Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In 2013, the government failed to establish a constitutional court, which is required to review the constitutionality of the revised amnesty law. In April 2012, the government had extended the 1992 amnesty law to apply to the period during which current president Desiré Bouterse and 24 others allegedly murdered 15 political opponents in December 1982. Bouterse led a military regime from 1980 to 1987.
The president’s son, Dino Bouterse, a senior official in Suriname’s counterterrorism unit, was arrested in Panama in August and extradited to the United States to face drug-trafficking and weapons charges. Additional charges of aiding a terrorist organization and supplying fake Surinamese passports were brought against him in November. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Suriname’s economy continued to grow in 2013. The country took steps toward South American integration in July when it became an associate member of Mercosur, the South American trade bloc. In December, Suriname became a full member of the Caribbean Development Bank, which will facilitate the country’s access to subsidized loans.
Political Rights: 33 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12
The 1987 constitution provides for a unicameral, 51-seat National Assembly, elected by proportional representation for five-year terms. The body elects the president to a five-year term with a two-thirds majority. If it is unable to do so, a United People’s Assembly—consisting of lawmakers from the national, regional, and local levels—convenes to choose the president by a simple majority. A Council of State made up of the president and representatives of major societal groupings—including labor unions, business, the military, and the legislature—has veto power over legislation deemed to violate the constitution.
In 2010 legislative elections, Desiré Bouterse’s Mega Combination coalition—comprising the National Democratic Party (NDP) and a number of smaller parties—captured 23 seats, while the New Front for Democracy and Development (NF) took 14 seats. A-Combination took 7 seats, the People’s Alliance won 6, and the Party for Democracy and Development in Unity gained 1 seat. Bouterse was elected president with 71 percent of the parliamentary vote, defeating NF candidate Chandrikapersad Santokhi.
In June 2013, Bouterse dismissed two cabinet members from his own party, the minister of public works and the minister of land management and forestry, without providing an official explanation. He replaced the minister of education in July, claiming to want to depoliticize and increase efficiency in the ministry. In October, the president dismissed his finance minister as part of an effort to undertake a thorough review of the country’s finances. This was the 10th minister to be dismissed from Bouterse’s cabinet since he took office in 2010.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 13 / 16
Suriname’s political parties largely reflect the cleavages in the country’s ethnically diverse society and often form coalitions in order to gain power. The major coalitions are the NF, an alliance of the National Party of Suriname and several smaller parties; the People’s Alliance; the Mega Combination; and the A-Combination, which has strong support among Maroon communities (descendants of former slaves). Suriname’s Amerindians and Maroons were historically marginalized from the political process until 2005, when a coalition of Maroon political parties gained 5 seats in parliament. However, women continue to be sidelined from the political process, holding just 12 percent of parliamentary seats and one of the 17 cabinet positions.
C. Functioning of Government: 8 / 12
The Ministry of Justice and Police is in charge of combating corruption, but the country has no dedicated anticorruption legislation. Suriname has been plagued by corruption cases in recent years, and organized crime and drug networks continue to hamper governance and undermine the judicial system. While legislation is in place to combat money laundering, it is weakly implemented. Suriname was ranked 94 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. The country lacks freedom of information legislation.
In August, Dino Bouterse, who held a senior position in Suriname’s counterterrorism unit, was arrested in Panama and sent to the United States to face drug-trafficking charges and a weapons offense, to which he pleaded not guilty. In November, U.S. prosecutors further charged the younger Bouterse with attempting to support a terrorist organization, based on his alleged agreement to receive $2 million in exchange for allowing sources of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, posing as members of the Lebanese group Hezbollah, to establish a base in Suriname in order to carry out attacks on the United States. Bouterse denied all charges, including charges that he supplied false Surinamese passports, and his lawyers accused the United States of fabricating evidence against their client. The case was ongoing at year’s end.
