- Former president Desiré Bouterse, who was convicted in 2019 and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for the abduction and murder of 15 political opponents during his time as a military ruler in 1982, lost his appeal in August. Judges however had not ordered his imprisonment, as the terms of his first conviction stipulate, by the end of the year.
- In December, the security guards of Vice President Ronnie Brunswijk, a former guerilla fighter, assaulted journalist Jason Pinas and illegally seized and damaged his phone after Pinas used his device to take photos of Brunswijk. The Association of Surinamese Journalists (ASJ) called for media workers to cease reporting on Brunswijk and his advisors for at least two months. Later in December, two hand grenades were found stuck together under a car at Pinas’s home.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
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. In July 2020, the freely elected National Assembly chose President Chandrikapersad Santokhi and Vice President Ronnie Brunswijk in accordance with the law.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The 1987 constitution provides for a unicameral, 51-seat National Assembly. Representatives are elected for five-year terms via proportional representation. Observer missions from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of American States (OAS) described the May 2020 elections as free and fair, despite delays in the vote count, which had fueled speculation about fraud. The OAS also noted some problems with election administration, including ballot misprints and deliveries of ballot papers to the wrong polling stations. Nonetheless, no serious concerns were raised about the announced results, and the Independent Electoral Council (OKB) certified the elections in June. The Progressive Reform Party (VHP) led all parties with 20 seats, Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) followed with 16, the General Liberation and Development Party (ABOP) won 8, and three smaller parties split the remaining 7 seats.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
Electoral laws generally meet international standards of fairness. However, the president appoints the members of the OKB and has the power to fire them, raising concerns about impartiality. In 2019, the National Assembly approved electoral reforms that had been proposed by the Bouterse government in late 2018, including a prohibition on electoral alliances among political parties. The head of the OKB, Jennifer Van Dijk-Silos, acknowledged significant shortcomings in the administration of the 2020 balloting.
|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?||4.004 4.004|
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?||4.004 4.004|
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.
|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?||3.003 4.004|
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. During the 2020 election campaign, the incumbent NDP was accused of engaging in clientelism by distributing food to citizens. Similar tactics, including distribution of money and funding of community projects using politicians’ personal wealth, are used by multiple political parties. The Santokhi government continued to appoint family members of high-ranking officials to significant government positions; Santokhi’s wife holds a post on the president’s cabinet.
The period preceding the 2020 elections was characterized by intimidation of supporters of the opposition. In April 2020, assailants attempted to kidnap an opposition parliamentary candidate, Rodney Cairo, who had criticized the military’s role in providing security at gold mining operations. National Security Directorate head Danielle Vieira was accused of ordering the kidnapping. No reported cases of intimidation against political opponents have occurred since Santokhi’s inauguration.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
In general, parties are often formed along ethnic lines, meaning most ethnic groups have political representation. Women have historically played a limited role in politics though in 2020, 15 out of the 51 representatives elected were women—more than in the previous election. The Santokhi-Brunswijk cabinet included 6 women among its 17 ministers. The interests of Maroons, the descendants of escaped slaves, are represented by vice president Brunswijk’s ABOP party. Brunswijk is the first Maroon to be vice president. Indigenous people are poorly represented in politics, and discrimination against LGBT+ people has resulted in no openly gay politicians in the country.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
The country’s freely elected representatives determine laws and government policies without undue interference. The Bouterse government used its narrow parliamentary majority to avoid accountability for politically advantageous actions that appeared to exceed its legitimate authority, especially related to state finances and spending. The Santokhi administration has refrained from executive overreach.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Government corruption is pervasive. In 2017, the National Assembly adopted a new anticorruption law that was yet to be implemented as of 2021. However, the Santokhi government appointed a commission to plan its implementation and funded a special anticorruption unit within the public prosecutor’s office that has begun investigating Bouterse-era graft cases. The most prominent corruption case in 2020 involved former finance minister Gillmore Hoefdraad, accused of perpetrating multiple fraud and embezzlement schemes. Hoefdraad fled just after the 2020 elections and was the subject of both a domestic arrest warrant and an Interpol detention request. The former head of Suriname’s Central Bank, Robert Van Trikt, was imprisoned for fraud in the same case in February 2020 and remained in custody throughout the year.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
The Santokhi government promised to improve transparency and communication with the public and has conducted somewhat regular press conferences, though the assault of journalist Jason Pinas by the bodyguards of vice president Brunswijk tempered those relations. 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?||3.003 4.004|
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.
The Santokhi government has generally adopted a more open relationship with the media. However, in December 2021, the security guards of vice president Brunswijk assaulted journalist Jason Pinas and illegally seized and damaged his phone, after Pinas used his device to take photos of Brunswijk. Later that month, two activated hand grenades were found stuck together under a car at Pinas’s home. Following the assault, the Association of Surinamese Journalists (ASJ) called for media workers to cease reporting on Brunswijk and his advisors for at least two months, requested that the government provide Pinas official protection, and demanded a full investigation into both incidents.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
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?||4.004 4.004|
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?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of expression is enshrined in the constitution, and there are no formal constraints on the expression of personal views among the public. Government officials’ verbal intimidation of perceived critics, which deterred open discussion of sensitive topics in recent years, declined following the 2020 election, as did the overall level of political discord.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
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?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) function freely in Suriname.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Workers are free to join independent trade unions, which are actively involved in politics. There have been isolated reports of private-sector employers denying collective bargaining rights to unions.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The judiciary has enjoyed improved autonomy since the change of government in 2020. However, judicial independence is still undermined by corruption due to a lack of resources and economic pressure.
In addition, a defective air conditioning system in the courthouse as well as public health measures related to COVID-19 cause even longer delays. In civil cases, the wait for a verdict can take anywhere between several months and sometimes even years.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
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; for example, no investigation had been opened into Vice President Brunswijk’s involvement in the assault and attempted assassination of journalist Jason Pinas by the end of the year. 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.
In 2019, former president Bouterse was convicted and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for the abduction and murder of 15 political opponents during his time as a military ruler in 1982. Though Bouterse accepted “political responsibility” for his involvement, he long sought to disrupt legal proceedings against him. His appeal to his conviction was rejected in August 2021, however judges had not ordered his imprisonment as the terms of his first conviction stipulate.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
The population is generally free from major threats to physical security. The use of excessive force by law enforcement officials is prohibited although incidental police violence occurs. Some cases of police abuse have been reported, including during enforcement of the lockdown imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
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. Several major smuggling cases were uncovered by the police in 2021.
Both former president Bouterse and current vice president Brunswijk have been convicted by Dutch courts in absentia of drug trafficking. Violent crimes such as burglary and armed robbery are common, and police resources are insufficient to address the problem. The gold mining industry, a key export sector, is plagued by organized criminal activity.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Nevertheless, 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?||3.003 4.004|
The government generally upholds constitutional freedoms of internal movement and residence, though the lack of protections for Indigenous and Maroon lands leaves 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?||2.002 4.004|
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 less powerful groups remain exposed to illegal land expropriation, including by illegal logging and mining operations.
Traditional land rights of Indigenous peoples and Maroons are not guaranteed by law, though a draft bill to regulate collective rights was introduced after years of parliamentary discussion in 2020; it was not decided upon in 2021. 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?||3.003 4.004|
Individuals are generally free of undue constraints on personal status decisions such as marriage and divorce. Despite efforts of the Santokhi-government to address it, gender-based violence remains a serious problem, and laws that criminalize it are not well enforced.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
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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