Edmond Maduro, University of Aruba

Aruba one multi-lingual island

 Aruba is a beautiful island located in the Caribbean. Most people would think that Aruba is an independent country, but this is not the case. Aruba is part of the kingdom of the Netherlands. Ever since the colonization of Aruba by the Netherlands has the Dutch language been the official legal language of Aruba.

Most Aruban native speakers use a language called Papiamento, which has been a language spoken for hundreds of years on the island and was only recently declared as an official Aruban language alongside Dutch on March 19, 2003.

In most countries around the world, the national laws of the country are in the native tongue of the country. The reason for this is that the natives will have a better understanding and dominion of the language and therefor will be better equipped to understand what rights and obligations they have as citizens. Having the native language as the language of the laws will also allow the native speakers to better defend themselves in the courts of law.

The reality on Aruba is that about 70% of the natives speak Papiamento as their native language and only 15% speak Dutch as their native language. This data shows that the majority living on Aruba speech Papiamento as their mother tongue. Besides having Papiamento as the main language most natives are polyglots and speak four languages. The reason being is that we get Dutch, English and Spanish in primary school and high school. This complicates the legal situation even more because that means for many the Dutch language is not even their second but their third or forth language.

Aruba and the European Convention of Human Rights

 Aruba like was said in the introduction is part of the kingdom of the Netherlands. The kingdom of the Netherlands is one of the member states that forms part of the European Union. But Aruba itself is what is called an oversea country and territory of the Netherlands. This means that a country or territory such as Aruba has a special relationship with one of the member states of the European Community. This also means that not all the rules and regulations of the European Union applies to Aruba.

Article 93 of the constitution of the Kingdom of the Netherlands states that provision, treaties and decisions of organizations under international law, which by their nature can bind everyone, have binding force after they have been published.

The European Convention of Human Rights is comprised of general legal principles and fundamental human rights that have direct effect and by their nature can bind everyone and thus in accordance with article 93 of the Constitution of the Netherlands is the European Convention of Human Rights binding and applies to the entire Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Aruba in violation of article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights?

The question arises if the laws are not in the countries native language is that country in violation of article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights? This is exactly the question that came to my mind when I was thinking about the current situation in Aruba.

ARTICLE 6

Right to a fair trial

  1. In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgment shall  be  pronounced  publicly  but  the  press  and  public  may  be  excluded  from all or part of the trial in the interests of morals, public order or  national  security  in  a  democratic  society,  where  the  interests  of  juveniles  or  the  protection  of  the  private  life  of  the  parties  so  require,  or  to  the  extent  strictly  necessary  in  the  opinion  of  the  court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.
  2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
  1. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:

(a)  to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;

(b) to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense;

(c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;

(d) to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;(e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.

When interpreting article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights there is one paragraph in particular that is relevant to the situation I was describing. The paragraph I am talking about is paragraph 3 sub a and c.

Paragraph 3 sub a goes into the right that everyone has to to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him; this is not possible in Aruba, because the official legal language used now is Dutch and like was stated earlier, not all the Aruban citizens have a good comprehension of the Dutch language and thus cannot fully understand in detail nor the nature of accusations made against them.

They can be assisted by lawyers or interpreters that could translate the information and give it to the person, but this is no guarantee that the person will always get an accurate, complete and in detail translation of the information, and therefore cannot be viewed as being fair.

Paragraph 3 sub c goes into the right that everyone has to defend him or herself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require; the first of part of paragraph 3 sub c is also not possible in many cases in Aruba.

A person cannot fairly defend him or herself in the courts of law in language he or she cannot understand or is fully proficient in. Interpreting the law is even difficult for legal professionals, and it is almost impossible for a normal person that wants to defend him or herself in a language that is not their own.

Conclusion

My conclusion is that if Aruba wants to adhere to the general principles of law laid out in the European Convention of Human Rights in particular the right to a fair trial, the country will have to adapt its current laws.

Having the Aruban laws in both the Dutch and Papiamento languages will benefit the citizens of Aruba in the long run and will give them a much fairer and just legal system for all citizens instead of just a chosen few legal professionals who are experts in the Dutch language.