Human Rights Violations and Persistence of Injustice: Suriname 1982-2011

Posted on | december 7, 2011 | No Comments

Examination of the events preceding the December 8 massacres in Suriname revealed that the killing spree was based on the personal feelings of the leader of the NMR (Nationale Militaire Raad, National Military Council) Desi Bouterse. The massive protests from the intellectuals, students and trade unions, demanding the retreat of the army from civilian life that ensued in the fall of 1982, were just the tip of the iceberg. The massive criticism that came to be after the stepping down of president Chin A Sen in March 1982, could not be curbed, not even by strong censoring agency and propaganda machinery of the Stanvaste Movement. By 1982, people had enough of the antics of the NMR, specifically the fact that the country was being turned into a Cuban style socialist state. The NMR was losing control over society and in their opinion the only way to regain control was through repression and fear.

THE EARLY DAYS 1980-1982
It is hard to phantom why the people at first had lauded and hailed the military for ousting NPKII government of Henck Arron in the February 1980 coup. The people felt that they were salvaged from this corrupt lot of politicians and failed to overlook the blatant human rights violations committed in the first hours of the coup. The wide-spread enthusiasm and group-think muffled criticism on the rapid dismantling of democratic institutions; people who saw things differently were branded “subversive elements of the Revolution”.

The majority of the military regime embraced Cuban style revolution and direct democracy. People were invited to send in ideas on tackling crime and corruption. It was indeed by popular demand that the former political leaders were brought to trial for corruption and bad government. A “Special Court” was designed according to principles of Marshal law, with a special prosecutor and headed by a special judge. It was because of the lawyers, John Baboeram, Kenneth Gonsalves and Harold Riedewald who did a formidable job in defending their clients that this court became reduced to a toothless tiger. Desi Bouterse and his allies viewed the defeat of the special court as a personal defeat, because they could no longer rely on this sham of an institution to get their adversaries out of the way through mock trials.

But it was the contra-insurgency staged by Surindre Rambocus, (former officer) in March of 1982 together with Jiwan Sheombar that marked the turning point in the relationship between the civilians and the military. This contra insurgency was the second attempt to overthrow the military regime; the first attempt stemmed from March of 1981 by Wilfred Hawker. During the contra-insurgency Hawker was ‘freed from jail, to fight with Rambocus and Sheombar. Because of betrayal of one of the stagers this contra coup failed. Hawker however became caught in the cross-fire and had to be treated in the emergency room. Again because of betrayal Hawker then was snatched out of the ER by Roy Horb, second in command in the NMR, who went on to put him in front of a firing squad.

Rambocus and Sheombar were brought to trial, and their defense team argued that said contra-insurgency could not be qualified treason, because the incumbent regime used the same route to get the power. Bouterse and his allies were livid they felt that the defense had bitten them in the back and viewed this course of justice as a personal attack.

There is a great risk involved when writing about the personal feelings and deliberations of politicians and leaders, because it is hard to delve in the psyche of the individual. What we know about the behavior of politicians is that what is revealed, their actions and handling of issues.Desi Bouterse has in more recent times revealed a dark side of his character, his inability to deal with critique, to communicate, to make amends. Only recent he abruptly curtailed a conference after being criticized by participants. Prior to that incident, a visit to Bigi-Poika also made headlines because the president lost his self-control, using profane language after criticism from one of the Indian Chiefs. Extrapolating these tangibles of the contemporary to the events of the fall of 1982 can in fact help to explain the massacres of 1982.

Djagendre Ramkhelawan, stapte met zijn partij DA uit de Milennium Combinatie vanwege Bouterses kandidatuur voor het presidentschap: “ Om hem heen zitten alleen maar mensen die hij zelf heeft gekozen. Kritiek kan hij niet hebben. En die is wel te geven, want zijn parate kennis is slecht. Het blijft een sportleraar; die kan je toch geen president maken?” (source: dossier NRC-Handelsblad, 21-11-2007)

The events ensuing the stepping down of President Chin A Sen, the first and then second counter-coup, on- and- off strikes and street protests by the trade unions, students and concerned citizens could not be handled by the inexperienced NMR. They retaliated with excessive use of force to curb protests, but to no avail. The public continued to call for the return to democracy, for the eviction of the military from political life, for free and fair elections, against the introduction of a society modeled according to the principles of Cuban style socialism.

Indeed the massive Cuban presence in the capital, their involvement in the NMR and in Surinamese affairs was also seen as a catalyst for conflict. After the stepping down of Henk Chin A Sen, the ultra-left became a more prominent political factor, giving shape to the socialist ideology that in the wake of 1981 started to determine government policy-making. People loathed the censorship, the peoples’ militia and the Stanvaste Committee, the decoys of repression. People were also fed-up with the curfew, the omnipresence of the army in the street, the intimidations and lack of freedoms. The visit by Maurice Bishop, socialist leader of Grenada was kindled by said ideas on socialism, revolution and non-alignment. Desi Bouterse and some of the members of the NMR had indeed high hopes that a visit by mr. Bishop would turn things around, help restore the stature and belief in the military. They expected the people to turn up in drones, profiting from the free transportation offered by the NMR. Instead the people used said transportation to visit the manifestation organized by the “Organisatie voor Democratie”, to listen to the speeches of Cyril Daal and others.

