Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2009
Suriname is a constitutional democracy, with a president elected by the unicameral legislature or by the larger United People's Assembly. The population is approximately 493,000. After generally free and fair elections in 2005, the New Front Plus government, was formed. In August 2005 the United People's Assembly reelected Ronald Venetiaan as president. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
While the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, there were problems in some areas, including police mistreatment of detainees at the time of arrest; abuse of prisoners by guards; overcrowded detention facilities; an overwhelmed judiciary with a large case backlog; lengthy pretrial detention; self censorship by some media; corruption in the government; societal discrimination against women, minorities, and indigenous people; violence against women; trafficking in women, girls, and boys; and child labor in the informal sector.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, security forces killed two persons during the year.
On August 1, police shot and killed Chaniel Burleson, a detainee who escaped a pretrial detention cell in May while awaiting trial on charges of murder and armed robbery. An internal affairs investigation continued at year's end.
On October 9, police shot and killed an armed-robbery suspect. The investigation into the case continued at year's end.
An internal investigation continued into the July 2007 killing of Andy Aroma.
In July the government unveiled a memorial in remembrance of the victims of the 1986 massacre of 39 Moiwana residents. The construction of the houses in the Moiwana village, as mandated by the Inter-American Court's ruling, continued.
The trial of former military head of state Desi Bouterse and his codefendants for the 1982 extrajudicial killings of 15 political opponents continued at year's end.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the law prohibits such practices, human rights groups and the media continued to express concern about mistreatment by police and prison officials, and they documented cases of police mistreatment of detainees, particularly during arrests, and abuse of prisoners by prison officials.
On October 8, a mob attacked a murder suspect and beat him severely before the police could apprehend him. After he was taken to the police station, the 500 person mob attacked the police station. The military was called in to defend the police station, and the suspect was taken by helicopter to Paramaribo, the capital city.
In November a judge acquitted deputy police inspector Omar Terborg and five other police officers charged in 2007 for using excessive force against detainees as punishment for attempting to escape a prison detention cell.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were poor. There are three prisons, including one in Santoboma, which held female and male prisoners separately. There are also several smaller jails, or temporary detention centers, in most police stations throughout the country. Most facilities, particularly older jails, remained unsanitary and seriously overcrowded, with occupancy as much as quadruple the facility's designed capacity.
Violence among prisoners was common, and prisoners continued to complain of mistreatment by guards.
In June a judge acquitted eight prison officers of all charges in the 2006 killing of an inmate.
Human rights organizations expressed concern about conditions in pretrial detention facilities, which remained overcrowded. Growing numbers of convicted prisoners were held in detention cells due to prison overcrowding. Because of staff shortages, police officers rarely permitted detainees to leave their cells. Detainees and human rights groups also alleged that meals were inadequate.
Conditions in the women's jail and prison facilities were generally better than those in the men's facilities. Following conviction, girls under age 18 were held in the women's detention center and in the women's section of one of the prison complexes.
There is one juvenile detention facility, Opa Doeli, for boys and girls under the age of 18; this facility, located in Paramaribo, was considered adequate and provided educational and recreational facilities. A separate wing of that prison held boys under age 18 convicted of serious crimes.
The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. Allied Collective, a local human rights organization focused primarily on legal issues, noted that in general it had access to prisoners but did not always receive cooperation from prison officials on routine matters. The Welzijns Institute Nickerie, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) operating in the western district of Nickerie, visited and provided counseling for detainees in the youth detention center in that district. The institute also started a program to train prison officers to counsel detainees.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions. Due to a shortage of judges, prisoners who appealed their cases often served their full sentences before the lengthy appeals process could be completed.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The armed forces are responsible for national security and border control, with the military police having direct responsibility for immigration control at the country's ports of entry. All elements of the military are under the control of the Ministry of Defense. Civilian police bear primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order and report to the Ministry of Justice and Police. The Personnel Investigation Department (OPZ) is an office within the Police Department that conducts investigations into complaints of police abuses. Police effectiveness was hampered by a lack of equipment and training, low salaries, and poor coordination with other law enforcement agencies. The police and military continued joint operations.
