Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Commend Suriname on Efforts to Establish an Anti-Discrimination L aw, Ask Questions onthe Effects of Mercury Pollution and Access to Education for Indigenous and Tribal Persons
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined sixteenth to eighteenth periodic report of Suriname, with Committee Experts commending the State on its efforts to establish an anti-discrimination law, and asking questions on the effects of mercury pollution and access to education for indigenous and tribal persons.
Michał Balcerzak, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said that it was good news that the State was considering a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. Was this law still in the consideration stage? Did national legislation prohibit the dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority, and the provision of assistance to racist activities?
A Committee Expert asked about measures adopted to prevent mercury pollution and other pollutants, and to punish polluters. What authorities were tasked with regulating pollution?
Another Committee Expert called for more information on the access to education for indigenous and tribal peoples. Were native languages incorporated into the education system?
Introducing the report, Kenneth Amoksi, Minister of Justice and Police of Suriname and head of the delegation, said that discussions regarding the adoption of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law had been initiated.
On mercury pollution, Mr. Amoksi said that Suriname became a party to the Minamata Convention in 2018. Awareness raising programmes were conducted in areas where mercury had been found in the water. There was a law that forbade the importation of mercury, but it was occasionally smuggled into the country. Legislation on the use of mercury needed to be prepared, and border control needed to do better to identify mercury smugglers.
On education, Mr. Amoksi said that the Government was planning to build more schools at all levels, making education more accessible for people in the interior. Classes were taught in native languages in schools in seven villages. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture had started reforming the education system to formalise mother tongue education in primary schools in the interior. Local educational centres were being established to provide educational facilities and resources for teachers and students in the local community, as well as training for teachers.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Balcerzak said that the Committee’s aim was to assist States to comply with the Convention. Tragic events had occurred in the past in Suriname, and the State party needed to bring those responsible to justice. Mr. Balcerzak wished the State party luck in ensuring that racial discrimination was prevented.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Amoksi expressed the delegation’s appreciation for the constructive spirit in which discussions were conducted, and for the recommendations of the Committee. Suriname was dedicated to upholding the rights and freedoms of all persons in its territory, and the State looked forward to further working with the Committee toward this aim.
The delegation of Suriname consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Police; Office of the President of the Republic of Suriname; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the National Assembly; Ministry of Education, Science and Culture; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Social Affairs and Housing; Ministry of the Interior; and the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Youth Affairs.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of Suriname at the end of its one hundred and seventh session, which concludes on 30 August. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s one hundred and seventh session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 23 August for a day of discussion on the Committee’s general recommendation 37 on racial discrimination and the right to health.
The Committee has before it the combined sixteenth to eighteenth periodic report of Suriname (CERD/C/SUR/16-18).
Presentation of Report
KENNETH AMOKSI, Minister of Justice and Police of Suriname and head of the delegation, said that Suriname’s Constitution stipulated that no one shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, languages, religion or any other status. The National Assembly had established laws and policies to guarantee equality. The Government aimed to make healthcare and education accessible to each citizen. In 2020, Suriname had an estimated population of 602,500 persons. About 66 per cent of the population lived in urban areas, 20 per cent in rural areas and 14 per cent in the interior. About 25 per cent of the total population was younger than 15 years, and about 12 per cent was 60 years and older. Due to various challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the next census had been postponed to August 2024. Over 20 languages were spoken in Suriname, while Dutch was the official language. It was also the most widely spoken language, followed by Sranan Tongo, the lingua franca. The Government emphasised further strengthening multilingualism in education.
Laws had been enacted to promote the principle of non-discrimination and equality for citizens and foreign nationals, including provisions in the Penal Code and several labour laws. The legal definition of discrimination applied to everyone. Defamation of persons based on their sexual orientation was criminalised.
There had been an increase in hate and hate-related racial speech on social media and other online platforms. In response, the Digital Investigation and Cybercrime Division within the Ministry of Justice and Police conducted investigations to, for example, identify the IP addresses of those that promoted discrimination.
Discussions regarding the adoption of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law had been initiated. Suriname emphasised the importance of conducting training in all capacity building initiatives for both governmental and non-governmental organizations.
In past years, there had been close cooperation between a Suriname working group and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the establishment of a national human rights institute according to the Paris Principles. Civil society would also be consulted in this regard. Throughout this process, awareness raising campaigns would be held to inform the public about the institute.
