15 December 2009

The Constitutional Tragedy of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba in the Caribbean

Summary of a Presentation by Mr. Eugene R. Abdul, LLM
former Governor of St.Eustatius and former Lt.Governor of Bonaire

Seminar on Independence held in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles
27th November 2009

After an analysis of the concepts ‘self-determination’ and ‘people’ in international law, Mr.Abdul briefly describes the constitutional process on the islands of Bonaire, St.Eustatius and Saba (the so-called BES-islands),starting with the constitutional referendums held in 2004/2005. He states that in accordance with international law the right of self-determination is a human right and that only peoples – and not their elected representatives - are holders of the right of self-determination.

He is of the opinion that if the present constitutional process continues unchanged none of the 3 BES-islands will eventually obtain the constitutional status their peoples really opted for in referendums held in 2004 and 2005. He states that during those referendums Bonaire opted for direct links with Holland, St.Eustatius for maintaining the Netherlands Antilles and Saba for becoming a ‘Crown Island’, a constitutional status comparable to Anguilla.In the Final Declaration of October 2006 elected representatives (!) of the 3 Dutch-Antillean islands in an agreement with the Netherlands decided that Bonaire, St.Eustatius and Saba would become ‘public entities’ based on article 134 of the Dutch Constitution, resulting in integration,one of the 3 internationally recognized forms of reaching a ‘full measure of self-government’ described in U.N. Resolution 1541.

Mr.Abdul purports that in the 2004 and 2005 referendums none of the peoples of the 3 islands opted for integration.He is of the opinion that the peoples of the 3 islands should decide explicitly in new referendums whether they want integration with the Netherlands or not. That would be the only way to comply with Principle IX of U.N. Resolution 1541 stating inter alia that ‘the integration should be the result of the freely expressed wishes of the territory’s peoples acting with full knowledge of the changes in their status, their wishes having been expressed through informed and democratic processes, impartially conducted and based on adult suffrage….’.

He argues that ratification of the Final Declaration of October 2006 in the respective Island Councils of the 3 BES-islands based on international law is not sufficient to legitimize integration. Mr.Abdul concludes that dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles should be postponed until the islands Bonaire, St.Eustatius and Saba in a (new) referendum explicitly opt for integration into the Netherlands. He states that the Federal Government of the Netherlands Antilles based on article 43 paragraph 1 of the Charter of the Kingdom of the Netherlands must take care of realization of fundamental rights and liberties, legal security and good governance and that the Federal Government cannot allow the ‘annexation’ of the 3 islands by the Netherlands without complying with international law.

According to Mr.Abdul also the Kingdom Government has an obligation under article 43 paragraph 2 of the same Charter to guarantee due compliance with international law in this matter.