Suriname’s former dictator Desi Bouterse was sentenced on Wednesday to 20 years in prison for the murders of 15 opponents of the then-military regime in December 1982, ending a historic 16-year legal process.
Bouterse, 78, was previously sentenced in the case in 2019 and in 2021 but had appealed both decisions. The court on Wednesday upheld his conviction and the latest sentencing was seen as final with no more appeals allowed. The judge handed down 20 years given the ex-president’s age and that it was the highest sentence allowed at the time of the killings.
“We have received a gem of a verdict,” said Hugo Essed, lawyer for the victims’ relatives, adding that he can now “proudly” say there is an independent constitutional state in Suriname.
Neither Bouterse, nor his four co-suspects, who were sentenced to 15 years in prison, were present in the courtroom for the sentencing.
Bouterse’s lawyer, Irvin Kanhai, said he disagreed with the verdict and had expected an acquittal, but would go into detail at a later date. “I am going to my client now,” he told journalists.
The former president remains chair of the National Democratic Party and some fear unrest in parts of Suriname. Die-hard supporters call him “boss” and have maintained they will not accept a conviction. Bouterse has urged calm several times. Tight security measures were in place in part of the capital of Paramaribo.
Bouterse still has the option of requesting a presidential pardon, but according to Essed, the legislation in Suriname is unclear on the issue. “If a request for clemency is made, it is not expected that the Court will advise on granting it.”
Henk Kamperveen, the son of Andre Kamperveen, one of the 15 people killed, said it took a long time, but the legal process against Bouterse has finally come to an end.
“We’re not going to celebrate,” he added, saying it is not a victory for the relatives, but for the rule of law in Suriname.
Prosecutors had demanded the immediate imprisonment of Bouterse, but the judge did not back the request. “How and when (Bouterse’s imprisonment) will happen is up to the prosecution,” said Essed.
Bouterse led a bloodless coup to become dictator from 1980 to 1987 and was democratically elected president from 2010 to 2020.
He and two dozen others were accused of rounding up well-known people including lawyers, journalists and a university professor and executing them in 1982 in a colonial fortress in Paramaribo.
The former dictator has accepted “political responsibility” but insists he was not present for the killings known as the “December murders.”
The criminal trial began in 2007, a quarter-century after the events it relates to. A total of 25 suspects were initially accused in the killings. A dozen have been acquitted, six have died and five have been sentenced. Two have been convicted but are believed to have fled Suriname.
Bouterse unsuccessfully tried to push through an amnesty law after being elected in 2010. Then in 2016, he ordered Suriname’s attorney general to halt legal proceedings for alleged national security reasons. A court rejected that.
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