Corruption remained a problem, and senior police officers met monthly with the Attorney General's Office to review corruption and other cases against the police.
The OPZ reported that through September, authorities disciplined 17 officers for various offenses; nine of whom were jailed, including five for seriously neglecting their duties, three for grievous bodily harm, and one on narcotics charges. During the year 24 police officers, 12 of whom were taken into custody, lost their commissions for various offenses.
Arrest and Detention
Individuals were apprehended with warrants and were promptly informed of the charges against them. The police may detain for up to 14 days a person suspected of committing a crime if the sentence for that crime is longer than four years, and an assistant district attorney or a police inspector may authorize incommunicado detention. The police must bring the accused before a prosecutor to be charged formally in that period, but if additional time is needed to investigate the charge, a prosecutor and, later, a judge of instruction may extend the detention period an additional 150 days. There is no bail system. Detainees were allowed prompt access to counsel of their choosing, but the prosecutor may prohibit access if he thinks that this could harm the investigation. Detainees were allowed weekly visits from family members.
The average length of pretrial detention was 30 to 45 days for lesser crimes. Detainees were held in 23 overcrowded detention cells at police stations throughout the country. In accordance with the law, the courts freed most detainees who were not tried within the 164 day period. According to human rights monitors, such factors as a shortage of judges, large case loads, and large numbers of detainees caused trial delays.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, disputes over the appointment of judges undermined the independence of the judiciary. The attorney general and the president of the Court of Justice are appointed for life.
The judicial system consists of three lower courts, two specialized courts, and the Court of Justice as an appeals court. A military court system operates in cooperation with the civilian judicial system.
While the Ministry of Justice and Police sought to improve the functioning of the court system, a shortage of judges significantly hampered both civilian and military courts. At year's end there were 14 sitting judges in the country; during the year four new judges were installed, one retired but was later reinstalled, and the president of the Court of Justice retired. Recognizing the need for judges, the ministry initiated an active system of training for judges.
Other problems the judiciary faced included financial dependence on the Ministry of Justice and Police (and hence the executive branch), lack of professional court managers and case management systems to oversee the courts' administrative functions, and lack of physical space. These contributed to a significant case backlog. The courts required a minimum of six months to process criminal cases.
The law provides for the right to a fair, public trial in which defendants have the right to counsel, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to appeal their verdict. Defendants' lawyers can question witnesses. There is no jury system. The courts assign private sector lawyers to defend indigent detainees, paying the costs from public funds. There were approximately 13 court assigned lawyers, for both the civil and the penal system. Unlike in previous years, human rights organizations did not complain about court assigned lawyers not appearing for trial. Defendants can question witnesses against them and also have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence. The law extends the above rights to all citizens.
Military personnel generally are not subject to civilian criminal law. A member of the armed forces 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. Due to the shortage of judges, military and civilian judges are selected from the same pool by the Court of Justice, which makes assignments to specific cases. A mechanism exists to prevent conflicts of interest. The military courts follow the same rules of procedure as the civil courts. There is no appeal from the military to the civil system.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Although there are separate procedures for civil processes, the same pool of judges is responsible for presiding over these procedures. There is access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. However, the shortage of judges impeded this process; most civil cases were resolved approximately three to four years after being heard by the courts.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice. The law requires search warrants, which are issued by quasi judicial officers who supervise criminal investigations.
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
Some media members continued to practice occasional self censorship. This was due to a history of intimidation and reprisals by certain elements of the former military leadership or response to pressure applied by senior government officials and important community leaders on journalists who published negative stories about the administration.
On January 9, a journalist writing for a local daily, the Times of Suriname, alleged that a member of the Police Arrest Team seized her camera after taking pictures of a police officer kicking a suspect during a raid. Police allegedly deleted her pictures before returning the camera to her the next day.