A draft law had been submitted to parliament on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, and would be discussed later this year. In addition, various working groups had been appointed to tackle specific issues regarding access to justice for indigenous and tribal peoples.
The decentralisation of legal aid offices and child and family affairs offices was a priority. Offices of departments that aided victims of assault would also be decentralised. In the interior, the “medical mission” was designated to provide healthcare services. The medical mission was financially supported by the Government for the payment of salaries, operational costs and medicine. Healthcare was thus free for people living in the interior. For the first time ever, in October 2021, a high school was opened in the district of Marowijne. Another high school was currently being built in the district of Para. The Government was planning to build more schools at all levels, making education more accessible for people in the interior.
The State was cooperating with the International Organization for Migration to prepare a strategic, transparent and feasible migration plan. Currently, an assessment of migration governance indicators was being carried out. The data obtained from this assessment would provide a view of the current state of migration policy areas and reveal opportunities to strengthen migration management.
An amendment to the Foreigners Work Permit Act was passed in August 2021. The work permit fee had been increased from 75 to 100 Suriname dollars. Employers were now required to have work permits, and to ensure that foreign employees had work permits.
Questions by Committee Experts
MICHAŁ BALCERZAK, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said that the Committee had received only one submission from civil society on Suriname. Had the State party appropriately disseminated information about the report? How many civil society organizations were registered in the country? Did these organizations consult with indigenous and tribal peoples?
Would the upcoming census gather data based on ethnicity, as well as based on economic and social indicators? How was the General Bureau of Statistics of Suriname organised and was it sufficiently funded? Would the State party consider submitting a declaration under article 14 on receiving individual communications?
Discrimination was explicitly prohibited on the grounds of race in Suriname’s legislation. How was this prohibition applied by domestic courts? No specific mention of racial discrimination was provided in the Penal Code. Were there any other statutes that expressly prohibited racial discrimination? It was good news that the State was considering a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. Was this law still in the consideration stage? Did national legislation prohibit the dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority, and the provision of assistance to racist activities? Did legislation prohibit organizations from promoting and inciting racial discrimination against an individual? Could such organizations be dissolved by the State party, and were there any examples of such measures being implemented?
Where could victims of racial discrimination submit complaints? How did the State ensure the accessibility of remedies in cases of racial discrimination, particularly for those in remote areas? Was legal aid provided for victims? What steps had been taken to collect data on complaints about racial discrimination? Were capacity building programmes on the Convention provided for the judiciary, lawyers and law enforcement, and had awareness raising campaigns on the Convention been carried out? Was the Constitutional Court fully operative? What was the ethnic composition of this Court? What was the Court’s jurisdiction? Could complaints be filed in the Court by individuals?
Plans to create a national human rights institute had been launched in 2016. When would the institute be operational? Did another institution currently fulfil this role? Would the institute include an Ombudsperson? Why had there been a rise in hate crimes? Had investigations into these crimes been carried out?
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Follow-Up Rapporteur, said that the interim report of the State party had not been received. Previous concluding observations asked the State party to provide information on the creation of a Constitutional Court and a national human rights institute, and on the health of indigenous and tribal peoples related to mercury contamination. During the reporting period, the Constitutional Court had been created and the national human rights institute was in the process of creation. Further, the State party had become a party to the Minamata Convention. Considering the progress made, why had the State not issued an interim report?
A Committee Expert said that members of tribal communities had less access to social structures and services. What was the State planning to do to improve these communities’ access to basic social services?
Another Committee Expert asked if the State party planned to abolish the Saint Nicholas festival, which perpetuated negative stereotypes about the creole and black population. People with dual nationality were allegedly prohibited from obtaining work permits. What measures were in place to support such persons to obtain work?
One Committee Expert said that there was no majority race or ethnicity in Suriname. Were there higher- and lower-class groups, and how did different groups interact?
Another Committee Expert commended the disaggregated data presented in the report, and asked how Suriname defined the category of “no race,” a category to which over 1,000 people belonged. Were the various religious festivals in the State celebrated because of a national decree?
A Committee Expert asked if there was legislation on hate crimes in the State.
Responses by the Delegation
KENNETH AMOKSI, Minister of Justice and Police of Suriname and head of the delegation, said that the State had intended to conduct the census this year, but could not conduct field work during the pandemic. The 2012 census was funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, which intended to fund the census again in 2024. The General Bureau of Statistics would gather data on ethnicity and disseminate information at district levels. Data would be disaggregated based on socio-economic indicators. The Bureau was made up of representatives from the Government, universities and civil society. Funding of the Bureau for 2022 was approved for 50 per cent of the Bureau’s budget, which was unacceptable.
