Suriname court denies former President Bouterse’s appeal in murder trial News
Pieter Van Maele, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Suriname court denies former President Bouterse’s appeal in murder trial

The High Court of Justice of Suriname upheld on Wednesday a 20-year prison sentence for former President Desi Bouterse in connection with the December 1982 murders of 15 political opponents during his regime.

Bouterse, who served as president of the sovereign state from 2010 to 2020, initially rose to power as Suriname’s de facto leader from 1980 to 1987 after launching a coup and establishing military rule. It was during this period that the murder of 15 prominent opposition figures took place. The “December Murders,” as they are widely referred to, included victims who were lawyers, journalists and military officials. They were tortured and executed without trial for their criticism of Bouterse’s military dictatorship or for their involvement in the attempted countercoup of March 1982. At the time, Bouterse claimed on a national broadcast with Surinamese network STVS, that the victims—whom he called “detainees”—had been fatally shot when they attempted to flee.

Bouterse was initially convicted in 2019 for his role in the murders, following the overturning of a previous law proposed by members of Bouterse’s political party intended to grant immunity to the suspects in the December Murders. The amnesty law was protested within Suriname and globally, with non-governmental and human rights organizations unanimously condemning its passing. The Netherlands, which exercised colonial rule over Suriname until 1975, immediately suspended 20 million euros in development aid to its former colony.

The amnesty law was eventually overturned by a court ruling. In November 2019, a Surinamese military court handed down a 20-year sentence to Bouterse for the murders. He appealed in January 2020 and remained free whilst awaiting the outcome of the case. The decision taken by the High Court on Wednesday brings an end to the lengthy legal battle.

Under Suriname law, Bouterse has eight days to write to his successor, incumbent President Chan Santokhi, to ask for clemency. It appears unlikely that a petition for clemency will be granted, however, as in an interview with the Dutch current affairs television program Nieuwsuur on Thursday following the decision, Santokhi insisted that it is inevitable that Bouterse will be imprisoned: “There is no other choice,” he remarked, “the laws of the country must be followed.”

Earlier on Thursday, Santokhi expressed his hope that the Public Prosecutor’s Office would handle the matter swiftly. He stated, “One thing is certain: there is a verdict, and this verdict must be executed.”

Five other suspects have been sentenced in connection with the killings, with an additional two convicted, though they are believed to have fled Suriname. The Dutch embassy in Paramaribo has issued a warning about the possibility of unrest within the country following the ruling.