There were instances where some government ministers and government officials threatened libel actions against newspapers.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e mail. The Telecommunication Authority estimated that 11 percent of households had direct Internet access. Although there were 162 registered Internet chat rooms in the capital city and the districts, the population in the interior did not have equal access to the Internet due to infrastructural limitations.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Assembly and Association
The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination, including anti-Semitic acts. There was a declared Jewish community of approximately 150 persons.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. The government cooperated with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.
Although the law does not address exile, it was not used in practice.
Protection of Refugees
The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Under special circumstances, persons may be granted refugee status, and in practice the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change their Government
The law provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
The constitution provides for direct election by secret ballot of the 51 member National Assembly every five years. The National Assembly in turn elects the president by a two thirds majority vote. If the legislature is unable to do so, the constitution provides that the United People's Assembly, composed of members of parliament and elected regional and local officials, shall elect the president. After generally free and fair elections in May 2005, the United People's Assembly reelected incumbent Ronald Venetiaan as president in August 2005. Political parties could operate without restriction or outside interference.
Historical and cultural factors, as well as societal pressures and customs, especially in rural areas, particularly with respect to marriage and inheritance, inhibited equal participation by women in leadership positions in government and political parties. While women made limited gains in attaining political power, men continued to dominate political life. There were 13 women in the National Assembly and three women in the cabinet. During the year four women were sworn in as judges, increasing to five the number of female judges. The head clerk of the Court of Justice, that body's highest administrative position, was a woman.
Several factors traditionally limited the participation of indigenous Amerindians and Maroons descendants of escaped slaves who fled to the interior to avoid recapture in the political process, particularly the fact their populations were concentrated in remote areas in the interior, removed from the country's centers of political activity. There was one Amerindian and three Maroon political parties, and voters elected eight Maroons and one Amerindian to the National Assembly. The opportunity for Maroons to participate in the political process increased when the three Maroon parties formed a coalition (A-Combinatie) for the 2005 election and became part of the governing coalition. A-Combinatie remained active during the year, with three Maroons in the cabinet and several others in decision-making positions.
Government Corruption and Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government was not able to implement the law effectively. Public allegations and some cases indicated that officials at times engaged in corrupt practices with impunity or that long delays occurred before such cases were brought to trial. The World Bank's worldwide governance indicators reflected that government corruption was a problem. A shortage of police personnel continued to hamper police investigations of fraud cases.
There was no legislation regarding public disclosure laws. Various sections of the Ministry of Justice and Police, including the Fraud Police and the Attorney General's Office, were responsible for combating government corruption.
On August 13, the deputy secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and Fisheries, John Debipersad, was convicted and sentenced to one year's imprisonment on charges of forgery and fraud. Debipersad was found guilty of granting fishing permits when he did not have the authority to do so.
On May 13, a judge convicted seven persons for the August 2007 embezzlement of SRD 6.1 million (approximately $2.1 million) at the Ministry of Finance. Individuals were sentenced to jail terms ranging from five months to three years and ordered to pay additional fines and repay the money they wrongfully took.
The media frequently reported alleged corrupt practices with regard to the acquisition of land by one of the political parties in the governing coalition.
Although the law provides for public access to government information, such access was limited in practice for citizens and noncitizens, including foreign media. While almost every ministry has an information service, onerous bureaucratic hurdles made obtaining information very difficult.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of independent domestic human rights groups, such as the Organization for Justice and Peace, the Know Your Rights Foundation, Allied Collective, and Moiwana generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. On occasion the government met with NGOs to discuss their complaints, but, according to one local NGO, officials were sometimes not cooperative or responsive to their views. No international human rights groups operated in the country during the year.
A parliamentary commission on human rights continued operating throughout the year, but resource constraints hampered its effectiveness. Parliament also has a commission dealing with women's and children's rights.
5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits discrimination based on race and ethnicity but does not address discrimination based on disability, language, or social status. While the law does not specifically prohibit gender discrimination, it provides for protection of women's rights to equal access to education, employment, and property. In practice various sectors of the population, such as women, Maroons, Amerindians, persons with HIV/AIDS, and homosexuals, suffered various forms of discrimination.
