22 October 2015
The Human Rights Committee today finished the consideration the third periodic report of Suriname on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The report was presented by Henry L. Mac Donald, Permanent Representative of Suriname to the United Nations, who stressed the unwavering support of Suriname for the promotion and protection of all human rights and the commitment to upholding its national and international human rights obligations. A number of legal reforms to that end had been implemented, including the abolishing of the death penalty, the establishment of the National Human Rights Institution, specific provisions for the declaration of the state of emergency, and implementation of the National Act for the combating of domestic violence. In order to strengthen institutional capacity, human rights training courses were held for police officials, media, religious organizations and non-governmental organizations. The Government was also implementing policies for persons with disabilities in the field of law and legislation, education and training, recreation and sports, and transportation.
In the interactive dialogue which ensued, Committee Experts expressed serious concern over the lack of progress in the investigation and prosecution of the 8 December 1982 killings, noting that the Amnesty Law contributed to impunity. They also expressed disappointment that the Parliament discussion of the draft bill on the establishment of the Constitutional Court, which was supposed to allow for criminal prosecution of the crimes against humanity, had been pending since 2013. Experts asked questions about the issues of alleged harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual persons by the police, torture and mistreatment in prisons and detention centers, prolonged detention periods, legal definition of torture, citizenship for children whose parents were not legal residents in Suriname, trafficking of persons for labour and sexual exploitation, and restitution of the indigenous peoples’ land.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Mac Donald thanked the Committee Experts for their thoughtful questions and comments, noting that the discussion was a good learning experience.
In his concluding remarks, Fabián Omar Salvioli, Chairman of the Human Rights Committee, underlined the Committee’s concern regarding the Amnesty Law and the problems that it posed for the enjoyment of civil and political rights. The Committee was struck by various issues that were not compatible with the Covenant provisions.
The delegation of Suriname included representatives from the Permanent Mission of Suriname to the United Nations, the Embassy of Suriname in Paris, France, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Human Rights Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to consider the fourth periodic report of the Republic of Korea (CCPR/C/KOR/4).
The third periodic report of Suriname (CCPR/C/SUR/3) is available here.
Presentation of the Report
HENRY MAC DONALD, Permanent Representative of Suriname to the United Nations Office at Geneva, reiterated the unwavering support of Suriname for the promotion and protection of all human rights and the commitment to upholding its national and international human rights obligations. Within the legal proceedings of Suriname, lawyers regularly referred to international human rights conventions as part of their defense strategy. The court also referred to conventions in their decisions. As for the Committee’s request to provide updated information on the steps undertaken to give full effect to the Committee’s views on Baboeram-Adhin et al. v. Suriname, the Government stated that it could implement those measures due to the Amnesty Act of 1992. In the scope of institutional capacity strengthening, human rights training courses were held for police officials, media, religious organizations and non-governmental organizations.
In April 2015 the Government had established the National Human Rights Institute. Suriname had also introduced several laws and administrative measures aimed at combating all forms of discrimination in line with Article 8 of the Constitution of Suriname. With regard to the differences in the employment rate of men and women, the State referred to the attached report that provided statistical overview of the number of men and women employed in the age category of 15-64 by ethnicity. Regarding the amendments of discriminatory provisions concerning the minimum age of marriage, which differed for men and women, the State stressed that it had already taken steps to make that age 18 for both boys and girls through changes in the Civil Code, which were submitted to the National Assembly. The Government had also initiated the implementation of the policy plan 2005-2010 of the Commission on Policy for Persons with Disabilities. A number of matters in the field of law and legislation, education and training, recreation and sports, and transportation had been addressed.
There was no specific law that harmonized the proclamation of the state of emergency with specific requirements of the Covenant. In order to declare the state of emergency, the President of the Republic needed permission of the National Assembly, which meant that people could ensure that their civil and political rights were not undermined. As for violence against women, measures were undertaken through the adoption of the Act to Combat Domestic Violence in 2009. The statistical overview of the number of cases in which protection was granted in the period 2012-2015 was attached in the report. The amended Penal Code, which abolished the death penalty, had come into effect in April 2015.
The Government conducted a “zero tolerance” policy towards unlawful police actions. Unlawful police actions were investigated irrespective of involved persons and in case they were found guilty, either penal or disciplinary sanctions would follow. With regard to the allegations that arbitrary detentions, harassment, torture and ill-treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual persons, especially transgender women, the Government indicated that there was no factually substantiated information about those cases. That community could freely move in society. Suriname was also working towards the elimination of slavery and servitude, and steps were being taken in cases of human trafficking and would be further elaborated. Concerning the freedom of peaceful association and assembly, the Government noted that there were no formal complaints in that respect. The Government emphasized that in the 40 years of the existence of Suriname, all forms of corporal punishment were criminalized by law. Due to the existence of various ethnicities in Suriname, and the fact that there was no dominant ethnicity, and the term “minority” was not used.
