By Caribbean News Global contributor
PARAMARIBO, Suriname — A panel of three judges on Friday, marked the end of a historic trial that began in November 2007, in Suriname. The court convicted president Desi Bouterse, in the 1982 killings of 15 political opponents to a sentenced of 20 years in prison.
The case is known in Suriname as the “December killings,” the victims included some of the most prominent citizens of Suriname such as lawyers, journalists, and a university professor. Bouterse and 24 co-defendants are accused of rounding them up and executing them inside a colonial fortress in the capital of Paramaribo.
Bouterse’s attorney, Irvin Kanhai, immediately appealed the decision, calling it a “political verdict.”
“Democracy remains of paramount importance,” the government said in a statement, acknowledging that Bouterse previously accepted “political responsibility” for the killings in 2007 when he offered his first public apology but insisted he was not present.
Hugo Essed, a lawyer for relatives of the victims, said Bouterse should step down immediately. “It’s a shame for him to remain as president,” he said.
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 maybe 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.
In a statement, the Surinamese government said it had “taken note of the developments and calls on the community to keep the peace.” Suriname’s opposition political parties have demanded the immediate resignation of president Desi Bouterse, reportedly in China and will later travel to Cuba to strengthen trade relations.
Bouterse led a military junta in Suriname in 1980 after the “Sergeants’ Coup,” which overthrew the government of Henck Arron. He became president of the country in 2010 and was re-elected five years later.
Angelic del Castillo, head of the opposition Democratic Alternative ‘91 party, said Bouterse had “disqualified himself” from remaining Suriname’s leader and demanded he immediately resign. “This is in the interest of the dignity of the office and of our nation,” del Castillo said in a statement.
“Important to find the truth. Survivors have an answer after 37 years. The trial must be respected,” the Netherlands foreign minister Stef Blok said.