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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Suriname

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Suriname, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


After over a decade of predominantly military rule, Suriname installed a freely elected Parliament and inaugurated a democratically chosen President in 1991. Since then the Government has made fitful progress in consolidating democracy and slow but steady progress toward reestablishing civilian authority over the military. The Government of President Ronald Venetiaan is composed of ministers drawn from a four-party coalition which holds a majority of seats in the multiparty National Assembly. In 1992 the Government concluded a peace accord with members of insurgent groups which had fought a domestic armed conflict between 1986 and 1991.

In 1993 the Government replaced former military strongman Desire Bouterse as commander of the armed forces with a new commander of its own choosing. After expiration of this 2-year appointment in June, the Government appointed a successor. Cooperation between the military and the civilian police has improved as respective roles have been clarified. Some aspects of the relationship between the Government and the military remain to be defined. Civilian police bear primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order, but they continue to be responsible for some human rights abuses.

The market-oriented economy is largely agricultural, but with an important bauxite and alumina export sector. There is a high degree of state involvement and regulation; the Government and state-owned companies employ over half the working population. For the last several years, depressed world prices for bauxite and alumina, the damaging effects of the country's domestic armed conflict, and rapid growth of the money supply resulted in high inflation and reduced economic growth. Foreign exchange fluctuations offset improved commodity prices. The recent stabilization of exchange rates is cited by some as an indication that the economy is beginning to respond to government efforts at structural reform.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, problems remained in some areas. These are police mistreatment of detainees, abuse of prisoners, overcrowding of jails, societal discrimination and violence against women, and marginalization of indigenous people. The Government continued to fail to call to account those responsible for human rights abuses in previous regimes.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings. The authorities, however, have taken no action against prison guards who allegedly beat a prisoner to death in 1993.

The Government also took no action to investigate past human rights violations, such as the 1982 executions by the military regime of 15 opposition leaders or the 1986 massacre of civilians at the village of Moiwana. The human rights group Moiwana '86 continued to pursue the court case it instituted in 1992, challenging the validity of the law that conferred amnesty on members of the military and the insurgents for crimes (except crimes against humanity) committed between January 1985 and August 1992, but the court rendered no final judgment.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights rendered a judgment in 1993 which required the Government to pay compensation to the survivors of seven Maroons (descendants of escaped slaves who fled into the interior to avoid recapture) killed near the village of Pokigron in 1987. The Government responded by establishing a fully funded foundation for disbursing compensation to relatives of the victims. The foundation is actively disbursing compensation and has also funded a school and clinic in the village.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. The Government, however, took no action to investigate earlier allegations of disappearances that occurred under previous regimes.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits inhuman treatment or punishment, but human rights monitors continued to express concern about official mistreatment of detainees and prisoners. Prison guards reportedly beat inmates frequently, although fewer than five official complaints were filed. None of these were investigated. A prison warden arrested in connection with the beating of a prisoner of Dutch nationality was released by the court on procedural grounds. The Government has not released the results of an inquiry into charges that guards beat several recaptured prisoners in 1993.

The completion of a new prison and renovation of existing jails have somewhat reduced overcrowding and improved overall health and safety conditions. Older jails, however, remained overcrowded, with as many as four times the number of detainees they were designed for, and were also unsanitary. At police stations, guards allowed detainees no exercise and only rarely permitted them to leave the cells. Detainees also suffered from inadequate nutrition, although families were permitted and encouraged to provide food to incarcerated relatives. Female prisoners were housed exclusively in an older jail and were not eligible for transfer to one of the new facilities. According to local women's groups, there were no reports of sexual abuse of female prisoners by police officers. The Government permits independent monitoring of prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law provides that the police may detain for investigation up to 14 days a person suspected of committing a crime for which the sentence is longer than 4 years. Within the 14-day period, the police must bring the accused before a prosecutor to be formally charged. If additional time is needed to investigate the charge, a prosecutor may authorize the police to detain the suspect for an additional 30 days. Upon the expiration of the initial 44 days, a "judge of instruction" may authorize the police to hold the suspect for up to 120 additional days, in 30-day increments (for a total of 164 days), before the case is tried. The judge of instruction has the power to authorize release on bail, but that power is rarely, if ever, used. There were no reports of detentions in contravention of these standards.

Pretrial detainees constituted nearly 70 percent of the total prison and jail population of approximately 1,500. Of those held in police custody, 15 percent had already been convicted.

The military police observed the requirement to hand over to the civil police civilians arrested for committing a crime in their presence. The military police continued to perform the immigration control function at the country's borders and airports but no longer investigated civilian crimes.

Military police stepped in to perform routine police functions during a civil police general strike. There were no reports of abuse by the military police during the strike.

While not specifically forbidden by law or the Constitution, exile is not practiced as a means of political control.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair public trial in which defendants have the right to counsel, the effectiveness of the civilian and military courts is limited. The courts assign lawyers in private practice to defend prisoners and pay them from public funds. The courts must, and in practice do, free a detainee who is not tried within the 164-day period. Trials are before a single judge, with right of appeal. There is little firm evidence of the extent to which corruption affects the court system, but the entire criminal justice system was subjected to severe strain during the period when the military controlled the Government and prominent members of the judiciary were involved with, or afforded protection to, drug traffickers. Recent escapes of high-profile prisoners were linked to corruption of prison guards.

