Press Release

IACHR Concludes Its Working Visit to Suriname

February 12, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights undertook a working visit to the Republic of Suriname between January 23-25, 2013 in order to examine the situation of the rights of women and indigenous peoples in that country. The delegation was composed of Commissioner Dinah Shelton, Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Commissioner Tracy Robinson, First Vice-President and Rapporteur on the Rights of Women; and staff from the Executive Secretariat.

During the visit, the delegation held meetings with the highest authorities of the Suriname state, and representatives from civil society organizations dedicated to the defense of the rights of indigenous peoples, women and LGBTI persons in the country. Several members of the delegation also traveled to the district of Brokopondo and the village of Brownsweg to visit a Maroon village composed of 8,000 persons. The delegation taught a workshop attended by approximately fifty government officials on the Inter-American System of Human Rights and an academic event at the Anton de Kom University, with the participation of law professors and students. The Commission expresses its gratitude to the government of Suriname for the invitation to conduct this visit, and in particular thanks the authorities and the Surinamese people for the support and hospitality they showed to the delegation. The Inter-American Commission also greatly appreciates and values the information provided by the government, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders.

The Rapporteurs present some initial observations below based on the information gathered during the visit.

State Policies to Address Human Rights Issues

The Rapporteurs appreciate the efforts by the State of Suriname to incorporate the principles of equality and non-discrimination in its constitution and public policies. This formal step is paramount in a multilingual society composed of diverse ethnic, racial, and religious groups, in the process of strengthening its political institutions after its independence. The Rapporteurs recognize the government notion of a social contract with its population, focusing on improving access to education, health, and employment in rural communities.

In this regard, the Rapporteurs underscore the importance of incorporating the principles of inclusion, participation, and consultation in the design and implementation of current policies aimed at achieving equality. The principle of equality should not be equated with assimilation, and should be implemented in practice with the participation of the affected population, incorporating a gender and human rights perspective. It also demands respect for the equality of ethnic, racial, and religious groups in the law; the elimination of norms which are either discriminatory, or have a discriminatory impact on such groups; the eradication of discriminatory practices and stereotypes; and the organization of the entire state structure to confront discrimination with due diligence. The goal of equality and the correlative obligation not to discriminate should be reflected in state laws and policies geared towards the full guarantee of these groups’ civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. The Rapporteurs recall the determination of the Inter-American Court that cultural integrity is a fundamental right and respect for cultural diversity part of a democratic society.

The Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples

The Rapporteurs received ample information throughout the visit – from both State and non-State actors - on the significance of the Inter-American Court judgments in the cases of Moiwana and Saramaka for human rights in Suriname, and considerable challenges that remain to implement the orders in those judgments. These judgments set forth a series of measures the State must adopt to recognize the right of certain Maroon communities to recognition of their traditional territories, and to use and enjoy those lands and the resources necessary for their survival.

The Rapporteurs recognize the steps already adopted by the State to comply with these Inter-American Court judgments. The Rapporteurs however underscore the need for Suriname to fortify its efforts to fully comply with these judgments, in prior consultation and with the participation of the affected Maroon communities. Consultations should be undertaken in good faith, as soon as possible before decisions are taken, respecting these communities’ traditional decision-making institutions and languages, and providing sufficient information for them to make informed decisions; all of which should be carried out in accordance with current international human rights standards. In this regard, the IACHR highlights the recommendations issued by several international procedures and bodies, such as the United Nations Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, and the United Nations Committee on Racial Discrimination, on concrete ways to comply with these judgments in the areas of demarcation and titling, and the development of a law and procedure to carry out this goal.

During the visit, the Rapporteurs also received information on current gold mining policies and initiatives from the State and its Presidential Commission on Gold Mining, and their impact on the livelihood and sustainability of communities inhabited by indigenous and tribal peoples in Suriname. Some of the problems reported were the impact of gold mining and the related use of mercury on the quality of the water of these communities; forced displacement due to gold mining activities; child labor; and sexual violence perpetrated against women in mining areas. The Rapporteurs underscore the need to undertake consultations with the communities involved before and during the performance of these activities, and the obligation of the State to adopt steps to safeguard the economic, social, and cultural rights of these communities. Further, the Rapporteurs emphasize the obligation of the State to ensure that any mining activities implemented are duly supervised, and subject to controls to protect against possible human rights violations, and to investigate and hold those responsible accountable. The government should ensure that in compliance with international standards no forcible relocation of indigenous and tribal communities occurs as a result of any concessions or gold-mining activities taking place on their lands.

During its visit to the village of Brownsweg, different residents also communicated to the Inter-American Commission delegation their feeling of isolation from the policies, programs, and benefits adopted by the national government, and the lack of an effective response to their needs. They reported deficiencies in the provision of basic services such as water and health issues, as well as lack of support for the preservation of their language. The Rapporteurs underscore the need of the national government to collect information related to the specific challenges faced by rural communities and to adopt measures to promptly and effectively respond to the same with a human rights and gender perspective.

The Rights of Women

The Rapporteurs recognize the efforts from the State of Suriname to incorporate gender equality as a guiding principle of all policies and laws concerning the rights of women in Suriname. These are reflected in the recent adoption of a group of laws to address forms of violence against women, such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, and stalking, as well as in the creation of institutions under the umbrella of the Ministries of Justice and Police, and of Home Affairs addressing different aspects of the rights of women in the country. The Rapporteurs also commend the State effort to create inter-agency groups to address different aspects of the problem of violence against women, including the improved provision of services for domestic violence victims at police stations; and the creation of a shelter in the city. Some of these groups include the participation of civil society.

