SURINAME: DEATH PENALTY ABOLISHED
March 3, 2015: the National Assembly of Suriname abolished the death penalty, in the framework of the discussions regarding the adoption of the new Criminal Code. In a statement issued by the National Assembly, it noted that the new legislation places Suriname in line with international trend.
The Justice and Police Minister of Suriname, Edward Belfort, had initially suggested that the maximum jail sentence be increased to 30 years for crimes that would otherwise be punished with the death penalty. However, the legislators raised the highest prison term limits from 30 to 50 years in what was seen as a compromise to amending the criminal code. âThe punishments for major crimes have been increased. That is a clear signal,â the Vice Chair of the National Assembly, Ruth Wijdenbosch, said at the end of the meeting. Parliament also scrapped conditional release for people convicted of capital crimes. Convicts for murder, manslaughter, sexual offences, or major drug crimes are now no longer eligible for release after serving three quarters of their sentences.
In 2014, Justice Minister Edward Belfort had been very vocal about scrapping the capital punishment, saying that âcountries that apply it would be expected to be the safest countries in the world, yet still have many murders committed on a daily basis.â Belfort said there was no need for the death penalty, which is an outdated piece of legislation that is irreversible once it is carried out. âWe leave the crimes that people commit to their consciences; in the meantime we (do our best to) catch them and bring them to justice,â he said. Then, he noted that he is not a giver of life and would not encourage taking of a life. Belfort also presented a re-socialisation plan for convicts to the National Assembly, by taking them through a tight regimen of social development and transforming the houses of detention into houses of correction where convicts are prepared for their reintegration into the community.
It took nine years to get the approval of the new penal code. Significant progress towards abolition had been made thanks to the commitment of Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) and its National Group in Suriname led by Ruth Wijdenbosch and Hugo Jabini, who had been working for a few years to generate political will for the abolition, leading to the creation of a bi-partisan group in the Parliament, which made the abolition possible.
On 18 December 2014, for the first time, Suriname voted in favour of the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly. Previously it had always abstained on the Resolution.
Before abolition, capital punishment could be imposed for aggravated murder, premeditated murder and treason.
The last time someone was put to death in Suriname, was in 1982, when the military regime led by DesirĂ© Delano âDesiâ Bouterse executed political opponents. In March 1982, Wilfred Hawker, a sergeant they found guilty of treason, was executed by firing squad at dawn for staging two coups. In December 1982, 15 prominent opponents of the military regime were tortured and shot dead. These killings are known as the December Murders. (Sources: Parliamentarians for Global Action, HOC, 05/03/2015; jamaicaobserver.com, 06/03/2014)