He has been a significant if not controversial part of Suriname’s political landscape for more than 40 years, but it seems that the end is near for former military strongman, turned elected President Dési Bouterse, as a local court is preparing to reaffirm a 20-year mass-murder sentence it had initially imposed back in late 2019.
On Aug. 30, one of the Dutch-speaking Caribbean Community nation’s highest courts will likely re-impose the 20-year jail term it had ordered against Bouterse for the executions of 15 government opponents back in December 1982. Group members which had included four journalists, labor leaders, academics and clergymen, were shot at point blank range by soldiers, allegedly on the orders of Bouterse, who just two years earlier had overthrown the elected civilian government in a row over multiple issues including a very strange and unusual demand for a labor union for soldiers.
Bouterse, 75, and currently under doctor’s orders to rest because of illness, has persistently denied any involvement but said that he does take collective responsibility because he was the head of government at the time. Bouterse and other high ranking government officials had accused the group of colluding with The Netherlands and other western nations to reverse the February 1980 coup. This is part of the reason they were shot.
His trial, along with other ex-soldiers and officials, came to an end with him addressing the court for the first time last Friday. As promised, he used the opportunity to attack The Netherlands, the country’s former colonizer, accusing The Hague of using every trick in its armor to reverse the 1980 coup, stirring up and financing a seven-year bush war that killed more than 500 people and helping to ruin the economy during the seven full years of military rule.
His legal team has already threatened to appeal the sentence if the court reaffirms or increases the sentence, while prosecutors have already indicated they would do the same if he is miraculously freed, pardoned or put on probation by the panel of judges, meaning that a final outcome could be delayed for another two to three years. By then a clearly weakened and ailing former military strongman, would be close to 80 if he is still alive.
“Whatever the final verdict of this legal process may be, history will acquit me of all blame for the sad, traumatic event of Dec. 8, 1982,” Bouterse told the court as groups supporting surviving relatives and loved ones, keep up the pressure on the court to jail him once and for all. After the hearing, Bouterse did appear to suggest that he is uncertain what will happen after the verdict, fueling speculation that he was threatening the state once again. His National Democratic Party (NDP) which had won two consecutive five year terms, dropped to 16 seats from 26 as it lost power to a Hindustani-led coalition a year ago. It is expected to decline in influence and parliamentary seats in the coming years if he is off the political scene.
Meanwhile, the former president’s political and judicial woes have worsened even further as the constitutional court has ruled that a 2012 parliamentary amnesty that had given him and others immunity from prosecution is illegal, invalid and of no effect, as it clears the way for his month end sentencing.
“It is settled case-law of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that if amnesties conflict with the American Convention on Human Rights, this amnesty will be declared null and void. Suriname has the jurisdiction of the aforementioned Court recognized on Nov. 12, 1987 and is bound by its rulings. The court is therefore of the opinion that the aforementioned law is contrary to Articles 8, 10, 14 and 131 paragraph 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of Suriname. That the aforementioned law is contrary to Articles 2 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and that the aforementioned law is contrary to Articles 1, 8 and 25 of the American Convention on Human Rights,” said the judges.
Bouterse was also around when soldiers telephoned the then elected government on Christmas Eve in 1990 and told them to go home in what is widely known in Suriname as the famous telephone coup.