22 September 2015

Sint Eustatius seeks U.N. support against Dutch colonial practices

Statia takes its cause to the UN

A four-member Statia delegation will be meeting with the United Nations’ Decolonisation Committee this week in an effort to seek the support of international organisations such as the UN to intervene on the island’s behalf in the struggle with the Dutch Government for more autonomy and the right of self-determination.

Commissioner of Constitutional Affairs Reginald Zaandam was very clear as he was about to leave for New York on Saturday: The Netherlands, as Statia’s mother country has a responsibility and duty to work with St. Eustatius, and not to put up stumbling blocks and even boycott the public entity.

“The UN must be made aware of the fact that while the Netherlands made billions of euros available to Greece through the European Union, of which it is certain that 90 per cent or more will be written off, The Hague uses all sorts of petty reasons and excuses to substantiate as to why they cannot provide our people with the same living standard as those living in the Netherlands and why they cannot spend a couple of 100 million euros to eradicate the deprivation in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom,” Zaandam told The Daily Herald.

“We had sincerely hoped that the Netherlands would have assisted in finding ways to help the islands to foment economic growth. But I have come to believe that they rather keep us as beggars because that way they can freely execute their neo-colonial policies,” he said.

The Commissioner accused The Hague of treating the refugees better than the Statia residents. “Imagine refugees obtain the rights to the many (social) provisions available in the Netherlands, under the denominator humanitarian support, in comparison to our people that are kept to a bare minimum.”

He said it was “unacceptable” that refugees were being treated better than people with a Dutch passport living in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom. “One wonders if we should not opt for the refugee status.”

Referring to the history of St. Eustatius and its prosperous times in the 18th century, Zaandam said, “It is a bloody shame that The Hague neglects the obligation to credit St. Eustatius for a substantial part of the wealth they are enjoying now. After all, St. Eustatius was sacrificed in too many ways to mention in the Dutch interest.”

Zaandam said that he hoped to make the UN aware of the unbecoming practices of the Netherlands. “Hopefully this international organisation will see the unsupported and strong manipulated side of the Dutch in its behaviour where it comes to dealing with the decolonisation process.”

The Statia delegation, which besides Zaandam consists of Members of the Island Council Clyde van Putten (PLP) and Reuben Merkman (UPC), and advisor Xavier Blackman, will also table arguments to convince the UN Decolonisation Committee to place St. Eustatius back on the UN’s list of Non-Self-Governing Territories in accordance with Chapter XI of the UN Charter.

Zaandam explained that being on this list guaranteed that the island’s interests as occupant of the dependent territory St. Eustatius was paramount and required the Netherlands as a member state in control of the island, as a non-self-governing territory, to submit annual information reports concerning Statia’s development.

In so doing, an appeal upon the UN will be made to call the Netherlands to task regarding human rights, the fostering of social and economic development in St. Eustatius and to facilitate the decolonisation process without duress, the Commissioner added.

Noting that coming of age was generally a complex, hard process, Zaandam said that this phase, as part of the decolonisation process, besides being time consuming and challenging, required planning, understanding and especially commitment.

“There are enough examples in the world that portrays these struggles. Most of them are accompanied and accomplished by war and are laced with blood. People paying with their lives and blood for a better life in an accepted constitutional status. Often enough, it is the colonial mother country that does not want to let go and places hindrances just to be able to maintain their neo-colonial agenda.”

According to Zaandam, history was testament to the fact that the first and most difficult step in the decolonisation process took commitment. “After this step, the point of no return is passed and there is no going back. The Hague knows that. The first martyr in this process was Mr. Ricardo Tjie-A-Loi.”

Subsequently St. Eustatius was confronted with an instruction to get its finances in order and to improve the quality of the public administration. “On top of that The Hague secretly put a boycott in place. In first instance, this boycott only related to visits of dignitaries. But the reality proved to be different. All channels to the Dutch ministries have been bogged down and we are compelled to do everything through the office of the Rijksvertegenwoordiger (Kingdom representative).”

But, Zaandam warned, “The Hague must know that the words giving up were not in the vocabulary of the current government coalition. Furthermore, we are giving them notice that we are shedding our cocoon of “wie betaalt, bepaalt” (whoever pays, determines the outcome). It is our island, so anything regarding us will be done with our integral input.”

Breaking the Media Blackout in Western Sahara

Moroccan security forces charge against a group of Sahrawi women in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Courtesy of Equipe Media

LAAYOUNE, Occupied Western Sahara,  (IPS) - Ahmed Ettanji is looking for a flat in downtown Laayoune, a city 1,100 km south of Rabat. He only wants it for one day but it must have a rooftop terrace overlooking the square that will host the next pro-Sahrawi demonstration.

