photo: Esther Henry

THE BOTTOM – “We were promised many things and I was at every town hall meeting. I am just tired of town hall meetings and going around in circles. I need to see action! It’s nice for us to sit down and talk but now less talk.”

The town hall meeting on human rights held this week on Saba led to angry reactions from Sabans. The turnout was although low. The event was organised due to the visit of the chairperson of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights, Adriana van Dooijeweert. She also visited Statia and Bonaire to investigate the human rights’ situation.

A Saban citizen and Adriana van Dooijeweert at the town hall meeting
“Life is very very tough here”-chairman human rights institute

The top three complaints on Saba: high cost of living, the lack of affordable and adequate housing, and the lack of knowledge about the rights within the health care system. “Life is very very tough here,” expressed Van Dooijeweert.

Esther van Weele, LLM Policy Advisor Netherlands Institute for Human Rights was also present at the town hall meeting last Monday. She confirmed the complaints. “We were shocked by what some people told us, especially about the consequences of the fact that important legislation guaranteeing an adequate standard of living is not applicable on Saba, St Eustatius and Bonaire.”

“And also the fact that there still does not seem to be enough understanding in The Hague about what it means to live on a small island with practically no possibility to leave the island for instance for a school outing.”

“The first problem to start with is the economic poverty” -resident Saba

An emotional resident also said at the town hall meeting: “I’ve said this in 2012 when the first and second chamber was here that I’m embarrassed being European Dutch seeing how the islands are being occupied. The first problem to start with is the economic poverty. We’ve had the Spies report and many others where we know 50-60% of this island live below the poverty. I know my employees have to work two or more jobs to survive. I’m ashamed where our State Secretary of Social Affairs said now that we have money to get a fan.”

Van Weele comments: “We wanted to tell the people on Saba that we are there for them and are very eager to play a role in the process to find concrete solutions for human rights issues such as housing, health care and access to justice in general.”


The Netherlands Human Rights Institute is the independent watchdog of human rights. It also has authority on Saba, St Eustatius and Bonaire. The institute is made out of 9 commissioners and has a staff of about 55 people. The National Ombudsman has authority when it concerns complaints against the government. They also visited the islands recently.