~ ‘That’s their opinion,’ he says of MPs’ concerns ~
PHILIPSBURG--Chairperson of Parliament Rolando Brison says the presidium of Parliament has the right to engage legal support and called concerns over the proposal of a Washington DC-based law firm which Parliament approached to assist with the completion of the decolonisation process as being just opinions.
The Parliament of St. Maarten has sought the legal services of Coharis Law Group, based in Washington DC, to assist in achieving its goals related to the decolonisation of the islands of the former Netherlands Antilles. The intention is to also include Curaçao and Aruba in the process and each of the three countries is to pay a fixed fee of US $7,000 per month, which the law firm stated represents a 91 per cent discount.
Party For Progress (PFP) had questioned whether St. Maarten can afford the cost associated with securing the firm’s services and said Parliament had no authority to commit St. Maarten to any such agreement.
United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams said that while government does not have the legislative capacity to prepare the necessary laws to make adjustments to civil servants’ legal position, it can engage legal counsel for the decolonisation drive.
When asked to address concerns over cost and questions about Parliament’s authority to commit government to agreements, Brison said: “That is incorrect. [The – Ed.] Presidium has the right to engage legal support and third parties from the budget item 10078.
“Surprising to hear such from UD, since MP Wescot[-Williams] in her tenure as chair has engaged with foreign lawyers in the past several times without the consent of Parliament. On top of that, the motion of May 20 asks the Chair of Parliament to use whatever means for advice.”
He said the idea is to share the cost amongst the three countries once that is finalised. “But we are still negotiating,” he made clear. “We are still busy negotiating with Curaçao and Aruba and the firm. The proposal is just that – a proposal.”
When asked whether the intention is for the agreement to be signed by Parliament or government or both, he said Parliament will sign.
Asked for a response on whether a decision such as decolonisation is a mandate that has to come from the people and not a select few MPs, Brison said: “That’s their opinion. That’s it.”
In the meantime, the two goals described in a retainer agreement with Coharis Law Group of October 1, 2020, are to complete the decolonisation process by means of the Round Table Conference (RTC) in May and June next year, culminating in an agreement with the Netherlands in July, and to assist in pursuing reparations from the Netherlands.
Coharis Law Group sent the engagement agreement for Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten to MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten on October 1. She in turn forwarded it to Brison and first Vice-Chairperson of Parliament William Marlin. The proposal was also forwarded to Curaçao and Aruba.
In the retainer agreement, Peter Coharis stated that he was delighted that “the parliaments, political parties, foundations, individuals and/or other civil society members of Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten” had retained the law firm to work on the islands’ behalf.
Each of the three countries will pay a fixed fee of US $7,000 per month, which the law firm stated was only a fraction of the regular price it charges, and represents a discount of 91 per cent.
The agreement also states a contingency fee, a percentage that will be paid to the law firm out of the reparations the Netherlands would pay, if awarded. The law firm would be paid a contingency fee of 0.085 per cent. The rest, 99.915 per cent would go to the countries.
In the agreement it is stated that the law firm will provide legal services, including counselling, strategic advice, negotiations and similar service requested by the countries in protecting and promoting their goals and interests, and to achieve their objectives.
The first action would be to pursue efforts in the United Nations (UN) and international bodies. The law firm would assist the countries to reach out to the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation, the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and to the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
These UN bodies would be asked to examine and report on the situation in the three Dutch Caribbean countries. “By validating the political realities that the islands want addressed, a report of the Special Committee on Decolonization would be very effective to persuade the Dutch government to participate at a 2021 RTC. Even the prospect of such an investigation and report would likely help persuade the Netherlands to participate.”
It was pointed out in the agreement that the July 2015 report by the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, based on its visit to the Netherlands and Curaçao a year before, merits a follow-up report, especially as it appears that the islands’ current concerns were not previously considered.
The basis for turning to the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, an independent human rights expert appointed by the UN, would be an August 2019 report that “addresses the human rights obligations of (UN) Member States in relation to reparations for racial discrimination rooted in slavery and colonialism.”
The law firm would assist the countries in their efforts to attract regional and international support for the 2021 RTC negotiations, including organisations such as the Caribbean Community CARICOM and the CARICOM Reparations Committee, but also members of the Dutch government, Dutch parliamentarians and others.
The law firm would further assist Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten in reviewing the construction that has “prevented them from securing their rights and sovereignty” and the “practical operation of various legal institutions within the Kingdom that have resulted in the ongoing denial of human rights” in the countries.
As for the RTC, the law firm would assist with the development of a strategy for the RTC negotiations, in the form of helping to structure the format, to develop agendas, to draft and review legal political reform proposals, and, if needed, direct support for the negotiation teams at the RTC itself. The end result should be the signing of an agreement with the Dutch government in July 2021.
The law firm will assist the countries to pursue damages from the Netherlands for the injuries and deprivations that the Dutch inflicted on the islands and their people during Dutch colonialism and slavery, violations of the international legal obligations in the post-World War II period, and the legacy harms that will continue to injure the islands and their citizens for the foreseeable future.