The law prohibits rape but does not address spousal rape. The maximum penalty for rape or forcible sexual assault is 12 years' imprisonment. Rape statistics were not readily available, and adult rapes were rarely reported in the media.
Violence against women was a common problem, which the government did not address specifically. The law does not differentiate between domestic violence and other forms of assault. During the year the Nieuwe Haven Police Unit for Domestic Abuse, the most active such unit in the country, reported 191 cases of abuse. An NGO driven network, including police units, continued working to combat domestic violence. There were four victims' rooms in police stations in Paramaribo and in Nickerie, and police units were trained in dealing with victims and perpetrators of sexual crimes and domestic violence. There was a shelter organized by an NGO for victims of domestic violence.
Although the law prohibits sexual exploitation, including prostitution, in practice prostitution was tolerated. Concerns about the link between prostitution and trafficking in persons resulted in police raids on brothels and arrests of several prostitutes. Poverty continued to put young women at risk of becoming exploited for commercial sex. The presence of large groups of illegal workers in the gold mining sector in the interior drew young Maroon women and girls into commercial sexual exploitation. Police allowed many brothels to operate but made bimonthly checks on these establishments to monitor if women were being abused, held against their will, or having their passports retained by brothel owners to ensure fulfillment of work contract obligations.
While there was no specific legislation on sexual harassment, prosecutors could cite various Penal Code articles in filing sexual harassment cases.
Women have the legal right to equal access to education, employment, and property; nevertheless, societal pressures and customs, especially in rural areas, inhibited their full exercise of these rights, particularly with respect to marriage and inheritance. Societal pressures on families to have their daughters married at or near the legal age of marital consent frequently interfered with these girls' education and resulted in the direct passage of all property the women would have inherited from their parents to their husbands and parents in law in accordance with these customs.
Men and women generally enjoyed the same rights under property law and under the judicial system. The Ministry of Justice and Police instituted a special office, the Bureau for Women and Children, to ensure the legal rights of women and children.
Women experienced discrimination in access to employment and in rates of pay for the same or substantially similar work. The government did not make specific efforts to combat economic discrimination.
The National Women's Movement, the most active women's rights NGO, continued assisting women in launching small home based businesses, such as sewing and vegetable growing, and provided general legal help. The Women's Business Group advocated for business opportunities for women, while the Women's Parliament Forum advocated for opportunities in the public sector. Stop Violence against Women provided assistance to victims of domestic violence, including legal help with dissolving an abusive marriage. The Maxi Linder Foundation worked with prostitutes, including women and children who were victims of trafficking, and conducted outreach and informational sessions to inform victims about their rights. Resource constraints continued to limit the effectiveness of these groups.
The government allocated limited resources to ensure safeguards for the human rights and welfare of children. Schooling is compulsory until 12 years of age; however, in practice some school age children, particularly in the interior, did not have access to education due to a lack of transportation, building facilities, or teachers. Although school attendance was free through university level, most public schools imposed a nominal enrollment fee, ranging from SRD 25 to SRD 115 (approximately $9 to $40) a year to cover costs. Approximately 85 percent of children in cities, but as few as 50 percent of children in the interior, attended school. Most children attended school through middle school (age 16).
Physical and sexual abuse of children continued to be a problem. During the year police received reports of 338 cases of sexual abuse of children. The police Youth Affairs Office conducted three visits per week to different schools in the capital and the surrounding areas on a rotating schedule to provide outreach and raise awareness about child abuse and to solicit and investigate complaints. The Youth Affairs Office also raised awareness about sexual abuse, drugs, and alcohol through a weekly television program.
According to one study, more than 80 percent of the children in Paramaribo, and an even greater percentage elsewhere, were exposed to violence. An estimated 10 percent of the victims developed post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of serious mental and physical damage; in most cases victims lacked professional assistance from the government, according to research conducted in 2006 on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
On May 8, a judge convicted the principal of a special needs school in Nickerie to three years' imprisonment for sexually abusing 13 of his pupils for two years.
