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Netherlands: UN experts urge redoubled efforts to end discrimination against people of African descent

GENEVA (9 July 2014) – People of African descent continue to be vulnerable to discrimination in the Netherlands in spite of the country’s high standards in dealing with discrimination and the establishment of institutions promoting equality, the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has noted.

Following a nine-day official visit* to the Netherlands, the experts commended in particular the work of the National Institute for Human Rights, local anti-discrimination agencies and the specific programmes designed to prevent and combat discrimination in various governmental ministries.

They also highlighted work undertaken to promote and implement the General Equal Treatment Act, as well as the protection against discrimination enshrined in civil and criminal law. The experts welcomed a media campaign aimed at increasing public awareness about discrimination and stereotyping in the Netherlands.

“We welcome measures proposed by the Government against employers who knowingly discriminate, including by ‘naming and shaming' of companies that undertake discriminatory practices,” the Working Group experts said.

However they stressed that “more attention was needed in the area of education, noting that the education curriculum does not adequately address the history of the transatlantic slave trade, African enslavement and colonialism.”

The Working Group also stressed that there was a lack of information in school and university textbooks on African history as to the slave trade, African enslavement and colonialism.  “Contributions of Africans and people of African descent to national and world development continue to be invisible”, they said.
 
The Working Group also said that people of African descent with whom they met shared experiences of serious discrimination based on their skin colour. Based on information received from civil society, the experts expressed concern about the practice of racial profiling by the police in the Netherlands, which reportedly results in disproportionately high rates of harassment, arrests and imprisonment of people of African descent.
 
“This creates feelings of mistrust in law enforcement bodies among certain communities and discourages them from accessing help when they themselves are victims of crime or rights abuses,” they said.

The Working Group regretted that measures taken in the wake of the economic crisis were having a particularly devastating impact on the fight against racism, and that discrimination against people of African descent in employment remained a concern.
 
During its mission, the experts were also informed of a heightened xenophobic and racist attitude against migrants and refugee communities, including many people of African descent, with some media using migrants as scapegoats for the negative impact of the economic crisis on Dutch people. The Working Group urged the Government to take steps to ensure that media outlets do not engage in incitement to racial, religious or xenophobic hatred that could lead to further rights violations.
 
“No country is free of racism and the Netherlands is not an exception. But for a country that has long been perceived as having a long tradition of tolerance and openness, the silence around racism and racial discrimination is surprising and worrying. It affects the awareness and sensibilities around cultural traditions and cultural diversity in the Kingdom, as exemplified in recent debates around the Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) celebrations,” the Working Group said.

“We are aware that Sinterklaas is one of the most popular traditions in the Netherlands and that it is an important family tradition; but education of children around the problematic aspects needs to be addressed,” they said. “We are pleased that the issue is now being seriously discussed at the national and local levels and we hope for a continuation of discussion where both sides are heard and listen to each other.”

“Cultures and traditions are not static – they change in response to evolving contexts,” the human rights experts added. 
 
During its visit to Curaçao, the Working Group observed a number of issues that needed to be addressed, including differences in dealing with discrimination and in the implementation of international standards between the Netherlands and Curaçao and the very limited opportunities for children to study in the local language.

Access to health is also a key concern for many people of African descent. In Curaçao, the experts observed environmental damage caused by an oil refinery, but noted that the Government had not provided any support in addressing the problem.

The Working Group was also told that citizens of a number of countries, notably Cuban children in Curaçao, are stateless and consequently are not able to enjoy their fundamental rights.

“We are worried about the lack of recognition in the Netherlands of people of African descent as a specific vulnerable group,” the experts stated.

During its mission between 26 June and 4 July, the Working Group visited Willemstad, Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Middleburg.

The Working group will present a report containing its findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015.

(*) Check the Working Group’s full end-of-mission statement http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14840&LangID=E

ENDS

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established on 25 April 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. The UN expert body, among other activities, conducts country visits at the invitation of Governments in order to facilitate in-depth understanding of the situation of people of African descent in various regions of the world and focus on promoting full and effective access to health, education and justice by people of African descent.

The Working Group is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Chair-Rapporteur Ms. Mireille FANON MENDES-FRANCE (France); Ms. Monorama BISWAS (Bangladesh); Ms. Mirjana NAJCHEVSKA (The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), and Ms. Verene SHEPHERD (Jamaica).  An expert from the African Group of States will be appointed by the Human Rights Council shortly. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/WGAfricanDescent/Pages/WGEPADIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country page – Netherlands:
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/NLIndex.aspx

For further information and media requests, please contact Sandra Aragon-Parriaux (+41 22 928 9393 / saragon@ohchr.org) or write to africandescent@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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