Families of the Victims Want Ex-President to Flee Murder Conviction

PARAMARIBO (Reuters) – Families of Suriname activists murdered for protesting against the government in the 1980s say decades of suffering and slow legal proceedings have been dragged on by authorities’ apparent indecisio be the man at the center of all of this:  former President Desi Bouterse.

Bouterse, 78, dominated politics in the small South American country for decades, leading a coup in 1980 and finally leaving power in 2020. Five years ago, he and six others were convicted for their roles in the murder of 15 people in 1982. leading government critics, including lawyers, journalists, trade union leaders, soldiers and professors university.

Bouterse, who claimed the murdered men were involved in an invasion plot, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The verdict, helped in part by the testimony of a union leader who survived the incident at a colonial fortress in the capital Paramaribo, was upheld by Suriname’s highest court in December, ending over 16 years of legal advocacy.

However, in January, Bouterse and his former bodyguard, Iwan Dijksteel, did not show up at the prison, which sparked a manhunt and an Interpol red alert.”It seems like you’ve completed half the task,” remarked Aishel Bradley, who was only a year old at the time of her uncle’s death in the infamous “December Murders”—Lesley Rahman, a 28-year-old journalist who badgered Bouterse with inquiries. Bradley declared, “That’s what will happen if the verdict includes jail time.”

Her family, many of whom fled Suriname during Bouterse’s time in power, still have no closure, she said.”It is very important that further steps are taken as well. And that he is also found and serves his sentence.” Responding to Reuters questions about steps taken to find the men, the Suriname prosecutor’s office said it had “no further updates”.

In an open letter dated April 3, victims’ families, human rights organizations, labor unions and others called on the prosecutor’s office and President Chan Santokhi to urgently use all resources to looking for men. Two of Sunil Oemrawsingh’s uncles died in political violence in 1982 – one of them, Sugrim Oemrawsingh, in a murder in December. The country’s prosecutors were “naive” in inviting people The man reported to jail, Oemrawsingh said.

“Either way, you ought to monitor (Bouterse) and cancel his passport beforehand. since there is a clear risk of escape. That, however, did not occur “In a March home interview, Oemrawsingh stated. Bouterse and his co-defendants were deemed suspects rather than convicted individuals due to the appeal process, according to the prosecutor’s office, which prevented confiscation.

The verdict was hailed as a victory for the rule of law in Suriname, a former Dutch colony of about 600,000 residents.“It’s really not surprising that Bouterse didn’t surrender voluntarily,” said Reed Brody, a U.S. war crimes prosecutor who is monitoring the case for the International Commission of Jurists. “What is surprising is that a convicted serial killer could escape so easily.”

Brody said it was unclear what was being done to locate Bouterse and whether his family or supporters were questioned.“Given Bouterse’s age and poor health, he probably would not have been able to escape or hide for so long without the complicity of others,” Brody said.

A leader of Bouterse’s National Democratic Party, now in opposition, told supporters in March that the government “will not find Bouterse” and that the former president remains party chairman. According to Oemrawsingh, a family member, the situation was “very painful.” “Not only for individuals but also for Suriname.”

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