Dutch Kingdom Justice Ministers meet and sign agreements

POSTED: 01/9/14 2:06 AM

“Shoulder to shoulder we stand together”

St. Maarten – The four Justice Ministers of the constituent countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (St. Maarten, Curacao, Aruba, and the Netherlands) held their first four party meeting of 2014. It was a morning long session at the Divi Little Bay Hotel on the war against crime, in particular organized crime, and other areas of much needed judicial cooperation. The Ministers then signed two cooperative agreements regulating the movement of detainees within the various countries and an agreement on sharing prison space, something St. Maarten sorely needs.

These kinds of joint meetings are held every six months and the Minister of the host country acts as chair for the meeting. In this case, St. Maarten’s Dennis Richardson chaired the meeting with his colleagues. He said it was a “cordial and cooperative atmosphere, with each country demonstrating understanding on being open, practical, and effective cooperation” and that “all of this was in the spirit of the Charter of the Kingdom, each one standing on its own feet, but willing to help each other.”

Dutch Minister of Justice Ivo Opstelten concurred. “It was an excellent meeting” that concentrated on combating organized crime, like the illicit drugs and arms trade, human trafficking, and money laundering, he said. “Together we stand strong. We agree on our priorities.” He added that there was a Dutch saying, “Shoulder to shoulder we stand together” in this fight.

Minister Richardson said they discussed an extensive 15 point agenda and “succeeded in handling all topics in one morning – a record for the Kingdom!”

“We have been able to cooperate in a very effective way,” Aruban Justice Minister Arthur Dowers said. “We cannot do this battle alone.”

Minister Richardson, for example, pointed out that the drugs trade generates around $80 billion and with operational costs of about $10 billion, far exceeding the financial resources of a small country like St. Maarten, and even making it extremely difficult for larger countries like the Netherlands to combat. That’s why international and cross border cooperation is crucial in order to be effective. Criminal gangs also do not operate with the legal checks and balances that a government must adhere to, giving them greater flexibility and speed.

The stiff budget cuts are an immediate concern for St. Maarten’s Justice Ministry, but Minister Richardson assured that “there is a strategy,” one that will concentrate more on quality, like better surveillance methods. For example, through the use of cameras or closed circuit television (CCTV), “the camera project,” as Minister Richardson put it.

The Minister further said that “the attention to justice has improved significantly since 10-10-10.” He briefly described how poorly equipped and understaffed the island’s law enforcement entities were before the constitutional change.

The Coast Guard plans were discussed and agreed on for the next 3 years. And instead of a centralized instructional institution for law enforcement officers, it was agreed that this would be decentralized and educators will be sent to the various countries within the Kingdom instead, to shave costs. The costs of the Detective Collaboration Team (RST) were also discussed as to how they would be spread across the Kingdom.

“The methods of monitoring prison standards were also established in this meeting,” Minister Richardson said, ensuring that prisons meet international norms on the prevention of torture. It was decided that for St. Maarten and Curacao, the Council on Law Enforcement, together with Aruba, would form the committee that monitor on a yearly basis that these norms are met.

The next meeting will be in June of this year and held in Curacao with its Justice Minister acting as chair.


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