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Title:  Suriname Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996


After over a decade of predominantly military rule, Suriname installed a 
freely elected Parliament and inaugurated a democratically chosen 
President in 1991.  Since then the Government has made fitful progress 
in consolidating democracy and slow but steady progress toward 
reestablishing civilian authority over the military.  The Government of 
President Ronald Venetiaan is composed of ministers drawn from a four-
party coalition which holds a majority of seats in the multiparty 
National Assembly.  In 1992 the Government concluded a peace accord with 
members of insurgent groups which had fought a domestic armed conflict 
between 1986 and 1991.

In 1993 the Government replaced former military strongman Desire 
Bouterse as commander of the armed forces with a new commander of its 
own choosing.  After expiration of this 2-year appointment in June, the 
Government appointed a successor.  Cooperation between the military and 
the civilian police has improved as respective roles have been 
clarified.  Some aspects of the relationship between the Government and 
the military remain to be defined.  Civilian police bear primary 
responsibility for the maintenance of law and order, but they continue 
to be responsible for some human rights abuses.

The market-oriented economy is largely agricultural, but with an 
important bauxite and alumina export sector.  There is a high degree of 
state involvement and regulation; the Government and state-owned 
companies employ over half the working population.  For the last several 
years, depressed world prices for bauxite and alumina, the damaging 
effects of the country's domestic armed conflict, and rapid growth of 
the money supply resulted in high inflation and reduced economic growth.  
Foreign exchange fluctuations offset improved commodity prices.  The 
recent stabilization of exchange rates is cited by some as an indication 
that the economy is beginning to respond to government efforts at 
structural reform.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; 
however, problems remained in some areas.  These are police mistreatment 
of detainees, abuse of prisoners, overcrowding of jails, societal 
discrimination and violence against women, and marginalization of 
indigenous people.  The Government continued to fail to call to account 
those responsible for human rights abuses in previous regimes.


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 

  a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.  The 
authorities, however, have taken no action against prison guards who 
allegedly beat a prisoner to death in 1993.

The Government also took no action to investigate past human rights 
violations, such as the 1982 executions by the military regime of 15 
opposition leaders or the 1986 massacre of civilians at the village of 
Moiwana.  The human rights group Moiwana '86 continued to pursue the 
court case it instituted in 1992, challenging the validity of the law 
that conferred amnesty on members of the military and the insurgents for 
crimes (except crimes against humanity) committed between January 1985 
and August 1992, but the court rendered no final judgment.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights rendered a judgment in 1993 
which required the Government to pay compensation to the survivors of 
seven Maroons (descendants of escaped slaves who fled into the interior 
to avoid recapture) killed near the village of Pokigron in 1987.  The 
Government responded by establishing a fully funded foundation for 
disbursing compensation to relatives of the victims.  The foundation is 
actively disbursing compensation and has also funded a school and clinic 
in the village.

  b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.  The 
Government, however, took no action to investigate earlier allegations 
of disappearances that occurred under previous regimes.

  c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 

The Constitution prohibits inhuman treatment or punishment, but human 
rights monitors continued to express concern about official mistreatment 
of detainees and prisoners.  Prison guards reportedly beat inmates 
frequently, although fewer than five official complaints were filed.  
None of these were investigated.  A prison warden arrested in connection 
with the beating of a prisoner of Dutch nationality was released by the 
court on procedural grounds.  The Government has not released the 
results of an inquiry into charges that guards beat several recaptured 
prisoners in 1993.

The completion of a new prison and renovation of existing jails have 
somewhat reduced overcrowding and improved overall health and safety 
conditions.  Older jails, however, remained overcrowded, with as many as 
four times the number of detainees they were designed for, and were also 
unsanitary.  At police stations, guards allowed detainees no exercise 
and only rarely permitted them to leave the cells.  Detainees also 
suffered from inadequate nutrition, although families were permitted and 
encouraged to provide food to incarcerated relatives.  Female prisoners 
were housed exclusively in an older jail and were not eligible for 
transfer to one of the new facilities.  According to local women's 
groups, there were no reports of sexual abuse of female prisoners by 
police officers.  The Government permits independent monitoring of 
prison conditions.

