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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Suriname

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Suriname, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa453c.html [accessed 18 December 2014]
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.
 

Consolidation of democratic constitutional government continued slowly and fitfully following installation of a freely elected Parliament and the inauguration of a democratically elected President in 1991. The Government of President Ronald Venetiaan is composed of ministers drawn from a four-party coalition which holds the majority of seats in the multiparty National Assembly. In May the Government successfully installed a military commander of its own choosing to replace military strongman Desi Bouterse, who resigned as military commander in late 1992, and named its own choices as subordinate commanders.

The Government thus made a significant advance in exercising control over the country's military establishment, which, under Bouterse's leadership, had overthrown civilian governments twice in 10 years (most recently in December 1990). Cooperation between the military police and the civilian police improved after the installation of the new military commanders. The military police continued to perform the immigration function at the country's points of entry.

Suriname's economy is largely agricultural but also depends heavily upon export revenues from the key bauxite sector. Real gross domestic product contracted as the economy suffered from rapid inflation, foreign exchange shortages, and a flourishing black market. The Netherlands limited its aid flows because the Government made little progress in implementing the economic structural adjustment program adopted in late 1992.

The number of new allegations of human rights abuses remained low. The principal problems included police mistreatment of detainees, abuse of prisoners, overcrowding of prisons and jails, intimidation of the press, violence against women, and marginalization of indigenous people. The Government failed to call to account human rights abusers from 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 killings in 1993. There were allegations, however, that prison guards beat an escaped prisoner to death after he was recaptured. The nongovernmental human rights group Moiwana '86 took up this case, and the Government investigated possible misconduct on the part of the prison guards or police. The Government had not announced any results of the inquiry by year's end.

The Government reluctantly investigated reports of the finding of the remains of several people killed during the 1986-91 insurgencies in the interior. No results of the investigation were released, and the Government intimated that the claim was part of an effort by a former insurgent group to stir up trouble. 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 since 1985, but no final judgment was rendered.

The Government took no action to investigate past human rights violations, such as the 1982 killing by the military regime of 15 civic leaders or the 1986 massacre of civilians at the village of Moiwana. On September 10, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights rendered a judgment concerning compensation to be paid 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, for which the Government had admitted responsibility in 1991. The trustees appointed by the Court to oversee payment of compensation plan to begin working out details of implementation with the Government in early 1994. The Court did not render a decision in a second case arising from the killing several years ago of a Surinamese citizen who had recently returned from the Netherlands.

b. Disappearance

During 1993, there were no new allegations of the disappearance of Surinamese citizens, but the Government took no action to investigate earlier allegations of disappearances occurring under previous regimes. Three Colombian nationals believed to be involved in narcotics trafficking disappeared in 1993. The police are still investigating the incident. However, the authorities secured convictions of two soldiers involved in a case thought to be related to the disappearances.

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 prisoners. In addition to the death described above, it was also alleged that five other recaptured prisoners were beaten, with varying degrees of severity, by prison guards. One knowledgeable observer stated that prison guards beat inmates with some frequency. No results of the Government's inquiry into charges that guards beat several recaptured convicts had been released by year's end.

Severe jail overcrowding continued to be a serious problem. At police stations where suspects are held pending trial, cells contained as many as four times the number of detainees they were designed for and were very unsanitary. Female prisoners are in the charge of male police officers, and a knowledgeable observer said instances of sexual harrassment are not uncommon.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

According to Surinamese law, a person suspected of committing a crime for which the sentence is longer than 4 years may be detained by the police for investigation for up to 14 days. Within the 14-day period, the accused must be brought before a prosecutor to be formally charged. If additional time is needed for investigating the charge, a prosecutor may authorize the police to detain the suspect for 30 days more. 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 in 1993.

Pretrial detainees constituted 38.5 percent of the total prison and jail population of 1,007. Of those held in police custody, 18.2 percent had already been convicted. Requiring the police to maintain custody of convicted prisoners increases the overcrowding in their facilities.

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 function at the country's borders and airports but no longer investigated civilian crimes.

The convictions of four soldiers for setting fire to a television station and the conviction of a consular officer who claimed links to the former military leadership demonstrated progress in the civilian Government's efforts to consolidate its control of the military and to hold all citizens responsible for criminal conduct regardless of their position. The Government's success on January 3, 1994, in arresting a former military police commander wanted on drug charges continued the trend.