In August a judge sentenced a child care director to eight years' imprisonment for sexually abusing eight children at a shelter for homeless children in January 2007.
Various laws were used to prosecute perpetrators of sexual harassment, and several cases of sexual abuse against minors came to trial. Sentences averaged three years in prison. In the capital there were several orphanages and one privately funded shelter for sexually abused children.
While the legal age of sexual consent is 14, it was not enforced effectively. The marriage law sets the age of marital consent at 15 for girls and 17 for boys, provided parents of the parties agree to the marriage. Parental permission to marry is required up to age 21. The law also mandates the presence of a Civil Registry official to register all marriages.
Trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of minors remained a problem. According to the Mamio Namen Project Foundation, an NGO working to assist HIV infected persons, increased sex tourism led to continued sexual exploitation of children, with a marked increase in the exploitation of young boys. Two NGOs provided shelters for homeless boys.
UNICEF continued cooperating with the government in providing training to officials from various ministries dealing with children and children's rights. UNICEF coordinated its activities with the Bureau for Children Rights and the National Steering Committee, which includes representatives from the Ministries of Health, Education, Regional Development, Planning and Development Cooperation, and Labor.
On November 21, the government restarted the "Children and Youth Hotline" to address the increase in child abuse cases. Youth five to 20 years of age were invited to call to discuss anything, including trafficking.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons; however, there were reports of trafficking to, from, and within the country.
The country was primarily a transit and destination country for women and children trafficked internationally for the purpose of sexual exploitation, although no estimates or reliable numbers were available to the extent or magnitude of the problem. Foreign girls and women were trafficked from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, and Colombia for commercial sexual exploitation; some transited the country en route to Europe. Chinese and Haitians reportedly were trafficked into the country for purposes of labor exploitation. The majority of these girls and women reportedly were unaware that they would be forced into prostitution.
Principal traffickers included brothel owners or other persons active in the sex trade. There was an active sex industry in the gold mining camps in the interior. Traffickers reportedly trafficked victims under false pretenses, telling them that they would be working in the catering industry. Chinese nationals transiting the country risked debt bondage to these migrant smugglers; men were exploited in forced labor and women in commercial sexual exploitation. Authorities also noted that "snake heads," Chinese trafficking organizations, were active. There also were reports of underage girls and boys trafficked by recruiters or caretakers within the country for prostitution.
The Penal Code specifically prohibits trafficking in persons for both sexual and non sexual purposes. The law covers both internal and external forms of trafficking. The penalties for trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation and for trafficking for labor exploitation, such as forced or bonded labor and involuntary servitude, range from five to 20 years' imprisonment.
Government efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers continued. During the year authorities arrested four persons and prosecuted three persons under trafficking in persons charges.
There were reports that government officials, including consular affairs, customs, and immigration officers, fostered an environment conducive to trafficking in persons by allowing individuals who were not bona fide visitors to enter the country.
On September 28, police closed the nightclub House of Mouse in Nickerie and arrested the nightclub manager and two other individuals suspected of trafficking two underage Guyanese girls forced to work at the club as prostitutes.
On May 27, a court convicted Hong Zhang and his wife, Calcate Almara Barbosa, owners of the nightclub Diamond in the Nickerie district on charges of trafficking Brazilian women to the country and sentenced them, respectively, to 12 months' and four months' imprisonment.
The 2006 case against four brothel owners involved in trafficking women from the Dominican Republic was dismissed after the women withdrew their statements that they were forced to work as prostitutes.
The government's Antitrafficking Working Group, which has primary responsibility for interagency coordination on antitrafficking efforts, met monthly to assess progress and coordinate new action steps. Police cooperated with counterparts in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic, and justice officials sought improved mechanisms for cooperation with Colombia, the Netherlands Antilles, and French Guiana.
The Public Prosecutor's Office and the police continued a registry of all brothels and their employees by nationality. Although prostitution is illegal, the police had informal agreements with many brothel owners allowing them to operate. The Special Anti-trafficking Police Unit conducted bimonthly checks to ensure that women were not mistreated, that no minors were present, and that owners did not keep the women's airline tickets or passports. Two brothels in the Nickerie district were closed during the year.
