PHILIPSBURG – An overcrowded prison crawling with cockroaches, almost no recreational opportunities, and begging for medical help. The prisoners in the Pointe Blanche prison are fed up. The detainees who help in the kitchen, with cleaning and repairs, put down their ‘work’.
“This is no longer possible in the Kingdom of 2019. Everyone points at each other while the situation is getting worse. The prisoners are the only ones who have to face the violation of human rights on a daily basis, “says lawyer Sjamira Roseburg, who represents nearly twenty detainees. “Nobody does anything about the degrading situation so the prisoners have to do it themselves.”
The prisoners want to meet with the prison director and with a minister for firm agreements about which improvements will be implemented in the short term. The prison is fuller than allowed: a maximum of 70 prisoners can sit there. Now there are ten more and sometimes three people in a cell. According to Roseburg, medical complaints are not treated properly: “I have a client who has been bleeding blood for months and not being taken to the hospital.”
Government has fallen: plans are standing still
Whether the prisoners will get to talk to a minister is questionable. The previous justice minister, Cornelius de Weever, had to resign. Now the duties have been temporarily assigned to the Ministry of Finance. Inquiries with Tjandra Lake, an employee of the Ministry of Justice, show that there is also a lack of clarity at the Ministry about how and when the ongoing projects for the prison will be continued.
The lack of cells has been a problem for some time. The Kingdom is even under EU supervision because suspects were locked up in police cells (sometimes months) for too long. Despite the fact that the European Court of Human Rights has given the Kingdom a blow to its fingers, suspects are still imprisoned in a police cell for too long , says lawyer Shaira Bommel. “There are now four suspects in a police cell for longer than the ten days allowed. A client of mine has been there for 26 days. Everyone knows about it, but keeps their mouth shut. ”
It is not clear when and whether EU supervision will be lifted. Giuseppe Zaffuto, spokesperson for the Council of Europe, says that the matter concerning the police cells on St Maarten has yet to come before the Committee of Ministers. It is not yet clear when that will happen.
“Who monitors the current situation in police cells and prison after the fall of the cabinet,” Roseburg wonders. “Do the rights of these prisoners not count in the Kingdom?” The lawyer hopes that Sint-Maarten and the Netherlands will soon join forces.
‘Taking over by the Netherlands not the solution’
But Roseburg does not see the solution in CDA MP Chris van Dam’s plan to have the Netherlands take over the legal order on St Maarten for five years.
“Why is it or the responsibility of St Maarten or the Netherlands? Justice is primarily a country affair, provided that Sint-Maarten cannot take care of it. That is the case now. Human rights are a Kingdom affair anyway. It is not Sint Maarten or the Netherlands that is blamed on the EU but the Kingdom. We need to work hand in hand like a well-functioning Kingdom with equal partners, “says Roseburg.
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