“Rooftop terraces are essential for us as they are the only places from which we can get a graphic testimony of the brutality we suffer from the Moroccan police,” Ettanji told IPS. This 26-year-old is one the leaders of the Equipe Media, a group of Sahrawi volunteers struggling to break the media blackout enforced by Rabat over the territory.

Ahmed Ettanji and a fellow Equipe Media activist edit video taken at a pro-independence demonstration in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara.

Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS
“There are no news agencies based here and foreign journalists are denied access, and even deported if caught inside,” stressed Ettanji.

Spanish journalist Luís de Vega is one of several foreign journalists who can confirm the activist´s claim – he was expelled in 2010 after spending eight years based in Rabat and declared persona non grata by the Moroccan authorities.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences,” de Vega told IPS over the phone, adding that he was “fully convinced” that his was an exemplary punishment because he was the foreign correspondent who had spent more time in Morocco.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences” – Spanish journalist Luís de Vega.

This year will mark four decades since this territory the size of Britain was annexed by Morocco after Spain pulled out from its last colony of Western Sahara.

Since the ceasefire signed in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front – the authority that the United Nations recognises as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people – Rabat has controlled almost the whole territory, including the entire Atlantic coast. The United Nations still labels Western Sahara as a “territory under an unfinished process of decolonisation”.

Mohamed Mayara, also a member of Equipe Media, is helping Ettanji to find the rooftop terrace. Like most his colleagues, he acknowledges having been arrested and tortured several times. The constant harassment, however, has not prevented him from working enthusiastically, although he admits that there are other limitations than those dealing with any underground activity:

“We set up the first group in 2009 but a majority of us are working on pure instinct. We have no training in media so we are learning journalism on the spot,” said Mayara, a Sahrawi born in the year of the invasion who writes reports and press releases in English and French. His father disappeared in the hands of the Moroccan army two months after he was born, and he says he has known nothing about him ever since.

Sustained crackdown

Today the majority of the Sahrawis live in the refugee camps in Tindouf, in Western Algeria. The members of Equipe Media say they have a “fluid communication” with the Polisario authorities based there. Other than sharing all the material they gather, they also work side by side with Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV. SADR stands for ‘Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’.

Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly
 for SADR TV in Laayoune. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Khatari, a 24-year-old journalist, recalls that she started working in 2010, after the Gdeim Izzik protest camp incidents in Laayoune. Originally a peaceful protest camp, Gdeim Izzik resulted in riots that spread to other Sahrawi cities when it was forcefully dismantled after 28 days on Nov. 8.

Western analysts such as Noam Chomsky have argued that the so-called “Arab Spring” did not start in Tunisia as is commonly argued, but rather in Laayoune.

“We have to work really hard and risk a lot to be able to counterbalance the propaganda spread by Rabat about everything happening here,” Khatari told IPS. The young activist added that she was last arrested in December 2014 for covering a pro-independence demonstration in June 2014. Unlike Mahmood al Lhaissan, her predecessor in SADR TV, Khatari was released after a few days in prison.

In a report released in March, Reporters Without Borders records al Lhaissan´s case. The activist was released provisionally on Feb. 25, eight months after his arrest in Laayoune, but he is still facing trial on charges of participating in an “armed gathering,” obstructing a public thoroughfare, attacking officials while they were on duty, and damaging public property.

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In the same report, Reporters Without Borders also denounces the deportation in February of French journalists Jean-Louis Perez and Pierre Chautard, who were reporting for France 3 on the economic and social situation in Morocco.

Before seizing their video recordings and putting them on a flight to Paris, the authorities arrested them at the headquarters of Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), one of the country’s leading human rights NGOs, which the interior ministry has accused of “undermining the actions of the security forces”.

Likewise, other major organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly denounced human rights abuses suffered by the Sahrawi people at the hands of Morocco over the last decades.

Despite several phone calls and e-mails, the Moroccan authorities did not respond to IPS’s requests for comments on these and other human rights violations allegedly committed in Western Sahara.

Back in downtown Laayoune, Equipe Media activists seemed to have found what they were looking for. The owner of the central apartment is a Sahrawi family. It could have not been otherwise.

“We would never ask a Moroccan such a thing,” said Ettanji from the rooftop terrace overlooking the spot where the upcoming protest would take place.

Edited by Phil Harris