The Daily Herald writes that the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights in an advice to the Dutch Government stated on Thursday that constitutional evaluation of the public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba in 2015 should include the guarantee of a minimum level of human rights with focus on a decent standard of living and combating of poverty.
The Netherlands is responsible for human rights in the Caribbean Netherlands since the islands became public entities on October 10, 2010. It is a task and responsibility of the Dutch Government to guarantee a minimum level of rights from the human rights conventions in both the Caribbean Netherlands and the European part of the Netherlands. The Dutch Government should strive for “complete implementation” of these rights, while differentiation between the islands and the motherland should only be allowed in the case of unequal situations. The Dutch Government has to give a clear, objective justification in cases of differentiation.
A delegation of the human rights institute visited Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba in November 2013. They were confronted with stories of poverty, expensive basic food products including extremely high prices for fruits and vegetables, excessive Dutch regulation and the poor or non-existent possibilities in the area of alternative and youth detention.
The institute advised the Dutch Government to also focus in the 2015 evaluation on the social effects of the constitutional change in the daily life of citizens on the islands. It was pointed out that the Council of State had also recommended this. According to the watch dog organisation, human rights should be a leading factor in the process to raise the social, healthcare, security and educational facilities on the islands to an acceptable level. “If there was something that became very clear during the working visit of the institute, it was that poverty was a daily reality for many inhabitants of the Caribbean Netherlands. The net family income and the purchasing power have sharply decreased. An estimated 60 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.” Local experts told the delegation that some families live in extreme poverty which they are ashamed of. The delegation heard stories of people who have not eaten for days, thieves who sometimes only steal the contents of the fridge and leave expensive goods, people working two, three jobs who have no time left for their children, physical violence, obesity and poor health. According to the local experts, an integral approach and combined action of the Dutch Government and the island governments is necessary to solve these problems. The United National Children Fund UNICEF Netherlands has also voiced similar urgent pleas.
The institute pressed on the right to having a decent standard of living as secured in various international conventions. “The Netherlands has to take appropriate measures to secure this right.” The Netherlands should also ensure that the international children rights convention is lived up to, that children have access to decent and sufficient nutrition and to prevent malnourishment.
The human rights organisation also expressed its concerns about the excessive detention rate in the Caribbean Netherlands, which is some eight times higher than in the Netherlands. The visiting delegation was told that much was being invested in the upgrading of the police station, police cells and the prison, but that a low priority was given to prevention of crime and detention. There are almost no possibilities for alternative sentences. Legislation to detain people under a hospital order or to be committed to a youth custody centre is lacking and there is almost no forensic care.
The institution further repeated earlier concerns about the rights of suspects in St. Eustatius and Saba, especially the right to have access to a lawyer, as well as the right to respect family life of suspects and inmates from these two islands who are locked up on Bonaire.
The institute sent its advice on Wednesday to Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk, the Permanent Committees for Kingdom Relations of the First and Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, National Government Representative for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba Wilbert Stolte and the Executive Councils of the three islands.