- Soldiers under Bouterse's command abducted 16 people then regarded as his administration's leading critics.
- Bouterse has all along denied the accusations, and chances are high that his lawyers would appeal the decision.
- Bouterse has a long history with the courts, and still has a Europol arrest warrant against him for drug trafficking.
A Suriname military court on Friday slammed the nation’s president, Dési Bouterse, with a 20 years prison sentence for the murder of his 15 opponents in 1982. The sentence is the conclusion of a process that took 12 years and is likely to add more political uncertainty to a country that is already unstable. According to the Court’s conclusion, Bouterse fully participated in the executions and killed so as “to stay in power.”
The murders took place on December 8, 1982. The opponents of the military regime were brutally tortured and eventually murdered at Fort Zeelandia in Paramaribo. As per the ruling, the Court was fully convinced that Bouterse ordered the operation, in which soldiers under his command abducted 16 people then regarded as his administration’s leading critics.
They included lawyers, journalists, and university professors, as well as members of the military critical of the authoritarian government. The critics were abducted from their respective homes and later on, brutally murdered. One trade union leader narrowly survived the murder and later testified against Bouterse. As per the official version of the story, they were killed in an escape attempt. In Suriname, the case became known as “The December Murders.”
Bouterse served as head of a military government of the South American country through the 1980s, then ascended to power again in 2010, and secured re-election five years later. Currently aged 74, Bouterse has been at the helm of the country’s leadership since 2010. Under the Surinamese Constitution, the president of the country is indirectly elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term. He was reelected in 2015 and expects to be reelected next year.
At the present moment, President Bouterse is in China on an official trip, and the Court has granted him a two weeks window period in case he wants to appeal against the ruling. Bouterse has all along denied the accusations, and chances are high that his lawyers would appeal the decision. The head of state has so far not commented on his conviction.
The country’s Opposition parties have called for the immediate resignation of the president following the court ruling. However, the military Court that declared him guilty has not yet ordered his arrest. Bouterse has a long history with the courts.
In 1999, for instance, he was sentenced, albeit in absentia, by a Dutch court to 11 years in jail on accusations of trafficking half a ton of cocaine. To date, Europol is still holding an arrest warrant against him. Experts say the arrest is valid as the crime was committed before he became president.
Witnesses also link Bouterse to a cartel called the “Suri Kartel,” which trafficks cocaine to Europe. In 2006, a US Embassy document published by WikiLeaks revealed his drug smuggling relationship with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). His brother, Dino Bouterse, is serving 16 years in the US for cocaine trafficking.