PHILIPSBURG–”Let our leaders lead” and “Enough is enough” were the chants ringing out in St. Maarten’s capital Phillipsburg on Wednesday morning as the “I Stand for St. Maarten” demonstrators in what was billed as participants in a “silent demonstration” delivered their petition for judicial and constitutional-related changes to the Governor, Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the Dutch government representative, the Prosecutor’s Office, and the Ombudsman.
The petition signed by more than 700 people on paper and online stemmed from concern and discontent in several sections of the community about what is considered systematic targeting of the country’s political leaders by outside forces – commonly thought to be the Dutch government in its role as “coloniser” – via the justice system.
Demonstrators, who occasionally burst into verses of the “St. Maarten Song,” believe the governance of the country should not be interfered with by any part of the Dutch government apparatus.
The petition calls on Parliament to resume the process to request a constitutional referendum and to investigate, through the Council of Law and Order (Raad voor de Rechtshandhaving), the functioning of the justice system in St. Maarten; among other things, the selectivity of cases investigated and/or brought to trial by the Prosecutor’s Office and the number of cases investigated and brought to trial, the profiles of the persons involved, and the status of those cases.
The petition also calls for the review and modernisation of the Constitution to address, among other things, setting a time frame by which a case must be brought to trial (in the interest of justice and according to universal norms) and maintaining the fundamental principle of natural justice that persons be judged by their peers.
The petition further demands that the government of the Netherlands complies fully with the Charter of the United Nations by acting in accordance with St. Maarten’s right to a full measure of self-government based on absolute equality with the Netherlands, and takes concrete action to that effect by initiating dialogue with the Government of St. Maarten before the end of 2018.
Parliament is called on by the petition to convene an urgent public meeting within seven days to debate and decide on the points of the petition.
The petition was logged with Parliament, the first stop some 200 demonstrators, including Members of Parliament and ministers, made on their route through town. Parliament Chairwoman Sarah Wescot-Williams received the petition and assured demonstrators it will be tabled in a Central Committee meeting of the legislature in the coming weeks.
A copy was also delivered to the Office of the Dutch Representation in Philipsburg. Receiving the petition, representative Chris Johnson said: “We are part of a Kingdom where an independent judiciary and public prosecutor’s office are an essential part of our democratic system and we very much respect the right to demonstrate and we gladly receive you in that capacity.”
Similar stops were made at the Prosecutor’s Office at Emmaplein, and at the Cabinet of the Governor. The press was barred from documenting the delivery of the petition at both of these locations.
The Ombudsman also received a copy of the petition.
The final stop on the route was the Government Administration Building on Pond Island where the petition was handed to Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin and Justice Minister Cornelius de Weever.
Romeo-Marlin said it is up to Parliament “to make decision and then instruct the ministers on how to proceed” based on the contents of the petition.
De Weever cautioned that there is separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the country. “This separation must be maintained and be cleared of each other’s responsibility. Each branch should work effectively and efficiently. That should be the general understanding and make sure we don’t blur the lines too much.”
Billed as the “I Stand for St. Maarten” movement, the protest was spawned after the Joint Court of Justice granted the Prosecutor’s Office’s request to pursue a criminal investigation against United Democrats leader MP Theo Heyliger.
Heyliger, a popular politician who has been the country’s highest vote-getter for some two decades, stands accused of attempted bribery. He is not the first politician or party leader to be the subject of a criminal investigation.
Bron; Daily Herald