However, the Rapporteurs stress the need to strengthen current State institutions addressing the rights of women with an appropriate amount of human and financial resources to be able to function effectively, and for these to have a noteworthy role in the development of legislation and public policies. The services currently provided for victims of violence against women also need to have more effective coverage, in order to reach rural communities where many of these victims reside. As the Inter-American Commission has reiterated numerous times, State data collection efforts – both quantitative and qualitative - are paramount to fully understand the dimension of the existing problems, and to properly design legislation and public policies in order to respond to these issues. The Rapporteurs also emphasize the need for government policies to take special note of the particular risk of multiple forms of discrimination and violence faced by specific groups of women, such as those belonging to indigenous and tribal peoples in Suriname, those living in rural areas, and those living in conditions of poverty. In the process of developing legislation and public policies, it is crucial to include the participation of civil society organizations from both urban and rural areas in Suriname, women from different ethnic, racial, and religious groups who will be beneficiaries, and adequate monitoring mechanisms to assess the effectiveness of their implementation. The Rapporteurs recall that the current definition of violence against women in international human rights law and regional instruments such as the Inter-American Convention for the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, encompasses not only acts of domestic violence, but also acts which take place in both the public and private settings, involving sexual, physical, and psychological violence. In order to fully capture and address the problem of violence against women, it is imperative to adopt and implement integral legislation and policies that adequately define violence against women, ensure protection against the violence, guide the proper investigation of the violence and prosecution of the violence and provide appropriate medical and psycho-social services to victims.

The Rapporteurs also received information about other key human rights challenges affecting women in Suriname, including the still low levels of political participation; the absence of adequate legislation regulating the provision of paid maternity leave in the private sector and the persistent wage gap between men and women; and obstacles to adequate access to health services that women need, resulting in high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity, among other issues. The IACHR emphasizes the need for the State to adopt the necessary legislative, policy, and regulatory measures to remove the range of barriers women face to have equal access to decision-making positions, including the adoption of temporary special measures; improving the access women have to decent and quality work; and ensuring that women have equal access to the health services they require according to their particular needs.

The Rights of LGBT Communities

The Rapporteurs also received during the visit information concerning forms of discrimination and violence faced by LGBT communities in Suriname, and government efforts to address this issue.

In this respect, the Inter-American Commission recognizes the willingness of government authorities to discuss the prevailing problems, the openness of the police force to be trained on issues pertaining to LGBT communities, and the commitment made by the Ministry of Home Affairs to take the lead in ensuring that LGBT issues receive appropriate attention through State policies. The Commission underscores that it is important for the government to formally commit to the development of a policy to address the human rights of the LGBT communities, and to adopt a participatory approach involving civil society organizations working to advance the rights of these groups. A government policy aimed at furthering the goals of gender equality and the obligation not to discriminate should be reflective of the needs of LGBT communities in Suriname.

Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

The Rapporteurs recognize the efforts from the State of Suriname to invest in the education system in the country, including the construction of schools in rural areas. Notwithstanding, the delegation received ample information during the visit, from both State and non-State actors, concerning weaknesses related to the education system in Suriname, and their notable impact on rural, poor, and indigenous and tribal peoples. The Rapporteurs underscore the need to respect and reflect the different cultures, worldviews, and languages existing in Suriname in the design of educational plans; as well as the duty to safeguard public education throughout the country at the primary and secondary levels. The Rapporteurs also call on the relevant authorities to exercise due diligence in order to supervise the situation of girls and boys who currently attend boarding schools, as a group at a special risk of incidents of violence and discrimination, which very often go unreported.

Regarding the Visit

During the visit, the delegation met with the following government authorities: Winston G. Lackin, Minister of Foreign Affairs; H.E. Edmund C.J. Belfort, Minister of Justice and the Police; H.E. Stanley Betterson, Minister of Regional Development; H.E.Soewarto Moestadja, Minister of Home Affairs; the Honorable Mrs. Jennifer Geerlin-Simons, Speaker of the House; and representatives of the Presidential Council on Gold Mining.

The Inter-American Commission delegation also held meetings with a number of several civil society organizations in Suriname who work to advance the rights of indigenous peoples and women, including the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders in Suriname (VIDS); the Association of Saramaka Authorities (VSG); the Organization of Indigenous Peoples in Suriname (OIS); the Moiwana Foundation; the Women’s Rights Center; the Center for People’s Development; Projekta; Women’s Way United; Suriname Men United; the LGBT platform of Suriname; the Maroon Women Network; and the Ilse Henar Hewitt Bureau.

The IACHR is grateful for the cooperation and facilities provided by the government of Suriname; by the office of the OAS in Suriname; and by civil society institutions, including the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Antom de Kom University of Suriname in the preparations for their visit. The Commission reiterates its thanks to the government and people of Suriname for their assistance with the visit. In particular, the Commission notes that the government officials with whom it met were very frank and open in recognizing the seriousness of the human rights challenges affecting the country, and expressed willingness in working towards finding solutions.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 9/13