Military personnel are generally not subject to civilian criminal law. A soldier accused of a crime immediately comes under military jurisdiction and military police are responsible for all such investigations. Military prosecutions are directed by an officer on the public prosecutor's staff, and take place in separate courts before two military judges and one civilian judge. The military courts follow the same rules of procedure as the civil courts. There is no appeal from the military to the civil system.

Since the change in military leadership in 1993, coordination between the military police and the civil police has improved, and there were no further instances of military interference in civilian police investigations. The pervasive climate of fear and intimidation that previously prevented cases involving military personnel or drug traffickers from being tried began to dissipate, and prospects for the impartial administration of justice have improved. Fear of possible reprisals by the ex-military strongman Desire Bouterse, however, appears to affect judicial decision making in cases involving persons close to Bouterse.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for the right to privacy. The law requires warrants for searches, which are issued not by judges but by quasi-judicial officers who supervise criminal investigations. The police obtain them in the great majority of investigations. The military command curbed invasions of privacy by the military such as the illegal monitoring of telephone calls, monitoring of the movements of human rights advocates, and threatening government officials, policemen, politicians, human rights workers, and journalists. Although some persons continued these activities on occasion, the military authorities reportedly did not authorize them to do so.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respects these rights.

The parliamentary and extraparliamentary opposition criticize the Government freely. Media members continue to practice some self censorship, because of the recent history of intimidation and reprisals by certain elements of the former military leadership. In at least one instance, the authorities attempted to persuade a journalist to cease investigating disputes between villagers and a gold concessionaire. However, the journalist continued the investigation with support from other journalists. Although the authorities harassed the journalists and seized some equipment, the incident was reported in all local media without further consequences for these journalists, whose equipment was returned undamaged.

Suriname's two daily newspapers and most of its radio stations are privately owned. The two television stations and one of the radio stations are publicly owned. The Government did not attempt to interfere with publications or to abridge academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights. and the Government respects them in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens may change their residence and work places freely and travel abroad as they wish. Political dissidents who emigrated to the Netherlands and elsewhere during the years of military rule are welcome to return. Few of them have chosen to do so. Citizenship is not revoked for political reasons. The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Suriname continued to provide refuge to a small number of Haitian migrants. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides for this right, but in the past the military prevented its effective exercise. Although the military has twice handed over power to elected civilian governments following coups, one elected government has not yet succeeded another in accordance with constitutional provisions. The current Government is still in the process of institutionalizing democratic, constitutional rule.

The Constitution stipulates that power and authority rest with the people and provides for the right to change the government through the direct election by secret ballot of a National Assembly of 51 members every 5 years. The National Assembly then elects the President by a two-thirds vote. If the legislature is unable to do so, as was the case after the 1991 election, the Constitution provides that a national People's Assembly, comprising Members of Parliament and regional and local officials, shall elect the President.

The Constitution provides for the existence of political parties, and many parties and political coalitions are represented in the National Assembly.

There are historical and cultural impediments to equal participation by women in leadership positions in government and political parties. In the past, most women expected to fulfill the role of housewife and mother, thereby limiting opportunities to gain political experience or position. Participation by women in politics (and other fields) was generally considered inappropriate. While women have made limited gains in attaining political power in recent years, political circles remain under the influence of traditional male-dominated groups and women are disadvantaged in seeking high public office. There are three women in the National Assembly and no women in the Cabinet.

Although the Constitution proscribes racial or religious discrimination, several factors limit the participation of Maroons and Amerindians in the political process. Most of the country's political activity takes place in the capital and a narrow belt running east and west of it along the coast. The Maroons and Amerindians are concentrated in remote areas and therefore have limited access to, and influence in, the political process. There is a small Maroon political party which holds three seats in the National Assembly and belongs to an opposition coalition. There are no Amerindian political parties or representatives in the National Assembly. There are seven Maroons the National Assembly. There are no Maroons or Amerindians in the Cabinet.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are, however, generally not cooperative or responsive to their views. The National Institute of Human Rights, funded by the Government but authorized to act independently, is widely regarded as inactive and ineffective. Nonetheless, its chairman stated that cabinet members often implement its recommendations. When the

Institute's five members' 10-year terms expired in 1994, President Venetiaan did not appoint new members and refused to accept letters of resignation, thus extending their tenure indefinitely. There have been no further developments.

The Government reacted negatively to calls for investigations into past human rights violations and refused to initiate such studies. It failed to implement several recommendations by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that it investigate killings during the tenure of the military regime.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution and laws do not differentiate among citizens on the basis of their ethnic origins, religious affiliations, or other cultural differences. In practice, however, several groups within society suffer various forms of discrimination.


The law does not differentiate between domestic violence and other forms of assault, and the Government has not specifically addressed the problem of violence against women. According to a national women's group, victims reported approximately 300 cases of violence against women. Police are reluctant to intervene in instances of "domestic" violence. It remains a problem at all levels of society.

