In 2010 that same statute was renewed through constitutional changes: the Dutch Antilles were dismantled and Sint Maarten and Curacao gained status aparte, or in other words became autonomous countries within the Kingdom. After much debate Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius were considered territories too small to self-govern and were integrated into the Dutch state as public entities. The statute’s liability is legally superior to that of the varying constitutions of the different countries within the Kingdom. As the statute is largely based on and refers to the Dutch Constitution, in effect it refers to similar goverment institutions for the management of the Netherlands, as well as general Kingdom affairs. In other words, the statute may be seen as an adapted version of the Dutch Constititution, explicitly affixed to address the overseas territories within the Kingdom and referring to legislature of the Kingdom territories. In this context, the Dutch State is the only fully independent country and its only member to act in the capacity of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. While the autonomous islands are considered seperate nations within the Kingdom constellation, the Dutch state, as the primary office representing the Kingdom (Ministry of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relation, abbreviated as BZK), has final authority over the island territories and can place them under financial, legal or administrative supervision when deemed necessary. Thus, in practice there is a blurry margin as to what extent the Netherlands should be involved in the affairs of the autonomous islands.
The aftermath of hurricane Irma, illustrates this blurriness, where Sint Maarteners who came to the Netherlands in search of refuge fell between two stools as many civil servants did not know how to respond and refused Sint Maarteners the assistance they were entitled to. It is also illustrated in the recent examples where Venezuelan asylum seekers in Curacao end up in a climate that does not uphold their human rights as asylum seekers. It does not due to the lack of recources and priority of the island goverment. But equally relevant seems the question: who is responsible for safeguarding human rights and manifesting adequate refugee reception, Curacao or the Netherlands? Is this a matter of national affairs, as repeatedly stated by the State Secretary of Kingdom Relations and the Foreign Affairs Minister? Or is this a matter of Kingdom affairs, implicating a centralized responsibility on the body of the Dutch State? Perhaps when these questions are answered, it becomes apparent as to what respect the statute has been effectively formulated and is being complied with, granting all members equivalent positions and upholding the pursuit of equality, equity and decolonization.
A version of this post was previously featured in the april 2019 newsletter of the Caribbean studies Association.