  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law provides that the police may detain for investigation up to 14 
days a person suspected of committing a crime for which the sentence is 
longer than 4 years.  Within the 14-day period, the police must bring 
the accused before a prosecutor to be formally charged.  If additional 
time is needed to investigate the charge, a prosecutor may authorize the 
police to detain the suspect for an additional 30 days.  Upon the 
expiration of the initial 44 days, a "judge of instruction" may 
authorize the police to hold the suspect for up to 120 additional days, 
in 30-day increments (for a total of 164 days), before the case is 
tried.  The judge of instruction has the power to authorize release on 
bail, but that power is rarely, if ever, used.  There were no reports of 
detentions in contravention of these standards.

Pretrial detainees constituted nearly 70 percent of the total prison and 
jail population of approximately 1,500.  Of those held in police 
custody, 15 percent had already been convicted.

The military police observed the requirement to hand over to the civil 
police civilians arrested for committing a crime in their presence.  The 
military police continued to perform the immigration control function at 
the country's borders and airports but no longer investigated civilian 

Military police stepped in to perform routine police functions during a 
civil police general strike.  There were no reports of abuse by the 
military police during the strike.

While not specifically forbidden by law or the Constitution, exile is 
not practiced as a means of political control.

  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the 
right to a fair public trial in which defendants have the right to 
counsel, the effectiveness of the civilian and military courts is 
limited.  The courts assign lawyers in private practice to defend 
prisoners and pay them from public funds.  The courts must, and in 
practice do, free a detainee who is not tried within the 164-day period.  
Trials are before a single judge, with right of appeal.  There is little 
firm evidence of the extent to which corruption affects the court 
system, but the entire criminal justice system was subjected to severe 
strain during the period when the military controlled the Government and 
prominent members of the judiciary were involved with, or afforded 
protection to, drug traffickers.  Recent escapes of high-profile 
prisoners were linked to corruption of prison guards.

Military personnel are generally not subject to civilian criminal law.  
A soldier accused of a crime immediately comes under military 
jurisdiction and military police are responsible for all such 
investigations.  Military prosecutions are directed by an officer on the 
public prosecutor's staff, and take place in separate courts before two 
military judges and one civilian judge.  The military courts follow the 
same rules of procedure as the civil courts.  There is no appeal from 
the military to the civil system.

Since the change in military leadership in 1993, coordination between 
the military police and the civil police has improved, and there were no 
further instances of military interference in civilian police 
investigations.  The pervasive climate of fear and intimidation that 
previously prevented cases involving military personnel or drug 
traffickers from being tried began to dissipate, and prospects for the 
impartial administration of justice have improved.  Fear of possible 
reprisals by the ex-military strongman Desire Bouterse, however, appears 
to affect judicial decision making in cases involving persons close to 

There were no reports of political prisoners.

  f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

The Constitution provides for the right to privacy.  The law requires 
warrants for searches, which are issued not by judges but by quasi-
judicial officers who supervise criminal investigations.  The police 
obtain them in the great majority of investigations.  The military 
command curbed invasions of privacy by the military such as the illegal 
monitoring of telephone calls, monitoring of the movements of human 
rights advocates, and threatening government officials, policemen, 
politicians, human rights workers, and journalists.  Although some 
persons continued these activities on occasion, the military authorities 
reportedly did not authorize them to do so.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

  a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and 
the Government generally respects these rights.

The parliamentary and extraparliamentary opposition criticize the 
Government freely.  Media members continue to practice some self 
censorship, because of the recent history of intimidation and reprisals 
by certain elements of the former military leadership.  In at least one 
instance, the authorities attempted to persuade a journalist to cease 
investigating disputes between villagers and a gold concessionaire.  
However, the journalist continued the investigation with support from 
other journalists.  Although the authorities harassed the journalists 
and seized some equipment, the incident was reported in all local media 
without further consequences for these journalists, whose equipment was 
returned undamaged.

Suriname's two daily newspapers and most of its radio stations are 
privately owned.  The two television stations and one of the radio 
stations are publicly owned.  The Government did not attempt to 
interfere with publications or to abridge academic freedom.

  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights. and the Government respects 
them in practice.

  c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government 
respects this right in practice.

  d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens may change their residence and work places freely and travel 
abroad as they wish.  Political dissidents who emigrated to the 
Netherlands and elsewhere during the years of military rule are welcome 
to return.  Few of them have chosen to do so.  Citizenship is not 
revoked for political reasons.  The Government cooperates with the U.N. 
High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in 
assisting refugees.  Suriname continued to provide refuge to a small 
number of Haitian migrants.  There were no reports of forced expulsion 
of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government

The Constitution provides for this right, but in the past the military 
prevented its effective exercise.  Although the military has twice 
handed over power to elected civilian governments following coups, one 
elected government has not yet succeeded another in accordance with 
constitutional provisions.  The current Government is still in the 
process of institutionalizing democratic, constitutional rule.

