By Ivan Cairo
PARAMARIBO, Suriname – The lawyer for President Desi Bouterse, who is accused of involvement in the 1982 murders of 15 political opponents of his then military government, Monday asked the Military Court to acquit his client after brandishing the victims as “traitors”.
Attorney Irvin Kanhai said the National Army did Suriname a great service by eliminating the opponents of the then military government telling the court that as a result, a larger bloodbath had been averted.
He told the court that one day in the future “we will pay tribute to our soldiers for what they did for us on December 8, 1982 and that we will honour them”.
Kanhai told the Military Court that the entire indictment should be dismissed. He deemed the case inadmissible since the court refused to take into account an Amnesty Law which was passed during the course of the trial in April 2014.
Last year, Bouterse along with 23 co-defendants appeared in the Military Court after the Court of Justice had earlier rejected a motion to stop the trial. The former military officers and civilians are charged with the December 8, 1982 murders of the 15 men that included journalists, military officers, union leaders, lawyers, businessmen and university lecturers.
The prosecution alleges that the men were arrested on the night of December 7 and 8 of that year and transferred to Fort Zeelandia, then the headquarters of the Surinamese National Army. They said the men were tortured that night and summarily executed.
The Court of Justice ruled that the criminal case should be continued by the Military Court since the prosecutors’ request to end the trial wasn’t based on any provision in the Surinamese criminal law.
In June 2016, the Military Court ruled that the Amnesty Law, which was criticised by human rights groups as an attempt to shield Bouterse, was unlawful.
Several years ago, the former army commander claimed political responsibility for the murders since he was head of government at the time of the massacre, but has denied any personal involvement in the killings.
The military government claimed that the men had conspired to stage a coup. Bouterse later became president of Suriname through democratic elections in May 2010 and won re-election in May 2015.
In his arguments in support of his client being released, Kanhai said that the Public Prosecution had not provided any evidence against Bouterse.
He said numerous witnesses had under oath claimed that Bouterse was not present in Fort Zeelandia at the time of the murders, nor did anyone accuse him of firing a single gunshot.
The defence lawyer also called on the Netherlands to pay compensation to the families of the 15 victims as he sought to link the European country to the situation in 1982.
Referring to various statements by witnesses, Kanhai said that from February, 25, 1980 when Bouterse came to power through a military coup, several coup attempts had been made to remove him from office.
He said that members of the then Military Authority were invited to a Paghwa celebration in a Hindu temple with the intention that they would be poisoned or shot and that the plot failed because the military officials did not turn up.
In a crowded courtroom Kanhai said that The Netherlands played a leading role in the events leading up to the murders in December and that it tried to expel Bouterse from the circles of power to help establish a government that would look after Holland’s economic interests.
He claimed that the Dutch country was being assisted by the United States and that these cases are recorded in, among other things, CIA reports and other documents.
He said apart from those two countries, the media also participated in an “intensive brainwashing” in order to make the people of Suriname believe that the actions of the then military government were not legal.
Kanhai told the Military Court that the 15 victims were actually involved in an attempt to overthrow the Bouterse administration, describing them as “collaborators”.
He said everything was prepared “carefully and professionally”, with loyal support from crucial elements in the Surinamese society.
Bouterse has claimed in the past that the trial is politically motivated and has argued that the truth and a resolution regarding the so-called “December Murders” will not be found through the court system but rather through a process as had been the case in South-Africa and other countries where special commissions were established to determine the truth behind political murders.
Last December, Ruben Rozendaal, one of the co-defendants in the mass murder trial involving Bouterse, died, after allegedly committing suicide by bleeding to death following a cut on his left arm. – CMC