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(Washington, DC) – Suriname should immediately revoke the amnesty law approved on April 5, 2012, by the National Assembly, and prosecute people accused of committing grave human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said today.

The National Assembly of Suriname amended an existing amnesty law to extend its coverage to offenses “in the context of the defense of the State” between April 1, 1980, and August 19, 1992, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported. Among those who will gain immunity are President Desi Bouterse and 24 others who were on trial for the alleged abduction and murder of 15 prominent political opponents, including journalists, lawyers, and a trade union leader, in December 1982. The law also covers the killing of 19 soldiers by rebels during the 1986-92 civil war, Bouterse said.

“These international crimes are too serious to be amnestied and forgotten,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Bouterse's self-amnesty blocks justice for gross human rights violations, which Suriname has the obligation to investigate and prosecute.”

News media accounts say that Bouterse accepted “political responsibility” for the December 1982 killings but said that he was not present when they occurred. Witnesses have allegedly disputed those claims during the trial, which began in 2007, but had been repeatedly stalled. News media also reported that the governing coalition in the National Assembly included language in the law to establish a truth commission to investigate the December 1982 killings, and excluded from the amnesty the massacre of at least 39 ethnic Maroons by soldiers during the country's civil war.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have expressed deep concern regarding Suriname's amnesty legislation, saying that it violates the State's obligations to investigate and prosecute human rights abuses, and to ensure that abuse victims have access to justice, truth, and reparations.

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