PARAMARIBO, Suriname (AP) — A trial of President Desi Bouterse in the killings of 15 political opponents in 1982 must resume despite an amnesty law, the high court in the South American country has ruled.
The Court of Justice agreed with a challenge to the applicability of the amnesty law filed by relatives of the slain opponents and it directed the attorney general to resume proceedings. The plaintiffs announced the verdict late Tuesday. The ruling was issued Nov. 27 but not publicly released.
"Our belief in the rule of law in Suriname has been restored," said Hugo Essed, a lawyer for several of the relatives who filed the challenge. "We expect the attorney general to accurately follow the instructions he now has been given by the Court of Justice."
Bouterse and 25 allies from his time as a military dictator in the 1980s avoided trial until November 2007 on charges stemming from the abduction and summary execution of 15 prominent political opponents, an event known locally as the "December killings" that stunned the lightly populated nation on the northern tip of South America.
The former strongman returned to power in 2010 when he was elected president by parliament. Two years later, lawmakers passed an amnesty law and proceedings were put on hold in a decision that outraged human rights activists.
Bouterse, who was re-elected by parliament earlier this year, has accepted what he called "political responsibility" for the killing by the military of the well-known journalists, lawyers and union leaders but said he was not present when the executions took place. Witnesses in the trial have disputed that claim.
Prosecutors argued that they could not resume the trial without a ruling from a Constitutional Court on whether the amnesty law amounted to a breach of the constitution. But the country has not had an active Constitutional Court since gaining independence from the Netherlands in 1975.
The Court of Justice said in its Nov. 27 ruling that it has the authority to instruct the attorney general to carry on with the case without a ruling from the Constitutional Court, and did so. The acting attorney general, who is appointed by the president, has not said how he will respond to the court order.
The cabinet office of the president declined comment. Irvin Kanhai, the lawyer of Desi Bouterse, told The Associated Press only that he will "discuss the new situation" with his client.