Suriname Country Profile


Key Statistics

Population: 539,300 thousand (World Bank, 2013)

Capital: Paramaribo

Languages: Spanish Dutch (official), English (widely spoken), Sranang Tongo (Surinamese, sometimes called Taki-Taki, is native language of Creoles and much of the younger population and is lingua franca among others), Caribbean Hindustani (a dialect of Hindi), Javanese

Major Ethnic Groups: Hindustani 37%, Creole (mixed white and black) 31%, Javanese 15%, "Maroons" 0%, Amerindian 2%, Chinese 2%, white 1%, other 2%

GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 10,292 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

GDP per Capita PPP (current international dollars): 14,378 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

Security Sector Stats

Active Armed Forces: 1,840 (Military Balance, 2014)

Small Arms: number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians is 75,000; the defence forces of Suriname are reported to have 8,000; and the number of law enforcement firearms is 2,000 (Gun Policy, 2015)

Military Expenditure: 0.7% of GDP

Executive Summary

Suriname, the only Dutch-speaking country in South America, has not suffered the rising violence and gang-related security problems that has plagued many of its neighbours in the Caribbean and on the continent. Its homicide rate is far below the regional average.

Nonetheless, the country is a transit point for cocaine traffickers, and security forces do not have sufficient capacity to apprehend traffickers and interdict shipments. There are reports of growing drug-related official corruption. That said, transnational organised criminal groups have not established a foothold in the country and public confidence in the police force is high.

The judiciary suffers from under-staffing and inefficiency, something which has led to a case backlog.  Additionally, conditions in the penitentiary system are poor and require addressing. There are opportunities to engage with the government on helping build institutional capacity in both the security and justice sectors, particularly ensuring police are better vetted and trained, and helping to confront the problem of judicial inefficiency.

In 2012 the country’s legislature approved an amnesty act that prevents a murder trial against President Desi Bouterse for the killing of opposition figures in 1982, raising concerns about impunity and corruption. The president has been convicted in absentia for drug trafficking by a court in the Netherlands.

Security and Justice Context                                                                          

Suriname's homicide rate has fallen steadily since peaking at 16.7 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2001. In 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, the murder rate was 4.2 per 100,000 when 22 homicides were recorded (See Figure 1.). Violent crime is low, although property crime is an issue in the capital, Paramaribo, where over half of Suriname’s population resides.


Fig. 1 Suriname Homicide Rate 2000-2010

There are no available police estimates of how many gangs and gang members are currently in Suriname. Data from the 2010 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Citizen Security Survey suggests Suriname does not suffer from the presence of gangs; 10.3 percent of respondents reported the presence of criminal gangs in their neighbourhood, and 8.7 percent of respondents reported that there had been gang violence in their neighbourhood in the past year, the second lowest rate in both cases behind only Barbados[1] .

Suriname is a transit country for traffickers moving cocaine mostly to Europe and Africa. Government efforts to combat drug trafficking have generally been lacklustre due to the police force’s institutional weaknesses. Money laundering and drug related corruption have both increased in recent years.

Compared to other countries in the region, a very low percentage of respondents in Suriname (13.5 percent) reported that crime or violence was the country's biggest problem. What’s more, Suriname’s residents did not place violent crime among the top three problems facing the country, instead highlighting unemployment, corruption and the cost of living.

In 2012, Suriname's National Assembly passed an amnesty law that ended the trial of President Dési Bouterse for the killing of 15 opposition figures in 1982. President Bouterse, who was democratically elected in 2010 but first ruled as dictator from 1980 to 1987 following a military coup, is accused of serious human rights violations and of links to organised crime. In 1999 he was convicted in absentia by a Dutch court of cocaine trafficking, and France has a warrant for his arrest on drug trafficking charges. Following the passage of the controversial amnesty law in 2012, the Netherlands suspended its security aid to Suriname.

According to the most recent estimate given, there are some 60,000 civilian-held firearms in the country, half of which are unregistered. This suggests Suriname may play a role in the regional arms trade. However, the rate of homicides by firearm in the country (close to 20 percent in 2010) is low, especially for a region where this rate typically exceeds 60 percent. The global average is 42 percent.

