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OUR CARIBBEAN: Watchful eyes on Suriname’s new amnesty law

Rickey Singh

OUR CARIBBEAN: Watchful eyes on Suriname’s new amnesty law

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Whether by coincidence or else, there were two significant developments last week involving truth and justice, with Suriname at the centre of initiatives that also included the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The significance revolves around the Suriname parliament’s approval by a substantial majority on April 5 of the granting of amnesty to President Desi Bouterse and several other Surinamese implicated in the massacre of 15 fellow citizens in 1982.
The killings had followed a military coup led by Bouterse.
The approved new amnesty law consolidates immunity for violations of human rights committed during the ten-year period of military rule (1982-92) under Bouterse’s leadership. Ironically, it is Bouterse, the democratically elected head of state since July 2010, who initiated the law’s enactment.
Of relevance is that for all the national and international protests over the killings of the 15 Surinamese, no elected government in Paramaribo over the past 24 years – including those with decisive parliamentary majorities – took any significant initiative to generate public focus on the frustrating, tortoise-like approach of a military tribunal that has been dealing with the case of the massacred amid cries for justice from families of the victims.
Last week, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights expressed its deep concern over the new amnesty legislation in relation to the removal of an exception in the 1992 amnesty law that’s applicable to crimes against humanity and war crimes.  
The commission noted that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had repeatedly established that an amnesty law “may not serve as a justification for failing to comply with the duty to investigate and to ensure access to justice”. Specifically, it stressed, “states may not invoke existing provisions of domestic law, such as the 1992 Amnesty Law in the case of Suriname . . .”.
At the same time, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza was announcing the organization’s agreement to a request from the Bouterse government for help in establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Speaking from Colombia during the Sixth Summit of the Americas, at which President Bouterse was among participating heads of state, Insulza promised to “provide all necessary technical assistance in order to bring about steadily improving tolerance and reconciliation through objective truth and finding . . . ”.
As Amnesty International and the IACHR maintain their respective concerns about the implications of Suriname’s new amnesty law, the OAS Secretariat and the Bouterse government could perhaps also reflect on the findings and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions that were established, within months of each other in 1995, by Haiti (under President Aristide) and South Africa, with Nelson Mandela as president.