St. Maarten Justice Ministry keeps fighting Dutch-American Friendship Treaty: American employee gets her rights in courtPOSTED: 05/28/14 11:05 PM
St. Maarten – Consistent court rulings over the past couple of years have given American citizens the right to be in St. Maarten under the protocol of the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty, but according to attorney Vivian Choennie not much has changed since then. “After the ruling in Talmi vs. the Minister of Justice requests for admittance by right have only been granted to those who were entrepreneurs or who had a key function in a company,” the attorney wrote in an email to this newspaper yesterday.
In September 2012, the Court in First Instance ruled against the Ministry of Justice in three cases where American citizens sought admittance by right. Nine days after that court ruling, the first American received a decision from the Ministry of Justice – at the time Roland Duncan – that she and her husband would be admitted by right as the court ruling ordered. The other plaintiffs received similar ministerial decisions.
Yet not even a year later, on May 14, 2013 the same minister denied admission by right to Hilary Noelle Grant, who works as a sales associate for Deliwo Administrative Services since January of last year. Grant had to jump through the same hoops as Lorraine Talmi, her husband Shai, Tina Marie Abbott and Ricardo Perez and his family did before her. She went to court when the ministry denied her admittance by right under the protocol of the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty.
This treaty, signed in 1954 between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United States gives American citizens in St. Maarten the same rights as European Dutch citizens. They are allowed to be in St. Maarten – for any reason – as long as they are able to support themselves, have a roof over their head, medical insurance and a clean police record. Grant meets all these requirements.
In spite of that the attorney for the Ministry of Justice, Amador Muller, stuck to the old argument that the treaty’s objective is to simplify trade between the Kingdom and the United States. Americans are allowed to be in St. Maarten to trade or to run a company in which they have invested significant capital. Because Grant does none of that – she is an employee – the ministry denied her request.
Muller furthermore stated, based on the treaty, that Americans are not entitled to a treatment that is more favorable than that for European Dutch citizens.
In its verdict, the court confirmed the findings from earlier rulings. “The court has already in several consistent rulings established that the articles of the Friendship Treaty and the Protocol can only be explained so that for American citizens the same rules apply as for European Dutch citizens.”
The court furthermore confirmed that American citizens must be admitted if they want to reside in St. Maarten “for other purposes” (other than investing or working in key functions) and that the rules that apply to European Dutch citizens also apply to Americans.
The court concluded that the Ministry was wrong by not applying the articles of the Friendship Treaty correctly. The decree that denied Grant admission by right therefore lacks sound motivation. The court ordered the ministry to take a decision about Grant’s request within six weeks.
While attorney Vivian Choennie is satisfied with the ruling in favor of her client, she is less pleased with the attitude of the Justice Ministry. “This is the first time and American employee has taken this to court. This ruling has created another precedent, but the Ministry of Justice sticks to its own interpretation of the Friendship Treaty and the Protocol,” she said with a reference to guidelines the minister of justice issued in May 2012, a few months before the court sided with other Americans in this quest for the rights the treaty gives them.