The Public Prosecution Service (OM) is insisting that former president Desi Bouterse be jailed for 20 years for his involvement in the murder of 15 people in the Dutch-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country on December 8, 1982.
But Bouterse’s attorney, Irvin Kanhai, has asked the Court of Justice to acquit his client.
He said the prosecution and court-martial have “unfortunately continued to repeat a story of murderous soldiers and innocent victims, who were killed in a most brutal way because they did not want the dictatorship of the military and wanted to bring about a return to democracy”.
In August 2021, the Court Martial of Suriname upheld the 2019 military court ruling of a 20-year jail term on Bouterse following a trial that had been going on for several years.
In 2017, Bouterse along with 23 co-defendants had appeared in the Military Court after the Court of Justice had earlier rejected a motion to stop the trial.
On Tuesday, acting Attorney General Astrid Niamut reiterated earlier arguments that Bouterse, who was the military ruler of the country at the time of the murders, must be held responsible for the killings and that enough evidence had been provided during the trial.
She argued during the criminal proceedings against Bouterse and co-defendants Ernst Geffery, Iwan Dijksteel, Stephanus Sensor and Benny Brondenstein that this is why the Public Prosecution Service also demanded Bouterse’s imprisonment.
The acting Attorney General said that Bouterse has never expressed regret to the relatives of the victims. Nor did he himself want to provide any insight into what exactly happened on December 8, 1982.
The former military officers and civilians had been charged with the December 8, 1982, murders of 15 men that included journalists, military officers, union leaders, lawyers, businessmen, and university lecturers.
The prosecution had alleged that the men were arrested on the nights of December 7 and 8 and transferred to Fort Zeelandia, the then headquarters of the Surinamese National Army.
They said the men were tortured and summarily executed.
The Public Prosecution Service argued that Bouterse, who also served as head of state from 2010-2020, acted with premeditation and that there was sufficient time during victims being shot and their bodies collected for him to have thought about the killings.
The prosecution argued that the prisoners were not all killed at the same time, but at different times.
“Everything points to calm deliberation and calm deliberation,” the prosecutor said, noting the fact that Bouterse had stated on radio and TV that the victims had been shot while fleeing, but that the court was later told the killings took place when the leadership of the military was in the hands of Paul Bhagwandas shows the “coolness of the accused ”
Unlike previous occasions, Bouterse arrived early at the court building telling reporters that he had come to listen to the matter as a courtesy to the prosecution.
“People are trying to present the matter differently from what the actual situation has been. The OM does not understand what is going on at all. They put the emphasis wrong,” he told reporters.
Kanhai, says he is “tired of the persecution’s craziness.
“I’m tired of listening to the persecution’s craziness. If you look at the case on its merits, so far in all the proceedings there has been no clarity about what happened in the fort on December 7, 8 and 9, 1982. Absolutely no clarity has come.
“The clarity has not come because you should not assume that soldiers have to practice shooting someone from two meters away. As a soldier, you don’t need a drill for that. So something happened that we can’t explain and we didn’t make any effort to explain it.
“So when I hear the prosecution officer say that there were shooting exercises… well that’s on his laughable, to say the least. Because as a soldier you absolutely do not have to practice shooting someone from two meters away. A child of five can do that too,” the lawyer told reporters.
The streets leading to the courthouse were, as always, cordoned off and guarded by security forces.
PARAMARIBO, Suriname, CMC