Human rights are more than refugee aid

The kingdom’s protective function also means working together. If this leads to a thorough approach to the problems related to natural and environmental conditions, such as modern natural and environmental legislation, including appropriate supervision and enforcement, then it is a win-win situation for all parties and especially the people of Curaçao Jeff Sybersma

Statement | Jeff Sybesma*

The quadrennial year Universal Periodic Review of UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has just ended. At this meeting, Member States present their human rights policies (see box) and evaluate the shortcomings and progress in the various areas.

The Kingdom, including a delegation from Curaçao, was also present. Apart from the question of the extent to which the country presentations in Geneva actually reflect reality – who wants to give themselves a big failure – as far as Curaçao is concerned, the emphasis seems to be currently only on the theme of the Venezuelan refugees. Their status, their illegality and participation and exploitation in society, their imprisonment and deportation, etc. are widely discussed.

All aspects that, if not handled properly, will result in human rights violations. In this connection, the Curaçao delegation returns with a positive message that locally born undocumented migrant children can obtain a residence permit and thus access to basic services. Great, but that is not to say that we are still not a party to the Refugee Convention and its Protocol.

Another pressing example is the right to marry someone of the same sex. It is still not regulated in Curaçao, despite the court ruling that this is a violation of human rights. And what about other human rights, such as the right to a clean environment, the right to health and the right to a dignified existence? How are we currently dealing with this and what will be done about it in the short term?

Environment

The human rights catalog is not static. Over time, human rights are added or their meaning interpreted differently. Just look at the concept of slavery. It has long since been abolished on paper. But through another interpretation, the concept is still very much alive. Just think of labor exploitation, forced prostitution and human trafficking.

For example, the United Nations General Assembly recently officially recognized access to a clean and healthy environment as a universal human right. The impact of climate change, the unsustainable management of natural resources, the pollution of air, land and water, the irresponsible handling of chemicals and waste and the resulting loss of biodiversity are all cited as violations of this human right. According to the resolution, a harmful environment also prevents people from actually enjoying all other human rights.

In that context, the meeting between the parties to the climate agreement took place in Egypt (COP 27), where further agreements are made against global warming caused by greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane. The 1.5 degree standard is under pressure and tough negotiations are underway for a compensation fund for developing countries that are suffering severely from the consequences – sea level rise, warming with severe climate change, more severe storms – mainly caused by the much higher emissions of developed countries.

Remarkable

It is striking that a Curaçao delegation – while Curaçao is still not part of the climate treaty – joyfully announces that it will ensure that trucks drive cleanly by 2040, so without exhaust gases (https://curacao.nu/climatetop-egypte – curacao-and-aruba-sign-dutch-initiative-for-more-clean-trucks/).

The question is whether more important climate decisions need to be made for our island? For example, ensuring that CO2 and other emissions from the ISLA, should it ever open, are drastically reduced, that measures are taken to shape coastal protection or ensure an affordable supply of clean drinking water. Also that sound environmental legislation be adopted with modern environmental standards, such as air standards, where the court has had to determine that Curaçao violates human rights in this area.

Warranty obligation

It is important in this context that the Dutch House of Representatives recently passed a motion asking the government to cooperate with the government of Curaçao and local human rights organizations in relation to the Kingdom’s guarantee obligation with regard to human rights.

First of all, what does that guarantee entail? Article 43 of the statute, subsection 2, states that securing fundamental human rights and freedoms, legal certainty and good governance is a matter for the kingdom. The legal doctrine was and still is that this warranty obligation can only be exercised as an ultimum remedy, i.e. only when all local options have been exhausted.

However, the National Council has said that this should not mean that it must only be used when the calf has drowned. A recent article by Stanley Betrian, in which he quotes Rita Dulci Rahman, discusses this in more detail. It is argued that the safeguarding function mainly means cooperation. This is based on Article 37 of the Charter, which states that the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten must consult as much as possible on all matters involving the interests of two or more of the countries.

For this purpose, special representatives can be appointed – such as judicial cooperation, cooperation between the national archives, with the university and in the field of education, culture and science – and joint bodies can be set up. The article gives an example of some of these conditions, such as the promotion of effective economic, financial and monetary relations or the promotion of economic resilience through mutual aid and assistance between countries, but these are not exhaustive.

The countries can easily include nature and environmental issues in this category. Examples include modern nature and environmental legislation, including adequate oversight and enforcement. Designation of protected plants and animals and the establishment of nature parks with a legal basis, both on land and in the sea, including environmental regulations for land, water and air as well as modern standards.

If such a consultation now leads to a thorough approach to nature and environmental problems, as just described, then it is a win-win situation for all parties and especially the population of Curaçao.

*Jeff Sybesma is a biologist and lawyer. He is a member of the Advisory Board Curacao, guest lecturer at the University of Curacao and special judge at the Common Court of Justice. This statement is written in his own name.

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