Response to van Raak and Bosman on Prison, Minister of Justice

PHILIPSBURG:—The recent publication of an article regarding the current state of the detention facility in which they referenced two Members of Parliament in the Netherlands requires clarification. It is unfortunate but expected, as this seems to be the modus operandi of both MPs van Raak and Bosman. They have chosen to pick one sentence out of the entire conversation in an attempt to perpetuate their skewed view; this type of unnecessary media coverage does not benefit anyone. As Minister of Justice, I fully accept and understand the responsibilities to ensure that inmates have the facility/facilities that meet human rights standards to which, the ministry even hired a lawyer with a human rights background. This will ensure that all minimum requirements are met and that no policies and procedures violate any human rights.

It is important to highlight that before 2010, the entire Justice Chain fell under the responsibility of the former Netherlands Antilles, which included the prison. The state of the prison before 10/10/10 was already described as deplorable. As of October 10, 2010, this responsibility was transferred to country Sint Maarten. Since the responsibility shifted, the facility has not been properly maintained and very little was improved on the already deemed deplorable state. This has led to the current state of the prison, which by international and European standards are violating several human rights. Since I have taken office, the reality of the Point Blanche prison has had my full attention. Despite the current (post-Irma) financial shortfalls, I have already started making the necessary structural and organizational improvements.

Also important to note, while according to the Charter of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Sint Maarten has the responsibility to realize the fundamental human rights, article 43, subsection 1, the Charter also obliges the Kingdom to guarantee the fundamental human rights in the Kingdom.

The United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) has emphasized this obligation in their concluding observations of the hearing of November 2018: “in accordance with article 43 of the Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands providing that promotion and protection of human rights is a Kingdom (Netherlands) affair”. This was again echoed in an expert meeting initiated by the Kingdom affairs committee of the First Chamber where experts voiced their opinion that: “there is a moral obligation of the Netherlands to take action when human rights are violated in the Kingdom”. In addition, this responsibility has been confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the Corallo vs The Netherlands-case where the Netherlands was brought before the ECHR and fined by them.

Despite its financial hurdles, Sint Maarten is paying for all current repairs that are being executed to the Point Blanche prison, which also include Ms. Lalie Center for youth detention and the Phillipsburg & Simpson Bay holding areas, based on our improvement plan. These repairs have amounted to almost 1.7 million US Dollars thus far, which in addition to this substantial amount Sint Maarten has to pay daily fees for the inmates who are being housed in the Netherlands. We have already been invoiced 385,203 Euros for the period November and December 2018 (@ 249 Euros per inmate daily) and another 188,945 Euros for the month of January 2019 (@265 Euros per inmate daily). It must be highlighted, that Curacao has not charged St. Maarten – its fellow Kingdom partner; that is a testament in of itself. This reality amplified by the CFT’s imposed limitations to Sint Maarten’s 2019 Budget, further restricts the much-needed improvements for the entire Justice Chain, including that of the prison.

Therefore, I strongly believe and oppose the manner in which the two MPs van Raak and Bosman have chosen to selectively and negatively emphasize statements made. This only attempts to mislead but more importantly adds nothing to the ongoing efforts to improve the entire justice chain on Sint Maarten. It is factual that the Kingdom (Netherlands) has to take its responsibility in the improvements, in order to adhere to European and International standards regarding Human Rights. Sint Maarten is still a part of the “Kingdom” hence, the Netherlands responsibility is to effectively cooperate with and support its partner Sint Maarten in realizing and guaranteeing human rights.

It is my sincere hope that the communication and cooperation to achieve the improvements for Sint Maarten will no longer be handled in useless tabloid articles but in a responsible and productive manner. Sint Maarten as a partner in the Kingdom will continue to address its responsibilities and ensure progress with the support of the responsible colleague ministers in the Netherlands.

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Source: St. Martin News Network