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Suriname president's trial put on hold

A judge in Suriname [official website, in Dutch] delayed the trial of President Desi Bouterse [official profile, in Dutch] on Friday until a constitutional court can determine whether an amnesty law passed in April [JURIST report] grants Bouterse immunity from murder charges. Judge Cynthia Valstein Montnor explained [AFP report] in her ruling that the court needs to determine if the amnesty law applies to Bouterse even though it was passed after his trial began. The amnesty law specifically intends to grant immunity from prosecution to Bouterse and other officials charged with crimes relating to his dictatorship, including military personnel involved in a 1980 coup that brought Bouterse to power. Bouterse led a military junta from 1980-1987 during Suriname's civil war. Bouterse was also elected president by parliament in 2010 [Reuters report]. He is accused of being present at a military barracks in Suriname's capital, Paramaribo, on December 8, 1982, where 13 civilians and two military officials were killed. If convicted of murder charges, Bouterse faces 20 years in prison.

Bouterse's trial has been ongoing since 2008. In April 2008, a military tribunal in Suriname ruled [JURIST report] that all suspects involved in the 1982 massacre must stand trial, including Bouterse. Bouterse's trial began [JURIST report] in July 2008 with former bodyguard Onno Flohr testifying that Bouterse was present at the killings of 15 political opponents, including lawyers, journalists, professors, military officers and businessmen, accused of plotting against the government and that he other members of the firing squad were ordered to fire under the threat of death. In 2009, the trial of the former dictator resumed [JURIST report] with testimony by a former prison warden that he brought a leader of a 1982 military coup to an army barracks for execution.

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