Murder trial of Suriname president to resume this week
By Ivan Cairo
Caribbean News Now contributor
PARAMARIBO, Suriname — A military court in Suriname is to resume the murder trial of President Desi Bouterse for his alleged role in the 1982 murders of 15 political opponents of his then military government. Resumption of the criminal proceedings is scheduled for Wednesday when Bouterse, along with 23 co-defendants, is to appear in court after an appeal by the prosecution was rejected by the Court of Justice last month.
When the trial was in its closing stage in June 2016, by invoking Article 148 of the Constitution, the government sought to stop the proceedings, claiming that continuation posed grave risks to the country’s national security. Intelligence reports, according to the government, suggested that supporters of Bouterse’s political party could resort to violence if he is was convicted.
Attorney General Roy Baidjnath-Panday was then tasked by the government to instruct the court to end the criminal proceedings immediately. The judges rejected that request, against which the Public Prosecutor appealed.
Last month, the Court of Justice ruled that the criminal case should simply be continued by the Military Court since the prosecutors’ request to end the trial wasn’t based on any provision in Suriname criminal law. Since the start of the proceedings in 2008, Bouterse has never showed up in court and was constantly represented by his lawyers.
Although, several years ago, the former army commander claimed political responsibility for the murders since he was head of government at the time of the massacre, he denied any personal involvement in the killings. Bouterse claims that the trial is politically motivated. Many times he argued that the truth and a resolution regarding the so-called December Murders won’t be found in court but rather through a process as was the case in South Africa and other countries that had to deal with political murders.
It is expected that on Wednesday military prosecutor Roy Elgin will be given the opportunity to present his case against the defendants. When the process was interrupted last year, Elgin said that he was about to argue the case. According to the prosecutor, he had a statement of over 30 pages long ready.
Meanwhile, Hugo Essed, a lawyer representing the relatives of the victims, is optimistic that the court could reach a verdict within a few months. Whether it is an acquittal or jail sentence, he said, justice should be served.
While Bouterse as the main suspect and most of the defendants have used numerous legal options to end the case, two accused, former military officers Edgar Ritfeld and Ruben Rozendaal, claiming their innocence, used every opportunity to urge the court to continue with the trial.
“I want a verdict, guilty or not guilty,” both former officers said on several occasions.