Human trafficking is an issue in Suriname. According to the US State Department, which awarded the country a Tier 2 Watch List[2] rating in 2012, Suriname is a source, transit and destination country for sex trafficking and forced labour. Women and girls from Brazil, Guyana and the Dominican Republic have been forced into prostitution in the country, often lured there with the false promise of well-paid work.

Human rights groups generally operate without government interference. Although freedom of the press and freedom of speech are generally respected, there are reports of self-censorship on the part of some media outlet due to pressure from senior government officials and community officials. Overall, however, there is an independent press.

Perceptions of Insecurity

According to Vanderbilt University’s Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), the perception of insecurity in Suriname was 34.1 points[3] in 2012, improving from a score of 39.1 points in 2010 (See Figure 2.).This gave the country the 9th best score in 2012 out of the 26 countries surveyed.

Fig. 2 Suriname Perception of Insecurity 2010 and 2012

Security and Justice Institutions

Justice Institutions

As a result of its colonial history, Suriname’s legal system is based on the tradition of Dutch civil law, though with some variations. In 2009, the country drafted a new civil law code (Commissie Nieuw Surinaamse Burgerlijk Wetboek).

Suriname's judiciary consists of the Court of Justice, three district courts, and several lower courts, including the martial court. The Court of Justice, which acts as a court of appeals for criminal and civil cases and as a trial court for special cases, is the highest court in Suriname. Suriname is a signatory to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), inaugurated in 2005 as the judicial institution of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM),[4] though has yet to make this its final court of appeal.

There are three cantonal or district courts, all located in Paramaribo and presided over by a single judge. The First District Court hears civil cases in specific areas of the country. The Second District Court hears criminal cases in certain areas of the country. The Third District Court hears all civil and criminal cases outside the regions covered by the first two courts. Decisions can be appealed to the Court of Justice.

The military court system follows the same rules of procedure as the civil courts. Crimes committed by members of the military are investigated by military police. Military prosecutions are conducted by an officer on the public prosecutor's staff and decided by two military judges and one civilian judge.

The Ministry of Justice and Police (Ministerie van Justitie en Politie) is the executive branch institution responsible for overseeing the police and drafting police related to the judicial and prison system. It also houses the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Openbaar Ministerie), which is responsible for criminal prosecution and is led by the Attorney General.

The government generally respected judicial independence as established by the constitution, although there are occasional reports of political influence exerted in the judiciary. Trials are generally fair and public; defendants have the right to counsel, enjoy the presumption of innocence, and have the right to appeal. Juries are not used.

Trial delays are a problem due to the shortage of judges, something which has led to a backlog of cases. The case backlog is exacerbated by administrative issues in the judiciary, such as a lack of professional court managers and case management system, and infrastructure challenges, among them a lack of sufficient physical space.

According to the results of UNDP’s 2010 Citizen Security Survey, 35.6 percent of respondents believed that judges are corrupt and 45.8 percent believed that the justice system is corrupt. Only 27.3 percent of respondents reported either mid or high trust in the justice system.

Prison facilities in the country—overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Police—are unsanitary and conditions are very poor, according to the US State Department, although the government has taken some steps to correct this by building new facilities. There have been some isolated incidents involving abuse of prisoners by guards and the rate of pre-trial detention is a concern, something which is largely driven by inefficiencies in the courts system.

Overcrowding is reported by the US State Department to be a problem though no figures are given on the inmate population. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the penitentiary system was at 79.1 percent capacity in 2011.

Security Institutions

The Suriname Police Corps (Korps Politie Suriname - KPS) are the country's civilian police force, under the authority of the Ministry of Justice and Peace. The police are divided into four divisions: Judicial (which includes units focused on intelligence, narcotics and fraud, among others), General, Paramaribo, and the Interior.

Under the law and in practice individuals are arrested only when a warrant has been issued. Detainees have the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of their arrest. There is no bail system.

Suriname's police have a community police manager who is tasked with problem solving and violence prevention efforts at the community levels.

There are no reports of unlawful or politically motivated killings by the security forces, although human rights groups have reported mistreatment of detainees by police. Complaints against the police are investigated by the Personnel Investigation Department of the KPS.