Most ethnic groups were represented in the Constitutional Court, but there were no Maroon representatives. The Court was established in January 2020. It reviewed laws that contradicted the Constitution and international conventions. In July 2021, the Court issued its first decision. In August 2022, the Court conducted a historic review of the electoral system, deciding that the electoral system conflicted with the Constitution and various human rights treaties. Existing legislation would be amended in line with this decision. The Government was implementing processes to strengthen democracy and the rule of law by reforming electoral procedures.
Suriname became a party to the Minamata Convention in 2018. Awareness raising programmes were conducted in areas where mercury had been found in the water. There was a law that forbade the importation of mercury, but it was occasionally smuggled into the country. Three water laws had been drafted with a view to improving the quality of water supplied in rural areas. Work was being done to improve and expand water and electricity distribution networks in rural areas.
Locations for new family service offices were being identified. Legal aid offices were in two districts. The Government was aiming to decentralise legal aid services.
The United Nations Development Programme had allocated funds for the construction of the national human rights institute. A law on the institute was being drafted in consultation with the Programme. The Human Rights Institute of the Netherlands was also cooperating with the State on the development of the Suriname human rights institution. The State planned to appoint an Ombudsperson within the national human rights institute.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Housing was responsible for providing social housing in the interior. Financial assistance was provided in the interior through periodic Government missions. There were plans to set up automated teller machines to provide financial assistance in future. Local counselling services would also be provided in the interior in future.
Non-residents were required to apply for resident permits before applying for work permits. Employers could not discriminate based on ethnicity, race, gender or any other characteristics. Employers were also obliged to create discrimination-free workplaces.
There was a January 2022 court case where the ruling had specifically stated that racial discrimination was prohibited. There was also legislation that dealt with defamation and slander. Individuals could file complaints regarding discrimination with the police and prosecutor’s office.
The Saint Nicholas festival was celebrated in Suriname before independence, but was no longer celebrated. The festival was an issue for Surinamese living in the Netherlands.
The State was willing to consider receiving individual complaints from the Committee.
The delegation said that there was a translation issue in the State report. The State measured ethnicity rather than race in the census, hence the 1,000 people referred to in the report had unknown ethnicity rather than “no race.” Single members of a household responded to the census on behalf of other members of that household, and in certain cases the respondent did not know the ethnicity of the other members of the household.
In response to a follow-up question on the constitutional complaints’ mechanism, Mr. Amoksi said that there were different institutions that were permitted to pose a question to the Constitutional Court, and individuals were able to pose questions through a lawyer.
Answering a question on how Maroons and mixed-race persons were classified, the delegation said that Maroons and mixed-race persons were classified based on the ethnicity that the individual identified with. The Afro-Surinamese group was introduced to classify persons who had parents of various African ethnicities. Appearance was not considered in ethnicity statistics. Persons of African and American Indian descent were brought into the State as slaves. After slavery was abolished, the Netherlands Government brought in paid labour from China, India and Java. These various ethnic groups now lived across the country.
In response to a question on the caste system, Mr. Amoksi said that the caste system came with laborers from India, and the system had been modernised. Marriage within the same caste was no longer a part of the culture.
Asked about the number of registered civil organizations that worked with indigenous and tribal persons, the delegation said that there were more than 10 such civil organizations. The Government worked with these groups.
Answering a question on prosecutions of racist hate speech, the delegation said that political and religious leaders did not practice hate speech. However, hate speech was present on social media. The State tried to maintain harmony between multiple ethnicities.
On the question on legal aid for persons living in the interior, Mr. Amoksi said that legal aid and other public services were provided to the regions through regular missions. The missions also called for input from the community on improving State services.
Questions by Committee Experts
MICHAŁ BALCERZAK, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said that the Committee had in 2015 urged the State party to ensure legal acknowledgment of the collective rights of indigenous and tribal peoples to their lands and resources. Following this, the State party had adopted the act of protection of residential and living areas of indigenous and other tribal Surinamese in December 2017, and had set up three technical commissions: the Legal Commission, the Demarcation Commission and the Awareness Commission. Had the Legal Commission submitted a draft legislative framework concerning the collective land rights of the indigenous and Maroon peoples, as the State party had promised? Had consultations been held with indigenous and tribal communities regarding this legislation?
