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The December Murders (Dutch: Decembermoorden) refers to 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. 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 those fifteen men. In March 2012, however, a former confidant of Bouterse testified under oath that Bouterse himself had shot two of the victims.
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 Dési 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, 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.
Victims of the December murders
- John Baboeram, lawyer
- Bram Behr, journalist
- Cyrill Daal, union leader
- Kenneth Gonçalves, lawyer
- Eddy Hoost, lawyer
- André Kamperveen, journalist and businessman
- Gerard Leckie, university teacher
- Sugrim Oemrawsingh, university teacher
- Lesley Rahman, journalist
- Surendre Rambocus, military
- Harold Riedewald, lawyer
- Jiwansingh Sheombar, military
- Jozef Slagveer, journalist
- Robby Sohansingh, businessman
- Frank Wijngaarde, journalist (with Dutch citizenship)
In the December murders trial that commenced on November 30, 2007 there were 25 suspects with Desi Bouterse being the only main suspect.
- Errol Alibux
- Dick de Bie
- Etienne Boerenveen
- Dési Bouterse (main suspect)
- Benny Brondenstein
- Winston Caldeira
- Wim Carbière
- Steven Dendoe
- Iwan Dijksteel
- Roy Esajas
- Ernst Gefferie
- Arthy Gorré
- John Hardjoprajitno
- Orlando Heidanus
- Kenneth Kempes
- Iwan Krolis
- Luciën Lewis
- Harvey Naarendorp
- John Nelom
- Edgar Ritfeld
- Ruben Rozendaal
- Badrissein Sital
- Jimmy Stolk
- Imro Themen
- Marcel Zeeuw
Aftermath and legal action
Only after many years the Surinamese government 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 Parliamentary elections, 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 1982, was a personal friend of most of the fifteen victims.
After the election of Bouterse as president of Suriname in August 2010, Parliament moved in 2012 to amend a 1992 amnesty law to include the period of the December murders. 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. 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. 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. 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. Next, the continuation of the trial was postponed to await the outcomes and timelines in other trials.
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. In a response, Bouterse implied that he was not willing to accept a conviction by the court, as he was "appointed by God".
In 1983, relatives of eight of the victims asked the United Nations Human Rights Committee to state their opinion on the case. They wanted the Committee to state that the executions were contradicting with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They assumed that within Suriname there were no legal means for them. Although the Suriname government requested to have the case declared as insusceptible, the committee judged that the 15 victims were "arbitrarily deprived of their lives contrary to article 6 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights", and appealed Suriname to investigate the murders and prosecute the ones responsible.
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- John Khemraadi Baboeram et al. v. Suriname, Communications Nos. 146/1983 and 148 to 154/1983 of the UN Human Rights Committee, April 4, 1985