The police suffer from low salaries, insufficient coordination with the armed forces, and a lack of training and equipment. There is a widespread perception of impunity for police who commit abuses. According to the results of UNDP’s 2010 Citizen Security Survey, only 23.3 percent of respondents reported that the police showed respect for citizens' rights. However, in the 2012 LAPOP survey, the KPS fared well; Suriname had the third highest score (62.9 points)[5] for public confidence in the police behind only Chile and Canada (See Figure 3.).


Fig. 3 Suriname Confidence in Police 2012

A majority of Surinamese (65.5 percent) indicated they believed the police are competent in the 2010 UNDP Survey.  Compared to other countries surveyed by the UNDP, Suriname had the highest willingness to report crimes, with 73.4 percent of victims of violent crimes and 65.3 percent of victims of property crimes saying they subsequently reported the crimes to the police.

The armed forces, which number roughly 2,000 personnel, are under the authority of the Ministry of the Defence (Ministerie van Defensie) and include ground, naval, and air forces. The military is tasked with national security and border control; military police are responsible for immigration control at ports of entry.

Suriname's national development priorities are framed in its National Development Plan 2012-2016 (Ontwikkelingsplan). This plan is focused on developing essential economic sectors, such as agriculture, mining, education, and health care, and on promoting rural development and poverty alleviation. With regards to security, the government is aiming to reduce all levels of crime and improve inter-agency cooperation between the police and armed forces.

State of Security and Justice Sector Reform

Justice Sector Reforms and Initiatives

International actors such as Organisation of American States and the UNDP have been highly involved in capacity building and technical assistance for Suriname’s justice institutions, especially anti-corruption efforts, providing technical support for training programmes for government officials and members of the media. The UNDP Suriname has supported the government's effort to strengthen the legal aid system and increase public awareness of human rights through a joint effort with the Ministry of Justice and Police called the Human Rights, Access to Justice and Anti-Corruption Project.

The Ministry of Justice and Police has worked in recent years to revise the "Code of the Penitentiaries and Prison System" (Wet Delinqentenzorg), with support from the UNDP and the OAS. This aimed to set out a clear procedural and ethical guideline that penitentiary staff must follow.

Suriname has recently taken steps to improve its money laundering laws, passing four laws in response to recommendations from the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force.

Security Sector Reforms and Initiatives

In 2008, the government expanded the authority of the Office for Police Conduct, making it easier to investigate citizen's complaints against police.

In November 2012, Suriname established an Inter-Ministerial Technical Commission on Citizen Security to advise the government on developing public policies to address citizen security issues. The Commission will discuss, among other issues, the recommendations made by UNDP’s Caribbean Human Development Report 2012.

Under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), a US government-funded program, the government of Suriname has received training and technical assistance to counter money laundering and aid for workforce training programmes for at-risk youth, thus helping reduce the likelihood they will turn to crime.

In 2012 Suriname signed an agreement with the OAS to receive a firearms marking machine to combat illicit weapons trafficking.

Parliamentary/Congressional Capacity for Oversight

Suriname has a unicameral parliament, the National Assembly (Nationale Assemblee). It has 51 members who are directly elected for terms of five years. Generally the National Assembly does not have a strong track record on oversight, and has not been able to hold the government accountable.

In 2011, UNDP Suriname began a multi-year programme to strengthen the National Assembly, including improving its oversight function.

Security and Justice Opportunities

Although Suriname has not suffered the same rising violence as many of its neighbours in the region, there are important opportunities for engagement to improve the effectiveness of the country’s judicial system and strengthen the police. UNDP Suriname is an important potential partner, as it is very heavily involved in building the capacity of the country’s judicial and security institutions.

Government corruption is a serious issue and the government has not effectively implemented existing laws regarding official corruption. In the 2012 edition of Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Suriname ranked 88th out of 176 countries, with a score of 37[6] . Though this score represented an improvement from the previous year's score, it underscores that successful engagement with the government on reform issues could be difficult in some cases due to corruption.

