PHILIPSBURG--July 17 marked International Justice Day. The day, which is observed worldwide, celebrates justice. The day came in to existence twelve years ago, on the day that a treaty was signed for the instatement of the International Court of Justice, Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson explained.
A ceremony had been organised at short notice, however, members of the Ministry of Justice, who organised the event, were successful in putting together a parade followed by a dignified ceremony that brought across the value that St. Maarten places on the concept of justice.
The event started with a parade in which members of the St. Maarten Police Force, the Coast Guard, Customs and the Prison Service, including the new recruits who are still in training, marched from the Police Station through Back Street and Front Street to Captain Hodge Wharf, where the ceremony was held. The officers looked impeccable and drew admiring glances from many tourists.
A ceremony then started in the presence of Acting Governor Reinold Groeneveldt, President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell, Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson and other dignitaries such as Member of Parliament (MP) George Pantophlet, Minister Cornelius de Weever and chiefs or acting chiefs of the law enforcement services.
Master of Ceremony Kelly Busby of the Ministry of Justice invited all present to stand for the St. Maarten Song. Most of those present sang along, with some people singing in harmony, creating a stunning effect.
Pastor Illidge led opening prayers, with the central message that justice for all means peace, happiness and tranquillity for all.
He was followed by Detective Inspector Denise Jacobs of the St. Maarten Police Force, who acted as chief in the absence of Peter de Witte and Carl John, who were off-island. She stated that International Justice Day was a day to celebrate with joy, but also a day to reflect on what can be improved.
She stated that the police force was concerned about the current situation of crime, which appears to have spiked in the last weeks. However, she stated, police will continue to fight crime, and are committed to keeping St. Maarten safe. She reflected back to 10-10-10, where, she said, the police had some staff, some buildings and some funding, but no support.
Many projects were formulated, despite the fact that more people and more funding were not forthcoming. Creativity and hard work focusing on projects paid off. When work needs to be done, the people of St. Maarten show commitment and solidarity, she said. "We have the best forensics in the region, we have community policing and we are working towards intelligence-based policing."
Jacobs highlighted the need to have more structure in case of calamities, maintain and tighten relations with partner agencies, adhere to international standards and keep up with the changes around us.
"When it comes to the work, we are one," she concluded as she addressed all members of the law enforcement family.
Director of the Justice Cabinet Ron van der Veer said that the members of the justice family should be proud of what has been achieved so far. He reminded those present that we can celebrate this day because we live in a free and democratic society, where the rule of law is supreme.
Van der Veer mentioned the efforts of the St. Maarten Police Force and the National Detectives, the improvement of the Prison and Customs Services, the cooperation between the Court of Guardianship and the Parole Board, and the cooperation with the Coast Guard, the Royal Marechaussee and the Netherlands Royal Marines.
He mentioned that we have lived at peace with our French neighbours for four centuries, and work closely together with them in law enforcement. Despite everyone working together to ensure peace, safety and justice, there is always room for improvement. "We should be honest about our mistakes and try to improve ourselves."
Van der Veer reminded everyone that justice is not something that happens automatically, and must not be taken for granted. "We should always keep in mind how fragile justice is," he said. "You will not get it for free."
He finished his speech with a quote from The Bible: "When a man walks with integrity and justice, happy are his children after him."
Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson, aptly named "the gatekeeper of justice" according to Kelly Busby, wished everyone a happy Justice Day. He said he was made aware of the day just a week ago, and relied on his staff's talent of improvisation to organise an event at short notice. He said he remembered the improvisation skills of the people of St. Maarten after Hurricane Luis.
Richardson went on to explain the background of the celebration, and mentioned that there had been a spike in crime over the last few months. Crime begins at home, he said. "There are people who think this is an island of easy pickings, a push-over, with a lack of technology. That is not the case. St. Maarten is not a push-over."
Richardson referred to a number of successful arrests recently, including that of Romanian skimmers. He stated that people work many hours with a lot of commitment. "You can't predict when something will happen," he said. "But you can create an environment in which youths don't have to resort to crime."
Richardson mentioned that those in law enforcement have to work with limited resources. "I am appreciative of people working in law enforcement," he said, "I applaud you. The rule of law prevails." He then mentioned the situation in Aruba, where Prime Minister Mike Eman has to go to the ultimate to force the Kingdom Government to go by the rule of law, calling it a sad situation. "There is no excuse for the Kingdom Government not to abide by the law. Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten should join hands," he said.
He also applauded the public of St. Maarten for its cooperation with law enforcement, and urged them to keep coming forward with information.
The speeches were followed by a ceremony of recognition for people who celebrated jubilees within law enforcement. Certificates were given out to a large number of people who had served St. Maarten for 25, 30, 35 and even 40 years. Amongst the recipients were cousins Ademar Doran, chief of the National Detectives, and Anthony Doran, chief of Customs, with 25 years' service each, Police Inspector Rudolf Bloeiman with 30 years' service, and Head of the Mobile Unit of the Immigration Service Geronimo Juliet and Head of Operations of the Coast Guard Wendell Thode, with 35 years' service each. Sylvia Gibbs, Carlton Philips and Sheryl Peterson were awarded for 40 years' service.
A mention was made about a number of award recipients who were not present at the ceremony, as they were in the process of taking part in the police controls, which continued throughout the day, before the ceremony was concluded with a hot buffet lunch.