Suriname’s highest court has upheld the 20-year prison sentence for former president Desi Bouterse, marking the conclusion of a prolonged legal battle centered on the 1982 killings of political opponents.
The verdict, delivered in the capital Paramaribo amidst heightened security, has left some apprehensive about potential unrest in the small South American nation.
Desi Bouterse, who did not attend the hearing, was convicted in 2019 for orchestrating the execution of 15 individuals, including lawyers, journalists, businessmen, and military personnel, just two years after seizing power in a coup.
Bouterse’s appeal was unsuccessful, making the prison sentence final, and his only remaining recourse is to seek clemency.
Reed Brody, representing the International Commission of Jurists, called it “the most important criminal trial in Suriname’s history,” acknowledging the resilience of the rule of law and the perseverance of the victims’ families.
Amidst rising tensions in Suriname, marked by protests against inflation and austerity measures, Justice Minister Kenneth Amoski announced heightened security measures.
Bouterse, a divisive figure who retains popularity among the country’s poor and working classes, expressed readiness for the ruling in July.
On the eve of the decision, the Dutch and French embassies warned of potential unrest, prompting road closures around the courthouse.
The Suriname Business Association called for calm and mutual respect, urging citizens to exercise their right to peaceful protest while considering public order and security.
Bouterse, who denies involvement in the 1982 killings, claimed the victims were plotting a counter-coup with CIA assistance and were shot while attempting to escape.
His history includes a 1999 conviction in the Netherlands for cocaine smuggling, served as president from 2010 to 2020, providing him protection from extradition.
Per Suriname law, Bouterse now has eight days to request a pardon from President Chan Santokhi, who holds the authority to decide independently, though he may seek the judge’s advice.
The current vice president, Ronnie Brunswijk, once Bouterse’s bodyguard and now his arch-foe, adds another layer of complexity to Suriname’s political landscape.