Questions by Experts
An Expert noted that no civil society organization had been involved in the promotion of human rights. What efforts were made to create platforms for civil society to work in the field of human rights? Would the new national human rights institution correspond to the Ombudsman? What was the structure and finance given to ensure that the institution would be independent and in full compliance with the Paris Principles?
Could the delegation provide tangible information on how the Covenant could be invoked in domestic laws? What kind of training was provided to the police and judicial personnel in that respect?
The Expert also asked more precise information about the Baboeram-Adhin et al. v. Suriname case and why the State Party would not comply with that request. There were some doubts about the delegation’s reply to the related question.
Another Expert asked about legislative and administrative measures for protection against discrimination. The reply provided by the delegation was very general and only two examples were outlined without any details. It was not clear what the substance of the legal reforms was. The Nationality Law stipulated that all persons born in Suriname should be registered as citizens. However, foreign parents were often asked to produce proof of their legal status in the country before they could register their child. Due to the fear of deportation, they did not register their children. What legal and practical measures had been taken to overcome such forms of discrimination? Was there any decision by court related to combating all forms of discrimination?
The Committee welcomed the data provided by the delegation on the segregation of men and women in the labour market. However, it demanded data on the equality of pay in the administration. Information about equal representation of women in the private sector was missing, as well as information about the implementation of the National Gender Equality Plan.
Experts welcomed the adoption of the policy plan for persons with disabilities, and accession to the instruments in that respect. However, there was a need for more information on quotas for employment of persons with disabilities and their participation in the public sector.
Another Expert inquired about the state of emergency provisions and their consistency with the Covenant. According to Suriname’s law, the state of emergency was invoked in the case of war, danger of war, emergency, and to preserve public order and good morals. However, public order and good morals did not necessarily constitute good reasons for the invoking the state of emergency. What measures were taken to ensure the consistency of those provisions with the Covenant?
As for the death penalty, the Committee welcomed its abolition. However, did the amendment apply to the military Penal Code?
Regarding the Amnesty Law and accountability for the past violations of human rights during the military rule, an Expert express his concern over the lack of progress in investigations of the killings of 8 December 1982 and the resulting continued impunity. In 2004, the Committee had asked that the Government give priority to the investigation of those cases. More than a decade later, there was no progress in that respect. Failure to investigate those perpetrators could give rise to a separate breach of the Covenant. Were there any plans to repeal the Amnesty Law, and, if not, how would Suriname prosecute those human rights violations, acts of torture and killings? What was the status of the Constitutional Court, which had been proposed in 2012?
Another Expert asked about violence against women, including domestic violence. Could the delegation address the lack of reported cases in 2014 and 2015? The Expert also asked for updates on measures taken against offenders. In 2009 the Act to Combat Domestic Violence had been adopted. Had the situation changed since then?
What types of training were provided for police officers? What was done to sensitize police officers to domestic violence and cruel and degrading treatment of women? How was the assertiveness of women in Suriname addressed? Since sexual harassment at workplace criminalized, was that the case in mobbing, too? What projects addressed sexual harassment at workplace, an Expert inquired.
One of the earlier Universal Periodic Review recommendations given to Suriname was to ratify the Convention on the Prevention of Torture. What were the reasons for the rejection of that recommendation? How were physical and mental torture defined in domestic laws?
There were a number of reports of mistreatment by the police in Suriname. What measures had been undertaken by the State Party in response to those allegations? There was a lack of an independent mechanism for investigating maltreatment and sexual abuse in custody. The Committee was not provided with statistical data on the cases of torture and police misconduct. What measures had been taken by the State to improve the reporting of sexual abuse of prisoners? Had there been any reports of mistreatment in psychiatric hospitals? What would be the role of the newly established national human rights institutions in the investigation of crimes of torture?
As for the harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual persons by police forces, there were reports of regular weekend “clean up” actions for such persons in Paramaribo. There were reports of their beatings and unreasonably long detention in police stations. What steps were made to remedy that situation?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation stated that it would respond in writing to the Committee’s technical questions. As for the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights, Suriname was still not able to hold a general discussion on that subject. However, compared to other Caribbean States, it was considered advanced in that area. The First Lady was a strong supporter of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights, and that issue was addressed by civil society organizations. Allegations that every weekend in Paramaribo such persons were rounded up and beaten by police were not true. Those were, in fact, sex workers. But, police were being investigated in cases when they abused their power. The society in Suriname was still not open to the recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trannsexual rights, but the Government was open to their needs and concerns.
