Suriname is a constitutional democracy that holds generally free and fair elections. However, corruption and clientelism are pervasive problems in society and in the government, undermining the rule of law. Women, indigenous peoples, and the Maroon population are politically underrepresented.
- In November, President Dési Bouterse was convicted for the extrajudicial executions of 15 opponents of the then military government in 1982, receiving a sentence of 20 years in prison. With an appeal pending, he was not immediately arrested, and in December he stated that he would seek reelection in 2020.
- The parliament in March approved legislation that barred political parties from forming electoral alliances. The reform also raised the maximum age of the chair of the Independent Electoral Bureau (OKB) from 65 to 70, allowing the incumbent chair—a Bouterse ally—to retain her position.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The president is chief of state and head of government, and is elected to five-year terms by a two-thirds majority of the 51-seat National Assembly. If no such majority can be reached, a United People’s Assembly—consisting of lawmakers from the national, regional, and local levels—convenes to choose the president by a simple majority. The president is not subject to term limits. In 2015, the freely elected National Assembly reelected President Dési Bouterse in accordance with the law.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
The 1987 constitution provides for a unicameral, 51-seat National Assembly. Representatives are elected for five-year terms via proportional representation. The last legislative elections in 2015 were considered competitive and credible. Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) took 26 seats, the V7 opposition coalition took 18, and smaller groupings took the remainder.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
Electoral laws generally meet international standards of fairness. However, the president appoints the members of the election commission, the OKB, and has the power to fire them, raising concerns about impartiality. In March 2019, the National Assembly approved electoral reforms that had been proposed by the Bouterse government in late 2018. The legislation prohibited electoral alliances among political parties and raised the maximum age of the OKB chairperson from 65 to 70 years. The latter provision would allow incumbent OKB chair, Jennifer van Dijk-Silos, to remain in office; appointed in 2015, she was a former minister of justice and police in the Bouterse government and a confidante of the president. Opposition members abstained during the vote on the electoral reform law, arguing that such changes required a two-thirds majority.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 due to the adoption of changes to the electoral framework that appeared to favor the ruling party, including a ban on electoral alliances and an increase in the maximum age for the chair of the electoral commission.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
Suriname’s many political parties, which often reflect the country’s ethnic cleavages, generally form and operate freely. However, fierce political competition occasionally includes acts of violence or intimidation.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
The country has experienced multiple transfers of power between rival parties, and the opposition has a realistic opportunity to increase its support or enter government through elections. However, the ban on electoral alliances enacted in 2019 threatened the competitiveness of fragmented opposition groups ahead of the 2020 elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?
People’s political choices are generally not subject to undue coercion. However, opposition parties have raised concerns about campaign financing—which is unregulated and lacks transparency—and the resulting influence that special interest groups can have on parties and candidates. Incumbent political forces have also been accused of attempting to buy votes by distributing food to citizens.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
Parties are often formed along ethnic lines, meaning most ethnic groups have political representation. However, the interests of indigenous communities are often overlooked. Women have historically played a limited role in politics, but have experienced gains in recent years; in 2015, 13 out of the 51 representatives elected to the National Assembly were women, compared with six women elected in 2010. The interests of Maroons, the descendants of escaped slaves, are poorly represented in politics, though there are Maroon officeholders at various levels of government.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
The country’s freely elected representatives are able to determine laws and government policies without undue interference. However, in recent years the legislature has failed to serve as a meaningful check on executive power. The government has used its narrow parliamentary majority to avoid accountability for politically advantageous actions that appeared to exceed its legitimate authority. For example, the president fired the central bank governor in February 2019 after he resisted facilitating increased government spending ahead of the 2020 elections, and after opposition members accused the finance minister of violating a legal cap on government borrowing in October, the governing majority passed legislation to remove penalties for such violations.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because the legislature has failed to serve as a meaningful check on the executive branch in recent years.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Government corruption is pervasive. In 2017, the National Assembly adopted a new anticorruption law, updating past laws that were severely outdated. However, the legislation had yet to be implemented as of 2019, and the anticorruption commission it called for had not been established. Numerous high-profile corruption cases involving malfeasance at government agencies or state-owned companies have stalled in the courts or at the investigative stage.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
The government often does not operate with transparency. Officials are not required to disclose information about their finances in practice, despite disclosure provisions in the 2017 anticorruption law. Suriname does not have laws to facilitate access to public information, and access is limited in practice.
|Are there free and independent media?
