N. Stephen’s trial: The debate focused on the identity issue

The defense called on three witnesses including two from Guadeloupe, who were invited to talk about the context faced by the local populations.

Nadika Stephen appeared before the Court for having shouted insults - including some which were racist - at the police. Before the Court, she denied the accusations, or at least she explained that she didn’t remember what she had said because she was too upset to remember it. We could therefore expect a demonstration in this sense from the defense.

During the six hours that the trial lasted, the defense spent about twenty minutes doing so. By reading extracts from the reports of the police hearings, she tried to prove that the quoted words had indeed been said but not by Nadika Stephen but rather by her sister. However, Ms. Stephen was the one who was arrested and summoned. “Why did they choose her? If it isn’t to set an example?” said maître Aristide. The defense considers that Nadine Stephen was arrested due to her commitment within the Soualiga Grassroots Association and its fight to defend the Saint-Martin identity. And so the debate was oriented towards this aspect.

It was mainly led by the five lawyers from Guadeloupe who had been hired by the defendant. The judges asked questions at the beginning of the hearing in order to know what had happened. They then listened to the lawyers as well as the three witnesses who were called to the stand by the defense.


But before getting to the heart of their subject, the defense pointed out several invalidities [which have been attached below] in order to cancel the procedure. One of them concerned the absence of an interpreter at Ms. Stephen’s free hearing, over a month after the events. Her rights were supposedly denied. Since she speaks in English, she should have had a sworn interpreter. However, a border police officer translated the exchanges and the report [which she didn’t sign] does not mention that she had been sworn in, as she should have been. According to the defense, this argument is enough to cancel the procedure.

The Court asked the defendant to confirm that she did not speak French. She replied that she "expressed herself better in English because it’s her mother tongue". She added that she "understood French but not the legal terms". That’s why an interpreter was requested yesterday. But the defense got caught in its own trap during an exchange on a different subject.

A little later, the defendant explained that she had been insulted one day but that she didn’t file a complaint because she thought that nobody would believe her. That was when the Deputy Prosecutor took out a copy of the report of a complaint filed by Ms. Stephen, the victim, following the events on October 22, 2015. “The report was written in French. No interpreter had been requested and Ms. Stephen signed it", said Yves Paillard while the lawyers read the document and were angry for not having known about it earlier. The language issue will no longer be addressed.


The debate focused on the identity issue. And to talk about it, the defense called Daniella Jeffry to the stand. She’s the author of many books on the history of Saint-Martin. "I don’t know the details of the case… If she [Ms. Stephen] asserted her Saint-Martin identity, it’s quite normal", she explained to the Court. She further explained that “identity and nationality are two different things". They are two different notions. "Nationality has never been an act of identification", she added.

Daniella Jeffry went back over the history of Saint-Martin, which dates back 350 years, to explain the sense of frustration which some people feel today. “We have been suffering for thirty years. It is the tax exemption scheme that caused these social and societal changes on the island. The population has grown from 8 000 up to 28 000 inhabitants. This was the starting point for a new society", she said. At the time, we had 500 hotel rooms and there were 4,500 on the Dutch side.  We therefore had to do the same.  And in order to build these hotels, we called on immigration from the other Caribbean islands. Then we had to legalize these 3,000 illegal people who came from the other islands. This created an upheaval on our island," she added. And she also noted that crimes started to occur at that time.  "This new society created this delinquency", she said.

Daniella Jeffry also emphasized the fact that "Saint-Martiners are sensitive to identity checks, to the fact that they can be arrested by the border police and that they can be considered as immigrants".

She nevertheless acknowledged that the fight against illegal immigration is the border police's "duty", that it must indeed "check" people. But she does not tolerate the idea that Saint-Martiners can be controlled, on the grounds that they are black, like most of the illegal immigrants in Sint Maarten. The question would then be how could a police officer recognize a Saint-Martiner, an illegal person from a legal person. This question was raised by the Deputy Prosecutor. Daniella Jeffry simply replied that "the police must check and that all Saint-Martiners know each other".


The defense then called on Julien Merion, a retired professor of political science, who especially gave a regional vision of the identity issue. The lawyers' questions were very oriented: "What ingredients are necessary for creating an explosion?  How are the colonial powers perceived in the Caribbean? "

And then Eli Domota, the leader of the LKP in Guadeloupe, who was behind the 2009 social movements in Guadeloupe, was called to the stand. As soon as he took the floor, he gave the tone: "How can you grant yourself the ownership of someone else's  property through crime. France took possession of the land of Guadeloupe and Saint-Martin through crimes".

Having become the mentor of Guadeloupeans who assert  their identity, Eli Domota whose speech is extremely well organized, summed up the important dates in the history of Guadeloupe which prove the invasion and domination by France. He dwelt on the events of May 1967 for which a report has just been handed over to the Minister of the Overseas Territories. The LKP leader also addressed the abolition of slavery.  "In 1789, the Declaration of Human Rights was signed. It said that all men are equal before the law and in 1802 slavery was reinstated in Guadeloupe. Here, we were not all equal.  Then when slavery was abolished, they compensated the masters but not the slaves, who were the victims," he said. And he also added that "we cannot be racist in the light of everything that we have experienced: deportation, genocide, slavery, colonization".

Therefore, each witness tried to demonstrate the whites' influence on the local population, the domination of one group over another.

Also in a clever way, the defense lawyers showed how the mainland police who represent the dominant class, would have manipulated their colleague, a black man from Haiti, who - they argue - is also a victim.  "According to the hearings, our client supposedly said dirty Haitian, Haitian trash, but these were not mentioned in the charges.  Your hierarchy abandoned you", declared maître Aristide while looking at the police officer concerned.  "There is the domination of one group over another and there is also a hierarchy in the domination. We have assimilated him," said maître Chevry, referring to the black policeman.  "You were abandoned", maître Daninthe already said a few minutes earlier.

The lawyers also had a well-organized speech.  Maître Chevry spoke about one of the trials in which he intervened.  "The niece of the richest man of Guadeloupe and Martinique, Bernard Hayot, was prosecuted for having insulted and spat on some gendarmes among whom one of them was black (…) The trial was finally canceled because the procedure was declared to be irregular and the niece was acquitted", she explained by questioning the police force's integrity.  "What is it that allows the police to not respect justice? ", she asked.  She is convinced that we now endeavor "to emphasize the thinking of the dominant class".  And her colleague, maître Ezelin, insisted on the importance of "resisting the dominant ideas by trying to block their intentions".

Maître Durimel (who is used to coming forward and pleading in Saint-Martin) was the last one to take the floor [Editor's note: his colleagues had to leave before the end of the hearing because they had to get back on the plane for Guadeloupe].  Aware that "differences in skin color" can influence "social relations", maître Durimel wanted to show that "French belonging is not the same for all French people.  As a Guadeloupean or a Saint-Martiner, I will feel a certain way while a person from the mainland will feel that they are French because their grandparents were in the war".

Although maîtres Chevry, Aristide, Daninthe and Ezelin agreed that their experience shows them that "policemen submit this kind of file because they think they'll have the court on their side," they were confident in the justice system in Saint-Martin.  And maître Durimel added:  "Your honor, you're above the battle", he said to the presiding judge, Gérard Egron-Reverseau who has adjourned the decision until January 19, 2017.

Estelle Gasnet