As for the issue of discrimination, perhaps the lack of filed discrimination cases could be explained by the fact that there was no major dominant ethnic group in the country. Different groups were very intertwined.
Responding to the question on the application of the Covenant in domestic law, the delegation explained that once an international convention was ratified in Suriname, it would become superior to domestic laws. The Penal Code prohibited all forms of abuse, including torture.
Regarding civil society’s involvement during the preparation of the report, it was explained that the input was there. The Government had taken steps in order to establish a national human rights institution, notably the selection of personnel in line with the Paris Principles. The funding of the national human rights institution would come from the Government, but that would not hamper its independence.
The delegation explained that the Government had followed up on investigation of the 8 December 1982 killings. The draft bill on Constitutional Court was being considered by the Parliament.
The delegation also confirmed that the death penalty was still part of the military Penal Code. However, the Government was currently looking to abolish that provision.
It was explained that the State provided checks and balances for the introduction of the state of emergency based on the Parliament’s approval.
Regarding the salary levels of men and women in the public sector, the delegation said that those were regulated by a fixed system that did not differentiate between sexes. However, there were still concerns that certain jobs went to women and others to men, which could create inequalities. The Government planned to take further steps to ensure the equality of men and women in the public sector, notably to remedy the solely male composition of the Chamber of Commerce. The promotion of female participation in political life and decision-making was a priority for the Government.
The bill that was supposed to regulate the marriage age of boys and girls was pending, and the Parliament was currently considering it.
As for the nationality of children born in Suriname whose parents did not have a legal status, the law stipulated that registration was necessary. At the age of 18, persons could apply for Surinamese nationality by simply sending a letter to the Government. All children had the right to attend school, but they needed to be registered in order to achieve that right.
Regarding the case against Edgar Ritfeld in the military court concerning the 8 December 1982 killings, the delegation stated that that was the only case pending due to the fact that he had refused his exception from prosecution under the Amnesty Law.
The abolishing of the death penalty was the first step towards the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol of the International Convention on the Prevention of Torture.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert underlined that the United Nations was concerned about impunity in Suriname. It was the obligation of the Government to bring perpetrators to justice. Governments did not have the right to unilaterally exempt themselves from such obligations. He expressed surprise that everyone in Suriname was not let out of prison. It should not come as a surprise to the delegation of Suriname that the Committee was seriously concerned about impunity for gross human rights violations.
Another Expert reiterated the question about the Constitutional Court, noting that the draft law was up for a second debate in the Parliament a decade. How long had that discussion been pending? What other courts could prosecute the 8 December 1982 killings in the absence of the Constitutional Court?
As for “clean ups” of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community members by the police, were there any reports on cases of mistreatment by police?
How was the mandatory registration of children for school enrollment and receiving of health services regulated? Another Expert clarified that his question referred to the fact that some parents feared to register their new born children because they did not want to be punished by the immigration authorities.
Another Expert noted that since international human rights treaties superseded domestic laws, they could also supersede the Amnesty Law. What was the role of the State Party in that respect? Executive branch could not encroach upon other branches of Government.
The Expert underlined that it was important to correctly criminalize torture as an autonomous offence. Torture should be distinguished from other acts in order to be properly punished. What did the State Party do to ensure that punishments were sufficiently stringent?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that there was no definition of torture in Suriname, reminding that the country had not ratified the Convention on the Prevention of Torture. That question would be passed on to the experts and the Government of Suriname.
There were no known situations of illegal migrants being rounded up and expelled from the country. If they were afraid to register their children, that issue should be investigated by the Government. However, it was not the responsibility of the Government to make them feel at ease because they were in breach of law. They were supposed to register their presence in the country, the delegation emphasized.
Concerning the Moiwana massacre case, the State Party had already fulfilled its obligations according to the Committee’s recommendations. The only thing left to be started was prosecution. There were difficulties in that process because witnesses were not eager to come forward.
As for the establishment of the Constitutional Court, the Government did not know when that would happen because the Government had no influence on the process. The delegation stressed that the Amnesty Law had been passed by the Parliament and not the Government. The best way for Suriname to move forward was a peaceful resolution of the past crimes. A fact-finding commission and reconciliation forum needed to be established, as purported by the Amnesty Law. Only the Constitutional Court could rule whether a bill was in line with the Constitution. Accordingly, no other court could deal with the crimes perpetrated during the military rule. The Government would ask the Parliament to speed up the reading of the draft bill on the Constitutional Court.
