December murders

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The December murders (Dutch: Decembermoorden) were the murders on 7, 8, and 9 December 1982, of fifteen prominent young Surinamese men who had criticized the military dictatorship then ruling Suriname. Thirteen of these men were arrested on December 7 between 2 am and 5 am while sleeping in their homes (according to reports by the families of the victims). The other two were Surendre Rambocus and Jiwansingh Sheombar who were already imprisoned for attempting a counter-coup in March 1982. Soldiers of Dési Bouterse, the then dictator of Suriname, took them to Fort Zeelandia (the then headquarters of Bouterse), where they were heard as 'suspects in a trial' by Bouterse and other sergeants in a self-appointed court. After these 'hearings' they were tortured and shot dead. The circumstances have not yet become completely clear; on December 10, 1982, Bouterse claimed on national television that all of the detainees had been shot dead 'in an attempt to flee'.

The December murders led to international protest by numerous Western countries and human rights organizations. The former colonial power, Netherlands, immediately froze development aid.[1][2] Many Surinamese civilians fled Suriname for the Netherlands.

Bouterse has long denied guilt in the December murders. In March 2007 he accepted political responsibility for the murders, but he then also explicitly stated that he personally had not 'pulled the trigger' to kill the fifteen men. In March 2012, however, a former confidant of Bouterse testified under oath that Bouterse himself had shot two of the victims.[3]


After their abduction, the fifteen victims were transported to Fort Zeelandia, the then headquarters of Bouterse and his soldiers in Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. The soldiers performing the action were under command of Bouterse, the then dictator of Suriname and also leader of the Surinamese army. Among the victims were lawyers, journalists, businessmen, soldiers, university teachers and a union leader.

A sixteenth arrested person, trade union leader Fred Derby, was released unexpectedly on December 8. Derby reported his experiences on December 8, 2000, saying he was not murdered because, Bouterse told him, he was needed to cool the temper of the unions, which were frequently on strike at that time.[4][5]


Plaque in Waterlooplein, Amsterdam, commemorating the victims of the December murders
  • John Baboeram, lawyer
  • Bram Behr, journalist
  • Cyrill Daal, union leader
  • Kenneth Gonçalves, lawyer
  • Eddy Hoost, lawyer, former minister
  • André Kamperveen, football player, journalist and businessman
  • Gerard Leckie, university teacher
  • Sugrim Oemrawsingh, scientist
  • Lesley Rahman, journalist
  • Surendre Rambocus, military officer
  • Harold Riedewald, lawyer
  • Jiwansingh Sheombar, military soldier
  • Jozef Slagveer, journalist
  • Robby Sohansingh, businessman
  • Frank Wijngaarde, journalist (with Dutch citizenship)

Jozef Slagveer[edit]

Jozef Slagveer (25 January 1940) was a journalist and writer. He was born in Totness and graduated from the Free University in journalism. On his return to Suriname in 1967, he started work at the Ministry of Education. In 1971, he started a press agency and magazine together with Rudi Kross [nl].[6] His magazine uncovered several corruption scandals.[7] He also published several books and poetry collections both in Dutch and Sranan Tongo.[6]

After the 1980 coup d'état, Slagveer joined the sergeants and became their spokeperson on televsion and censor. Gradually he became more critical, and eventually broke all contact with the military regime.[8] On 7 December 1982, Slagveer was arrested, and with visible signs of torture is forced to read a confession on television that the group had tried to overthrow the government.[7] He was killed the next day.[8]


In the December murders trial that commenced on November 30, 2007 there were 25 suspects with Bouterse being the only main suspect.

Aftermath and legal action[edit]

Only after many years the government of Suriname took the first official legal steps toward clarifying the case. After the murders, the victims' bodies were buried without post-mortem examinations having been performed; moreover, no legal investigation was conducted.

Politically, the murders continue to exert an influence on Surinamese politics. After the 2010 general election, won by Bouterse, then-president Ronald Venetiaan refused to even mention Bouterse's name or congratulate him; Venetiaan, the Minister of Education in the government of Henck Arron, prime minister of the government overthrown by Bouterse in 1980, was a personal friend of most of the fifteen victims.[9]