The Constitution stipulates that power and authority rest with the 
people and provides for the right to change the government through the 
direct election by secret ballot of a National Assembly of 51 members 
every 5 years.  The National Assembly then elects the President by a 
two-thirds vote.  If the legislature is unable to do so, as was the case 
after the 1991 election, the Constitution provides that a national 
People's Assembly, comprising Members of Parliament and regional and 
local officials, shall elect the President.

The Constitution provides for the existence of political parties, and 
many parties and political coalitions are represented in the National 

There are historical and cultural impediments to equal participation by 
women in leadership positions in government and political parties.  In 
the past, most women expected to fulfill the role of housewife and 
mother, thereby limiting opportunities to gain political experience or 
position.  Participation by women in politics (and other fields) was 
generally considered inappropriate.  While women have made limited gains 
in attaining political power in recent years, political circles remain 
under the influence of traditional male-dominated groups and women are 
disadvantaged in seeking high public office.  There are three women in 
the National Assembly and no women in the Cabinet.

Although the Constitution proscribes racial or religious discrimination, 
several factors limit the participation of Maroons and Amerindians in 
the political process.  Most of the country's political activity takes 
place in the capital and a narrow belt running east and west of it along 
the coast.  The Maroons and Amerindians are concentrated in remote areas 
and therefore have limited access to, and influence in, the political 
process.  There is a small Maroon political party which holds three 
seats in the National Assembly and belongs to an opposition coalition.  
There are no Amerindian political parties or representatives in the 
National Assembly.  There are seven Maroons the National Assembly.  
There are no Maroons or Amerindians in the Cabinet.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Human rights groups operate without government restriction, 
investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.  
Government officials are, however, generally not cooperative or 
responsive to their views.  The National Institute of Human Rights, 
funded by the Government but authorized to act independently, is widely 
regarded as inactive and ineffective.  Nonetheless, its chairman stated 
that cabinet members often implement its recommendations.  When the 
Institute's five members' 10-year terms expired in 1994, President 
Venetiaan did not appoint new members and refused to accept letters of 
resignation, thus extending their tenure indefinitely.  There have been 
no further developments.

The Government reacted negatively to calls for investigations into past 
human rights violations and refused to initiate such studies.  It failed 
to implement several recommendations by the Inter-American Commission on 
Human Rights that it investigate killings during the tenure of the 
military regime.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status

The Constitution and laws do not differentiate among citizens on the 
basis of their ethnic origins, religious affiliations, or other cultural 
differences.  In practice, however, several groups within society suffer 
various forms of discrimination.


The law does not differentiate between domestic violence and other forms 
of assault, and the Government has not specifically addressed the 
problem of violence against women.  According to a national women's 
group, victims reported approximately 300 cases of violence against 
women.  Police are reluctant to intervene in instances of "domestic" 
violence.  It remains a problem at all levels of society.

There are no specific laws to protect women against trafficking and 
sexual exploitation.  A local women's group is investigating several 
cases of arranged marriages to foreigners where the women were 
subsequently forced into prostitution.  There are also credible reports 
of trafficking in Brazilian women for prostitution.  Neither medical nor 
legal assistance is available to victims.  Victims are not discouraged 
against filing complaints and do not face legal or other penalties.

Women have a legal right to equal access to education, employment, and 
property.  Nevertheless, social pressures and customs inhibit their full 
exercise of these rights, particularly in the areas of marriage and 
inheritance.  Women, notably those who were heads of families, were 
adversely affected by deteriorating economic conditions.  Women 
experience economic discrimination in access to employment and in rates 
of pay for the same or substantially similar work.  The Government has 
not made specific efforts to combat economic discrimination.

The National Women's Center is a government agency devoted to women's 
issues; there is also a women's policy coordinator.  Their effectiveness 
is severely limited by financial and staffing constraints.  There are 
several active women's rights 

groups.  Their principal concerns are political representation, economic 
vulnerability, violence, and discrimination.  These groups are somewhat 


The Government makes only limited efforts to ensure safeguards for the 
human rights and welfare of children.  In the capital, where most of the 
country's population is concentrated, there are some orphanages, and a 
privately funded shelter for sexually abused children opened in 1993.  
Elsewhere, distressed children must usually rely on the resources of 
their extended families.  There is no pattern of societal abuse directed 
against children.  Both in the capital and in the country's interior, 
some school-age children do not have access to education because of a 
lack of transportation, facilities or teachers.  There is no difference 
in the treatment of girls and boys in education or health care services.  
Children face increasing economic pressure to discontinue their 
education to work.

