Sint Maarten files a complaint with the UN about ‘racist Netherlands’: ‘This feels like slavery again’
The Parliament of Sint Maarten has lodged a complaint against the Netherlands with the UN rapporteur on racism. The Netherlands takes a ‘neo-colonial’ and ‘racist’ position in providing corona aid, say Parliamentarians.
Assisted by an American lawyer, the States of Sint Maarten have approached the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Discrimination and Xenophobia. In a petition, they ask the rapporteur, Tendayi Achiume, to investigate and to reprimand the Netherlands for racism and human rights violations.
After hurricane Irma, corona Sint Maarten plunges into an even greater crisis
The Netherlands, the complaint states, is using the pandemic and earlier destruction by hurricanes to force Sint Maarten to give up sovereignty in a ‘neocolonial’ way. In exchange for 30 million euros corona aid, a new supervisory body is set up. Three members appointed by the Netherlands will check whether Sint Maarten is reforming enough. If not, the financing can be stopped.
Sint Maarten has been an independent country within the kingdom since 2010. The island wanted to arrange a loan on the international capital market itself to avoid Dutch interference, but the Netherlands put a stop to that. Too expensive, according to the government.
‘A Thorny Thing’
“We welcome the reforms, most of which we agree. But there is a thorny thing: three deputies are going to run Saint Martin, and we have nothing to say, ” said Grisha Heyliger-Marten, a member of parliament for the United People’s Party and one of the initiators of the UN complaint. “It feels like slavery again. Like someone walks into my house and tells me to pick up that towel there. Do this, do that. But I am an adult, I have self-government. ”
There has been long-term racism in relationships with Dutch Caribbean people, according to the complaint. For example, the government spends more on education and care for European Dutch people, say the submitters. In their view, it is “in line with the ubiquitous racism and xenophobia in Dutch politics of recent years.” They point to Zwarte Piet and the benefits affair, in which parents with a migration background are wrongly labeled as fraudsters.
“You cannot claim sovereignty in exchange for debt,” says lawyer Choharis. “In the pandemic, are they doing the same with Dutch companies, local governments, aid packages for European countries, aid to other countries? The answer is no. Why then with this predominantly black population in the former Antilles? ”
Reforms The Dutch government believes that radical reforms are necessary to tackle a series of problems on the island and to make Sint Maarten more resilient to the next crisis. For example, State Secretary Knops wants the government to cut spending and lower salaries, make the labor market more flexible, collect taxes more efficiently and tackle the influence of the underworld. Only then, said Knops, “prosperity is in the offing for the citizens of Sint Maarten.”
State Secretary Knops says he is ‘unpleasantly surprised’ about the UN complaint. This is ‘incompatible with earlier statements by the same people’. He has asked the government for clarification. “I have had to conclude that Sint Maarten cannot bear its own autonomy at the moment. I repeat again: I do not want to take that autonomy away from them, but rather help them to ensure that they can fully bear it in a number of years. That is why we will help Sint Maarten with the necessary reforms in the coming years. ”
Lawyer Choharis points out that the Netherlands has benefited from the islands for centuries and helped create the administrative culture itself. “If corruption and mismanagement are such major problems, whose fault is that? Who has ruled these islands for centuries? ” Initiator Grisha Heyliger-Marten is the wife of Theo Heyliger, a former politician and sentenced to prison for corruption. He denies the allegations and has appealed.
Twelve of the fifteen members of the States of Sint Maarten support the petition, the other three are vehemently against it. One of the opponents, Sarah Wescot-Williams of the Democratic Party, fears the petition will jeopardize the financial aid that St. Martin desperately needs. Opposition party PFP points out in a statement that Dutch aid money ensures that many residents of Sint Maarten can eat and keep a roof over their heads. Food aid and medical assistance come unconditionally.
Member of Parliament Ronald van Raak (SP) has now asked State Secretary Knops to suspend support for the time being. He fears that the plans for reform will not be feasible if parliament stands in the way, and wants to organize a referendum on independence for Sint Maarten.
The ultimate goal is also for the politicians on St. Maarten a new discussion about ties with the Netherlands. Decolonization was never completed, they say. “The current structure, as an independent country within the kingdom, simply does not work. We have to rethink the relationship at a fundamental level, ” says their lawyer Choharis.
In 2017, King Willem-Alexander visited Saint Martin, shortly after the devastating hurricane Irma: