Bouterse Case to resume, this time with the defendant
This just in from Global Military Justice Reform contributor Brig. Gen. (R) Jan Peter Spijk:
As you may recall, on December 19, 2019, Surinam’s former President Desi Bouterse was convicted in absentia to 20 years in prison by Surinam’s Military Court ("Krijgsraad"), headed by Judge Cynthia Valstein–Montnor. He was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of 15 opponents on December 8, 1982.
A brief history of the facts: Bouterse was one of the leaders of the February 25, 1980, "Sergeants-coup" which ended the first Surinam government, after its independence from the Netherlands in 1975. Previous to his military career in Surinam, Bouterse had been an NCO – sports-instructor in the Dutch Army.
Since the military leadership did not manage to revitalize the struggling economy, dissatisfaction grew, also within the Surinam Armed Forces. On December 7, 1982, Bouterse ordered the arrest of 16 prominent opponents, amongst whom two military officers, lawyers, businessmen, journalists and a union leader. One of the two officers was lieutenant Soerindre Rambocus, who - together with the author of this blog – had graduated from the Netherlands’ Royal Military Academy in 1978. The group was transported to Fort Zeelandia in Paramaribo, Surinam’s capital. As witnesses have testified, the death sentences were read out that night by Bouterse, after which many individuals were tortured and 15 were subsequently shot on the ramparts of Fort Zeelandia. On December 10, 1982, Bouterse proclaimed on the national television that the group had been shot while trying to flee the Fort. In 2007 he apologized for the killings, but maintained that he had not been present in person.
Bouterse remained the military dictator of Surinam from 1980 until 1988. After that period parliamentary democracy was reintroduced and Bouterse became the leader of the National Democratic Party. He was elected President of the Republic in 2010 and re-elected in 2015.
During his Presidency, Bouterse had refused to participate in the criminal procedure. However, at the May 25, 2020, parliamentary elections he was defeated by (now President) Chan Santokhi. Although Bouterse requested a recount of the votes in several districts, the outcome did not change. A peaceful transition of power took place on July 13, 2020.
After a long delay due to COVID-19, the appeal procedure has de facto started on October 30. Given the nature of this appeal procedure under Surinamese Criminal Law, it is required that the defendant be present in person. He did not show up, however. At the request of the defense, the Krijgsraad did not disclose the reason for his absence. The proceedings have now been postponed until November 30.
The International Commission of Jurists has announced it will follow the procedure closely, in order to ensure that the ‘judicial process runs its course with due impartiality, independence and fairness to all parties concerned, and insists that the principles of the rule of law be respected by all.’ See the ICJ-webpage here: https://www.icj.org/suriname-icj-resumes-trial-monitoring-of-former-president-desi-bouterse/