Published On: Sun, Nov 22nd, 2020

Effects of the lack of rule of law

The effect of lack of the rule of law is a problem that does not discriminate, whether you are a corporation or a start-up, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, employed or unemployed, born in St Maarten or from another country. Being democratic is not enough for St. Maarten to function as a country. Good, healthy democratic societies are built on three pillars: peace and stability, economic development, and respect for the rule of law and human rights. 

One of the challenges of a democratic government is making sure that even in the midst of a pandemic, natural disasters, emergencies and passions, rule of law and the basic precepts of justice and liberty prevail. While the pandemic is first and foremost a public health crisis, we must not lose sight of related challenges that are consequential for containing this threat and for promoting a rapid and sustainable recovery of the economy.

Gaps in the rule of law risk worsening the COVID-19 crisis and undermining our ability to respond effectively. For instance, an increase in arrests runs counter to the need to decongest the prison, which has suffered disproportionally high infection rates, both among inmates and staff, spreading to the surrounding community. Also, the distribution of emergency aid, medical supplies, and economic stimuli provide ample opportunity for corruption and fraud. Without effective institutions that ensure transparency, accountability and oversight, much of it will not reach intended beneficiaries. This deepens the social, medical and economic crisis and compromises and delays recovery. 

Non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), although essential to halt transmission of the virus, have led to physical isolation, closure of schools and widespread job losses. Misuse of substances, particularly alcohol, is rising. Emerging evidence suggests that COVID-19 could even have direct neurological consequences. And as with many other features of this pandemic, not all people have been affected equally. People with salaried jobs are far less likely to be affected than those with informal, daily wage jobs, which include a substantial proportion of the workforce in this country. 

Unfortunately, evidence continues to mount that just when our society needs a strict rule of law to respond effectively to the pandemic, these critical norms of good governance, and the capacity to deliver them, are deteriorating. SZV confirms that the demand for mental health care has increased since the lockdown in March, yet many patients do not receive the guidance and treatment they need, resulting in an increase of crisis situations and recently several deaths. In some of these cases, unlawful use of force was applied by health workers and the police, violating human rights with unconsented medical treatment and forced injections.

The principle of bodily integrity sums up the right of each human being, including children, to autonomy and self-determination over their own body. It considers an unconsented physical intrusion as a human rights violation. While the principle has traditionally been raised in connection with practices such as torture and sexual abuse, bodily integrity has the potential to apply to a wide range of human rights violations. 

Here is a warning: a recently published study in the medical journal The Lancet revealed that survivors of COVID-19 appear to be at increased risk of psychiatric disorders. These findings have implications for clinical services and the way the existing health and justice laws are upheld, as literally everyone is at risk of contracting coronavirus disease and subsequently may be in need of mental health care. If you are not yet a firm believer in the rule of law as the foundation for all of our basic rights, now is the time to become one.