‘Time was of the essence,’ says Grisha as to why petition refiled

‘Time was of the essence,’ says  Grisha as to why petition refiled

Chairperson of Parliament Grisha Heyliger-Marten during Thursday’s meeting.

PHILIPSBURG--Chairperson of Parliament Grisha Heyliger-Marten says “time was of the essence” when the decision was taken to resubmit the amended petition on behalf of the Parliament of St. Maarten to the United Nations’ (UN) Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

  Heyliger-Marten came in for some flak for refiling the amended petition without prior consultation with or the knowledge of members of her coalition as well as of Parliament, including Parliament’s Committee for Constitutional Affairs and Decolonization (CCAD). This resulted in CCAD Chairperson Solange Duncan calling for an urgent meeting to discuss the matter and Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs calling the resubmission “highly premature.”

  The petition was first filed on March 9, 2021, by the Washington-based law firm Choharis Law Group and was amended and reinstated on February 16, 2022.

  In defending the resubmission, Heyliger-Marten told MPs in the urgent CCAD meeting on Thursday that the decision had been taken because it needed to be done post haste.

  “We … decided to mainly submit the petition because time was of the essence. Why was time of the essence? Because on February 4, Parliament received the COHO [Caribbean Body for Reform and Development – Ed.] law. That means it was then our turn. The ball was in our court, so it was our turn to bat – to weigh in and give our position on the COHO.

  “That means we submitted the petition knowing that it would take six to eight weeks for them to provide us with recommendations and this was key to us,” said Heyliger-Marten. 

  “Also, the fact that IPKO [Inter Parliamentary Kingdom Consultation] was coming up and we would be hosting IPKO in the first week of May, that too relied heavily on the timeline and why we wanted to submit the petition. And also, we paid keen attention to the fact that the [liquidity support] loans are going to be due in April and it can potentially be called in, so we would need some kind of backing to see if this was the correct way to move forward.

  “An important thing to mention was that after receiving the amended petition, the special rapporteur and the working group can still ask questions. They are going to ask Holland to respond or they are going to ask Holland some questions. They might even ask us to come back and elucidate. Any developments that happen between now and the six to eight weeks, we can continue amending it. So, it’s kind of like an ongoing interaction. And that is really the gist of how petitioning these two UN bodies works.”

  Heyliger-Marten started off her explanation by giving a brief historical timeline. She explained how the motion of July 8, 2020, which was unanimously passed, provided the basis for the filing of the petition. The motion in question resolved that the COHO should be in compliance with local, Kingdom, and international laws and mandated government to continue to engage in negotiations with the Netherlands for liquidity support for St. Maarten.

  “The motion resolved to execute three key components. That’s when we found out about the then [predecessor to COHO] and we passed a unanimous motion to ask government to negotiate financial assistance that will not trample on local kingdom and international laws and we asked them to provide alternative means of funding and also explore the feasibility of financing via government entities or ZBOs. We wanted them to go back with a counter-proposal. That was in 2020,” said Heyliger-Marten.

  “Then when COHO was presented, it was clear that we needed to vet it based on these three levels of laws. So, in order to ensure that it did not infringe on international law, the petition was then filed with the UN Special Rapporteur and Working Group. They responded a few weeks later and said it had merit and started to ask us if we can provide them with additional information.

  “So, for the remainder of 2021, we have been compiling factual information based on their request and also updating them on the factual turn of events that occurred throughout the year.”

  Heyliger-Marten also mentioned that both the Social Economic Council and the Council of State had condemned the COHO, which “forced” former Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops to go back to the table regarding the COHO.

  “The final suggestion was to have other people support the petition. … We then decided to send letters out to everyone else – to some countries to ask them if they wanted to support. In December, it was decided to postpone the decision for the budget approval because the former State Secretary did not put Article 26 on the agenda. That was actually the final updated development that we added to the petition,” she explained, adding that it subsequently had been decided to resubmit the petition.


  Amendments to the petition include the addition of a table of contents; the term “submitters” was changed to “petitioners”; and a summary of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) report and the Dutch government’s reaction were added.

  The CERD recommendations indicated that the Netherlands would have to dialogue with the Dutch countries and work towards (more) autonomy and elimination of racism/inequality.

  The COHO statement to which Knops objected was toned down. A few citations were added for the UN High Commission for Human Rights about the legacies of slavery and showed that events that were happening in St. Maarten and the other Dutch Caribbean countries were linked to that legacy of colonialism and slavery. Also added were updated conclusions and more data about conditions in the island’s environment, elderly, children and prisons, amongst other things.

  United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams said she had requested a CCAD meeting since March last year to discuss, amongst other things, the first petition and the Choharis engagement letter, and to date this request had not been honoured. Duncan said later that the meeting would be called.

  Wescot-Williams wanted to know what is expected of the petition and queried how it was that a request was made on behalf of Parliament and the majority of Parliament was unaware of the request. She suggested that the work of the committee be revisited and indicated that “something is wrong” when an amended petition is filed and the Prime Minister of the country sees it as totally unacceptable.

  Duncan said she would not speak on government’s position, but indicated that the committee does have its work cut out. She said the petition is supposed to yield recommendations that would be important for the committee in its tasks moving forward.

  She acknowledged that the approach leaves a lot to be desired, but indicated that the formation of the committee stemmed out of the trampling on the country’s autonomy.

  She requested that each faction put on paper their position on every issue such as the petition and COHO so that the public can know where they stand on these issues.

  However, Wescot-Williams said that at the end of the day what would matter to the people of St. Maarten is the position of those running the affairs of the country on the constitutional future of St. Maarten.

  Duncan said the committee is busy preparing for a roundtable discussion on what should be adapted and reformed in the Kingdom Charter and invitation letters would be sent to local, regional and international stakeholders.

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