- In July, a Surinamese court began hearing an appeal from former president Désire “Dési” Bouterse. In 2019, he was convicted of abducting and murdering political opponents in 1982, when he was Suriname’s military ruler. A decision is expected in 2023.
- Major protests over official corruption, nepotism, and the cost of living were held in July. Subsequent demonstrations were reportedly smaller.
|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 National Assembly. If no such majority can be reached, a United People’s Assembly—consisting of national-, regional-, and local-level lawmakers—chooses the president by a simple majority. President Chandrikapersad Santokhi and Vice President Ronnie Brunswijk were selected in July 2020, 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. In the May 2020 elections, the Progressive Reform Party (VHP) won 20 seats, Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) won 16, the General Liberation and Development Party (ABOP) won 8, and three smaller parties split the remaining 7.
Observers from the Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States (OAS) described the elections as free and fair. The OAS noted some administrative problems, including ballot misprints and deliveries of ballot papers to the wrong polling stations. Nonetheless, no serious concerns were raised about the announced results.
|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, electoral districts have become unequal in size, as boundaries have not been redrawn to account for population growth since being established in 1987. In August 2022, the Supreme Court ruled the electoral system unconstitutional.
|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 ethnic cleavages, generally form and operate freely.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
The opposition has a realistic opportunity to increase its support or enter government through elections. Suriname has experienced multiple democratic transfers of power.
|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 NDP was accused of engaging in clientelism by distributing food to citizens. Other parties use similar tactics, including distribution of money and funding of community projects using politicians’ personal wealth.
Under the Santokhi government, relatives of high-ranking officials have received significant positions in government and in major enterprises, including first lady Mellisa Santokhi-Seenacherry and Leo Brunswijk, the vice president’s brother. In July, the vice president said that Leo Brunswijk would step down from most of his positions at state-owned firms. In October, Santokhi-Seenacherry and Leo Brunswijk left the board of the Suriname State Oil Company. In late 2022, the government denied that Leo was made general manager of Energy Companies Suriname.
The period preceding the 2020 elections was characterized by intimidation of opposition supporters. No reported cases of political intimidation 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 and are underrepresented; 15 of the 51 National Assembly members elected in 2020 were women. Women were included in the Santokhi cabinet, however.
The interests of Maroons, the descendants of escaped slaves, are represented by the ABOP of Vice President Brunswijk, who is the first Maroon to hold that post. Indigenous people are poorly represented in politics. There are no openly gay politicians in Suriname, as LGBT+ people face discrimination.
|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. In June 2022, however, Richano Santokhi, the president’s son, asserted that ministers ignore the president’s input.
While the Bouterse government used its narrow parliamentary majority to avoid accountability for actions that appeared to exceed its legitimate authority, 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 2022.
In 2020, former finance minister Gillmore Hoefdraad was accused of perpetrating multiple fraud and embezzlement schemes. Hoefdraad fled just after that year’s elections and was the subject of both a domestic arrest warrant and an Interpol detention request. The Interpol request was withdrawn in May 2022 amid allegations that the process was politically motivated.
The former head of the Surinamese central bank, Robert van Trikt, was detained for fraud in the same affair in February 2020. He was convicted in a trial that proceeded quickly despite its complexity, and received an eight-year prison term in February 2022. Van Trikt’s lawyers said the trial was political in nature. An appeal was heard beginning in October. In November, van Trikt was conditionally released; the case was ongoing at year’s end.
In April and June 2022, individuals used false documents to withdraw a total of SRD 40.9 million ($1.8 million) from the central bank. The NDP claimed more was stolen, though the government denied this. In September, outgoing finance minister Armand Achaibersing said the funds had been recovered.
|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. Officials are not required to disclose information about their finances in practice, despite disclosure provisions in the 2017 anticorruption law. Suriname has no law 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 self-censor in response to pressure and intimidation from authorities. The Santokhi government has generally adopted an open relationship with the media.
Journalists do face violence, however. In late 2021, guards protecting Vice President Brunswijk assaulted journalist Jason Pinas and illegally seized and damaged his phone, after Pinas used his device to take photos of Brunswijk. Three guards received suspended sentences for assaulting Pinas in July 2022.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed and generally upheld.
|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. There are no formal constraints on the expression of personal views.
Government officials’ verbal intimidation of perceived critics, which had deterred open discussion of sensitive topics, declined following the 2020 election.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, which is generally respected. Major protests—motivated by corruption, nepotism, and the cost of living—were held in July 2022. Antigovernment protests were held later in the year but were reportedly smaller.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations 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. Critics, among them the NDP, claim that the judiciary is not independent.
In October 2022, Lilian Ferrier, the mother of former central bank governor van Trikt, accused Judge Maytrie Kuldip Singh of presiding over a politically motivated trial against him; Ferrier also alleged that Kuldip Singh’s subsequent nomination to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights was an effective reward.
|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, trial delays, and long waits for appeals. Pretrial detention, even for minor crimes, is common and can sometimes last years.
Low wages for police encourage bribery and extortion. Payments are sometimes made to obtain favorable outcomes in criminal and civil proceedings.
In 2019, the Military Court convicted former president Bouterse for the abduction and murder of 15 political opponents in 1982, when he was Suriname’s military ruler. That conviction was upheld in 2021, but Bouterse appealed later that year. An appeals court began hearing the case in July 2022 and sat as recently as mid-December; a decision is expected in 2023.
|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, though Surinamese are at risk of violent crime including armed robbery. The use of excessive force by law enforcement officials is prohibited although incidental police violence occurs.
Temporary detention facilities are unhygienic, understaffed, and overcrowded. Suriname lies on a major drug-trafficking route, giving rise to some trafficking-related violence. Major smuggling activity is frequently uncovered by the police.
Both former president Bouterse and current vice president Brunswijk have been convicted by Dutch courts in absentia of drug trafficking.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution prohibits race-based or ethnic discrimination. Nevertheless, Maroon and Indigenous people in the hinterland face inequality in areas such as education and employment. Residents of the interior were affected by floods in May 2022, which caused extensive damage to schools and disrupted access to education; access was also limited due to the slow flow of aid.
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, LGBT+ people face societal discrimination, harassment, and abuse by police.
The constitution bars gender discrimination, but women experience disadvantages in access to employment and education in practice.
|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|
Property rights are constitutionally guaranteed but are sometimes inadequately protected. Corruption, especially regarding land policy, government contracts, and licensing, can hinder private business activity. Indigenous and other minority groups face illegal land expropriation, including by illegal logging and mining operations.
Indigenous peoples and Maroons’ traditional land rights are not guaranteed by law. A draft bill to regulate collective rights was introduced in 2020 but was not decided upon in 2022.
Women face inequality related to inheritance and property due to discriminatory cultural 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, though those decisions are impacted by cultural forces. Despite efforts of the Santokhi government to address it, gender-based violence remains a serious problem; laws that criminalize it are not well enforced.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Despite continuous government efforts to combat it, human trafficking remains a serious problem. Corruption has facilitated traffickers’ criminal activities.
Women and migrant workers are especially at risk of sexual exploitation and forced labor in various industries. Construction and mining work often receives inadequate attention from labor inspectors.
The deteriorating economy in Venezuela has increased the vulnerability of Venezuelan women to sex trafficking in Suriname.
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