The police unit discontinued visits to cyber cafes to prohibit people from performing sexual acts in front of webcams.
The government's "Children and Youth Hotline" was available to youth to discuss all concerns, including trafficking.
In December media reports indicated that 11 persons were brought to the country under false pretenses and worked in a motorbike assembly store in Lelydorp, Wanica, in poor working conditions without pay. The victims alleged that the company's director came to Indonesia and offered them jobs. In November the group protested their working conditions and demanded remuneration; thereafter they were fired from the factory and sought refuge in the Indonesian Embassy.
The TIP Foundation, which is a member of the government's antitrafficking working group, is responsible for victim protection. While there was no shelter designated solely for trafficking victims, the TIP Foundation arranged shelter and provided other services for trafficking victims, including foreign victims.
Victims could file suit against traffickers, but few victims came forward. Women arrested in brothel raids as immigration violators and who did not indicate they were trafficked were deported, but authorities sought to treat identified victims as material witnesses needing protection rather than as criminals. An NGO receiving government funding, the Maxi Linder Foundation, continued working with trafficking victims, providing counseling and rehabilitative training.
The government continued operating a trafficking-in-persons awareness campaign funded by the International Organization for Migration and focusing on the Chamber of Commerce, Youth Parliament, and the various districts.
See also the State Department's 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report.
Persons with Disabilities
No laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of state services. There are no laws, provisions, or programs requiring access to buildings for persons with disabilities. Some training programs were provided for the blind and others with disabilities. In general persons with disabilities suffered from discrimination when applying for jobs and services. A Ministry of Social Affairs working group remained responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities but made limited progress during the year.
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity, and no such discrimination complaints were filed during the year. Nonetheless Maroons, who represent approximately 15 percent of the population, generally continued to be disadvantaged in the areas of education, employment, and government services. Most Maroons lived in the interior where limited infrastructure narrowed their access to educational and professional opportunities and health and social services. Some forms of discrimination that affected indigenous Amerindians also extended to Maroons.
During the year no progress was made on the execution of the Inter American Court of Human Rights ruling on a 2006 case involving 12 Saramaccan clans who claimed authority over 60 villages in the Upper Suriname River area. In November 2007 the court ruled that the government must recognize the collective land rights of the Saramaccan clans, draft legislation that complies with international treaties, establish a development fund of SRD 1,680,000 ($600,000), and begin demarcation by February 2008. However, there were constitutional issues preventing the demarcation of land claimed by ethnic groups.
The law affords no special protection for, or recognition of, indigenous people. Most Amerindians (approximately 3 percent of the population) suffered a number of disadvantages and had only limited ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and natural resources. The country's political life, educational opportunities, and jobs were concentrated in the capital and its environs, while the majority of Amerindians (as well as Maroons) lived in the interior, where government services were largely unavailable.
Because Amerindian (and Maroon) lands were not effectively demarcated, populations continued to face problems with illegal and uncontrolled logging and mining. Organizations representing Maroon and Amerindian communities complained that small scale mining operations, mainly by illegal gold miners, dug trenches that cut residents off from their agricultural land and threatened to drive them away from their traditional settlements. Mercury runoff from these operations also contaminated and threatened traditional food source areas. Many Maroon and Amerindian groups also complained about the government granting land to third parties within their traditional territories.
Maroon and Amerindian groups continued to cooperate with each other to exercise their rights more effectively. Moiwana and other NGOs continued to promote the rights of indigenous people.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Although the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, there were reports that homosexuals continued to suffer from employment discrimination.
Persons with HIV/AIDS continued to experience societal discrimination in employment and medical services. An NGO working with HIV infected persons reported that law enforcement agencies and the fire department conducted HIV testing as part of their hiring procedures.
