This report, published by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in February 2022, outlines the admissibility of a petition filed by the family members of 15 victims of the 'December Murders' committed in December 1982 in Suriname's capital Paramaribo. During the 'December Murders', 15 men were unlawfully arrested between December 7 and 8 December 1982 by military officers and taken to Fort Zeelandia, the main compound of the Armed Forces in Paramaribo. They were then allegedly subjected to torture and summarily executed at Fort Zeelandia by the military. The petitioners allege that their relatives were targeted by the military dictatorship of Desiré Delano Bouterse and were ultimately killed on or around December 9, 1982. From 2010-2020, Bouterse was elected President of Suriname, and in April 2012, the political party led by him passed an act which purported to give amnesty to those allegedly responsible for the December Murders. This law was later invalidated by a court ruling.
According to the petitioners, there was no investigation into the events of December 1982 for 18 years, due to a climate of fear and repression that followed the 1980 coup d’état by Bouterse; accordingly, no information was provided to the families of the 15 men, nor were any steps taken to ensure criminal accountability. The petitioners state it was not until 2000 that a criminal process was opened against 25 identified individuals - including former military leader Bouterse - for their role in the above-mentioned crimes. Furthermore, the petitioners also invoke the exception to the exhaustion of domestic remedies, noting that the Inter-American Commission has repeatedly held that military jurisdiction does not provide either a suitable forum, or an adequate remedy for the purpose of investigating, judging, and punishing alleged violations of human rights. The petitioners further argue that there has been unwarranted delay in delivering a final judgment, given that more than 30 years have passed since the 'December Murders' without any final judgment being issued with respect to the 25 persons accused of torturing and killing the 15 men. Finally, they argue that they have effectively been prevented from exhausting domestic remedies, since the Krijgsraad (a military court comprised of civilian judges) suspended the criminal proceedings against the 25 defendants pending a resolution of the Constitutional Court on the compatibility of the Amnesty Act with the Constitution of Suriname.
Suriname has rejected the petition as inadmissible, principally on the ground of failure to exhaust domestic remedies. While the State acknowledges that these persons were killed at Fort Zeelandia, it contends that criminal proceedings are still ongoing and that the petitioners have failed to exhaust domestic remedies.
In its conclusion, the Inter-American Commission notes that the investigation into the deaths of the 15 men started in the High Court of Justice in 2000 but was later transferred to a military tribunal for the trial of those identified as suspects. In this case, the IACHR has reiterated on several occasions that military jurisdiction does not provide a suitable recourse to investigate, try and punish violations of human rights recognized by the American Convention, that were allegedly committed by members of the military, or with their collaboration or acquiescence. Regarding the deadline for presenting the petition, the IACHR observes that the facts alleged took place starting in 1982, and that their consequences - including the alleged failure to investigate and punish those responsible - continues to the present day. Therefore, considering that this petition was filed on August 29, 2014, the Inter-American Commission finds that it meets the requirement of a reasonable period.
In conclusion, the IACHR finds the petition admissible in relation to Articles 8 (right to a fair trial) and 25 (right to judicial protection) of the American Convention, in relation to Article 1.1 and to Articles 1, 6 and 8 of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture.