Leiden Law Blog

So long after 1982: a way out for Suriname

So long after 1982: a way out for Suriname

Suriname (at least legally one with the Netherlands until 1975) is deeply divided on the killings of some fifteen prominent public figures by rebelling military forces in Paramaribo in 1982. To this very day no one has been convicted for this at all. A recent amnesty law excludes any further criminal procedures against the suspects concerned. In protest against this parliamentary majority, victims’ descendants and others are now raising their voices: justice has to be done at last, in the name of so many wrongful deaths.

But this sense of justice may turn against itself. A fair criminal trial against the suspects concerned ought to lead to acquittal. After so many years, no conclusive evidence remains against any of the individuals concerned. Any remaining physical traces of crimes committed cannot be decisively linked to any group member. Reliable testimonies and confessions are not to be expected at all. “You were there thus you’re guilty” won’t do of course.

So proper criminal procedure ought to lead to acquittal, affirming the rule of law but wronging the victims’ descendants one more time. Amnesty or taking suspects to court: a dilemma without any humanly acceptable solution it would seem.

There is a way out, exemplified in Norwegian criminal procedure. Crime victims no longer depend on an offenders’ conviction to obtain redress. The state steps in, accepting liability for having failed in the protection against crime and trying to make up for this by compensating the victims. Thus adequate redress for victims no longer depends on the offenders, who are so often not brought to task.

The same could be done in Suriname. The state ought to publicly accept liability for the 1982 killings: “this ought not to have happened, the state failed in its primary protective role and thus has to make up for this in as far as still feasible”. Material payments may substantiate apologies, serving to show that the state respects victims – and takes itself seriously. No amount can undo the wrongful harm done here, but then no money at all would imply hollow words.

No legal formalities are needed here. A sober ceremony may seal the settlement of this criminal account. Since one of the military concerned is currently  President of Suriname, another high representative of state could act here in order to do at least some justice to the victims after all.

Realization of this may end any further need for criminal procedure, the conflict having been resolved better by other means. Thus the amnesty law becomes obsolete as well, like so much more or less official paperwork promoted to redundancy by real progress.

Such progress is also to be expected in relations between Suriname and the Netherlands. This no longer ought to be hindered by ill-worded statements from The Low Countries like: first deal with your criminals, then we can be nice, helpful neighbours again. This is extortion at the expense of the Suriname people, and has nothing at all to do with the crimes in question.

So – “jump over your shadows” and they will disappear. 

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