Had the State considered an amendment to the Constitution that would specifically recognise the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples? What progress had been made on the draft law on the collective rights of indigenous peoples and tribal peoples in Suriname; the amendment of the law on the principles of domain land policy; and the act on protection of residential and living areas of indigenous and other tribal Surinamese? Had impact assessments been conducted prior to approving natural resource exploitation and mining projects? What was the mandate of the National Institute for Environment and Development? What measures were in place to guarantee that national reserves established on indigenous and tribal land allowed for sustainable economic and social development?
There were apparent difficulties in the implementation of judgments of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, specifically concerning the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. What steps had been taken by the Government to ensure the implementation of the Court’s Kaliña and Lokono, Saramaka and Moiwana judgments? Which domestic authority implemented the judgments? Had community development funds been established for affected tribal peoples? Related to the Moiwana case, had the State party identified and punished the parties responsible for the killing of members of the community in 1986, and issued an apology and paid compensation to Moiwana community members?
A Committee Expert noted that the State relied on the United Nations Refugee Agency to assign refugee status to persons. What this still the case?
Another Committee Expert welcomed that the State had ratified the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime and its additional protocol, and amended its Criminal Code twice to bring it in line with international instruments. What ethnic group was most affected by trafficking? What measures were being taken to eradicate trafficking, and how common was the practice in Suriname today?
Was there legislation on the right to work? The Expert called for detailed information on the indigenous and tribal persons’ labour participation.
A Committee Expert called for more information on the access to education for children of indigenous and tribal peoples. What was the enrolment rate of such children? Were native languages incorporated into the education system?
To what extent could indigenous persons access healthcare? Were cultural practices and beliefs considered by healthcare workers? What were the barriers in accessing healthcare for indigenous persons? What steps had been taken to reduce the maternal mortality rate? Preventative measures and studies were needed to mitigate environmental hazards such as mercury contamination. Had such studies been carried out? What measures had been taken to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the indigenous and tribal population?
A Committee Expert said that the State party report did not contain information on migrant workers. What were these workers’ ethnic backgrounds? Did some migrant workers enter Suriname through trafficking? Were the births of migrant workers’ children registered in the State?
Another Committee Expert asked for information on the Suriname carbon fund. Had indigenous persons been consulted regarding this fund? What measures had been adopted to prevent mercury pollution and other pollutants, and to punish polluters? What authorities were tasked with regulating pollution?
The total number of asylum seekers in the State was around 800. Did the State have legislation regarding the processing of asylum seekers?
One Committee Expert said that a committee had been set up to combat human trafficking. What activities did this committee carry out to prevent trafficking? Foreigners who were possible victims of trafficking had been “placed in detention”, according to the State report. Was this a translation mistake? What punishments were issued to traffickers? The Expert called for detailed data on victims and perpetrators of human trafficking. What results had the national action plan combatting human trafficking achieved, and would the plan be renewed?
A Committee Expert said the school completion rate for Maroon and indigenous persons was around 30 per cent, compared to 66 per cent for Javanese persons. What were the reasons for this? Was forced marriage a factor?
Responses by the Delegation
KENNETH AMOKSI, Minister of Justice and Police of Suriname and head of the delegation, said that registered persons with dual nationality had access to the same rights as all Surinamese citizens.
Draft legislation on the collective rights of indigenous and tribal peoples in Suriname had been prepared and was ready to be considered by parliament. A revision to the Constitution was also being considered to strengthen the protection of the land rights of indigenous persons. The land rights committee had held consultations regarding the draft law and the revision to the Constitution. A series of activities were being carried out to obtain the views of various stakeholders, including workshops and meetings with indigenous and tribal leaders and experts. Feedback on the draft law had been obtained, and would be further considered. The draft law would be submitted to parliament in the last quarter of this year. The purpose of the draft law was to ensure the collective rights of indigenous and tribal persons, and to recognise these persons as legal persons. There had been a proposal to establish an institute that would protect the rights of indigenous persons that had been submitted to the President.
Work on the amendment of the law on the principles of domain land policy had been suspended to focus on the draft collective rights law. The act on the protection of residential and living areas of indigenous and other tribal Surinamese had no legal force. The President had decided not to promulgate this act after protests by indigenous persons, who were not consulted regarding it.
