Suriname abolishes death penalty, raises prison term limits

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Noose hanging in front of a dark wall.Marvin Hokstam

PARAMARIBO, Suriname, Friday March 6, 2015, CMC – The National Assembly has approved legislation formally abolishing the death penalty in the Dutch-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country.

But the legislators raised the highest prison term limits from 30 to 50 years in what is seen as a compromise to amending the Criminal code.

Parliament also scrapped conditional release for people convicted of capital crimes. Convicts doing time for murder, manslaughter, sexual offences or major drug crimes are now no longer eligible for release after serving three quarters of their sentences.

Justice Minister Edward Belfort had initially suggested that that maximum jail sentence be increased to 30 years, but parliamentarians deemed it necessary to send an even stronger signal to criminals.

Crime has been on the rise and parliamentarians argued that criminals were exhibiting almost sadistic behaviour, often leaving victims dead or gravely injured.

They favoured hiking the maximum jail sentence instead to 50 years, “for crimes that would otherwise be punished with the death penalty,” the National Assembly said in a statement.

“The punishments for major crimes have been increase. That is a clear signal,” said Ruth Wijdenbosch, the Vice Chair of the National Assembly said at the end of the meeting.

She was among the parliamentarians who worked to have the death penalty removed from the criminal code.

Suriname has not implemented the death penalty since 1927, but the capital punishment remained included in the country’s Criminal Code.

Last year Belfort went on record as saying that there is no need for the death penalty, because as far as he was concerned capital punishment was not having the desired effect in the countries where it is applied.

“We leave the crimes people commit to their consciences; in the meantime we (do our best to) catch them and bring them to justice,” he said, then, noting He said that he is not a giver of life and would not encourage taking of a life.

In the statement issued by the National Assembly, it noted that the new legislation to abolish the death penalty Suriname in line with international trend.

The approval of the new criminal code has been nine years in the making. The amended legislation includes punishments for cybercrime and terrorism; these crimes were not included in the old law.

Belfort also presented a re-socialization plan for convicts to the National Assembly.

He told legislators that the plan focuses on reintroducing repeat offenders to the community, by taking them through a tight regimen of social development. Houses of detention will be transformed to houses of correction where convicts are prepared for their reintroduction.

Belfort said the plan also takes into consideration the legal protection of convicts as well the community’s safety.

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