Over 35 years after “Decembermoorden,” Suriname still awaits truth & justice

Translated from Italian

The Decembermoorden were the murders of 15 opponents of the military junta led by president Dési Bouterse, installed in Suriname in 1980.

Between December 7 – 9, 1982, fourteen opposition leaders were taken from their homes, joining two others already in detention at Fort Zeelandia, for attempting to overthrow the regime.

Only one man was spared, the trade unionist Fred Derby, who provided the only direct testimony of what happened there. Derby was interviewed directly by Bouterse before he could leave the junta’s headquarters. According to Derby, the former dictator decided not to kill him for his role as a union leader when Bouterse hoped to dampen worker protests.

The 15 people were tortured, summarily tried, and executed on December 9. Bouterse himself announced the execution to the nation on December 10, claiming to have stopped the detainees during an “escape attempt”.

The Decembermoorden provoked a reaction from non-governmental organizations and the UN Commission on Human Rights; the latter, in an advisory opinion, called on Suriname to prosecute those responsible. The Netherlands blocked development aid and many civilians fled the country landing in large numbers in French Guiana and the Netherlands.

Bouterse has always denied criminal responsibilities, but in 2007 admitted political ones. After the 2010 elections that saw him win, the former general managed to extend amnesty for the years of dictatorships to the Decembermoorden period that was previously excluded.

The move opened an institutional crisis between the executive and the judiciary and temporarily suspended the proceedings, but in January 2017, ignoring the order of Bouterse who had declared the trial against him and 25 other suspects “a threat to the nation”, the court-martial resumed the hearings. The judges ignored the presidential decree and declared that the matter no longer fell within the jurisdiction of the government: in January 2017 the public prosecutor asked for 20 years’ imprisonment for the president.

Bouterse announced that he would not recognize the court’s ruling.


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