~ Document shared with Parliament after submission ~
PHILIPSBURG--The Parliament of St. Maarten has submitted a petition to the United Nations requesting that it “investigate violations of a UN mandate right to a full measure of self-government for the people of St. Maarten,” with strong opposition from some Members of Parliament (MPs).
United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams strongly rejected and opposed the document, indicating that it does not represent the UD faction or her as an MP and a citizen of St. Maarten, and noting that the petition puts the country’s liquidity support in jeopardy.
Party for Progress (PFP) said late last night that the petition contains “blatant lies” and that it uses very few legal arguments to make its case that St. Maarten is being racially discriminated against.
PFP said also that the 37-page petition with appendices was sent to parliament 30 minutes before the start of a closed-door meeting of the Committee for Constitutional Affairs and Decolonization on Wednesday, which PFP says gives the impression that the meeting itself was called as a formality to share a document that had already been shared externally.
United People’s (UP) party said in a press release issued on Wednesday that the petition is based on a motion presented by MP Grisha Heyliger-Marten and subsequently passed by 12 of the 15 MPs on November 5, 2020.
The fifth resolution of that motion says that parliament resolves to “retain legal counsel to assist the parliament and government of St. Maarten with ending the violations of St. Maarten's UN-mandated right to a full measure of self-government; completing the decolonisation of St. Maarten and the other islands of the former Netherlands Antilles with the assistance of the United Nations in accordance with the past, present, and future obligations of the Netherlands under international law; and obtaining reparations from the Netherlands for violations of international law and norms as well as its treaty obligations.”
The UP release said that Choharis Legal Solutions, on behalf of parliament, had filed a petition to the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on March 9, 2021. Both institutions form part of the United Nations system.
“The petition forms a compendium of many statements, studies and facts presented to and within parliament over the years,” UP leader Rolando Brison was quoted as saying in the release. “Parliament represents the people of St Maarten, in accordance with Article 44 of the Constitution, and part of our duty is to ensure that the interest and rights of the people of St. Maarten are protected at all times.
“Our obligations include investigating whether kingdom and international laws are upheld by all and to create new laws where needed. With this filing, I have complied with the wishes of parliament and my mandate as [Chairperson of Parliament – Ed.] to carry out the same.”
In a statement late last night, PFP MPs Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson reiterated their faction’s distance from the November 5, 2020, motion of parliament relating to the “decolonisation process,” after parliament received a copy of a petition submitted by the Choharis law group to the United Nations’ Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner’s Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism and the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.
PFP said the closed-door nature of Wednesday’s meeting of parliament’s Committee for Constitutional Affairs and Decolonization seems to have been to prevent the deconstruction of the petition from occurring in front of the very people –the proponents of the motion – whom the law firm claims to represent.
PFP remarked that the document itself, while written by a supposed international law firm, uses very few legal arguments to make its case that St. Maarten is being racially discriminated against. It said there are also several blatant lies in the document, the most obvious of which is on page three.
“The document states that St. Maarten was forced to enter into agreement for the CFT [Committee for Financial Supervision],” PFP said, “but it has been acknowledged and admitted, both in the press and on the floor of parliament, that the architects of our country status agreed to the creation of the CFT. It was to our understanding that anything related to this committee and its processes would be based on facts, and not emotional fiction.”
The petition makes mention of Curaçao and Aruba, which were famously part of the original proposal received by parliament. This proposal was briefly discussed on the floor of parliament and several questions were posed by Gumbs to the prime minister on the matter.
The original proposal included a “golden” discount of 91 per cent of their fee in the event all three islands signed on, but no confirmation has been received if Curaçao and Aruba have committed. Further to that, the faction is concerned from a geopolitical perspective how such actions may heighten tensions between St. Maarten and the Netherlands. The concern is that this will affect the ongoing discussions around liquidity support.
“Have the self-styled 12 disciples, in taking on the role of government, considered a contingency to provide for the 4,000 households still receiving food packages? Do we realise that the money funding both the public sector and the SSRP [St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan], is Dutch aid money?” the faction asked.
