Published On: Mon, Nov 26th, 2018

UN Committee concerned about prison, says finances no reason for continued derogation

Poses 180 questions to Kingdom at human rights hearing ~

prisonPHILIPSBURG - The United Nations Committee on Torture stressed its ongoing concerns about the St. Maarten prison system, indicating that while it can appreciate St. Maarten’s financial situation, this cannot be a reason for continued derogation.

The concern was expressed at a recent human rights hearing in Geneva attended by representatives of the Kingdom, including Justice Minister Cornelius de Weever (see related story).

The committee called on the Kingdom to ensure that both technical and financial assistance be made available to Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, taking into account the Kingdom’s guarantee role. The committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations this week.

The Committee posed some 180 questions to the Dutch Kingdom delegation during the hearing. The first day of the hearing ended with questions posed to the countries on a number of issues raised following the opening statements made by representatives of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The Committee was concerned about the lack of harmonisation and uniform practices across the Kingdom to ensure that fundamental human rights were adhered to.

De Weever “clarified” the role of the Kingdom when asked about the mandate of the National Human Rights Institute in the Netherlands, it was stated in a press release over the weekend. He said all four countries in the Kingdom were responsible for implementation and as such the institute does not have a mandate over Sint Maarten, or any of the other Caribbean countries.

He spoke of three mechanisms that ensured that human rights were guaranteed. First, at the policy level, an inter-ministerial workgroup, the Human Rights Platform led by the Department of Foreign Relations, is responsible for the compiling of all human rights reports as well as the monitoring and advising of ministries on human rights obligations and other matters.

The National Reporting Bureau on Human-Trafficking is the second mechanism, geared specifically towards identifying, reporting and addressing instances of human-trafficking.

Third, the Constitutional Court, an institution unique to St. Marten within the Kingdom, is established to evaluate the constitutionality of the provisions of legislation approved by Parliament. In so doing, St. Maarten does have robust institutions that are able to guarantee that fundamental human rights are protected, it was stated in the release.

The committee questioned the commonly-used pre-trial detention, to which the Minister indicate that pre-trial detention was a last resort, especially when it came to youth detention He said also that the Ministry of Justice had that very week signed an agreement to revisit the use of electronic monitoring, which will mean an alternative form of correction will once again be available in St. Maarten.

He stressed that this was very important to him, as detention should be seen more as a means to correct and less a means to persecute. In so doing, he also touched on the plan of approach that will address more skill- and learning-opportunities for detainees.

The committee voiced its concerns about the fact that national legislation in all four countries of the Kingdom allowed for the treating of juveniles 16-17 years of age as adults if the crime they committed was particularly heinous. Each country indicated that this was done only in the most severe cases and that there is a separate and very-well-regulated and -followed youth detention code.

Due to the highly multi-ethnic makeup of the St. Maarten society, arrests and acts of cruelty made on the basis of race or ethnic background have not proven to be a problem, as it was made out to be during the line of questioning to the Netherlands.

The Minister said also that discrimination on any grounds, including on the basis of one’s sexual orientation, a question posed by the Committee, was unconstitutional. If persons in detention believe they have been discriminated against, on any basis, they have the right to go to the Prison Supervisory Board as well as to file a complaint with the Ombudsman.

He further elaborated that, as part of their basic training, law enforcement agents are educated in the provisions of the Convention, including the rights of persons once they are detained and the importance of using proportional force.

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