DH | Inmates give minister ultimatum to improve Pointe Blanche prison

De Pointe Blanche-gevangenis op Sint-Maarten, eerder in 2019 Tim van Dijk | NOS

POINTE BLANCHE–The inmates of Pointe Blanche prison who filed an injunction seeking their transfer to safe penitentiaries in Bonaire and in the Netherlands may have lost a battle last week Friday, when the judge declared their case against Country St. Maarten and the Minister of Justice inadmissible, but they are far from defeated.

On Monday, their lawyers sent a letter to Justice Minister Anna Richardson in which they set a seven-day ultimatum to bring the circumstances in the prison to an “acceptable security and humanitarian level.”

“It is your responsibility to ensure that the living conditions in the detention centre are decent and that the safety of the detainees is guaranteed,” Dean of the St. Maarten Bar Association Geert Hatzmann, lawyer of the Pointe Blanche Inmates Association Sjamira Roseburg and attorney-at-law Shaira R. Bommel stated in Monday’s letter to the minister.

If the prisoners’ demands are not met within seven days, the lawyers said they would be forced to start a new legal procedure to enforce their requests in Court.

On February 17, a group of 37 detainees and their lawyers sent a letter to former Minister of Justice Egbert Doran pertaining to the “unacceptable” detention circumstances in Pointe Blanche prison and urged him to put an end to this by transferring the detainees to safe prisons in the Netherlands or in Bonaire.

However, Doran and Richardson, who replaced him as justice minister shortly thereafter, failed to respond and did nothing to improve the conditions under which the inmates are detained, the lawyers said Monday. Therefore, they felt compelled to file an injunction to enforce a decision on this matter.

During the initial summary proceedings, Country St. Maarten’s lawyer Aernout Kraaijeveld successfully argued that the inmates’ demands could not be allowed because St. Maarten is dependent on the cooperation of the Netherlands for the transfer of detainees and the Netherlands would not wish to cooperate.

On Friday, the Judge in the Court of First Instance accepted government’s arguments and declared the inmates’ case inadmissible.

The lawyers do not believe that the justice minister has actually tried to seek Dutch cooperation where the housing of inmates from St. Maarten is concerned. They said the Court’s ruling of June 19, 2020, has “rewarded” the minister for her “stubbornness, unwillingness, negligence and incompetence.”

However, according to the lawyers, the minister’s win in Court is a pyrrhic victory, because in hiding behind the “perceived reluctance” of the Netherlands the minister has left herself with a big problem.

“If it is not possible for St. Maarten prisoners to be admitted by the Netherlands and Bonaire, as you claim, during the period necessary to raise the detention conditions in St. Maarten to an acceptable security and humanitarian level, the consequence is that those circumstances must immediately be, or actually should already be raised to an acceptable level,” the lawyers argue.

In its ruling of October 29, 2019, the Court of First Instance held St. Maarten responsible for maintaining a decent prison, but up to today the Pointe Blanche prison is still an inhumane and dangerous place.

“By allowing this situation to exist, Country St. Maarten violates its duty of care towards all detainees in the house of detention and commits an unlawful government act against them,” according to the three lawyers.

They sent their letter to the minister on behalf of 30 detainees, as seven of the original group of 37 have in the meantime been released.

Bron; Daily Herald

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