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Suriname Sees Transnational Criminal Networks as Biggest Security Challenge

Suriname Sees Transnational Criminal Networks as Biggest Security Challenge

By Marcos Ommati/Diálogo
August 29, 2016

The principal task of Suriname’s National Army is to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country against foreign armed military aggression, but like in so many other nations in Central and South America, the role of their military has been changing in the past years, especially to combat transnational organized crime. To discuss this and other defense topics related to Suriname, Diálogo spoke to Colonel Adolf Jardim, commander of the National Army of Suriname, during the 2016 South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC), held in Montevideo, Uruguay, from August 16th to 19th.

Diálogo: What are Suriname’s major security/defense concerns at this time?

Colonel Adolf Jardim: Suriname, as a small, economically challenged, and geographically scattered state, is not only vulnerable to threats to its security, but also incapable of responding to them decisively on its own. Collective action with other states in the region is desirable given the scarcity of human, financial, and technical resources required to address the many security issues. ‘New’ and major threats emerged in the forms of transnational crime. We see transnational criminal networks as national security challenges. These groups cause instability and subvert government institutions around the world through corruption. Transnational criminal organizations can accumulate unprecedented wealth and power through the drug trade, arms smuggling, human trafficking, and other illicit activities. They extend their reach by forming alliances with terrorist organizations, government officials, and even some state security services. Climate Change: We recognize that climate change can impact national security — ranging from rising sea levels, to severe droughts, to the melting of the polar ice caps, to more frequent and devastating natural disasters—by increasing the demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Illegal gold mining, which we have in Suriname— as well as pollution of the environment— all aggravated by porous borders and difficulties in providing border security, etc. Cyber-Attacks: Network intrusions are widely viewed as one of the most serious potential national security, public safety, and economic challenges. It is all about technology that empowers individual criminal hackers, organized criminal groups, terrorist networks, and other advanced nations to disrupt the critical infrastructure that is vital to our national economy, commerce, public safety, and military.

Diálogo: Has the role of the military in Suriname changed in recent years?

Col. Jardim: With no existential external or internal threats, the Armed Forces needed to search for a new role. So, we became more involved in civic-action programs, education, health care, and construction of roads, bridges, etc. The 1987 Constitution preserves the external and internal roles of the Armed Forces: defending the state from external military aggression continues to be the primary mission. New functions have been assigned by the Armed Forces’ Law of 1996, but they are widely perceived as secondary tasks. These tasks can include: road and infrastructure construction, improvement and engineering; assistance to public administration and the population in case of a major industrial incident, a sanitary crisis following a major disaster, or natural disasters. They can also include search and rescue operations; law enforcement; environmental protection; medical support for poor communities; provision of security for supplies (food, energy, transport, storage, distribution networks, and information systems); providing security during major public events (international sport championships or major global conferences); and the replacement of vital services during work stoppage (strikes or labor movements disrupting economic activity). They can also encompass counterterrorism – offensive and defensive measures to prevent, deter or respond to (suspected) terrorist activities; anti‐smuggling and anti‐trafficking operations; counter‐drug operations – detecting and monitoring aerial or maritime transit of illegal drugs; integrating command, control, communications, computer, and intelligence assets that are dedicated to interdicting the movement of illegal drugs; supporting drug interdiction and enforcement agencies; and humanitarian aid at home. Many of these tasks are subsidiary and are performed under the command of other security and government institutions.

Diálogo: How do Suriname and the United States work together to enhance the security of the region through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI)?

Col. Jardim: The United States is making a significant contribution to Suriname through the CBSI, and Suriname benefits directly from several of the programs, including: Promoting regional coordination among justice and law enforcement sectors and institutions to harmonize policies, procedures, and systems across the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname.Enhancing the prospects for at-risk youth through entrepreneurship training, improvement in basic life skills, and vocational education.Training and technical assistance to enhance Suriname’s capabilities to investigate and prosecute money laundering and other financial crimes; and to counter security, transnational, and humanitarian threats in Suriname and the region.Building capacity among law enforcement in the area of forensic investigation and improving forensic evidence analysis capability to hold criminals accountable, strengthen judicial process, and improve citizen security.CBSI’s Technical Assistance Field Team (TAFT) is working with the Suriname Navy to improve our maintenance and logistics procedures. Training, technical assistance and building capacity for the Armed Forces.

