A rule for one is a rule for all: The meaning of citizenship today

POSTED: 06/17/13 11:41 AM

St. Maarten / By Jason Lista – The recent immigrant law proposal coming out of The Hague was justifiably criticized by the Council of State. The law targeted Dutch nationals from the island of Curacao and would have required them to undergo distinct procedures that other Dutch nationals of non-Curacaolenean origin would not be subject to. Such a law would go against the ideal of universal citizenship and accepted international norms. So long as there is a Kingdom of the Netherlands and those islands remain within it, we will have “undivided Dutch citizenship” as the Council of State put it recently it in its advice to the Dutch Parliament, citing among other documents, the Dutch constitution. Article 1 plainly states that “all persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever shall not be permitted.” That means there ought to be no distinction among holders of Dutch nationality.

“Arubans,” “St. Maarteners,” or “Curacaoleneans,” for example, are not separately defined peoples. They are Dutch citizens like their European countrymen, with the same rights, duties, and obligations when they choose to live in the European part of the Kingdom. When people from St. Maarten travel abroad they use a Dutch passport. On that passport is a line that specifies nationality. That line does not say St. Maartener. It says Dutch. Unless St. Maarten becomes sovereign and politically independent, it will remain that way.

In ancient times, citizenship was often conferred on a select group of people, usually wealthy or able bodied men capable of bearing arms in defense of the state. Today, in modern liberal democratic countries, citizenship has a specific meaning. It is a horizontal, not vertical, concept. In other words, there is only one class of citizen and all are equal under the law. A citizen enjoys the full protection of that law, and they have specific rights as well as corresponding obligations to their land. Citizenship under the Western model is not based on race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Such distinctions would be contrary to the ideals of equality and liberty so central to democracy.

The concept applies here too in St. Maarten when people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds become naturalized citizens of the Kingdom. Just as it is in the Dutch constitution, it is also clearly outlined in Article 16 of the St. Maarten constitution: “Everyone in Sint Maarten shall be treated equally in equivalent circumstances. Discrimination on grounds of religion, belief, political persuasion, race, colour of skin, sex, language, national or social origins, membership of a national minority, wealth, birth or and any other ground whatsoever is prohibited.” This is generally in line with accepted norms and practice in the Western world.

In the past, the old South of the US was notorious for its “Jim Crow” laws designed to harass and discriminate against African-Americans, encircling them in a social prison of invisible bars. A class of “superior” citizens and of “inferior” citizens, however, is a contradiction of the modern concept of citizenship, and was a serious moral and political dilemma for the US. Under pressure from the Civil Rights movement, led by luminous figures as Dr. Martin Luther King, such laws were found to be unconstitutional and against the spirit of the equality of all citizens.

This spirit of the essential equality of all citizens before the law holds true today for a constitutional monarchy like the Netherlands. Regardless of whether a citizen is from the Caribbean part of the Kingdom or the European part, they are all Dutch citizens equally.

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