Saturday, July 5, 2014

Department of unfinished business: the December Murders court-martial

President Dési Bouterse
Remember Surinamese President Dési Bouterse's court-martial in the "December [1982] Murders" case? While the trial was ongoing, the National Assembly amended the Amnesty Law, raising a question as to whether the legislation was constitutional, something the court-martial itself lacked power to decide. This meant the Constitutional Court provided for by article 144 of the 1987 Constitution but never actually brought into being had to be created. Legislation doing so was proposed (for the second time) last summer. Until that court is up and running and rules on the validity of the amnesty amendment, the court-martial remains in limbo.

Stabroek News had this account two years ago:
The court martial has no choice but to apply the Amnesty Act and end proceedings against Desi Bouterse and other suspects in the December murders trial, as it has no authority to rule on the applicability of laws, jurist Jennifer van Dijk-Silos tells de Ware Tijd.
Judge-Advocate Roy Elgin had proposed to adjourn the trial until the Constitutional Court – which has not been established yet – has ruled on the Act. Van Dijk-Silos says few appreciate the dilemma faced by the judiciary and the pressure it has been under since adoption of the Amnesty Act. “This is very difficult for the court. If it ignores the Act, a judicial crisis may ensue. They will have to apply the Act,” she says. Neither the government nor the judiciary may ignore laws passed by Parliament and promulgated by the government. Technically, there is nothing wrong with the Amnesty Act as the Constitution allows amnesty. The Act also does not go against international law, as amnesty is allowed in many situations, except for crimes against humanity. Van Dijk-Silos notes that international law clearly describes crimes against humanity, mentioning the Rwanda slaughters as an example of such crimes as they were large-scale structural murders. She does have doubts about whether this was the right time to amend the 1992 Amnesty Act, as the December murders trial is still ongoing. “This case is even more sensitive because the trial is still ongoing. The timing was not entirely right and so you get very emotional reactions,” she says.
Van Dijk-Silos calls the 1992 Amnesty Act “opportunistic legislation,” claiming some people were granted amnesty without any problem then. Says Van Dijk-Silos, “That problem was solved then with opportunistic legislation. If all human rights violations that have occurred in our country had been considered as a whole in 1992, we would have had a well-considered and different Amnesty Act.” She believes it is unfortunate that a good dialogue about this issue is not possible at the moment due to the many emotions.
It has also been reported that in early 2013 the court-martial refused to dismiss the case because it was still waiting for a ruling by the Constitutional Court.

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