Experts share concerns about St. Maarten law enforcement

THE HAGUE--A hearing with experts with the Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Wednesday largely focused on law enforcement in St. Maarten.
The seven experts generally shared the concerns of Member of the Second Chamber Chris van Dam of the Christian Democratic Party CDA, who requested the hearing.
 
  The hearing can be seen as a follow-up to the widely-adopted motion of October 2019 initiated by Van Dam, and co-signed by five other Members of Parliament (MPs). In that motion, the Dutch government was asked to engage in talks with the St. Maarten government about a bigger role for the Netherlands in the managing aspect of St. Maarten’s law enforcement.   
 
  Chairman of the Progress Committee for the St. Maarten Plans of Approach, Nico Schoof painted a worrisome picture during Wednesday’s hearing. The conclusion of the Progress Committee is that after nine years the Pointe Blanche prison and, to a lesser extent, the St. Maarten Police Force KPSM have not reached the agreed-on standards.
 
  The National Detectives, originally part of the Plans of Approach and removed after reaching certain criteria, has slipped below the standards due to a severe lack of capacity and the undue influence of the Ministry of Justice.
 
  The Progress Committee is not in favour of a take-over of St. Maarten’s law enforcement system by The Hague. The Committee sees intensive cooperation as the solution for the fact that St. Maarten at this moment is unable to sufficiently improve the justice system, in particular the penitentiary system, on its own.
 
  Taking over law enforcement, even if that is possible as St. Maarten is an autonomous country within the Kingdom, would damage relations and would not result in a quick solution of the issue. The Committee has repeatedly advised coming to a mutual cooperation arrangement. This would require working on increasing trust on both sides. “Mutual distrust currently hampers this,” said Schoof.
 
  The arrangement would require a lot of support from the Netherlands and guarantees from St. Maarten that law enforcement would truly improve. “The Netherlands facilitates and St. Maarten executes, preferably together with the Netherlands.” Having enough qualified personnel and sufficient budget to carry this out will be pre-conditional.
 
  Detention is the weakest link in the chain of law enforcement, Schoof noted. The severe lack of cell capacity (a maximum of 80 persons) and the conditions in the prison are highly urgent matters. The container cells with space for some 35 persons have yet to be installed.
 
  The lack of prison cells has a big impact on the safety of the community, said Schoof. Convicted persons are released early and suspects are sent home instead of being locked up.
 
  The lack of prison personnel is another severe problem with some 50 per cent of the employees not being deployed due to illness, unauthorised absence and/or a measure of reprimand.
 
  Dutch criminal law and criminal procedure law Professor Hans de Doelder of Rotterdam Erasmus University said he was not negative about law enforcement on the islands. He noted that many large criminal cases were taking place. He did say that he was worried about St. Maarten.
 
  Klaas de Jong, coordinator of the former Security Plan Netherlands Antilles PVNA, a programme that successfully reduced major crime on the islands, pointed out that justice costs a whole lot of money and that often there was not a lack of political will, but that mostly it was a matter of lack of finances.
 
  Amnesty International Netherlands Director Eduard Nazarski expressed grave concerns about the detention facilities in Curaçao, in particular the foreigners’ barracks where Venezuelan refugees are locked up pending their deportation. These people have no access to a lawyer, the living conditions are terrible and their rights as human beings are being violated, he said. “They told me: ‘We are not criminals, why are we here?’” He said the situation reminded him of a prison he once visited in Nigeria where 45 people were held in a cell.
 
  Law Enforcement Council member Theo Bot explained that there was a big difference in the state of development between the law enforcement agencies, such as the police forces, prosecutor’s offices and detention facilities, but also between the islands.
 
  Lacking has been a comprehensive view on the developing of the total justice system on all islands, said Bot. The regional cooperation between the different law enforcement agencies has improved in the last few years, and the cooperation between the islands has intensified.
 
  Bot shared the concerns of other experts that the situation in the different prisons was very worrisome and that there was too little action by the partners in the Kingdom to address this matter in a sustainable manner. He confirmed Schoof’s conclusion that the position of St. Maarten’s National Detectives was vulnerable.

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