THE HAGUE–Dutch Minister of Legal Protection Sander Dekker confirmed on Tuesday that the return of 23 inmates to St. Maarten’s Pointe Blanche prison from the Netherlands has been delayed. Dekker said he was “very disappointed” that insufficient progress was being made to improve the situation at the St. Maarten prison.
The deplorable situation at the Pointe Blanche prison was the centre of attention during the first part of the weekly question hour in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Tuesday. Second Chamber member André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party had requested the presence of Minister Dekker to ask him about the reported human rights violations at the St. Maarten penitentiary.
Dekker said he shared Bosman’s concerns about the detention situation in St. Maarten. He agreed with Bosman that legal security and law enforcement was first and foremost a responsibility of Country St. Maarten. “That is why I find that my colleague Minister of Justice [Cornelius – Ed.] de Weever has a big responsibility to improve the detention circumstances.”
Dekker explained that the Dutch and St. Maarten governments, in October last year, had arrived at an agreement on the steps that need to be implemented for the 23 inmates who are being held in the Netherlands after Hurricane Irma to return. “Unfortunately, I have to conclude that insufficient progress has been made. That deeply disappoints me,” he said.
Dekker said he and State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops would keep putting pressure on St. Maarten regarding this matter. He explained that the inmates would not be returned from the Netherlands until the situation at the Pointe Blanche prison has significantly improved.
Responding to a question from Bosman about the role and responsibility of the Kingdom, Dekker said he felt responsible to make sure that the Netherlands, the largest country of the Kingdom, assumed its tasks and responsibilities, “apart from the fact that we have 23 inmates from St. Maarten who are thousands of kilometres away from their families.”
According to Dekker, the resocialisation process of the St. Maarten inmates could not be started in the Netherlands, because this process needs to take place in the surroundings to which these prisoners will have to return after their release. He confirmed that three inmates had gone back to St. Maarten pending their release.
Second Chamber member Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) said the situation at the Pointe Blanche prison was “really terrible” and called on the Dutch government to provide assistance. However, he added, what to do with a St. Maarten justice minister who, in his opinion, “didn’t embrace assistance, but frustrated” that offer of help. “How can we offer help when the St. Maarten government doesn’t seem to want it?”
Dekker said he shared Van Raak’s frustration. “We have not only taken care of the inmates, but we have also provided real assistance to secure the prison after Hurricane Irma.”
Also, the Dutch government made expertise available, provided advice and offered a project director to St. Maarten, said Dekker. “But we see that St. Maarten makes insufficient use, which makes me think: how can it be that a country that can use all the help it can get to recover, doesn’t grab that assistance with both hands?”
He said the Netherlands had tried to increase pressure “in all sorts of ways” to have the improvements at the St. Maarten prison implemented. “The financial meter is ticking for St. Maarten every day that the inmates are staying in the Netherlands, and I think that St. Maarten has better uses for that money.”
Dekker confirmed that the Dutch government was considering taking the “next steps” that would have to come from the Kingdom if there was insufficient improvement at the prison. He mentioned the guarantee function in the Kingdom Charter and the possibility to intervene as Kingdom when there was no redress by the individual country.
Bosman had asked Dekker to reconfirm that the Netherlands would never be held accountable internationally for human rights violations in St. Maarten, and that the Kingdom Council of Ministers was the right place to address such matters.