Moiwana Community v. Suriname

Moiwana Community v. Surin., Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs, Judgment, Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (ser. C) No. 124 (June 15, 2005).
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The village of Moiwana, consisting of N’djuka people of African descent, was attacked in November 1986 by members of the armed forces of Suriname, who allegedly massacred  40 men, women and children, and “razed the village to the ground.” Members of Moiwana practiced hunting, farming, and fishing as their means of subsistence. Following the massacre, many inhabitants of Moiwana fled into the forests and later reached refugee camps in French Guiana or were internally displaced within Suriname. Since their flight from the village, many had “suffered poverty and deprivation” and had been unable to practice their traditional means of subsistence and livelihood. Also, no investigation of the massacre had been conducted by Suriname, no one had been prosecuted or held liable for the massacre, and many members of Moiwana remained displaced. The displaced Moiwana feared returning to the traditional lands due to the existing impunity and were thus unwilling to return to their traditional way of life.

The Moiwana filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission found violations of Articles 8 (judicial guarantees) and 25 (judicial protection) of the American Convention. After the state’s failure to implement the Commission’s recommendations, the Commission submitted the case to the Inter-American Court based on the same American Convention articles, alleging emotional and psychological hardship resulting from their displacement and Suriname’s failure to investigate the massacre and prosecute those responsible.

The Moiwana claimed violations of Articles 5 (right to humane treatment) and 21 (right to property) of the American Convention on Human Rights,and both the Moiwana and Commission claimed that the government had violated Articles 8 and 25 of the American Convention.

Although the Commission had not made claims under the article, the Court found that the government had violated Article 5 (right to humane treatment) of the American Convention on Human Rights to the detriment of Moiwana community members. The Court considered that the failure of the State to conduct effective investigations into the massacre, the ongoing impunity of those directly responsible, the resulting inability of the Moiwana to perform their traditional burial rituals to honor their deceased ones, and the separation of the Moiwana from their traditional lands caused the Moiwana to "[endure] significant emotional, psychological, spiritual and economic hardship" and thus constituted violations of the right to humane treatment.

The Court concluded that the State violated Article 22 (freedom of movement and residence) by failing to create the necessary conditions and take the necessary steps to allow the Moiwana to return to their land, thereby preventing them from exercising their human rights. The Moiwana continued to be internally displaced or live as refugees, fearing prosecution if they were to return to their land.

The Court held that the government had violated the Moiwana's right to property by depriving them from using and enjoying their land, declaring the Moiwana "legitimate owners" of the land who held an "all-encompassing" relationship with the land at issue.

The Court found the state in violation of Articles 8 (judicial guarantees) and 25 (judicial protection) for failing to investigate the 1986 attack, prosecute all those responsible, and provide remedies to the victims.

"86(43). The ongoing impunity for the 1986 raid on Moiwana Village and the inability of the community to understand the motives for that attack have generated a deep fear in the members that they may be subject to future aggressions, which is a central factor preventing them from returning to live in their traditional lands."

"93. The State's failure to fulfill this obligation has prevented the Moiwana community members from properly honoring their deceased loved ones and has implicated their forced separation from their traditional lands; both situations compromise the rights enshrined in Article 5 of the Convention. Furthermore, the personal integrity of the community members has been undermined as a result of the obstruction of their persistent efforts to obtain justice for the attack on their village, particularly in light of the N'djuka emphasis upon punishing offenses in a suitable manner. The following analysis will begin with that last point."

"99. If the various death rituals are not performed according to N'djuka tradition, it is considered a profound moral transgression, which will not only anger the spirit of the individual who died, but also may offend other ancestors of the community […]. This leads to a number of "spiritually-caused illnesses" that become manifest as actual physical maladies and can potentially affect the entire natural lineage […]. The N'djuka understand that such illnesses are not cured on their own, but rather must be resolved through cultural and ceremonial means; if not, the conditions will persist through generations..."

"103. Moiwana community members have endured significant emotional, psychological, spiritual and economic hardship – suffering to a such a degree as to result in the State's violation of Article 5(1) [right to humane treatment] of the American Convention, in relation to Article 1(1) of that treaty, to the detriment of said community members."