If the governing Mega Combination in Suriname has its way in Parliament, it would quickly grant amnesty to current President Desi Bouterse and more than 20 former soldiers and civilians implicated in the December 1982 mass murders of 15 government critics at an old Dutch fort next to the presidential secretariat in the country’s capital.
However, there is every indication that political and civil society groups intend to oppose any forgiveness of this type.
A motion to have the 51-seat Assembly move in this direction was introduced in recent weeks just as the four-year murder trial of the former army strongman-turned-elected president and others nears an end.
In the past week, at least one witness and close former Bouterse ally directly pointed the finger at the head of state, placing him at the scene of the executions that came at the height of local resistance to the February 1980 coup that had toppled the elected Henck Arron administration.
The proposed period for amnesty encompassed the coup when then-Sgt. Bouterse and a group of military officers and subordinates overthrew the government at the end of weeks of squabbling over the demands by soldiers to be represented by a labor union, among other disputes.
Such a demand is unheard of in neighboring Caribbean Community member states, of which Suriname has since become a member.
Any amnesty approved by Parliament will also cover the executions at the fort. The Assembly is less than 200 yards from the fort.
But while various civil society groups, individual critics and opposition figures have voiced their opposition to the proposal that would allow coup makers and the 1982 protagonists to walk free, others, like former army officer Edgar Ritfeld, who, like Bouterse, is on trial for the executions, wants “to be freed by the court rather than be let go by an amnesty” because he said he is innocent of murder charges.
The move to get parliamentary pardons for the nearly 25 mostly ex-soldiers has come as the trial appears to be nearing an end and as some witnesses have directly fingered Bouterse for being at the scene and even giving orders to execute some of the journalists, clergymen, labor leaders and academics who died on Dec. 7-8, 1982. Bouterse has always denied giving any such orders but has said that as the then-boss, he has to accept “collective responsibility” for those events.
If February 1980 and December 1982 are not important enough dates in local history, the country’s main advocate lobby, the Moiwana Human Rights Organization of Suriname, says it is “surprised and disappointed” that any Assembly forgiveness could include the 1986 slaughter of Moiwana Maroon Village by soldiers chasing anti-government rebels operating from across the river in neighboring French Guiana.
More than 50 elderly men, women and children were killed because of the perception that they were assisting rebels who were led, ironically, by current Bouterse ally and Mega Combination legislator Ronnie Brunswijk.
The main opposition party, the New Front Coalition of former President Ronald Venetiaan, also says it plans to oppose the amnesty proposal.
“Let it be clear that I am absolutely against the granting of amnesties for serious human rights violations,” said New Front spokeswoman and veteran parliamentarian Ruth Wijdenbosch, noting that “laws are the same between politicians and the man or woman of the streets.”
Both the party and the Moiwana Human Rights Organization argue that now that the trial verdict is approaching after the last set of witnesses definitively fingered Bouterse and other key players now in government, a play is being made to wipe away all sins, which they totally disagree with.
The result is that everyone now awaits the ruling of the court. Tensions were heightened in Paramaribo last week when the court visited the fort to get a better sense of what went on during that morbid 24-hour period more than 30 years ago.