photo: Natasja Gibbs

HILVERSUM – “The Netherlands keeps St. Maarten in a vicious cycle of nonstructural assistance but continuous penalization.” This says the former St. Maarten Justice Minister Dennis Richardson in response to the approach of The Hague regarding the unsafe situation in the island’s prison.

Minister Ronald Plasterk (Kingdom Relations) acknowledged on Thursday that human rights are at risks in the prison on St. Maarten, but said he would not intervene. “It is the island’s responsibility”, is his reply to questions from coalition partner VVD and opposition party SP about the worrying situation.

Richardson is familiar with the reaction from Plasterk. During his tenure from 2013 to 2015 over and over again he received no reply when structural assistance was asked for. “The Hague conveniently forgets that we inherited the prison from the Netherlands in the same miserable condition as it was. Despite many promises of help we never got any. This I have trouble with.”

Violation of human rights
Plasterk maintains his stance, while completely opposed by the VVD and SP. Both parties refer to the Kingdom Charter, which states that the Netherlands is responsible for protecting human rights in the Kingdom. Knowledge of deteriorating safety in the prison is not something new, which is evident in the dozens of reports published by the Dutch Progress Committee since 2010. “Developments are scarce,” says Chairman Nico Schoof. He and his committee members are deeply concerned about security at the prison.

Also on an international level concerns were expressed in 2007 and 2016 regarding violations of human rights in St. Maarten’s prison. “The Point Blanche Prison still does not meet the requirements of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe” it states in the CPT report of 2016. However despite the dozens of worrying reports and red flags from the CPT, Plasterk continues to refer to the situation as “the personal responsibility of St. Maarten.”

“A hopeless situation”, says Richardson, in regards to the Netherlands not assisting in a structural solution. “It is not unwillingness from St. Maarten, the island just doesn’t have the funds. The Netherlands rather hide behind the autonomy of the island and does not choose for an atmosphere of cooperation and brotherhood, as stated in the statute ‘on their feet with a desire to assist each other.’ What the Netherlands can do is make the improvements themselves, but they do not consider this. ”

The expansion of the prison, according to Richardson costs $12 million. “But if you do not have the money, as demonstrated by the last budget, then the plans remain just plans. Good intentions without teeth.”