For large exploitative projects, a social impact study and community consultation was required. The committee for the organization of the small-scale gold mining sector analysed the social impacts of mining projects. A project had been launched to reduce the negative effects of gold mining on biodiversity and the environment. The Environmental Directorate and the Ministry of Natural Resources monitored large-scale projects and ensured the maintenance of a clean environment. Indigenous and tribal communities’ permission was required regarding projects that affected those communities.
A new Agent of State had recently been appointed. This Agent of State was experiencing challenges in gathering data on the judgements of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Regarding the Moiwana case, the people of Moiwana could now return to their village. The remains of the victims still needed to be identified and buried. Full compensation had been paid by the Government in the Moiwana and Saramaka cases, and compensation had been partially paid in the Kaliña and Lokono case.
Classes were taught in native languages in schools in seven villages. Dutch was the official language of instruction. Language barriers existed for children from indigenous and tribal groups. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture had started reforming the education system to formalise mother tongue education in primary schools in the interior. Development workers would be deployed to facilitate this project. Education reform aimed to create a safe learning environment, and promote diversity and multilingualism. A policy memorandum on developmental education was being developed. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture would undertake several activities to implement this reform. Local educational centres were being established to provide educational facilities and resources for teachers and students in the local community, as well as training for teachers.
The Ministry of Public Health was encouraging recent medical school graduates to work for at least three months in the interior. The State focused on preventing disease and maintaining health for communities in the interior. Health services provided in these communities were being decentralised to improve their quality. Every resident was legally obliged to take out health insurance, regardless of nationality, gender or age. Everyone had the right to health.
The police provided victims of trafficking with advice and support services, and prosecuted perpetrators in a timely fashion. The police also provided practical support to organizations and individuals regarding the prevention of trafficking. This year, two cases of trafficking had been brought to court, and a perpetrator punished with two years’ imprisonment.
The nationality act stated that statelessness could not be imposed on a person in Suriname. All people born in Suriname were issued with birth certificates irrespective of their legal status. The United Nations Refugee Agency continued to determine refugee status, and stay permits were granted based on these decisions. There was legislation that stipulated rules for granting refugee status - 73 residence permits were granted to refugees and asylum seekers in 2020, and 97 in 2021, while 414 persons obtained certificates of refugee status from the United Nations Refugee Agency in 2020. The Government had further strengthened its cooperation with the Agency, which provided training for Government officials regarding the protection of refugees and asylum seekers. Although Suriname did not have a system for processing refugees and asylum seekers, it protected their rights and respected the principle of non-refoulement.
Around 769 work permits were granted for migrant workers in 2021. National laws provided for labour rights of migrant workers. Refugees needed to apply for State work permits to participate in the workforce. Work permits were issued for year-long periods.
Responding to a question on whether Suriname had considered requesting reparations from former colonisers, Mr. Amoksi said that there was a reparation commission in place working to bring this issue forward. A delegation from the Dutch Parliament had recently visited the State to discuss past abuses. The commission had made an estimate of 50 billion euros required for reparation. Dialogue with the Netherlands would continue.
In response to a question on measures taken to prevent gold miners from polluting rivers and air with mercury, Mr. Amoksi said that the inhabitants of areas where water was contaminated were provided with information on how to protect themselves. Legislation on the use of mercury needed to be prepared. Mercury oxide was produced when gold was heated. Levels of mercury in the water and air were higher than recommended levels in both the interior and the urban areas. Many persons came across the Brazilian border carrying mercury. Border control needed to do better to identify mercury smugglers.
MICHAŁ BALCERZAK, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said that the questions posed by the Committee were for the benefit of Suriname. The Committee’s aim was to assist States to comply with the Convention. Tragic events had occurred in the past in Suriname, and the State party needed to bring those responsible to justice. The Committee would continue to follow developments in the State. Mr. Balcerzak wished the State party luck in ensuring that racial discrimination was prevented.
KENNETH AMOKSI, Minister of Justice and Police of Suriname and head of the delegation, expressed the delegation’s appreciation for the constructive spirit in which discussions were conducted, and for the recommendations of the Committee. Suriname was dedicated to upholding the rights and freedoms of all persons in its territory and looked forward to further working with the Committee toward this aim.
VERENE ALBERTHA SHEPHERD, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for participating in the dialogue, and thanked the Country Rapporteur for the careful research that he had conducted. There were questions that had not been answered, but the Committee had benefitted from the dialogue. Many people did not know about the situation in Suriname, and thus it had been an educational session.
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