St. Maarten: US law firm was contracted before decolonization motion

PHILIPSBURG - Even before the handling of the motion to finalize the decolonization process, the St. Maarten Parliament moved to seek the legal services of a Washington DC- based law firm which will assist with achieving its goals. The idea is to also include Curaçao and Aruba in the process.

The two goals described in a retainer agreement of the Coharis Law Group of October 1, 2020, which is in the hands of the St. Maarten newspaper, The Daily Herald, are to: complete the decolonization process by means of the Round Table Conference (RTC) in May and June next year, culminating in an agreement with the Netherlands in July, and to assist in pursuing reparations from the Netherlands.

The Coharis Law Group sent the engagement agreement for Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten to Member of the St. Maarten Parliament Grisha Heyliger-Marten on October 1, who in turn immediately forwarded it to President of Parliament Rolando Brison and first Vice-president William Marlin. The proposal was forwarded to Curaçao and Aruba a few days later.

In the retainer agreement, Peter Coharis stated that he was delighted that “the parliaments, political parties, foundations, individuals and/or other civil society members of Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten” had retained the law firm to work on the islands’ behalf.

Each of the three countries will pay a fixed fee of US $7,000 per month, which the law firm stated was only a fraction of the regular price that it charges and represents a discount of 91 per cent.

The agreement also states a contingency fee, a percentage that will be paid to the law firm out of the reparations that the Netherlands would pay, if awarded, the law firm would be paid a contingency fee of 0.085 per cent. The rest, 99.915 per cent would go to the countries.

In the agreement it is stated that the law firm will provide legal services, including counselling, strategic advice, negotiations and similar service requested by the countries in protecting and promoting their goals and interests, and to achieve their objectives.

The first action would be to pursue efforts in the United Nations (UN) and international bodies. The law firm would assist the countries to reach out to the UN Special Committee on Decolonization, the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and to the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

These UN bodies would be asked to examine and report on the situation in the three Dutch Caribbean countries. “By validating the political realities that the islands want addressed, a report of the Special Committee on Decolonization would be very effective to persuade the Dutch government to participate at a 2021 RTC. Even the prospect of such an investigation and report would likely help persuade the Netherlands to participate.”

It was pointed out in the agreement that the July 2015 report by the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, based on its visit to the Netherlands and Curaçao a year before, merits a follow-up report, especially since it appears that the islands’ current concerns were not previously considered.

The basis for turning to the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, an independent human rights expert, appointed by the UN, would be an August 2019 report that “addresses the human rights obligations of (UN) Member States in relation to reparations for racial discrimination rooted in slavery and colonialism.”

The law firm would assist the countries in their efforts to attract regional and international support for the 2021 RTC negotiations, including organizations such as CARICOM and the CARICOM Reparations Committee, but also members of the Dutch government, Dutch parliamentarians and others.

The law firm would further assist Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten in reviewing the construction that has “prevented them from securing their rights and sovereignty” and also the “practical operation of various legal institutions within the Kingdom that have resulted in the ongoing denial of human rights” in the countries.

As for the RTC, the law firm would assist with the development of a strategy for the RTC negotiations, in the form of helping to structure the format, to develop agendas, to draft and review legal political reform proposals, and if needed direct support for the negotiation teams at the RTC itself. The end result should be the signing of an agreement with the Dutch government in July 2021.

The law firm will assist the countries to pursue damages from the Netherlands for: the injuries and deprivations that the Dutch inflicted on the islands and their people during Dutch colonialism and slavery, violations of the international legal obligations in the post-WWII period, and the legacy harms that will continue to injure the islands and their citizens for the foreseeable future.




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