Fmr. Suriname president Bouterse sentenced to 20 years over 1982 murders
The Suriname court-martial again sentenced the country’s former president, Desi Bouterse, to twenty years in prison for his involvement in the December Murders of 1982. Bouterse, 75, was not present at the verdict due to an illness.
The judges upheld the prison sentence that Bouterse was given in 2019 for the murders of 15 opponents to his military regime. Because Bouterse was never present during that trial, he was sentenced in absentia. He then filed an objection, forcing the court-martial to reconsider his case.
Bouterse remained free after his conviction in 2019. He was allowed to await the handling of his objection in freedom. It was not discussed during the session on Monday whether Bouterse will be arrested now that the court-martial has upheld the decision.
The conviction itself is not yet final. Bouterse's lawyer has fourteen days to appeal and has already said that he will do so. The military magistrate, who served as prosecutor, can also object to the conviction in the next two weeks.
Bouterse led a military regime in the 1980s. He is not suspected of personally killing people at Fort Zeelandia in Paramaribo in December 1982. The former army chief has said he is sorry he did not predict that the December Murders would happen
The notorious murders did not stand in the way of his political career. Bouterse eventually became president 28 years later after his National Democratic Party won the elections. He remained in power until 2020 when his party suffered an election defeat, and his rival Chan Santokhi became the new president.
Gerard Spong, a prominent criminal defense attorney in the Netherlands, was not surprised by the outcome. Born in Suriname, Spong lost friends and colleagues in the Fort Zeelandia murders of 1982. He is an expert on Surinamese law and has campaigned since 2000 on behalf of the surviving relatives to bring Bouterse to trial
"I had expected this. It was already based on an extensive default judgment with 56 pieces of evidence. There was no way to get past that,” he said. Spong expects Bouterse to appeal, but called this a "deferral of execution".
Eddy Wijngaarde, brother of a victim of the murders and the Secretary of the 8 December 1982 Foundation, said he was disappointed. He had hoped that the judge would finally end the case. According to Wijngaarde, this was possible because Bouterse has always invoked his right to remain silent.
“Exercising the right to remain silent is an improper use of that remedy. That is why the judge could have ended this process, without giving Bouterse the opportunity to appeal again," said Wijngaarde. "I think it was a mistake on the part of the court that they did not do that."
Hugo Essed, lawyer for the next of kin, does not think that the appeal will take years. "I expect that Bouterse will also invoke his right to remain silent during the appeal. I see no reason that he will now provide all sorts of testimony. I expect that the appeal will be settled very quickly."
Reporting by ANP