photo: Tim van Dijk

PHILIPSURG – The government of Sint Maarten and the Netherlands have reached a political agreement on the cusp of 2021: 61,2 million Antillean guilders (30,6 million euros) in budgetary support for a period from July 1st till December 31st 2020.

An additional 30 million euros has also been made available for the construction of a new prison and structural improvements in the detention facilities on Sint Maarten. Criminal defense attorney Sjamira Roseburg, the lawyer for the group of detainees who filed a motion against the government earlier this year due to the poor detention conditions had the following to say about the news:

Criminal defense attorney Sjamira Roseburg speaking to Leoni Schenk: ‘we’re finally going to honor human rights’ (Dutch spoken)

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The case, which 37 detainees of the Pointe Blanche prison filed due to inhumane living conditions in the prison, was declared inadmissible. That’s why the funds for the new prison are such a relief, says Roseburg. “I’ll make my knowledge and skills available during the construction of the new prison. Because I know what the prisoners need.”

More support in exchange for reforms
The agreement resembles those that were made between the Netherlands and Aruba and Curaçao. In exchange for reforms on Sint Maarten, the Dutch government will provide new liquidity support, but will also invest in different areas, such as the judiciary.

Prison and judiciary under fire

The deplorable state of the Pointe Blanche prison, the acute cell shortage, and the lack of psychiatric facilities have been a cause for worry for some time. Caribbean Network reported on these issues several times during the past few years:

* The Kingdom was subject to the supervision of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, because the detention facilities in the police station cells do not meet the standards of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Prison system on Sint Maarten: ‘human rights are violated on a daily basis’

* The Pointe Blanche prison has been condemned, Caribbean Network visited the prison in 2017, right before the warden was let go: Damaged Sint Maarten prison poses danger

* In the Caribbean part of the Kingdom there is no possibility for a (full-fledged) tbs treatment. This is also a violation of human rights: No room for tbs patients on the islands: where does the Netherlands’ responsibility lie? (Dutch)

Financial supervision in exchange for support
The support will be accompanied by a new form of financial supervision: the Caribbean reform and development organism (COHO) was established, that together with the ministries on Sint Maarten, will work out the reforms.

The ministry of the Interior emphasizes in a press release that the COHO ‘will not take over any responsibilities from the states, the governments, or the responsible governmental entities; this was specifically agreed upon during the meetings’. The COHO was one of the major struggling points during the talks: Sint Maarten, Curaçao, and Aruba all fear that COHO will erode their autonomy.

The COHO will however be able to monitor the progress of the implementation of the required reforms and will be able to attach consequences if the reforms aren’t implemented expediently.

‘Journey hasn’t ended yet’
State secretary Raymond Knops says that “reaching this political agreement is an important step.” But that this agreement is not the end of the journey. Knops: “the reforms mentioned in the agreement (landspakket) have to be implemented. That’s the only way to ensure prosperity for the people of Sint Maarten. This will require anyone who carries any responsibility on Sint Maarten to make a continues effort to ensure this.”