Vienna Consular Convention
Under Article 36(1) b of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the islands of Aruba, Curacao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Saba, or Sint Eustatius must, at the person’s request, notify the consular representative of his/her country of nationality immediately after the arrest takes place. The court, the state prosecutor, or the penal institution will make the notification. In addition, the diplomatic representative of the person’s country can, if he/she agrees, also be notified of the reasons for the arrest.
Anyone who breaks the law in Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Sint Maarten, Saba, or Sint Eustatius is subject to prosecution under that country’s legal system. If a person is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment by a local court, this sentence will be served in a local prison.
Aruba’s, Curacao’s, and Sint Maarten’s authority to try foreigners as well as its own citizens is based upon the principle of sovereignty, which is the right of a nation to make and enforce its own laws within its own boundaries. The local legal systems provides many safeguards to ensure that the investigations and possible trials are conducted fairly.
The Consulate’s Role
A U.S. passport does not entitle the bearer to any special privileges or preferential treatment in Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Sint Maarten, Saba, or Sint Eustatius. In spite of what you may have heard to the contrary, neither the United States Government nor its representative to the Dutch Caribbean–the American Consular Officer–can get anybody out of prison. Nevertheless, neither arrest nor conviction deprives a United States citizen of the Consulate’s best efforts in protecting the citizen’s legal and human rights.
- If, at the time of arrest, the prisoner requests that the American Consulate be notified, he/she will be contacted in jail as soon as possible after notification. A Consular Officer will then visit or contact him/her periodically. Prison visits enable the American Vice Consul to monitor the health and well-being of the prisoner, as well as the status of the legal case.
- Consular Officers are not attorneys. However, the Consular Officer will, as soon as possible, provide the prisoner with a representative list of English-speaking attorneys. An attorney cannot be selected for the prisoner, nor can legal advice be given. The Consular Officer will ensure that the prisoner has adequate legal representation, where guaranteed by local law. The Consulate will, if the prisoner so desires, obtain copies of the indictment and trial proceedings.
- The Consular Officer can intercede on the prisoner’s behalf when necessary to ensure that he/she receives adequate medical attention. The Consular Officer will also look into any complaints and discuss them with the appropriate authorities.
- The Consulate will notify the prisoner’s family and friends and relay requests for financial or other aid, provided he/she gives authorization to do so by signing the Privacy Act Waiver. The Consul can also serve as a liaison between the prisoner and his/her lawyer.
An arrested person should hire an attorney as early as possible. If the case involves anything more serious than a minor traffic violation, we recommend retaining a local defense attorney. Local lawyers are naturally very familiar with local law and proceedings in local courts.
The attorney is the primary source of legal advice. The prisoner should regard him as though he were an American attorney defending him/her in an American court. As in the U.S., the attorney is obliged to honor the attorney-client privilege. He may not reveal any confidential information, and the court in turn may not question the attorney. The prisoner should ask the attorney any questions that he/she may have about the case and listen carefully to advice, for he is trained in local law and has the duty to defend a person to the best of his ability.
Legal services will be at the prisoner’s own expense. The Consulate General has no funds to hire an attorney for imprisoned Americans.
For a list of English-speaking attorneys by island, please contact the consulate directly at ACSCuracao@state.gov or click one of the following links: Curacao (PDF 209 KB), Aruba (PDF 204 KB), St. Maarten, (PDF 201 KB) and Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius (PDF 204 KB).
If the prisoner has no funds, the court will appoint an attorney to represent him.