Six coalition MPs submitted a bill to the National Assembly last Monday to amend the Amnesty Law 1989 in such a way that it would cover the period April 1982 — August 1992. This may ultimately mean that the ongoing but slow-moving trial against Bouterse as the main suspect would come to an end without a verdict. The bill would provide amnesty for Bouterse and his loyalists for all crimes committed between April 1, 1980 and August 19, 1992.
Bouterse, Suriname’s former army chief and government leader from 1980 to 1987, together with over 20 co-defendants, is standing trial for the murder of 15 opponents of his then military government on December 8, 1982 in Fort Zeelandia, the then military headquarters in the capital.
The amnesty move came just two weeks after co-defendant Ruben Rozendaal told the court that Bouterse was at the scene when the 15 men were brutally tortured and subsequently shot and killed. Bouterse came to power on February 25, 1980, when he led a successful military coup against the democratically elected Arron-administration.
Around 1,000 Bouterse-supporters came to Independent Square next to the parliament on Friday to give moral support to Bouterse and his coalition MPs. During a surprise appearance the president told the gathering that he has nothing to do with the proposed bill.
“If I wanted amnesty, we would have proposed this bill right after we came into office in 2010,” he told his supporters, claiming that Rozendaal, a former army lieutenant, was a “liar” and “traitor”.
The bill requires a simple majority for approval in the 51-seat parliament. Several years ago Bouterse publicly claimed “political responsibility” for the murders, since he was government and army leader at that time, but denied killing anybody.
Meanwhile, relatives of the victims, religious organizations, opposition in parliament, and local human rights organizations have called for rejection of the proposal. In an invited comment former president and currently a member of parliament, Ronald Venetiaan, said that the bill is “a blatant involvement in the trial”.
He further noted, that the Amnesty Act 1989 was part of the peace and reconciliation process to bring an end to the internal armed conflicts from 1985-1992. “In December ’82 there was no armed conflict.”
He indicated that the indictable offences that are covered by the Amnesty Law 1989 are no comparison to the extra-judicial killings of December 1982. Among others, the amnesty in 1989 covered crimes such as armed robbery, rape, arson, battery and killings during firefights between the combatants.
“In December ‘82 it was different. People have been killed while in custody. People were taken from their home and while in custody tortured and subsequently shot and killed,” said Venetiaan.