Former Suriname president Bouterse jailed for political killings

Desi Bouterse at a party meeting earlier this month. Photo: Ranu Abhelakh ANP

Former Suriname president Desi Bouterse should be jailed for 20 years for his role in the killing of 15 political opponents in 1982, the highest court in the former Dutch colony ruled on Wednesday. 

Bouterse, 78, has always denied any involvement in the deaths, which have become known as the December Murders. He was sentenced to 20 years in jail at two previous trials in 2019 and 2021.

“Those who sought justice have had the patience of saints,” the chairman of the judges said. 

Bouterse was not in court to hear the verdict and his current whereabouts are unclear. Nor did the court issue an arrest warrant, saying that this is not possible in Surinamese law.

Suriname became a Dutch colony in the 17th century and gained full independence in 1975.

Bouterse grabbed power in Suriname in the so-called ‘sergeants’ coup’ of 1980. Two years later, after several attempted counter coups, 15 of his political opponents, including journalists, lawyers and academics, were rounded up and murdered in the infamous December killings. This effectively established a dictatorship under Bouterse with a puppet government.

RTL journalist Ruben Leter said the road to the court had been closed off on Tuesday, ahead of the verdict announcement.

“People are all talking about it, on the radio and in person,” he said. “Everyone hopes things will remain calm.”

In 1999, the Netherlands tried Bouterse in absentia on drug smuggling charges. He was convicted and sentenced to a prison term but remained in Suriname.

Bouterse went on to serve as elected president of Suriname from 2010 to 2020 but retired from active politics that year.

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