May 24, 2021 PHILIPSBURG—Since Parliament started discussing the finalization of the decolonization of the islands of the former Netherlands Antilles, the process has been questioned by a number of sceptics here and abroad. When the motion of November 5th, 2021 was passed, and the Permanent Constitutional Affairs and Decolonization Committee was established, these sceptics wondered if it made any sense.
Arguments against the process included “now is not the time”, “there are more pressing matters to address”, “you can’t eat autonomy”, “Sint Maarten cannot survive without the Dutch, and the local politicians can’t handle independence”, “there is no legal basis for decolonization”, “the people chose this status”, “we already have autonomy”, and the list goes on and on. We should not forget that there was never a “right time” to implement human rights, equal rights for women, or a “right time” to abolish slavery for those who opposed these changes and wanted the status quo.
All these arguments will be addressed as the process continues, but as MP I would like to respond to one important criticism of Parliament’s decision to pursue the finalization of the decolonization process. That criticism is that decolonization is only being pushed by a small group of politicians and “people behind the scenes” who “conspire” to decolonize for one reason only. The reason is supposedly to “kick the Dutch out” in order to have some kind of unchecked dictatorial reign over the people of Sint Maarten.
But in light of what has transpired in the area of constitutional affairs in the Dutch Kingdom and beyond during the last few decades, the question that really should be asked is: “what is the agenda of the local politicians who oppose decolonization, and why would they oppose it in the first place?”
Is it to hide the fact that they failed the people of Sint Maarten by completing the process when they should have, and are now being exposed for that failure? Are they being pressured by elements within certain Dutch political circles, who would rather see Sint Maarten eternally dependent on Holland, and want to keep their influence via deals like the one with the Royal Schiphol Group?
Which arguments could they possibly have done they have against the clear academic and political consensus on these two facts?:
a) The decolonization of the former Netherlands Antilles was not finalized and;
b) It should be finalized as soon as possible in order to be in compliance with international law and create workable relationships within the Kingdom of the Netherlands?
Let’s look at the academic and political substantiations (in no particular order) making the case for finalizing the decolonization process as being pursued by the Parliament of Sint Maarten:
1. Dutch political statements
In 2016, both former MP André Bosman and Minister Plasterk confirmed that article 73 was still applicable. Following a statement by State Secretary Knops to the Dutch Parliament in October 2019, that “new insights” indicated that this was no longer the case, the Dutch State declared in court that it is not aware of any document proving that article 73 does no longer apply to the Netherlands. This last statement would mean that State Secretary Knops lied to the Dutch Parliament in 2019, a cardinal sin in politics and government.
In 2020, Dutch MP Sietse Fritsma wrote the following in an article published in “Koninkrijk op Eieren”: "…This (strange) fact can be traced back to Article 73 of the UN Charter, which applies to the relationship between the Netherlands and the former Netherlands Antilles.”
Former MP’s Bosman and van Raak presented a commonwealth proposal in 2012.
In 2016, then-Senator (and currently Vice-Chair of the Council of State) Thom de Graaff stated that the Statuut is outdated and needs revamping.
In 2019, Dutch MP Bosman proposed to revamp the “Statuut”. Also in 2019, the Dutch Parliament passed a motion to create a working group to establish a “division of responsibilities between Kingdom partners”. Knops invited CAS to participate, and they all agreed.
On April 13th, 2021, the Dutch Senate passed a motion by Senator Rosenmöller, to give a higher priority to the kingdom relations by intensifying the Dutch involvement in order to concretely and sustainably improve the relations.
2. Research by Dr. Steven Hillenbrink
Dr. Hillenbrink academic research clearly proves that the “Statuut” did not provide the islands with a full measure of self-government in accordance with the UN Charter and relevant resolutions. He also provided proof that the Netherlands (together with the Antillean delegation members) made efforts to make the UN believe that this was the case in 1954 and 1955.
3. Party manifestos Dutch Parliamentary elections 2021
The election campaign manifestos of VVD, SP, BIJ1, and PvdA all included commitments to addressing constitutional reform within the Dutch Kingdom.
4. Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Eustatius
In 2020, Aruba and Curacao dispatched several letters and petitions to the UN and the EU regarding infringements on our autonomy by the Dutch Government. Sint Eustatius recently sent a letter to the Dutch Government insisting on the restoration of full democracy as soon as possible.
5. Research by Dr. Carlyle Corbin
Dr. Corbin has carried out different self-government assessments (on Bonaire, Curacao, and in the Pacific) which clearly show that the structures of these territories are not in compliance with contemporary international standards of full self-government and international standards of full political equality.
6. United Nations
The United Nations Secretary-General continues to express his commitment to finalizing decolonization, and repeats calls to do so. Additionally, the UN General Assembly recently declared the fourth international decade for decolonization.
7. COPPPAL and Parlatino
These organizations have both condemned recolonizing actions by the Dutch Government in letters to the UN and Prime Minister Rutte starting back in 2015.
Unless all the entities and individuals listed above are in on this so-called “conspiracy” by a select few on Sint Maarten with an agenda, it is clear that decolonization is needed, and needed now. It will correct a legally incorrect situation that has existed since 1945. And ultimately, it will benefit the people on all the islands of the former Netherlands Antilles.
As a representative of the people of Sint Maarten, I therefore challenge all those who oppose or criticize this important process to explain why they did not finish it when they had the chance to, why they are against finalizing it now, and what their agenda is? I look forward to receiving those answers and the public debate as the process continues.
Instead of focusing on one or two messengers on Sint Maarten who supposedly have a “hidden agenda”, the critics of decolonization should focus on the message that is supported widely outside of Sint Maarten. They should also realize that globally, being decolonized and fully autonomous as a nation, in whichever shape or form is the rule, and not the exception.