Justice Day ceremony focuses on defining relationships

POSTED: 07/18/11 11:43 AM

GREAT BAY – St. Maarten’s place in helping to fight cross border crime in the region and the world was the focus of Sunday’s International Justice Day Observance in front of the Government Administration Building in Philipsburg. The ceremony and a march through the capital were the culmination of a week of events to mark the occasion.

“The Ministry of Justice believes that a strong functional cooperation and understanding amongst our new country and French St. Martin, Anguilla, the BES Islands and every other counterpart inside and outside of our region is not only necessary, but possible,” ministry staffer Ludmila Duncan said in her opening address.

“We are not only standing in arms with other nations across the world to support the Rome statutes international justice system, but more importantly recognize our own interpretation of the importance of international or trans-island justice,” she added.

Anguilla’s Chief Minister Hubert Hughes stressed that cooperation between St. Maarten, St. Martin and Anguilla is also about protecting the families that live on the three islands. It was also an opportunity for him to bash the British government’s record in protecting the people of Anguilla.

“Unfortunately Britain has an undeclared war against the people of Anguilla and justice does not exist in Anguilla. There is no democracy because we are governed by a British governor’s dictator. Too much power in the hands of one man. That is not democracy,” Hughes said.

The chief minister accused the governor of interfering with the justice system, and manipulating every system – justice include. He also expressed displeasure that the governor can order the attorney general to “take criminal cases out of court”. Hughes said the British government has blocked attempts at functional cooperation with the European Union, cooperation with the French on infrastructure, utilities – water and electricity – and the expansion of the airport.

“Now we have to be struggling with Dutch St. Maarten and Juliana to get our tourists in. So the British has undermined the livelihood of the people of Anguilla and I want the world to know that there is an undeclared war and we will fight until we are free. The only option for us is self determination and that means Anguilla will have to do like all the other territories in the region and seek total independence from Britain,” Hughes said.

President of the Collectivite of St. Martin Frantz Gumbs stressed that the people of the three countries are law abiding citizens for most the part, while some take the risk of being “confronted with the police or public prosecutor be engaging in criminal activity.” He also pointed out that St. Martin, St. Maarten and Anguilla must intensify their cooperation because of how criminals can move with veritable ease from territory to the next, even though the agreements are complex and does not always match the local situation.

“That is why Madame Prime Minister the Collectivite of St. Martin adheres to what we called day before yesterday the bottom up approach. Although all of the treaties are not perfectly established there is, never the less, practical cooperation taking place every day because of persons in the police or in the judicial system exchanging information and thus reaching results. It is now, more than urgent, that all concerned finalize the agreements,” Gumbs said.

The senior official from the St. Martin believes that finalizing formal agreements will allow for criminals to have no safe haven by committing a crime on either side and running to another side of the island. Agreements are also necessary to ensure that money obtained from criminal activities here does not end up in an Anguillan bank earning interest while the convict serves his sentence.

“I am happy for his extra opportunity given to people of St. Maarten and people of Anguilla and people of St. Martin to meet and to exchange and to say what they think should be done for themselves and their people. It is an opportunity for all of us to become more conscious of the road ahead for better justice to the benefit of all our peoples,” Gumbs said.

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams spoke of the relatively short time St. Maarten has had to establish itself in the international justice community. She also reflected on the fact that the country remains open and continues to be challenged on defining how foreign relations is administered because of delineation of responsibilities and a world that is consistently shifting.

“Much more attention must be given to the stipulation that Kingdom matters are regulated in consonance with all the countries in the Kingdom and this, in my opinion and without doubt, is a topic for discussion when we discuss the future of the Dutch Kingdom later this year,” the prime minister said.

The prelude led to Wescot-Williams pointing out that St. Maarten – a young country – must “incessantly note with interest and concern what is playing out on regional and international platforms because of amongst other things cross border crimes.” She also pointed out that Sunday’s commemoration also offered a chance for the island to scrutinize its justice system which she believes needs improvement.

“We are not there yet. And in fighting crime, all of our resources are being tested and while we may want to be the model justice administration combating crime where it hurts most with all means that are available must be a priority to all of us,” Wescot-Williams said.

Justice Minister Roland Duncan used Sunday’s ceremony to point out yet again that the Justice Ministry – which has never existed here – had to “hit the ground running” and admit that it’d “stumbled a little bit here and there” even though there is good will. He also announced that he’s working to increase the salaries of the people working in the justice system without raising taxes and to solve the large challenges with the prison, immigration and with the Coast Guard. He also had affirmations that he would continue to seek partnerships with islands in the sub-region.

“To Anguilla – We have come to you and we are there as brothers and sisters and I too have family from Anguilla, but we are here as St. Maarten to work with you as we have approached you on. The French side we’re two hands on one stomach. We have the treaties we’re working on and we appreciate the fact that France has shown, and is showing the interest in dealing with us, and we will deal because together we are strong and together we will combat cross border crime etc.,” Duncan said.

There was also a pledge to continue working with the Kingdom partners – the Netherlands, Curacao and Aruba – despite the continued differences of opinion and lack of recognition of the St. Maarten’s successes.


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