PARAMARIBO, (Reuters) – Lawmakers in Suriname granted amnesty yesterday to the killers of 15 opponents of President Desi Bouterse 30 years ago in a move that is certain to draw fresh criticism of the South American leader.
Bouterse – a convicted cocaine smuggler who previously seized power in two coups and is wanted in the Netherlands to serve an 11-year prison sentence for drug trafficking – still faces a trial in his own country for the 1982 murders.
He has refused to attend those court sessions for four years, and it is unclear whether the prosecution will proceed after the vote by the National Assembly, which approved the amnesty bill 28-12 after three days of debate.
“We did this in the belief that the people stood behind us and will stand behind us,” said Ricardo Panka, a member of the president’s Mega Combination coalition in parliament.
Ronald Venetiaan, an opposition member and former president, said he voted against the bill: “It underlines lawlessness and gives lawlessness a false legal basis,” he told parliament.
Unions and other local rights group said they were planning a silent march next Tuesday in protest.
Rights groups had appealed to legislators not to pass the bill, which is an amendment to an earlier 1989 amnesty law and offers immunity for human rights violations committed between 1982-1992 during Bouterse’s military rule.
“GROSS RIGHTS VIOLATIONS”
Relatives of some of the 15 victims killed in 1982, and the multi-faith Inter-Religious Council in Suriname, had also urged parliament not to back the amendment.
“Amnesties cannot be applied to those responsible for crimes under international law and gross human rights violations including extrajudicial executions,” Amnesty International said.
It remains to be seen now whether the prosecution of Bouterse, 66, for the three decade-old murders will continue.
It began in November 2007 and after 30 sessions – none of them attended by Bouterse – the public prosecutor had been scheduled to give his closing speech on April 13.
Last month, one suspect testified how he saw Bouterse at the Fort Zeelandia military base on the day in December 1982 when 15 of the coup leader’s opponents were killed there.
Bouterse took part in two coups in 1980 and 1990, then was convicted in absentia of drug-trafficking by the Netherlands in 1999. He took office in August 2010 promising to fight corruption and work with the opposition to develop the country.
A spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters this week that her boss was closely following the developments in Paramaribo, and noted that court cases related to the bill were at an advanced stage.
“Healing and reconciliation are only achievable if sufficient light is shed on the underlying events, within the framework of the basic principles of the separation of powers and respect of international commitments,” the spokeswoman said.