(part 1 of 2)
I was so excited when I saw the ad of the University of Aruba announcing that Mr. Bekkers, permanent representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations, was in Aruba, and that he wanted to meet with community members to engage in a meaningful conversation about human rights and a stimulating discussion.
Woohoo, I thought! That’s me, and the people I advocate for!
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 2006 and entered into force in 2008 states that “the purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”
That’s right, ALL HUMAN RIGHTS. Including, what’s in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
Wow. Three days into the inception of the Jeffry Stijn Foundation, and exactly what this foundation aims to do – advocate for the rights of mental health patients – and something I was planning to address at a later date, just presented itself. Not just through the previous day’s press release, but by being able to meet Aruba’s permanent representative at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Providence, serendipity, karma?
Totally excited, I asked to have my car back to be able to attend. Not possible. Luckily a friend was kind enough to drive me and attend as well.
Mr. Bekkers introduced himself, and we started general small talk. It was his first time visiting Aruba, even though he has represented our country since 2021. Note: he represents the Kingdom of The Netherlands – not just the Netherlands.
We introduced ourselves and started talking. I explained what our foundation does and … Mr. Bekkers stated that we should talk after the session, because he had previous experience in the Mental Health Sector (he was Special Envoy for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS), and leading the Corona Taskforce, as well as the Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (SEAH) Taskforce prior to his appointment as permanent representative to the UN).
I was rather taken aback; what the Jeffry Stijn Foundation’s vision and mission correlates to ecompasses advocating for human right, and is based on principles I have been taught since high school. I still have my first copy of the Charter of the United Nations and Statue of the International Court of Justice from back then.
We (hey THIMUN-ers!) spent years analyzing and debating a plethora of subjects related to human rights. That has always left an indelible mark on me: most of my core values come from those days of, not just learning about, but living and breathing, human rights.
Back to the session with Mr. Bekkers! Things got off to a rocky start when the University’s facilitator welcomed the students of the University of Aruba, but not the community members. Then Mr. Bekkers proceeded to inform us about the UN, his role, etc. Neither dialogue nor discussion were forthcoming.
When we, and luckily one other, tried to engage in debate, especially pertaining to human rights in Aruba, it was not appreciated. Turns out that what had been communicated on social media, versus what the law students had been invited to, were two different things (more on that in part 2 – the aftermath).
Mr. Bekkers tried to explain that in cases of Human Rights violations here in Aruba we should turn to the proper authorities. We explained that most of us activists became activists BECAUSE the authorities were the ones violating our rights. Good governance is a bit of an issue in Aruba.
Justice is for those who can afford to hire lawyers or even FIND lawyers willing to take on cases that won’t be profitable. Most cannot. Nor do they necessarily understand Dutch, or legalese.
Then Mr. Bekkers suggested we turn to our ombudsman. In choir we replied “there is no ombudsman”. I actually discussed community activism with multiple stakeholders to get an ombudsman instated for the first 10 years I lived in Aruba. I will let people who still hold out hope for an impartial ombudsman being appointed, free from government and/or political influence, or large private sector interests, explain that current situation.
Mr. Bekkers then suggested turning to the media. Once, long ago, a friend of mine bought a local newspaper. I had planned to regularly contribute with the Aruban version of “Loesje”. Had plenty of brilliantly witty yet poignant ideas. Most of which were nixed because they could be misconstrued by politicians and influential people as criticism, instead of justified social commentary.
He then rounded it off with “this is not a police state”, which made me guffaw in disbelief.
Finally he conceded that the only way in which we would affect change, was through starting private initiatives and NGO’s. When the issue of funding (e.g. conflicts of interests when the funds that should be provided for these initiatives means it comes with strings attached – we’ll fund you but only if you’re not critical and towards the governments’ or large private sector interests’ line – it defeats the purpose of fighting for human rights which these entities violate). Mr. Bekkers suggested contacting international agencies. Some already had, including ones that fall under the UN, but no response had been received to date.
What was very interesting to us was the question as to who verified if the information provided by the government of Aruba was correct, and how it was done. According to Mr. Bekkers independent experts would visit countries to verify. When the question was raised how they verified, and with who, it remained vague.
When one activist mentioned shadow reporting as other countries are able to do, and which NGO’s proof could be delivered to, there unfortunately wasn’t a concrete answer.
Mr. Bekker’s sage advice to us activists was, band together, and scream into the void (yes, that is most definitely paraphrasing it, not an actual quote – please don’t take it out of context).
In the end we learned that Mr. Bekkers was impressed by the level of discourse with Aruba’s politicians, that he had enjoyed his first visit here, and that he was very proud to see 4 ministers from the 4 countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands sitting side by side during the 2022 review of The Kingdom of the Netherlands (only the Dutch flag? Really?).
There was no time for the initial ‘we’ll talk after the session’.
Part 2: The aftermath