REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
Beginning in 1983 the Commission has conducted three on-site investigations in Suriname and based on these it has prepared two special reports on the human rights situation in that country. The first on-site investigation was carried out from 20-24 June, 1983 and resulted in the “Report of the Human Rights Situation in Suriname” dated October 5, 1983. That report concluded that high Government authorities were responsible for the deaths of 15 prominent Surinamese citizens.
Following a second on-site visit conducted from 12-17 January, 1985, the Commission approved its “Second Report on the Human Rights Situation in Suriname,” dated October 2, 1985. Recently from 6-8 October 1987 the Commission carried out its third on-site investigation.
It should be noted that following the Subcommission’s visit to Fort Zeelandia jail, it addressed a letter to the Government of Suriname indicating its deep concern with respect to the situation of 17 prisoners all of whom had been arbitrarily detained and subjected to torture. Those individuals were thereafter released in November of 1987.
During the period covered by this Report a number of important events took place in Suriname in the field of human rights which the Commission shall now take up.
On September 30, 1987 the National Assembly of Suriname–composed of three traditional political parties, the National Surinamese Party (NPS), the Reformed Progressive Party (VHP) and the Indonesian Peasants’ Party (KPTU), members of the armed forces as well as the principal labor and business groups in the country–submitted to a national referendum a new draft Constitution. On that occasion, approximately 64% of the voting population turned out and 94% voted to approve the Constitution.
The Constitution contains certain limitations on the full exercise of sovereignty, such as for example, Article 177 which calls the army the “vanguard of the people” responsible for “national development and the liberation of the nation” and Chapter XIII which establishes the Council of State, composed, among others, of representatives of the armed forces, and empowered with authority to revoke decisions taken by the National Assembly and the Council of Ministers.
Once the Constitution was approved, on November 15, 1987 the citizenry was called upon to freely elect a new National Assembly made up of 51 members. The candidates of the opposition front obtained a large majority of the votes and won 40 seats in the legislature.
Thereafter, the National Assembly, as prescribed in the Constitution elected, on January 12, 1988, Mr. Ramsewak Shankar as President of the Republic and Mr. Henck Arron as Vice President. These gentlemen were inaugurated on January 25, 1988.
Another important step taken by Suriname in the area of human rights occurred during the General Assembly of the OAS which took place in November of last year in Washington, D.C. when the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Suriname, Mr. Henricus Heidweiller, deposited the instrument of ratification to the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. Likewise, at that time, Suriname declared its acceptance of the obligatory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
During the period examined in this Report the Commission has continued to observe developments in Suriname related to the guerrilla movement called the Jungle Commando led by ex-Sergeant Ronnie Brunswijk, in which the majority of his followers are Maroons, descendants of escaped African slaves. The insurrection, concentrated in the eastern and southern part of the country, has generated a massive exodus of Maroon and Amerindian refugees to neighboring French Guiana.
Nevertheless, on November 25, 1987, election day in Suriname, the head of the Jungle Commando unilaterally announced a cease fire. In addition, since coming to power the new Government has promoted negotiations with the refugees. It should be mentioned that the Council of Christian Churches of Suriname under the leadership of His Excellency, Catholic Bishop Aloisius Zichem, has had a preponderant role in those efforts. Notwithstanding these actions, hostilities between the Army and the rebels were renewed in June of last year. The Commission urges the Government to continue encouraging negotiations and hopes that they prove successful with the result that Suriname regains stability and national unity, a basis for advancing its incipient democracy.
In sum, the Commission observes that during the period embraced by this Report, Suriname has taken significant steps to establish the rule of law and democratic institutions and has assumed international obligations in the inter-American community by ratifying and treaties referred to above, all of which indicate a desire to respect and promote human rights.
Lastly, the Commission notes that since the new civilian authorities assumed power, it has not received a single new complaint of a human rights violation. At the same time, however, the Commission must point out that no progress has been achieved with respect to clarifying prior and still pending cases which took place before the installation of the new Government.