Court rules June 27 on American-Dutch Friendship Treaty dispute

POSTED: 06/9/11 12:55 PM

St. Maarten – Judge mr. R.W.J. van Veen will pronounce his verdict in the case of Ricardo Perez vs. Justice Minister Roland Duncan on June 27. Perez, who filed a request to be admitted by right to St. Maarten in May 2010, wants to know whether the American-Dutch Friendship Treaty is directly applicable in St. Maarten. If this is so, American citizens in St. Maarten are subject to the same rules (and entitled to the same rights) as European Dutchmen. The Justice Minister contests this.

Perez said yesterday before the court hearing that he is not, as we reported incorrectly on Tuesday, “fed up with the fact that he has to apply for work permits.” He is looking for answers in a peaceful manner. “I just want to know whether the treaty applies. If this turns out to be not the case, I’ll do whatever is required from me.”

The Justice Ministry bases its position that the treaty is not directly applicable on a court ruling that went against The Crew’s Nest bar and restaurant. In that case, the company had applied for a director’s license for its employee Michael Leblanc. The Appeals Court found no grounds for ordering the government to take a new decision about this request, because Leblanc is an employee and not someone who is about to take over the business and function as its director. The ruling did not contain any reference to the Friendship Treaty.
Yesterday the attorney for Perez, mr. W.A. van Sambeek noted that the minister’s resistance against declaring the treaty directly applicable (as reported in our Tuesday’s edition) “shows that everything is being done to get out of the direct working of the treaty.”

Van Sambeek said that the minister’s position “had triggered representatives of the United States to put questions to St. Maarten and that the matter has been brought to the attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague. The position that has been taken there is that the treaty applies and that they wonder what is happening here.”

Van Sambeek states that “the Minister cannot deny that such a letter (about the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – ed.) exists,” and he invited the Minister to submit a copy of it to the court.

The attorney said that States have to abide in good faith by commitments they have agreed to in a treaty, based on an article from the Treaty of Vienna about legislation pertaining to international treaties. “Abiding by these treaties is assumed; otherwise international legal transactions are hardly feasible.”

Van Sambeek states that the only limitations in the treaty refer to foreign exchange dealings, “but not to the equal treatment of European Dutch and American citizens in this part of the Kingdom.”

Duncan’s argument that the island’s small-scale and vulnerable economy needs to be protected is not an argument that can be used against his client Perez, because his business is established in St. Maarten and because he complies with the regulations for establishing a business.

It is up to St. Maarten “to negotiate about amendments to the treaty on the Kingdom level, or to make other agreements about the admission of Dutch citizens that were born in Europe,” van Sambeek stated.

He furthermore pointed out that the treaty does not leave the Justice Minister the freedom for his own interpretation. “In my client’s request to be admitted by right, the minister should have considered the Friendship Treaty.”

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