Justice Sector Opportunities

The biggest obstacle for Suriname’s judiciary stems from administrative shortcomings, which have led to trial delays and a backlog of cases. More personnel, including judges and court employees, are needed, along with more training and technical skill development. There is also a great need for efforts to modernise judicial infrastructure and to create an efficient case management system.

One critical area for engagement is the country’s penal system, which is characterized by poor conditions for prisoners and lacks an ombudsman to oversee complaints. Violence among prisoners and mistreatment of both male and female inmates by guards remain a problem. There may be opportunity for engagement here, particularly in light of the Ministry of Justice and Police’s recent review of the country’s prisons code. This suggests there may be political will to address the problem in earnest. There may also be room for cooperation with the OAS, who have conducted visits to monitor the state of Suriname's prisons and provided recommendations.

Security Sector Opportunities

There is much to be done to make Suriname's police force more effective and professional, given that currently the police are underfunded and not sufficiently trained. Since Suriname is already an important transit country for drugs, building the police's capacity now will help bolster the country's security forces against drug-related corruption. One important element of this is expanding the police’s presence in the country’s interior. 

Potential opportunities include establishing or improving vetting procedures, providing support for recruitment drives to bring in more qualified applicants, and developing community policing/community engagement programs.

Civil Society Actors for Engagement

Suriname has a very robust civil society and numerous domestic NGOs, including human rights groups, indigenous organisations, church-affiliated groups, and community organisations. Many also cooperate with other organisations throughout the Caribbean on regional issues. The passage of the controversial amnesty law for President Bouterse provoked outrage among many NGOs, who have denounced the law.

Suriname’s most notable human rights “watch dog” group is the Moiwana Human Rights Organisation[7] , which was founded in response to the 1986 massacre of dozens of residents in the village of Moiwana by the Surinamese army in 1986.

There are numerous NGOs working on community and rural development, particularly in the country's underdeveloped interior. The Father Ahlbrinck Foundation (PAS) works to promote development in rural areas, particularly in indigenous communities. The Office for Services to NGOs (Foundation BFN) promotes community development and works to build relationships among Suriname's civil society organisations.

There are also many groups focused on good governance and women’s participation in politics. Projekta is an NGO that works on issues related to governance, political participation, and gender equality.


Government of Suriname, “Concept Ontwikkelingsplan 2012-2016: Suriname in Transformatie,” No publication date available

Organisation of American States, "Report on Citizen Security in the Americas 2012," May 2012

Red de Seguridad y Defensa de América Latina, “Atlas Comparativo de la Defensa en América Latina y Caribe Edición 2012,” October 2012

Small Arms Survey, “Small Arms Survey 2012: Moving Targets,” August 2012

Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, “Suriname–Gun Facts, Figures and Law,” Data retrieved from

The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2010: Democratic Consolidation in the Americas in Hard Times,” December 2010

The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2012: Towards Equality of Opportunity,” November 2012 (Preliminary Version)

Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2012,” December 2012

United Nations Development Programme, “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012” February 2012

U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011,” May 2012

U.S. Department of State, “Trafficking in Persons Report 2012,” June 2012

U.S. Department of State, “2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume 1: Drug and Chemical Control,” March 2013


[1]  The countries surveyed by the UNDP were Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

[2] Tier 1 is the top rating followed by Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, and Tier3.

[3] LAPOP recodes respondents’ answers into a scale of 0-100 with a higher score representing a higher perception of insecurity.

[4] CARICOM is an organisation comprised of 15 nations and aims to promote economic integration and cooperation between its member states.

[5] LAPOP recodes respondents’ scores on a scale of 0-100 with a higher score representing a higher degree of confidence.

[6] Countries are given a score between 0 and 100, with a higher score representing less corruption.

[7] More information on their website: 

Igarapé Institute

The Igarapé Institute is a southern think tank devoted to evidence-based policy and action on complex social challenges including global drug policy, citizen security and international cooperation. Its goal is to stimulate humane engagement on emerging security and development issues. Across all its programs, the Institute adopts a three-prong approach:

  1. Diagnose challenges through cutting-edge research;
  2. Trigger informed debate and action across public and private spheres; and
  3. Design tailor-made solutions that are people-centered.

The International Security Sector Advisory Team

The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.