Opinion: Dutch-American Friendship Treaty

POSTED: 02/6/12 2:41 PM

The government has a thorn in its side and it is called the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty. Our government does not like this treaty because it gives American citizens the same rights as European Dutch citizens. The courts have time and again confirmed this, not only in St. Maarten, but also in Aruba where Americans have called upon the treaty in the past. If Americans have the same rights as European Dutch do, they are entitled to be admitted by law if they meet certain conditions. In our opinion, this also implies that, like European Dutch, Americans do not need a work permit in St. Maarten.

Justice Minister Roland Duncan does not want to hear about this: his attorneys keep referring to the national ordinance on admission and expulsion, as if this piece of local legislation supersedes international treaties. Prime Minister Wescot-Williams has in the past already publicly stated that it does not: the Friendship Treaty applies in St. Maarten and when people want to call upon it the government will have to look at it. At least, that’s what our PM said on July 12, 2010. That date is important, because at the time Wescot-Williams was in the opposition with her Democratic Party. She has never retracted the statement.

And yes, the government does look at the Friendship Treaty when people call upon it. Just ask Tina Abbot and Claire Lorraine and Shai Talmi about it. The Talmi case shows how sloppy the justice department is in dealing with a simple request for admission by law. The Talmis put in a request on January 5, 2010. We don’t know what the ministry did with the letter, but it is clear what it did not do: react. It is about the rudest treatment a citizen is able to get from his government, and it is even worse when it becomes plausible to assume that not answering such letters is a strategy designed to frustrate people and to make a problem go away without doing anything.

Half a year later, the Talmis filed an appeal against what had become a fictitious refusal. This bureaucratic rule protect the civil service to a ridiculous level: there are terms within which the government has to reply to a request, but when it does not reply at all, its unwritten answer is the so-called fictitious refusal.

The argument that the civil service is understaffed is ridiculous, especially since the justice ministry has a standard position on the issue at hand. It does not want to abide by the law and it does not want to honor this international treaty, even though it has not managed to present one valid argument to support this position.

Only the justice ministry, and by extension the government of St. Maarten, keeps saying that the Friendship Treaty is not directly applicable on our island. Several court rulings have made clear that this position is untenable, and therefore also unlawful. The American Consul in Curacao, Valerie Belon, already told Minister Duncan in November 2010 that as far as her country is concerned, the treaty is applicable.

But here we are, almost one and a half year further, and Duncan has just received his marching orders from the court. He has to take a new decision on the Abbott and Talmi-cases by February 27.

While it is predictable what this decision will be, the question remains: what to do with a minister who keeps ignoring international treaties? And who is going to take action against him?

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