Diálogo: Does Suriname have a special police unit to combat trafficking in persons?

Col. Jardim: Suriname prohibits all forms of human trafficking through a 2006 criminal code amendment. The government sustained prevention efforts and adopted a national strategy to combat human trafficking in April 2014. In that same year a working group was created, but was not effective in coordinating anti-trafficking efforts. The government announced plans to establish a new interagency structure to oversee anti-trafficking efforts and disband the existing working group in December 2014. The anti-trafficking working group reconvened in January 2016 after having been inactive since December 2014; the reconstituted group included representatives from six government agencies and focused on awareness raising programs, interagency coordination on anti-trafficking efforts, and developing protocols for victim care. The working group made minimal progress towards implementing the 2014 national anti-trafficking strategy; it created an anti-trafficking awareness campaign and informational materials for press, radio, television, and social media. The police anti-trafficking unit continued to raise awareness of trafficking through radio programs to sensitize the general public, and newspaper ads that warned workers of fraudulent recruitment and youth about the risk of traffickers using social media. The police anti-trafficking unit and the youth police continued to work with a non-government organization to run a child and youth hotline. Labor inspectors trained to identify trafficking victims were limited by law to inspecting formal workplaces, which rendered much of Suriname’s workforce—employed in informal sectors—invisible to such inspections. The police anti-trafficking unit has been strengthened with ten people, which received specialized training. This training is the first in the framework of international police cooperation in 2016. The police anti-trafficking unit also provided anti-trafficking training for diplomatic personnel and other staff within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Diálogo: What efforts is Suriname making to combat drug trafficking?

Col. Jardim: Suriname is a transit zone for South American cocaine en route to Europe, Africa, and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Suriname’s sparsely populated coastal region and isolated jungle interior, together with weak border controls and infrastructure, make narcotics detection and interdiction efforts difficult. In 2015, the United States provided training, technical assistance, and material support to several elements of the Surinamese Police as part of the CBSI, a security partnership between the United States and nations of the Caribbean that seeks to substantially reduce illicit trafficking, advance public safety and citizen security, and promote justice. The United States encourages the Government of Suriname to increase narcotics interdiction, as well as subsequent investigations and prosecutions. Suriname’s national security policy is based, among others, on the country’s physical security, protecting the sovereignty and national currency, good health conditions, and safety of the citizens. According to the director of the Bureau for National Security, tackling illegal drug trafficking fits into most aspects of the national security policy due to the territorial infringements, the health and safety issues that drugs bring along, and also the rules and regulations that the country and its citizens should abide by in this regard. During the first nine months of 2015, Surinamese authorities arrested 139 alleged drug traffickers and seized 626.6 kilograms of cocaine, 33.8 liters of liquid cocaine, 841.7 kg of marijuana, 4 grams of heroin, 4.3 grams of hashish, and 2,878 MDMA (ecstasy) tablets. A 32-man Combating International Drug Trafficking team screens airport passengers on flights bound for the Netherlands. Suriname installed an automated biometrics border control system for travelers at points of entry in 2013 and amended the criminal code to allow DNA as evidence in 2014. Cargo containers carry most of the narcotics smuggled through Suriname, but smaller fishing vessels also carry drugs out to sea for transfer to larger freighters. A U.S.-funded, UN-sponsored Container Control Unit operates at the Terminal of Nieuwe Haven (Port of Paramaribo) and has assisted in two drug investigations this year; however, their operating protocol requires permission and oversight of Surinamese Customs authorities.

Diálogo: Does Suriname expect to sign agreements to fight drug trafficking with other nations?

Col. Jardim: On a bilateral level, Suriname has maritime counternarcotics enforcement agreements with the United States, and similar agreements with the Netherlands, France, Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana, Colombia, the Kingdom of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland. Internationally, Suriname ratified: 1. The United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (UN, 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol), 2. The United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances (UN, 1971), 3. The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances also known as the UN Drug Convention (UN, 1988), 4. The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UN, 2000). On the regional level, Suriname has ratified the Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (OAS, 1992).