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Reparations in Aloeboetoe v. Suriname

From: Human Rights Quarterly
Volume 17, Number 3, August 1995
pp. 541-555 | 10.1353/hrq.1995.0031

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Human Rights Quarterly 17.3 (1995) 541-555


On 10 September 1993 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights handed down its judgment on reparations in the matter of Aloeboetoe et al. v. Suriname. The events from which this wrongful death action arose occurred on 31 December 1987. In the presence of numerous witnesses, seven Saramaccan Maroon boatmen, including a fifteen year old boy, were detained by a squad of Surinamese soldiers in southern Suriname. The seven men were forced at gunpoint to lie on the ground, where military men proceeded to stomp and urinate upon them. Army members accused them of belonging to the Jungle Commando, a small band of rebels under the leadership of Ronnie Brunswijk, a former bodyguard of Surinamese strongman, Lt. Colonel Desi Bouterse. Although the seven victims denied belonging to the guerrilla operation and, indeed, had never been members of the group, they were blindfolded and forced into a military truck that carried them to a solitary place along a country road. Ordered down from the truck, the men were given shovels to dig their own graves. Richenel Voola, one of the prisoners, tried to run away but was brought down in a hail of gunfire. As Mr. Voola feigned death, he witnessed the summary execution of his six friends.

Several days later a search party of Maroons, led by Richenel Voola's brother, found the survivor and transported him to the university hospital in Paramaribo. By coincidence, I was in the Surinamese capital at that time and learned from Stanley Rensch, the leader of Moiwana 86, the Surinamese nongovernmental human rights organization, that Voola was alive. We immediately went to see him and I took his testimony, with Stanley serving as my interpreter. A month later, Voola died of his bullet wounds.

A year earlier, Suriname had ratified the American Convention and accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in an effort to deflect increasing international criticism of its human rights record. Accordingly, the Commission's investigation of the case proceeded as prescribed by the American Convention.


By the end of 1988, the Commission had conducted its fourth on-site visit to Suriname and, among other things, deposed Voola's brother on videotape. His testimony coincided with the account provided by the deceased. The cassette and transcript of his testimony were later presented to the Court.

In August 1990 the Inter-American Commission issued a report finding Suriname in violation, inter alia, of Article 4 of the Pact of San Jose, respecting the right to life of the seven Maroons. The case was then sent to the Court for disposition.

Faced with overwhelming evidence at a hearing on preliminary objections held in December 1991, in San Jose, the government's agent conceded responsibility for the deaths of the seven men. Subsequently, the Commission submitted a demand for damages. The process of establishing reparations raised new questions of law and fact and unprecedented problems in fact-finding related to damages.

The Commission demanded material and moral damages for the families of the victims on the basis of restitutio in integrum. It also sought nonpecuniary damages in the form of a public apology and the return of the remains of the seven victims to their families. In addition, the Commission requested that the government be required to investigate the case and try to punish those responsible for the deaths. The Commission likewise asked for moral damages for the Saramaccan tribe as a whole. Lastly, the Commission argued for costs incurred by the victims' families and NGOs.

The court ultimately ordered the following reparations to commence in 1994:

1. $453,102 (payable in US Dollars or Dutch Florins) for the victims' children, spouses and parents;
2. The creation of two non-taxable trust funds at the Suritrust Bank in Paramaribo -- one for the children and the other for the adults;
3. The establishment of a fiduciary committee called the "Foundation," composed of seven persons to administer the funds as trustee;
4. A one time $4,000 contribution from the government to cover start up costs of the Foundation;
5. The re-opening of a school and a...