Suriname court convicts President Bouterse of murder for 1982 executions

President Desi Bouterse on his present trip to China.Photo: President Desi Bouterse on his present trip to China.

Reuters) – A court in Suriname today convicted President Desi Bouterse of murder for the execution of 15 opponents in 1982 during an earlier term as military ruler of the South American country after he and other soldiers led a violent coup to seize power.

The court sentenced Bouterse, who is currently in China on an official visit, to 20 years in prison.   

Bouterse has dominated much of the history of Suriname since its 1975 independence from the Netherlands. He led the country of 560,000 people through the 1980s, assumed office again in 2010 and secured re-election five years later.         

The military court today ruled that Bouterse had overseen an operation in which soldiers under his command abducted 16 leading government critics – including lawyers, journalists and university teachers – from their homes and killed 15 of them at a colonial fortress in Paramaribo

One trade union leader survived and later gave testimony against Bouterse.

Bouterse, who has steadfastly denied the charges, will have two weeks to appeal the decision.

Critics have vilified the 74-year-old president as a dictator who has clung to power in the country, sandwiched between Guyana and French Guiana on the northeastern shoulder of South America.

In 1999, he was convicted in absentia of drug trafficking by a court in the Netherlands though he has denied any wrongdoing. A Suriname judge in 2005 convicted Bouterse’s son, Dino, of leading a gang that trafficked in cocaine, illegal arms and stolen luxury cars.

As a junior military officer, Bouterse took part in the 1980 coup against Suriname’s first prime minister, Henck Arron, and immediately promoted himself to army chief-of-staff, becoming effective ruler of the government.

Western missions in Suriname today issued the following statement:

Common Statement on the 8 December Trials
By the Heads of Mission accredited to Suriname of
France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States

The Heads of Mission accredited to Suriname of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States have closely monitored the progress of the 8 December Trials over the years. We appreciate the challenging circumstances under which the Military Court operates and commend the Court on reaching a verdict in the cases before the Civilian Chamber.

The trials have been instrumental in reconstructing the events and political context of December 8, 1982. The integrity and independence of the Judiciary is a pillar in Suriname society. It is critical that the final verdicts in the killing of 15 innocent citizens — whatever those verdicts may be after the appeals process is complete — are implemented and upheld in accordance with the rule of law.

Lastly, our thoughts go out to all of the families and loved ones of those who have been a part of this tragedy. The verdict will undoubtedly prove instrumental in helping the nation move towards reconciliation.

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