Published On: Mon, Jun 27th, 2022

Factsheet: “Only a small minority prefers complete independence”

PHILIPSBURG — Is St. Maarten completely decolonized or is there still work to be done? That is the central question in a factsheet three experts put together for the Dutch Second Chamber. The answer remains a matter of opinion, so the proponents and the opponents of the decolonization debate all have something to hang on to.

The authors of the factsheet are prof. dr. Gerard Hoogers (National University of Groningen), prof. dr. Gert Oostindie and dr. Wouter Veenendaal (both Leiden University). The authors examined historic, legal and socioeconomic aspects of the issue.

The United Nations Charter of June 26, 1945, contains a chapter about member states and their colonial possessions. Central to this chapter is article 73 that obliges member states to report about political, constitutional and socioeconomic developments in these territories, as long as they have not obtained a full measure of self-governance.

In 1946 the Dutch Indies, Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles were placed on the list of non-self-governing territories. After the debacle with the Dutch Indies, the Netherlands came up with interim regulations that gave Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles a far-reaching form of self-governance. The Netherlands then stopped reporting to the UN, saying that the information needed for such reports now belonged to Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. The UN did not accept this point of view and obliged the Netherlands to continue reporting. The Dutch ignored this order and the UN did nothing about it because the Kingdom Charter was about to become a reality.

The Charter came into being on December 15, 1954. “According to the three countries involved,” the factsheet states, “the decolonization process was formally closed.” The explanatory notes with the Charter left the door open for future independence.

In 1955 the Netherlands presented the Kingdom Charter to the United Nations and stated that its obligation to report had now been cancelled because Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles had obtained their full measure of self-governance.

Many countries hesitated because the king would still appoint the governor, because the kingdom could use article 44 to influence the contents of local constitutions and because they considered the difference between the Netherlands and the kingdom as “highly formal.” They did not give a lot of attention to the fact that both countries had become autonomous in many fields.

On December 15, 1955, the UN released the kingdom of its obligation to report about developments in Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles (Resolution 945[X]). Today, this is still the case, but the resolution did not explicitly state that the countries had obtained a fill measure of self-government.

In 1960 the UN approved a resolution that stated that independence is the only possible outcome of decolonization. But a day later, at the initiative of the Netherlands, it passed a watered-down resolution. This one stated that decolonization is also acceptable if there is a free association or integration with an independent state.

In 1970 the UN confirmed that exercising the right of self-determination does not necessarily lead to independence. Since that year, the UN has not intervened anymore in the mutual relationships of the countries in the kingdom.

Since 10-10-10, the date when St. Maarten became an autonomous country in the kingdom, Statia, Bonaire and St. Maarten have complained on different occasions to the UN about colonial and racist behavior by the Netherlands. In 2020 the parliament in St. Maarten passed a motion that called for complete independence and a year later the country filed a complaint with the UN-rapporteur for racism. None of these complaints have resulted in action by the United Nations.

So where does all this leave St. Maarten and the movement that argues that it is time to complete the decolonization process? According to the factsheet, resolution 945(X) is the only UN-resolution that discharges member states of reporting, while it does not establish that the relevant territories have obtained a full measure of self-government.

That is weird, the authors of the factsheet admit: “The General Assembly of the UN emphasized that member states with overseas territories have to report as long as there is no full measure of self-governance.”

The position of the Netherlands and thereby of the kingdom is different: “Abolishing mandatory reporting means that the countries have a full measure of self-government.”

The factsheet-authors concede that the countries are free to choose for independence. “But this right is based on the constitutional right of the kingdom and not on international law that regulates the right to self-determination.”

Are citizens on the islands of the former Netherlands Antilles lying awake at night over these issues? Not really, the authors claim. “Citizens are not that much busy with constitutional and political questions, but more with looking for ways to improve the often not so brilliant circumstances of their lives.”

Referendums and surveys conducted over the past decennia show that “only a small minority prefers complete independence.”

This does not mean that people are happy with the current constitutional framework. “Surveys from 1998 and 2015 show that the negative opinion about the way the Netherlands is treating the islands has become stronger. The larger role the Netherlands is playing in the Caribbean meets with a lot of resistance.”

The authors note that citizens do express reproaches about neocolonialism and recolonization, but that they hardly ever link this to article 73 of the UN Charter.

In 2017, the Independence for St. Maarten Foundation organized a conference about possible independence for St. Maarten. Dr. Carlyle Corbin, a former politician from the American Virgin Islands and an expert in the fields of decolonization and the UN Charter, addressed this conference.

After this event, St. Maarten, Statia and Bonaire established the Caribbean Progressive Alliance. Its objective is to get Bonaire and Statia back on the UN-list of non-self-governing territories and complete independence for St. Maarten.

While this sounds rather ambitious, the authors tone it down. “There is a very small number of people and organizations involved. These discussions do not play a role among the population.”