The Ministry of Health continued its efforts to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS, through a comprehensive outreach program involving local health care providers, which achieved its goal of voluntary testing of 90 percent of expectant mothers. The military continued its ongoing HIV/AIDS awareness program among troops.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law allows workers to form and join unions of their choice, without previous authorization or excessive requirements, and workers did so in practice. Nearly 60 percent of the workforce was organized into unions, and most unions belonged to one of the country's seven major labor federations. Unions were independent of the government but played an active role in politics.
The law provides for the right to strike, and workers in both public and private sectors exercised this right in practice.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Collective bargaining is protected by law, and the government generally enforced this right in practice. Collective bargaining agreements covered approximately 50 percent of the labor force. Legislation prohibits employer interference in union activities.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children; however, there were reports that such practices occurred.
On March 13, Korean boat captain Lee Chang Joo was arrested on charges of labor trafficking. The Korean captain forced four Vietnamese fishermen to work on his boat under inhumane conditions and with no pay. On August 11, a court sentenced him to six years' imprisonment.
On November 7, two Surinamers were arrested on charges of labor trafficking, participation in a criminal organization, and fraud. The two allegedly recruited Surinamers for a cooking course in Trinidad and Tobago but provided the Surinamers as forced labor upon arrival in that country. The investigation continued at year's end.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The country's labor laws do not define the worst forms of child labor or hazardous work, and the government does not have a comprehensive policy or national program of action on child labor.
The law sets the minimum age for employment at 14 years and restricts working hours for minors to day shifts; however, it does not specify the length of such day shifts or set work hours more restrictive than the 40-hour week for the regular workforce. Children younger than 18 are prohibited from doing hazardous work, defined as work dangerous to their life, health, and decency; those younger than 14 are allowed to work only in a family or special vocational setting or for educational purpose. However, the Ministry of Labor and the police enforced this law sporadically, and child labor remained a problem in the informal sector, especially in the western districts of Nickerie and Saramacca, as children faced increasing economic pressure to discontinue their education to seek employment.
Children under 14 worked as street vendors, newspaper sellers, rice and lumber mill workers, packers for traders, shop assistants, and in the gold mining sector and reportedly in the commercial sex industry. Employers in these sectors did not guarantee work safety, and children often worked barefoot and without protective gloves, with no access to medical care. Although government figures reported that only 2 percent of children were economically active, there was a lack of statistical data on the labor environment and child labor situation in the country. The worst forms of child labor, such as commercial sexual exploitation, remained a problem; there were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children and teenagers by caretakers and older recruiters.
The Ministry of Labor's Department of Labor Inspection, with 46 inspectors, has responsibility to implement and enforce labor laws, including those pertaining to the worst forms of child labor; however, enforcement was inadequate. Inspectors visited private sector companies throughout the country, but no data was available regarding the number of inspections performed during the year. The government did not investigate exploitive child labor cases outside urban areas. Labor inspectors were not authorized to conduct inspections in the informal sector as responsibility for controlling the informal sector lies with the police.
The police continued raids on known child labor locations in Paramaribo, including street venues where underage vendors worked, as well as nightclubs, casinos, and brothels.
Although the government provided no programs to remove children from the worst forms of child labor, it supported vocational programs for dropouts and older children to serve as an alternative to underage labor.
In September legislation establishing the National Commission for the Eradication of Child Labor was approved. The National Commission's mandate includes formulating national policy regarding the eradication of child labor, initiating specific programs for indigenous children, and monitoring the country's compliance with international child labor standards.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no legislation providing for a minimum wage. The lowest wage for civil servants was approximately SRD 600 ($214) per month, including a cost of living allowance, which did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Government employees, who constituted approximately 50 percent of the 100,000 member workforce, frequently supplemented their salaries with second or third jobs, often in the informal sector. The president and the Council of Ministers set and approved civil service wage increases.
Work in excess of 45 hours per week on a regular basis requires special government permission, which was granted routinely. Such overtime work earned premium pay. The law prohibits excessive overtime and requires a 24 hour rest period per week.
The government sets occupational health and safety standards, and a 10- to 12-member inspectorate in the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing occupational safety and health regulations, but it did not make regular inspections. There is 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.