former President Bouterse has failed to turn himself in.

“Torture, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial executions are crimes under international law,” the experts said.

They stressed that investigations and prosecutions of such crimes should be conducted in accordance with relevant international standards and must aim to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice, to promote accountability and to prevent impunity, referring in particular to the Istanbul Protocol on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death. “The obligation to investigate and hold accountable perpetrators includes enforced disappearances,” they said.

“The highest court’s ruling is a tribute to the strength of rule of law in Suriname and the remarkable perseverance and tenacity of the victims’ families,” the experts said.

They noted that Suriname had set an example of accountability for serious human rights violations, irrespective of a defendant's status and the time elapsed since the crimes, which, due to their gravity, are not subject to any statute of limitations.

“The landmark decision must now be implemented without further delay and any convicted individual absconding should be immediately arrested,” the experts said.


* The experts:  Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers ; Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Angkhana Neelapaijit, Grażyna Baranowska, Ana Lorena Delgadillo Pérez, Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances; Fabián SalvioliSpecial Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence

Special Rapporteurs are 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.

For additional information and media requests please contact the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Gihan Indraguptha ([email protected]) or [email protected].

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) and Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts

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