Exile is not used 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 court system follows the Dutch model. Lawyers in private practice are assigned to defend prisoners and paid from public funds. An accused may be held for up to 164 days before trial, but periodic reviews of the case are required at progressively higher levels of authority. A detainee who is not tried within the 164-day period must be freed. Trials are before a single judge, with right of appeal. There were difficulties within the public prosecutor's office, with two experienced prosecutors departing as the result of disputes with the office's chief. There is little firm evidence of the extent to which corruption has affected the court system, but the entire criminal justice system was subjected to severe strain when the military was ascendant and prominent members were involved in or afforded protection to drug traffickers.

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

Since the change of military command in May, coordination between the military police and the civil police 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 began to improve.

There were no known political prisoners held during the year.

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

The Constitution provides for the right to privacy. Warrants, issued not by judges but by quasi-judicial officers who supervise criminal investigations, are required for searches and are obtained in the great majority of investigations. As the new military commander consolidated his control of the armed forces, he curbed invasions of privacy by the military such as illegal monitoring of telephone calls, monitoring of the movements of human rights activists, and threatening government officials, policemen, politicians, human rights workers, and journalists. Although some of the individuals involved in these activities attempted to continue them on occasion, they apparently were not acting with military authority.

In October there was a series of grenade attacks on homes and businesses of several persons prominently associated with the Hindustani political party which belongs to the ruling coalition. Although it was possible the attacks were the result of intraparty quarrels or part of a criminal extortion attempt, they were most likely the work of forces associated with the former military leadership. The police investigation of the incidents, however, was not successful in identifying the principal perpetrators.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression of opinion through the printed press or other media. The parliamentary and extraparliamentary opposition criticizes the Government freely.

Suriname's two daily newspapers and most of its radio stations are privately owned. Its two television stations and one of the country's radio stations are publicly owned. After the change of military command, journalists felt that, although government officials might criticize them for their reporting, the Government would not use force against them. However, many members of the media continued to believe that elements associated with the former military leadership would use force against them and therefore avoided filing reports they thought the former military leaders would find objectionable. The leading human rights organization charged in November that the Government prevented the broadcast of two radio programs during the year. One of the journalists involved said the Government warned him about broadcasting erroneous information but later withdrew the accusation.

In May a television station which strongly supported the Government in a confrontation with the military leadership over the naming of the new military commander was attacked and burned in an apparent attempt to intimidate the media. The Government and citizenry quickly came to the support of the station, which was able to resume its broadcasts. Four current or former members of the military, at least one of whom was a bodyguard of former military strongman Desi Bouterse, were convicted and sentenced to prison for the attack.

The Government did not attempt to interfere with publications nor academic freedom. The Guyanese author of a work seized in 1992 by Surinamese authorities on the grounds that it blasphemed the Hindu religion continued to seek compensation in the Surinamese courts. In April a judge declined to issue a summary judgment in his favor. No final judgment had been issued by year's end.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The right to assemble peacefully and to form associations for nonviolent purposes is protected constitutionally, and these rights are respected in practice. Official registration of associations is required in many instances and is generally granted. Political and other meetings take place unhindered. Most large public meetings require permits, which are routinely issued.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is provided for by the Constitution and is respected in practice. There is no state religion. Foreign clergy are allowed to minister to both local and expatriate congregations, and missionaries enter the country freely to proselytize. Religious groups maintain international contacts, freely organize trips abroad, and publish periodicals. Adherence to a particular faith is neither a bar to, nor a requirement for, entry into political, economic, or social fields.

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

Surinamers may change their residences and workplaces 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. Some, but not many, of them have chosen to do so. Citizenship is not revoked for political reasons.

The large majority of refugees who fled into French Guiana during the insurgency in the interior have now returned to Suriname, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees closed its office in Paramaribo. Suriname continued to provide refuge to a small number of Haitian migrants.