The Government was doing everything in its power to prevent daily occurrence of abuse and torture in prisons. It planned to introduce surveillance cameras in detention centers. In the past seven years, only two such incidents had been reported. In that respect, Suriname was one of the most peaceful countries in the Caribbean; it did not experience any rebellions in detention centers. The delegation reminded that detention centers were not meant to be “five-star hotels.”
As for the employment of persons with disabilities, the Government was undertaking steps to provide such opportunities. In the private sector, it was making sure that there was no distinction between persons with disabilities and those without disabilities. Major companies in Suriname aimed to improve their employment policies for persons with disabilities, notably the Suriname Bank. The Government was making efforts to provide normal conditions of life for persons with disabilities.
Questions by Experts
An Expert inquired about trafficking of persons, noting that the situation in Suriname was grave. He noted that the Government had adopted a national plan to address the situation. Suriname was the country of origin, transit and destination. Trafficking was done for labour and sexual exploitation. Some 80 per cent of domestic trafficking involved indigenous peoples. Suriname had tried to focus on the economic angle of that serious issue. However, more precise statistical data was missing. The Committee asked for disaggregated data according to age, gender and ethnicity to be provided in the next 48 hours. There was a lack of prevention measures and shelters for victims. Could the delegation explain the goals and measures envisaged by the National Anti-Trafficking Plan? What were the awareness raising campaigns conducted for police officers, the judiciary, businesses? Were companies monitored in the context of human trafficking?
As for the issue of the land of indigenous peoples, the State had made efforts to provide financial redress to them. However, the reparation of indigenous land was still outstanding and a matter of urgency. What were the plans for comprehensive reparation in the case of the Saramaka people?
Another Expert reminded that legal reforms in Suriname had reduced the detention period from 44 days to a maximum of 37 days. Similarly, police detention period had been reduced from 14 to seven days. What was the difference between the two types of detention and how were they applied? Timely bringing of suspects to prosecutors was decreased from seven to four days. The review of lawfulness of police custody was now up to the investigative judge. Normally, the 48-hour deadline should be observed. As for juvenile offenders, they should be brought to court even earlier. The age of criminal responsibility in Suriname was 10, which was very low and not in line with the provision that it should not be lower than 12. On what basis could the pre-trial detention be prolonged? What was the definition of detention? Was it the time between the arrest and the judgment by court? When was the eight-day in communicado detention used?
Question was asked if there were cases when juvenile offenders were held with other offenders. Suriname did not appear to have the phenomenon of bail. Would the State Party consider introducing bail as an alternative to imprisonment? What measures were taken to improve the conditions in prisons in line with international standards?
How was the information about the Covenant disseminated?
Another Expert followed up on the issue of the Amnesty Law, noting that any law had to be approved by the President. The fact that it was adopted by the Parliament did not make it legal under the Covenant. Many Latin American countries had repealed their amnesty laws and had prosecuted their Heads of State for gross human rights violations. In 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had expressed concern that the witnesses in the Moiwana massacre case had not come forward because the State had not provided favourable climate. Nevertheless, the court noted that the investigation could continue regardless of the lack of witnesses.
The Expert appreciated the efforts made by Suriname to reduce the backlog of court cases. As for substantial legal fees charged, what steps had the Government taken to ensure access to legal assistance? The Government could give orders to the Prosecutor General to prosecute or not prosecute certain cases. What measures did the State take to ensure that the judiciary was independent?
Suriname had been asked for a while to establish the Constitutional Court. That issue was a matter urgency, an Expert commented. The draft bill was under discussion since 2013.
Under what circumstances could the communication between the detainee and legal counsel could be reviewed? Did the Surinamese law protect the right of the detainee to be brought in front of the judge in 48 hours? Suriname provided legal aid when the suspect was not capable to afford a lawyer. Many people could not afford a lawyer, whose fees were high. To what extent did the low fees paid to lawyers by the Government result in poor representation?
Another Expert inquired about the freedom of expression. Despite the claim by the Government that there had been no cases of violations, there had been allegations of harassments of journalists and civil society activists by members of the former military leadership. How did the Government protect the rights of media? When would the Media Board be established? What would be the composition of that body and the appointment procedure? What was the status of the draft Freedom of Information Act?
The Expert sought information about the protection of different ethnic and religious communities in Suriname. What was done to preserve the identity of those different groups? What was done to ensure their participation in the decision-making, especially of indigenous and tribal peoples? Was consulting with traditional authorities only a custom, or part of the Surinamese legal system?
An Expert asked about the corporal punishment at home and at day care centers. How was it regulated by law? He reminded that the Government had previously suspended the introduction of relevant legal provisions due to a public debate.