There are no specific laws to protect women against trafficking and sexual exploitation. A local women's group is investigating several cases of arranged marriages to foreigners where the women were subsequently forced into prostitution. There are also credible reports of trafficking in Brazilian women for prostitution. Neither medical nor legal assistance is available to victims. Victims are not discouraged against filing complaints and do not face legal or other penalties.

Women have a legal right to equal access to education, employment, and property. Nevertheless, social pressures and customs inhibit their full exercise of these rights, particularly in the areas of marriage and inheritance. Women, notably those who were heads of families, were adversely affected by deteriorating economic conditions. Women experience economic discrimination in access to employment and in rates of pay for the same or substantially similar work. The Government has not made specific efforts to combat economic discrimination.

The National Women's Center is a government agency devoted to women's issues; there is also a women's policy coordinator. Their effectiveness is severely limited by financial and staffing constraints. There are several active women's rights groups. Their principal concerns are political representation, economic vulnerability, violence, and discrimination. These groups are somewhat effective.


The Government makes only limited efforts to ensure safeguards for the human rights and welfare of children. In the capital, where most of the country's population is concentrated, there are some orphanages, and a privately funded shelter for sexually abused children opened in 1993. Elsewhere, distressed children must usually rely on the resources of their extended families. There is no pattern of societal abuse directed against children. Both in the capital and in the country's interior, some school-age children do not have access to education because of a lack of transportation, facilities or teachers. There is no difference in the treatment of girls and boys in education or health care services. Children face increasing economic pressure to discontinue their education to work.

People With Disabilities

There are no laws concerning disabled people and no provisions for making private or public buildings accessible to them. There are also no laws mandating that they be given equal consideration when seeking jobs or housing. However, there are some training programs for the blind and others with disabilities.

Indigenous People

Most Amerindians and Maroons suffer a number of disadvantages and have only limited ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and natural resources. The nation's political life, educational opportunities, and jobs are concentrated in the capital and its environs, while the majority of Amerindians and Maroons live in the interior. Government services in the interior became largely unavailable and much of the infrastructure was destroyed during the 1986-91 domestic insurgencies; progress in reestablishing services and rebuilding the infrastructure has been very slow.

The Government appointed the Consultative Council for the Development of the Interior in September. This Council, provided for in the 1992 peace accords ending the insurgencies, includes representatives of the Maroon and Amerindian communities. The Government did not, however, consult with representatives of the Amerindian and Maroon communities about the granting of gold and timber concessions in areas they inhabit, and it largely ignored Maroon and Amerindian demands for representation in pending negotiations for substantial new timber concessions affecting their communities.

Maroon and Amerindian groups are beginning to cooperate in order to exercise their rights more effectively. In August indigenous leaders demanded the right to participate in decisions concerning the use of natural resources and greater autonomy from the Government.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution protects the right of workers to associate and to choose their representatives democratically. At least 40 percent of the work force is organized into unions, most of which belong to one of the country's six major labor federations. Unions are independent of the Government and play an active role in politics. The small Labor Party, which is a part of the four-party coalition, is independent of the labor movement, but its leader chairs some of the most influential labor federations, and three of its members are in the President's Cabinet.

There are no restrictions on unions' international activities. Several labor federations were reaccepted as affiliates of international trade union organizations in the late 1980's, after having been suspended for collaboration with the military regime earlier in the decade. The Constitution provides for the right of nongovernment employees to strike. Civil servants have no legal right to strike or mount other labor actions, but in practice do so. Strikes in both the public and private sectors were common as workers tried to secure wage gains to protect their earning power from rapid inflation.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution explicitly recognizes these rights, and the authorities respect them in practice. Collective bargaining agreements cover approximately 50 percent of the labor force. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers, and there are effective mechanisms for resolving complaints of such discrimination. Employers must have prior permission from the Ministry of Labor to fire workers, except when discharging an employee for cause. The Labor Ministry individually reviews dismissals for cause; if it finds a discharge unjustified, the employee must be reinstated.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there were no known instances of it.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 years. The Ministry of Labor and the police enforce this law only sporadically, however. Those under 16 years of age often work as street vendors, newspaper sellers, or shop assistants. Working hours for youths are not limited in comparison with the regular work force. School attendance is compulsory until the age of 12.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no minimum wage legislation. The Government's lowest wage for a civil servant was about $26.97 (SF12,000) a month. This salary level makes it very difficult to provide a decent living for a worker and family. The Government sets civil service wages and the National Assembly approves them.

Work in excess of 9 hours per day or 45 hours per week on a regular basis requires special government permission, which is routinely granted. Such overtime work earns premium pay. The law requires one 24-hour rest period per week.

A 10- to 12-member inspectorate of the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing legislated occupational safety and health regulations. There is, however, no law authorizing workers to refuse to work in circumstances they deem unsafe. They must appeal to the inspectorate to declare the workplace situation unsafe. Resource constraints and lack of trained personnel preclude the division from making regular inspections of industry. Accident rates in local industry do not appear to be high, and the key bauxite industry has an outstanding safety record.

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