The constitution guarantees press freedom, and the media sector is fairly diverse. The press frequently publishes stories that are critical of the government, though some journalists engage in self-censorship in response to pressure and intimidation from authorities. Government officials use state media to verbally attack journalists whose work they find objectionable.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, which is typically upheld in practice.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
Academic freedom is generally respected.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
Freedom of expression is enshrined in the constitution, and there are no formal constraints on the expression of personal views among the general public. However, Suriname’s increasingly rancorous political atmosphere and government officials’ verbal intimidation of perceived critics may deter open discussion of sensitive topics by ordinary citizens.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, which is generally respected in practice.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) function freely in Suriname.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
Workers are free to join independent trade unions, which are actively involved in politics. Civil servants lack the legal right to strike. There have been isolated reports of private-sector employers denying collective bargaining rights to unions.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
The judiciary enjoys some autonomy, but it is undermined by corruption and the courts’ financial dependence on executive agencies.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
Obstacles to due process include a lack of capacity and resources that contributes to corruption and trial delays. The public prosecutor’s office often pursues cases selectively, and low wages for police encourage bribery and extortion. Payments are sometimes made to obtain favorable outcomes in criminal and civil proceedings. There is a backlog of cases involving non-Dutch speakers, as interpreters who have gone unpaid have refused to work additional cases. Pretrial detention, even for minor crimes, is common and can sometimes last for years.
President Bouterse has accepted “political responsibility” for his involvement in the abduction and extrajudicial killing of 15 political opponents during his time as a military ruler in 1982, but he long sought to disrupt legal proceedings against him. When his efforts to prevent a murder trial failed, Bouterse fired the justice minister and in 2017 replaced her with a close ally. After the public prosecutor that year demanded a 20-year prison sentence against Bouterse, the government adopted a resolution warning the prosecutor to be “careful,” and asking him to voluntarily resign. Bouterse later withdrew the resolution in the face of public outrage, and the trial resumed in late 2018. In November 2019, the president was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison, though he was not immediately arrested, and an appeal was pending at year’s end. Six other former military officers were also convicted, with three sentenced to 15-year terms and three to 10-year terms.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
The population is generally free from major threats to physical security. The use of excessive force by law enforcement officials is prohibited, but some cases of police abuse have been reported. In March 2019, a prisoner died after he was abused by guards following an escape attempt. In July, an unauthorized miner was killed by police during skirmishes at a gold mine.
Temporary detention facilities are characterized by unhygienic conditions, understaffing, and overcrowding. Suriname lies on a major drug-trafficking route, giving rise to some trafficking-related violence. Violent crimes such as burglary and armed robbery are common, and police resources are insufficient to address the problem.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Nevertheless, the Maroon and indigenous people in the hinterland face inequality in areas such as education and employment.
Same-sex sexual relations are legal, though the age of consent differs from that applied to opposite-sex couples. Despite legal protections adopted in 2015, members of the LGBT+ community face societal discrimination, harassment, and abuse by police.
The constitution bars gender discrimination, but in practice, women experience disadvantages in access to employment and education.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
The government generally upholds constitutional freedoms of internal movement and residence, though the lack of protections for indigenous and Maroon lands leave those communities vulnerable to displacement.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
Although Suriname’s constitution guarantees property rights, they are sometimes inadequately protected. Corruption can hinder private business activity, especially regarding land policy, government contracts, and licensing. Indigenous and other minority groups remain exposed to illegal land expropriation, including by logging and mining operations. Women face inequality related to inheritance and property due to discriminatory local customs.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
Individuals are generally free of undue constraints on personal status decisions such as marriage and divorce. However, domestic violence remains a serious problem, and laws that criminalize it are not well enforced. In October 2019, the former partner of 37-year-old Monaliza Maynard was sentenced to 25 years in prison for her 2018 murder, the brutality of which had shocked the country and brought the issue of domestic violence to public attention.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
Despite government efforts to combat it, trafficking in persons remains a serious problem. Women and migrant workers are especially at risk of sexual exploitation and forced labor in various industries. Construction and mining work often do not receive adequate attention from labor inspectors. The deteriorating economy in Venezuela has increased the vulnerability of Venezuelan women to sex trafficking in Suriname. Corruption has facilitated the criminal activities of traffickers.
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Global Freedom Score79 100 free