Civil Liberties: 44 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 15 / 16
The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and the press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. However, defamation and libel remain criminal offenses, with punishments ranging from fines to up to seven years in prison for publicly expressing enmity, hatred, or contempt toward the government. Dismissed government minister Ramon Abrahams sued Jaap Hoogendam, publisher of the monthly magazine Parbode, in October 2013, seeking 1 million Surinamese dollars (US$300,000) in damages and a retraction for an article that accused him of corruption while in office. Hoogendam refused to give up the identity of his sources; the trial was ongoing at year’s end. Some media outlets engage in occasional self-censorship, and there is a lack of investigative journalism. There are three privately owned daily newspapers and close to 30 radio stations, which compete with the government-owned radio and television broadcasting systems, resulting in a generally pluralistic range of viewpoints. However, not all private media have equal access to government advertising or press conferences. The government does not restrict internet access.
The authorities generally respect freedom of religion, which is protected by law and the constitution, and do not infringe on academic freedom.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 11 / 12
The constitution provides for freedoms of assembly and association, and the government respects these rights in practice. Workers can join independent trade unions, though civil servants have no legal right to strike. Collective bargaining is legal and conducted fairly widely. The labor movement is active in politics.
F. Rule of Law: 8 / 16
The legal system of Suriname is based on the Dutch Civil System. The judiciary is susceptible to political influence and suffers from a significant shortage of judges and a large backlog of cases. Suriname is a signatory to the 2001 agreement establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final venue of appeal for member states of the Caribbean Community, but has yet to ratify the CCJ as its own final court of appeal. Police abuse detainees, particularly during arrests. Suriname is a major transit point for cocaine en route to Africa, Europe, and the United States, which has contributed to a rising tide of narcotics-related money laundering and organized crime. Temporary detention centers are overcrowded and in poor condition.
A judicial investigation was launched in 2000 into the December 1982 abduction and murder of 15 political opponents of the Bouterse military regime. The victims—who included labor union leaders, attorneys, military officers, professors, businessmen, and journalists—were allegedly killed by Bouterse and members of the armed forces. While Bouterse continued to deny direct involvement in the murders, he accepted “political responsibility” and offered a public apology in 2007. The long-awaited trial of Bouterse and 24 other suspects began in November 2007. In April 2012, a month before the trial’s expected conclusion, the National Assembly controversially voted 28 to 12 to extend the country’s 1992 amnesty law for crimes committed in defense of the state to include the period during which the murders were committed. Immunity was therefore granted to Bouterse and the 24 other suspects.
Questions on the constitutionality of the new amnesty law and whether a trial against the defendants could proceed led to the trial’s adjournment in May 2012. The Prosecutor’s Office subsequently stated that the amnesty law’s constitutionality must be reviewed in a constitutional court, which would need to be formed by the government. While a military court denied a request to dismiss the case in February 2013, it appeared unlikely that the trial would proceed as long as interested parties remain in power.
International travel has occasionally proven difficult for Bouterse due to a Europol arrest warrant that was issued after his conviction in absentia for drug trafficking in the Netherlands in 1999. However, he remains protected from arrest in Suriname because the country lacks an extradition treaty with the Netherlands and he is head of state.
Discrimination based on race or ethnicity is prohibited by law. However, the government does not recognize or offer any special protections for indigenous groups. Indigenous Amerindians and Maroons, who live primarily in the country’s interior, are significantly disadvantaged in the areas of socioeconomic development and infrastructure, employment, education, and access to government services, and they have limited opportunities to participate in the decision-making processes that affect their lands, traditions, and natural resources. Collective land rights are not acknowledged, and these populations continue to face problems due to illegal logging and mining on their land.
Same-sex intercourse is legal, but LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals face some discrimination.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 10 / 16
Constitutional guarantees of gender equality are not adequately enforced. Domestic violence remains a serious problem. While the law provides for women’s equal access to education and employment, women do not receive the same wages as men for performing the same work. Suriname serves as a source, destination, and transit country for the trafficking of men, women, and children for the purposes of forced labor and prostitution.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year