U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Suriname

    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 the 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, and also replaced four subordinate commanders. Since then, cooperation between the military and the civilian police improved as respective roles were clarified. Civilian police bear primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order, and they continued 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 parastatal companies employ over half the working population. For the last several years, depressed world prices for bauxite and alumina and the damaging effects of the country's domestic armed conflict resulted in high inflation and reduced economic growth. The principal human rights abuses included police mistreatment of detainees, abuse of prisoners, overcrowding of jails, government intimidation of the press, societal violence against women, and marginalization of indigenous people. The Government continued to fail to call to account human rights abusers from previous regimes.


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 have taken no action against prison guards who allegedly beat a prisoner to death in 1993. 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 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. The Government failed to abide by a 1993 judgment rendered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights 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, although in 1991 the Government admitted responsibility for the killings. The Government did provide funds to set up a foundation responsible for disbursing compensation to relatives of the victims.

b. Disappearance

There were no new allegations of disappearances, but the Government took no action to investigate earlier allegations of disappearances which 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. The authorities arrested a prison warden in September in connection with the beating of a prisoner of Dutch nationality, but had not brought him to trial by year's end. The Government has not released the results of an inquiry into charges that guards beat several recaptured prisoners in 1993. Severe jail overcrowding continued to be a serious problem. At police stations, cells intended for suspects awaiting trial contained as many as four times the number of detainees they were designed for and were very unsanitary. Guards allow detainees no exercise and only rarely permit them to leave the cells. Detainees also suffer from inadequate nutrition. The Government began construction of two new facilities to relieve the overcrowding. In some jails, female prisoners are in the charge of male police officers, and these officers reportedly routinely abuse female prisoners sexually.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

According to the law, 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 constitute nearly 70 percent of the total prison and jail population of 1,510. 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 function at the country's borders and airports but no longer investigated civilian crimes. 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 the right to 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 in previous years when the military controlled the Government and prominent members of the judiciary were involved with, or afforded protection to, drug traffickers. Military personnel are generally not subject to civilian criminal law. A soldier accused of a crime immediately comes under military court 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 began to improve. However, although the Government arrested the former military police commander in January on drug charges and tried him before a military tribunal, the court released him on August 8 due to "lack of evidence."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 new military command curbed invasions of privacy by the military such as the illegal monitoring of telephone calls, monitoring 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 expression of opinion through the printed press or other media, and the Government generally respects these rights. The parliamentary and extraparliamentary opposition criticize the Government freely. In at least one instance, however, the Government acted arbitrarily in response to criticism. The authorities arrested a Dutch journalist of Surinamese descent in May, after he charged in a Dutch magazine that members of the Government were corrupt. They detained the journalist in a cell for over 6 weeks for disturbing the public order but filed no formal charges, and then deported him. The Government's incomplete control over the military allows the former military leadership to intimidate members of the media into practicing self-censorship and not publishing reports they think the military leaders will find objectionable. 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 the right to assemble peacefully and to form associations for nonviolent purposes, and the authorities respect these rights in practice. The law requires official registration of associations and permits for most large public meetings, which the authorities routinely issued. Political and other meetings take place unhindered.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the authorities respect it in practice. Foreign clergy are allowed to minister to both local and expatriate congregations, and missionaries enter the country freely to proselytize. 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

Citizens may change their residences 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. Suriname continued to provide refuge to a small number of Haitian migrants. It does not forcibly repatriate refugees.

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 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 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. 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. There are four Maroons, one Amerindian, and three women in the National Assembly. There are no Maroons, Amerindians, or women in the Cabinet. 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 groups and women are disadvantaged in seeking high public office.

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

Nongovernmental human rights organizations operated freely in Suriname. 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, President Venetiaan did not appoint new members and refused to accept letters of resignation, thus extending their tenure indefinitely. The Government reacted negatively to calls for investigations into past possible 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. The Government has not had to deal with any outside requests for more recent human rights investigations or charges that it had 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 society suffer various forms of discrimination.


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. 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 425 cases of violence against women. It remains a problem at all levels of society.


The Government makes only limited efforts to ensure 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. 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.

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 was very slow. Although the peace accords ending the insurgencies provided for the appointment of a Consultative Council for the development of the interior, including representatives of the Maroon and Amerindian communities, the Government has not yet appointed that Council. The Government did not consult with representatives of the Amerindian and Maroon communities about the granting of gold and timber concessions in areas they inhabit.

People with Disabilities

There are no laws concerning access for 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.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for 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 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 also 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 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

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 employer must reinstate the employee. 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 are often employed as street vendors, newspaper sellers, or shop assistants. 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 is about $6 (SF3085) a month, which will not 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 safely 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 Surinamese industry. Accident rates in local industry do not appear to be high, and the key bauxite industry has an outstanding safety record. Corrected 1/31/95

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