The ensuing events are murky, but Desi Bouterse over the years did make mention of the reasons for the summary executions of the 15 men on the eve of December 7, 1982. The fact that he saw these 15 men as his enemies tells us a lot about his psyche, a man who takes everything personal, a man unable to distinguish between the political and the personal:

In de loop der jaren neemt Bouterse in de spaarzame keren dat hij over de moorden sprak uiteindelijk wel de verantwoordelijkheid voor de gebeurtenis. ,,Het was zij of wij”, aldus de voormalige bevelhebber en tegenwoordige parlementariër. Officieel is de lezing nog steeds dat de arrestanten een coup zouden hebben beraamd en dat ze ,,op de vlucht zijn neergeschoten”. Bouterse houdt ook nog steeds vol dat hij tijdens de executies niet in Fort Zeelandia zou zijn geweest. (Source: NRC Handelsblad, Joost Oranje 20-11-2007)

But what did these men do to Mr Bouterse personally? Was it their petition to the Commander in Chief and leader of the NMR to facilitate the return to democracy, to reinstate democratic institutions that caused personal hurt and aggravation? Could it be in fact true that Did Bouterse indeed feel that he was a direct representative of the state of Suriname? Analysis of his speeches indeed give rise to the impression that Bouterse indeed feels le etat ce moi, and this attitude explains his anger and his frustration over the actions of the civility prior to the December massacres.

The journalist Brahm Behr wrote extensively about the thieving and stealing members of the NMR and informed the public about the hypocrisy of the NMR and their cronies. He was arrested after these publications in 1981. Lesley Rahman and Frank Wijngaarde also journalists consistently questioned the promotions in the army , the role of military in civilian life and their government and were staunch defenders of free speech. The lawyers Kenneth Gonsalves, John Baboeram, Eddy Hoost and Harold Riedewald only did their jobs, defending their clients and defending human rights in due process. The scholar, Gerard Leckie was concerned about the politicization of the University of Suriname, the incorporation of what was perceived leftist political ideology into the curriculum. Gerard Leckie together with Gonsalves and other founded the earlier mentioned Organisatie voor Democratie, to protest the advancing involvement of the military in political life, and for the restoration of democracy. Surindre Rambocus and Jiwan Sheombar were shot for their part in the counter-insurgency of March 1982, Sugrim Oemrawsing and Robby Sohansing were killed because of their alleged part in the counter-insurgency of March 1982. Josef Slagveer and Andre Kamperveen were before being executed, forced to read some bogus statement on camera, that they had been plotting a counter insurgency against the legitimate regime. Cyril Daal’s wrong-doing apparently consisted of drawing more people to his mass-meeting than Desi Bouterse, and saying things on stage that were probably ill received by the regime.

Desi Bouterse has always benefited from the fairness of democracy, fairness that he consistently begrudges both his adversaries and the Surinamese people. The contemporary gives rise to the notion that Desi Bouterse has a hard time dealing with criticism and opposition, a man who ruthlessly takes care of anybody who crosses him. More information has come to light, sources such as internet revealed a slew of information on the dealings of the NMR, Desi Bouterse and other members of the Group of 16. Social media also make sweeping things under the rug challenging.

Uncanny is also the fact that part of Surinamese electorate seems to find it hard to discern between right and wrong, electing an alleged killer for president during the elections of 2010. The strangest thing is that the majority of the younger generation Surinamese seems to be completely oblivious of what transpired in the 1980s. The shocking postings that appeared on the internet and social media during last years’ commemoration demonstrate social and moral decay and lack of historical knowledge.

Willem alexander 20 juli 2010 – 7:24 pm: “Als dit aantal van 15 werd opgevoerd naar 25 zouden we waarschijnlijk eerder ons doel hebben bereikt in Swit sranang dan heb ik me nog door de vingers gekeken.of gereshuffeld” (source:

Mr. Bouterse has embraced Jesus and the bible in an attempt to transform his image, using the bible in hopes of transforming his image, adding a sense of morality to his tarnished reputation, a convicted drug-dealer, alleged murderer. He played the part of born again Christian well, winning the election with the bible in hand, quoting scriptures:

Na bijna twee uur eindigt hij met Spreuken 16, vers 18: „Hoogmoed komt voor de val”. Dan warmt hij zich aan het publiek, omringd door lijfwachten, zingend over zijn geliefd Suriname. Nog één keer komt hij terug, voor „een omissie mijnerzijds”. Hij wil zo velen bedanken, hij kan niet alle namen noemen, maar alle briefschrijvers, de geestelijke leiders met wie hij contact heeft, zijn geliefden: „Ze lijden pijn voor de weg die ik moet afleggen.” De mensen gaan huiswaarts, nog nalachend en grappend. Een man, blikje Parbobier in de hand, weet het zeker: ,,Deze man kunnen ze niet opsluiten. Hij is een grote leider. Hij weet veel van zoveel mensen in het land. Die mannen gaan in hun eigen vingers snijden als ze aan Bouta komen.”

But one cannot blame the youth or the rest of the people for the mishap of the previous governments, because they all failed to see the ramifications of their failure to educate the youth on this lost decade. The previous government lacked the dexterity to during its tenure deal with the December Massacres, instead government choose to ignore the fact that human rights had so blatantly been violated by the military regime, consistently ignoring the petitions from relatives to bring the violators to trial, which is why the statue of limitations could only just be overridden in 2006.

AUTHOR: Natascha Adama
E-MAIL: nataliapestova23 [@]


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