Bouterse says he will surrender to arrest

Former President of Suriname, Desi Bouterse.
Former President of Suriname, Desi Bouterse.
Associated Press / Edward Troon/File

In the final hours of his mass murder appeal trial, former Surinamese military dictator and elected President Desi Bouterse has said he will cooperate with the state if his 2019 conviction was upheld and if he was in fact ordered to go to jail.

Bouterse and the four other ex-soldiers are facing charges for the December 1982 executions of 15 opponents of his then military government appeared at Tuesday’s appeal hearing before a judicial tribunal when the state and the defense team clashed again about what exactly happened on that fateful night at a colonial era Dutch fort right next to the presidential secretariat.

The state prosecutors are maintaining that Bouterse, 77, had given the orders to execute the 15, including four journalists, clergymen, labor leaders and academics, for plotting with western nations to reverse the February 1980 coup that had toppled the elected Henck Arron government.

Defense attorney Irwin Kanhai said that after several rounds of trials at different court levels, including the current appeal against a late 2019, 20-year jail sentence for Bouterse, what exactly happened and who gave the execution orders are still murky.

“”If you look at the case on its merits, so far in all the proceedings there has been no clarity about what happened in the fort on Dec. 7, 8 and 9, 1982. Absolutely no clarity has come. We cannot assume that soldiers have to practice shooting someone from two meters away. As a soldier you don’t need any training for that. So, something happened that we cannot explain and we have not made any effort to explain what happened,” the lead attorney told the judicial panel.

On the other side of the courtroom, lawyer for relatives Hugo Essed said that evidence led by several witnesses over the years placed Bouterse at the scene. “There was premeditation here.”

And asked if as powerful politician, de facto opposition leader and two-time former president if he will in fact begin serving his 20-year sentence if the court so rules, Bouterse told reporters he will cooperate. “If they pick me up, I would say: keep in mind, I smell Morello. As long as you bring me enough. Why not?”

Bouterse lost power to a multiparty coalition back in mid 2020 after serving two terms as head of state.