Replies by the Delegation
Concerning the question on corporal punishment, the delegation explained that the Child Day-Care Act had been sent to the Parliament for consideration. All forms of abuse of children were to be investigated and were punishable under law. As for corporal punishment at home, some sort of physical of correctional measures were taken by parents, and that situation required increased attention.
Trafficking of persons was a challenge and the Government was working with civil society to introduce trainings for people who needed to identify any forms of trafficking. The Government was also working with the neighbouring countries to solve human trafficking cases. Suriname’s southern border with Brazil was covered by rainforests, which made it difficult to control the flow of people who came mostly to mine gold. The Government required the gold mining industry to register their employees, and had set up a special unit to organize that sector of the economy.
On the issue of the alleged intimidation and harassment of journalists, the delegation noted that there was no limitation on the freedom of expression and opinion. There was no formal complaint of intimidation of journalists and civil society activists. The Government, in fact, had a good cooperation with the journalists’ association. It was working closely with the association to establish a media board. To further simply public access to information, the Government had also introduced the e-Government project.
As for the preservation of identity of different ethnic and religious communities in Suriname, it was explained that the Government recognized diversity through giving each group the national holiday day. There were 17 national holiday days.
The delegation said that the criminal responsibility age had been raised from 10 to 12, which was in line with international human rights standards. Juvenile offenders were not viewed as criminals and they were placed in a correction center where they had to go school and attended programmes that prepared them for social reintegration. They were never held together with adult offenders.
A person had to be brought in front of the prosecutor within three or four days. The prosecutor could then decide to imprison that person for another 14 days. The prosecutor could later during the proceedings extend the detention for another 30 days. Legal representation was provided to suspected offenders upon arrest. The eight-day incommunicado detention without legal representation was allowed in cases of drug trafficking or terrorism.
Regarding the Government’s influence on the judiciary, the delegation explained that the Office of the Prosecutor was not subjected to changes in the Government composition. It was strictly forbidden for the Government to influence the decisions of the Office of the Prosecutor. When a law was passed by the Parliament, it could not be overruled by the President. The President only signed the law that was passed. On the Moiwana massacre case and alleged threatening of witnesses, the delegation said that it did not understand why witnesses had not wanted to come forward because the Public Prosecutor offered protection.
The recruitment of judiciary personnel and their trainings were regulated in close cooperation with the Netherlands. Previous legal practice was highly valued in that respect.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert commented that many of the delegation’s responses were unsatisfactory. He asked that the Delegation focus on answering questions by outlining preventive actions rather than with anecdotes.
What kind of information was withheld from the public and based on what grounds?
As for the protection of indigenous peoples, the Expert clarified that he sought answers about the reparations for their land.
Another Expert asked about the criminal process and clarification on deadlines for bringing suspects in front of the judge and provisions for incommunicado detention. She also asked about the adequacy of free legal aid provision.
Another Expert invited the delegation to refer to international standards on the length of detention and to explain how it applied to Suriname’s law.
The penalties for defamation in Suriname were quite harsh and could lead up to prison sentences up to seven years. Defamation against public officials could also lead to the loss of certain civil rights. The State should consider decriminalize defamation law and should abolish prison sentences, the Expert said.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the renovation of all police stations and lock ups was under way. The detention centers were thus up to international standards.
The State provided a lawyer to arrested persons the moment they declared that they could afford one. There was another lawyer on stand-by.
There were only 19 judges in Suriname, which made it difficult to implement the 48-hour deadline for bringing suspects in front of court. There were plans to increase the number of judges to 34. Since judges’ salaries were not considered attractive enough, a new regulation provided for their increase.
The Government’s position was that all natural resources in Suriname belonged to all citizens. However, before it took any decision to exploit natural wealth in the territory inhabited by indigenous peoples, the Government consulted those groups.
HENRY MAC DONALD, Permanent Representative of Suriname to the United Nations, thanked the Committee Experts for their thoughtful questions and comments, noting that the discussion had been a good learning experience. He asked whether the 48-hour deadline for the submission of written replies to the Committee’s questions could be extended, considering that the delegation had a long trip back to Suriname. He also suggested that the Committee visit Suriname to witness the human rights situation on the ground.
FABIÁN OMAR SALVIOLI, Chairman of the Human Rights Committee, explained that the 48-hour deadline covered the weekend, which meant that the delegation could submit their written responses by 1 p.m. on 26 October. He underlined the Committee’s concern regarding the Amnesty Law and the problems that it posed for the enjoyment of civil and political rights. The Committee was struck by various issues that were not compatible with the Covenant provisions.
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