“The money that’s allowing us to take care of our most basic needs from water and light to food on the table and roofs over our heads is all aid money. Are the recipients of this aid the same persons that the petition identifies as the victims of racial oppression?
“Oppression is very present, but more from the persons who have failed to create the necessary safety nets that have put us in such a precarious and desperate position. The creation of a poverty line, a cornerstone of PFP’s manifesto, is an autonomous responsibility, along with minimum wage, social welfare and many of the topics addressed in the petition."
PFP also questioned the role of Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs in the current situation, as she is officially the representative of the country on the international stage.
“Some may say that as per article 44 of the Constitution of St. Maarten,” PFP states, “that parliament represents the people of St. Maarten and that this petition ‘fulfils’ that representation. But that is a very cute use of word play and semantics, because if you read the official Explanatory Memorandum on this article of our Constitution, it specifically states that Parliament does not act on behalf of the people of St. Maarten in the way that a representative acts on behalf of the party it represents.
“Parliament solely represents the people of St. Maarten towards the government of St. Maarten and within the boundaries of the Constitution of St. Maarten. Outside of these 16 square miles, the country of St. Maarten is represented by the government of St. Maarten, headed by the Prime Minister. We see her presence nowhere in this petition.”
The most insidious part of the engagement of this firm, the tone and content of the petition and the complete lack of transparency regarding “the process” is that in all of it, the people of St. Maarten remain in the dark.
“This motion of 5 November 2021 is being used as carte blanche for saying and sending whatever fits the agenda of its proponents,” PFP concluded. “As a faction, we were against the contents of the motion from the very beginning. For a Parliament, in a parliamentary democracy, to believe it can contract legal representation for both Parliament and government is ludicrous. At every step of the way, the people have been excluded from the process.
“From Pro Soualiga Foundation to the Choharis Law Group, we have organisations speaking on behalf of the people because 12 members of Parliament decided they should. Sometimes it seems that some of the 12 do not care about the actual will of the people, going so far as to say that the people do not have to be consulted during this process.
“This faction does not believe in that and wants to make that clear, once again, to the people,” PFP said.
Wescot-Williams wondered how something like this could take place without any prior information to the Parliament of St. Maarten.
“In questioning and strongly objecting to this modus operandi of the presidium of Parliament in the meeting of this morning [Wednesday], which regretfully was closed-door, reference was constantly made of the motion of November of last year. It seems to be that the supporters of that motion of last year regarding decolonisation are of the opinion that their president/presidium of Parliament has carte blanche where it pertains to contacting services and firms based on that motion.
“I want to make it clear that I emphatically reject this type of an operation by the Parliament of St. Maarten. I emphatically reject that we, the people of St. Maarten, and I take off cap as MP for a moment, are subjected to this kind of treatment on a topic such as this – that the Parliament feels it’s okay, together with a firm in Washington and the presidium of Parliament, to decide what is presented.”
Wescot-Williams is concerned that the petition will put the country’s liquidity support in jeopardy.
“This presentation concludes by asking and requesting that basically the COHO [Caribbean Reform and Development Body] be revisited. The parliament and the presidium of parliament, by endorsing this presentation made by the Choharis Law Group of Washington, actually have put the liquidity assistance provided and agreed to for St. Maarten in jeopardy.
“Why am I so convinced of this? The agreement signed between the Prime Minister [Jacobs] and [Dutch State Secretary for Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond – Ed.] Knops states that any indication that there is no support for the draft COHO legislation would cancel the agreement regarding the liquidity assistance and the country packages, etc.
“This is an undermining of the government and its efforts to secure financing for the people of St. Maarten. … You have those MPs charged with the leadership of parliament feel that they can take the entire parliament along – all 15 MPs – for a ride in this fashion.
“I reject it and I oppose even the semblance that that presentation represents this MP, the UD faction in Parliament.”