SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - Coinciding with a structural crisis within the Dutch Kingdom, the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uprising of anti-racist activists worldwide, the University of St. Martin (USM) held its very first online seminar on Saturday, 20 June 2020 and broadcasted live from Zoom and Facebook to over three thousand viewers.
The full day webinar, titled Human Rights in the face of COVID-19: Labor, Economy, Education and Migrants, was an initiative co-sponsored by the Sint Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform (SMAPP), an alliance of trade unions and civil society organizations dedicated to combatting social inequalities.
Following introductions and greetings offered by USM President, Dr. Antonio Carmona Báez, SMAPP co-coordinator Claire Elshot, BAK representative and coordinator of SDGs public awareness Drs. Loekie Morales and the honorable Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, five experts presented solid interventions, which in turn led to in-depth discussion with public participation. Dr. Daphina Misiedjan, a lecturer from Erasmus University Institute of Social Studies (ISS) at The Hague, addressed the webinar with a thorough review on the importance of understanding human rights in times of crisis from a global perspective.
“Human rights are tied directly to crisis. The catalogue of human rights as we know it in its modern form, looking at the treaties on economic social and cultural rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and, as an umbrella, the International Declaration on Human Rights – these all came after the second world war. Human Rights means having a minimum standard for a dignified life; this is especially important for those who do not have the means to realize the rights, those who have historically been marginalized,” said Dr. Misiedjan who looked at employment, education, health and political freedoms under lockdown.
Presenting on social, economic and labor rights, sociologist Raymond Jessurun looked at the structural inequalities based on racist discrimination that are now unfolding within the Caribbean part of the Dutch Kingdom due to the Netherlands’ conditions on the islands for receiving humanitarian aid. Challenging Dutch State Secretary Raymond Knops, Jessurun said: “why is Sint Maarten applying the Dutch-recommended hike in retirement age, closer to that of the Netherlands, but when it comes to receiving aid to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, we are not equal….why do we have to give up some of our salary?”
During the afternoon session, former Minister of Public Health, Labor and Social Development (VSA), Pamela Gordon-Carty spoke on the condition of labor throughout the Kingdom of the Netherlands during the COIVD-19 pandemic. Examining the political structure within the Kingdom, Gordon-Carty highlighted the obligations of the constituent countries -Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten and the Netherlands, the last of which is the signing State party to international law and ultimately the sole responsible entity for the realization of human rights. “On different levels, many steps are not being taken and some proposals being brought forth are not in compliance with international law”, she said. “Holland has to remember whenever proposals are executed, they must be in compliance for the masses, not just to a select few.”
On his own behalf Dr. Carmona introduced the topic of human rights and education with reference to processes of emancipation in our Caribbean region. “Education has always been an important tool in the process of emancipation and the struggle against poverty and structural inequalities, the press release stated. “The pandemic has underscored existing inequalities…those without internet at home had little chance of following classes online.”
Also noted were the recommendations given by UNESCO Teacher Task Force, which included not touching teachers’ salaries and including teachers in the planning of responses to the pandemic during and after.
The final panelist for the full day webinar was former Head of the Prosecutors Office Mr. Cor Merx, who focused on human rights for migrants and undocumented workers. Mr. Merx made a call for country Sint Maarten to combat racism and discrimination, and to be careful in how we frame political discourse concerning undocumented persons.
“The broadcasting of the webinar was no easy feat, due to technical limitations and the fact that it was our first time. However, the content was excellent, and the feedback we have been receiving is simply awesome. That is why we want to do this again but then Kingdom-wide,” said Dr. Carmona, who plans to coordinate a webinar with experts from all countries and territories comprising the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
“What our European counter parts in government, academia and activism need to understand is that any dialogue on human rights that excludes experts from the Caribbean part of the Kingdom is simply invalid; and that is why we took it upon ourselves to initiate such public debate.”
The USM webinar was moderated by Marcellia Henry of UNESCO Sint Maarten and Herbert Martina of TVCarib.