  People With Disabilities

There are no laws concerning disabled people and no provisions for 
making private or public buildings accessible to them.  There are also 
no laws mandating that they be given equal consideration when seeking 
jobs or housing.  However, there are some training programs for the 
blind and others with disabilities.

  Indigenous People

Most Amerindians and Maroons suffer a number of disadvantages and have 
only limited ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, 
cultures, traditions, and natural resources.  The nation's political 
life, educational opportunities, and jobs are concentrated in the 
capital and its environs, while the majority of Amerindians and Maroons 
live in the interior.  Government services in the interior became 
largely unavailable and much of the infrastructure was destroyed during 
the 1986-91 domestic insurgencies; progress in reestablishing services 
and rebuilding the infrastructure has been very slow.

The Government appointed the Consultative Council for the Development of 
the Interior in September.  This Council, provided for in the 1992 peace 
accords ending the insurgencies, includes representatives of the Maroon 
and Amerindian communities.  The Government did not, however, consult 
with representatives of the Amerindian and Maroon communities about the 
granting of gold and timber concessions in areas they inhabit, and it 
largely ignored Maroon and Amerindian demands for representation in 
pending negotiations for substantial new timber concessions affecting 
their communities.

Maroon and Amerindian groups are beginning to cooperate in order to 
exercise their rights more effectively.  In August indigenous leaders 
demanded the right to participate in decisions concerning the use of 
natural resources and greater autonomy from the Government.

Section 6  Worker Rights

  a.  The Right of Association

The Constitution protects the right of workers to associate and to 
choose their representatives democratically.  At least 40 percent of the 
work force is organized into unions, most of which belong to one of the 
country's six major labor federations.  Unions are independent of the 
Government and play an active role in politics.  The small Labor Party, 
which is a part of the four-party coalition, is independent of the labor 
movement, but its leader chairs some of the most influential labor 
federations, and three of its members are in the President's Cabinet.

There are no restrictions on unions' international activities.  Several 
labor federations were reaccepted as affiliates of international trade 
union organizations in the late 1980's, after having been suspended for 
collaboration with the military regime earlier in the decade.  The 
Constitution provides for the right of nongovernment employees to 
strike.  Civil servants have no legal right to strike or mount other 
labor actions, but in practice do so.  Strikes in both the public and 
private sectors were common as workers tried to secure wage gains to 
protect their earning power from rapid inflation.

  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution explicitly recognizes these rights, and the authorities 
respect them in practice.  Collective bargaining agreements cover 
approximately 50 percent of the labor force.  The law prohibits 
antiunion discrimination by employers, and there are effective 
mechanisms for resolving complaints of such discrimination.  Employers 
must have prior permission from the Ministry of Labor to fire workers, 
except when discharging an employee for cause.  The Labor Ministry 
individually reviews dismissals for cause; if it finds a discharge 
unjustified, the employee must be reinstated.

There are no export processing zones.

  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there were no 
known instances of it.

  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 years.  The Ministry 
of Labor and the police enforce this law only sporadically, however.  
Those under 16 years of age often work as street vendors, newspaper 
sellers, or shop assistants.  Working hours for youths are not limited 
in comparison with the regular work force.  School attendance is 
compulsory until the age of 12.

  e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no minimum wage legislation.  The Government's lowest wage for 
a civil servant was about $26.97 (SF12,000) a month.  This salary level 
makes it very difficult to provide a decent living for a worker and 
family.  The Government sets civil service wages and the National 
Assembly approves them.

Work in excess of 9 hours per day or 45 hours per week on a regular 
basis requires special government permission, which is routinely 
granted.  Such overtime work earns premium pay.  The law requires one 
24-hour rest period per week.

A 10- to 12-member inspectorate of the Occupational Health and Safety 
Division of the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing 
legislated occupational safety and health regulations.  There is, 
however, no law authorizing workers to refuse to work in circumstances 
they deem unsafe.  They must appeal to the inspectorate to declare the 
workplace situation unsafe.  Resource constraints and lack of trained 
personnel preclude the division from making regular inspections of 
industry.  Accident rates in local industry do not appear to be high, 
and the key bauxite industry has an outstanding safety record.


[end of document]


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