After the election of Bouterse as president in August 2010, Parliament moved in 2012 to amend a 1992 amnesty law to include the period of the December murders.[10][11] The amendment was signed into law in April 2012 by the vice president, and resulted in halting the murder trial against (among others) then-president Desi Bouterse.[12][13] The trial in front of the court-martial was halted to await a judgment of the Constitutional Court - which was defined by law, but never appointed. After some years of standstill and no appointment of a Constitutional Court, the trial continued in 2015 after an order of the court-martial.[14] Using his authority as defined in article 148 of the Constitution of Suriname, President Bouterse then declared that the trial was a threat to national security, and ordered the prosecutor to halt prosecution on 29 June 2016.[15][16] The court-martial was expected to continue the trial and consider this new fact by 30 November 2016, but this time the trial was postponed until 30 January because of illness of one of the judges. Eventually the court-martial ordered the prosecutor on 30 January 2017 to read the charges and ignore the instructions by the President because the matter was no longer in hands of the executive but of the judicial branch.[15] Next, the continuation of the trial was postponed to await the outcomes and timelines in other trials.[15]

In June 2017, military prosecutor Roy Elgrin was able to read his conclusions, and demanded a 20-year prison sentence for the main suspect Desi Bouterse. He argued that Bouterse was behind the murders, was present but also that he was unable to prove that he pulled the trigger.[17] In a response, Bouterse implied that he was not willing to accept a conviction by the court, as he was "appointed by God".[18]


On 29 November 2019, a military court came to a verdict. Of the main suspects, incumbent president Bouterse was found guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.[19] Main co-defendant Etienne Boerenveen [nl] was acquitted.[20][21] Bouterse was sentenced in absentia, and filed an appeal. On 30 April 2021, Bouterse appeared in court where he used his right to silence. The court will reconvene on 31 May 2021.[22]


  1. ^ "Amnestie decembermoorden; ambassadeur Suriname naar Nederland". Reformatisch Dagblad (in Dutch). 5 April 2012. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  2. ^ "Dossier Suriname". NRC Handelsblad (in Dutch). 1 February 2001. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  3. ^ "Bouterse heeft Daal en Rambocus doodgeschoten". Starnieuws (in Dutch). 23 March 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
  4. ^ "Poti yesi arki, sa meki yu sabi furu" (PDF). kennisbanksu (in Dutch). Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  5. ^ "Wijlen Fred Derby over de Decembermoorden". Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  6. ^ a b "Jozef Slagveer". (in Dutch). Retrieved 13 May 2021.
  7. ^ a b "Josef Slagveer". Decembermoorden (in Dutch). Retrieved 13 May 2021.
  8. ^ a b "Jozef Slagveer: 25 januari 1940 – 8 december 1982". Jessica Dikmoet (in Dutch). Retrieved 13 May 2021.
  9. ^ Ramdhari, Stieven (28 July 2010). "Na 18 jaar gesprek tussen Bouterse en president Venetiaan". de Volkskrant. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  10. ^ "Amnestiewet Suriname aangenomen – Bouterse niet verder vervolgd ::" (in Dutch). 2012-07-07. Archived from the original on 2012-07-07. Retrieved 2017-01-30.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  11. ^ "'Advocaat Bouterse brein achter amnestiewet'" (in Dutch). Retrieved 2017-01-30.
  12. ^ "Omstreden Surinaamse amnestiewet ondertekend door vice-president ::" (in Dutch). 2012-04-21. Archived from the original on 2012-04-21. Retrieved 2017-01-30.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. ^ "Surinaamse krijgsraad schort proces Decembermoorden tijdelijk op ::" (in Dutch). 2012-07-12. Archived from the original on 2012-07-12. Retrieved 2017-01-30.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  14. ^ "BREAKING NEWS: 'OM moet Bouterse verder vervolgen' -" (in Dutch). 2016-04-17. Archived from the original on 2016-04-17. Retrieved 2017-01-30.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  15. ^ a b c "Artikel 148 in 8 Decemberstrafproces verworpen". De Ware Tijd (in Dutch). 2017-01-30. Retrieved 2017-01-30.
  16. ^ "Is artikel 148 Grondwet dé uitweg uit het Decemberstrafproces?". (in Dutch). Retrieved 2017-01-30.
  17. ^ Broere, Kees. "Surinaamse aanklager eist 20 jaar tegen president Bouterse in proces decembermoorden - Buitenland - Voor nieuws, achtergronden en columns". De Volkskrant (in Dutch). Retrieved 2017-06-28.
  18. ^ NOS, "Bouterse: God heeft mij hier neergezet, geen rechter haalt mij weg" (in Dutch). Retrieved 2017-06-30.
  19. ^ 20 jaar cel Bouterse(Dutch), Suriname Herald, 29 Nov. 2019
  20. ^ Boerenveen acquitted (Dutch), Suriname Herald. 29 Nov. 2019
  21. ^ Court in Suriname convicts Bouterse to 20 years. wpxi news 29 Nov. 2019
  22. ^ "Bouterse beroept zich op zwijgrecht in proces Decembermoorden". NRC Handelsblad (in Dutch). Retrieved 13 May 2021.

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