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. The Constitution stipulates that power and authority rest with the people and provides for the right to change the government peacefully through the direct election by secret ballot of a National Assembly of 51 members every 5 years. The National Assembly then elects a President by a two-thirds vote. If the legislature is unable to do so, as was the case after the last election in 1991, the Constitution provides that a National People's Assembly comprising members of Parliament and regional and local officials shall elect the President. Although the Surinamese 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 Constitution provides for the existence of political parties, and eight parties or political coalitions are represented in the National Assembly. Although the Constitution proscribes discrimination on the grounds of birth, sex, race, language, or religious origin, there are several factors that 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 influence in the political process. Most Surinamese political parties are ethnically based. 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. There are four Maroons, one Amerindian, and three women in the National Assembly. There are no Maroons, Amerindians, or women in the Cabinet.

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

Nongovernmental human rights organizations operated freely in Suriname. After the change of military command, the Government and the military participated in the dedication of a memorial to victims of human rights abuses since the first military coup in 1980. Several private participants called for full investigation of the abuses. Nethertheless, the Government initiated no investigations of possible human rights abuses during earlier regimes other than its inquiry into the reported finding of a mass grave near the village of Moiwana, noted above. On occasion the Government reacted with disfavor to calls for investigations into past possible human rights violations.

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' terms expired, the Government extended their tenure indefinitely and failed to appoint new members.

The Government failed to implement several recommendations by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that it investigate killings during the tenure of the military regime. The Government welcomes visits from foreign and international human rights groups. It has not had to deal with any outside requests for human rights investigations or charges that it has violated human rights.

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 Surinamese society suffer some form of discrimination.

Women

Women have a legal right to equal access to education, employment, and property. Nevertheless, social pressures and customs inhibit the full exercise of these rights, particularly in the areas of marriage and inheritance. Surinamese 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. However, violence against women is a problem throughout society. The private foundation "Home for Women in Crisis Situations" has been consistently oversubscribed by women from all the country's ethnic groups and their children. It expanded its capacity from 7 to 15 rooms with international and private assistance but was not successful in securing government support.

Children

An estimated 50 percent of the population is under the age of 18, but government efforts to attend to the human rights and welfare of children are not highly developed. About 18 percent of the Government's expenditures were for activities that would promote the 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 was opened in 1993. Elsewhere, distressed children must usually rely on the resources of their extended families.

Indigenous People

Amerindians and Maroons are formally able to participate in Suriname's political process and society on an equal footing with the country's other inhabitants. In practice, however, most of the members of these two groups suffer a number of disadvantages and have only limited ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and natural resources. Suriname'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 became largely unavailable, and much of the infrastructure was destroyed, in the interior during the 1986-91 insurgencies; progress in reestablishing services and rebuilding the infrastructure was very slow. Although the accords ending the insurgencies provided for the appointment of a Consultative Council on the Development of the Interior, including representatives of the Maroon and Amerindian communities, the Government has not yet appointed that council. Representatives of the Amerindian community complained in September that they were not consulted about the grant of a large timber concession to an Indonesian company in areas they inhabited. The Government did not respond to Amerindian complaints about the timber concession.

People with Disabilities

In general, Surinamese society has not yet addressed the question of people with disabilities. There are some training programs for the blind and others with disabilities. However, there are no laws concerning access for disabled people and no provisions for making private or public buildings accessible to them. Neither are there laws mandating that they be given equal consideration when seeking jobs or housing.

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. A small Labor Party, which is independent of the labor movement but includes the chairmen of two of the most influential labor federations in its leadership, is part of the ruling four-party coalition and provides three Cabinet members.

There are no restrictions on unions' international activities. Several Surinamese 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 protects the right of nongovernment employees to strike. Civil servants have no such right to strike or mount other labor actions, but in practice they are able to 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

These rights are explicitly recognized by the Constitution and respected 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. Dismissals for cause are individually reviewed by the Labor Ministry, and if it finds the discharge unjustified, the employee must be reinstated.

There are no special economic zones in Suriname.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there were no known instances of it in 1993.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Surinamese law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 years. Enforcement of this law by the Ministry of Labor and the police is sporadic and only partially effective, however. Those under 16 years of age are often employed as street vendors, newspaper sellers, and shop assistants. School attendance is compulsory until the age of 12. However, both in the capital and in the country's interior some school-age children do not have access to education because of lack of transportation, facilities, or teachers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Suriname has no minimum wage legislation. The Government's lowest wage for unskilled laborers will not provide a decent living for a worker and family. 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. One 24-hour rest period, usually but not necessarily Sunday, is required 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 circumstances unsafe. Resource constraints and lack of trained personnel preclude the Division from making regular inspections of Surinamese 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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