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Human Rights Committee reviews the situation of Civil and Political Rights in the Netherlands

Human Rights Committee

2 July 2019

The Human Rights Committee concluded today its review of the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the Netherlands.

In his opening remarks, Quincy Girigorie, Minister of Justice of Curaçao, speaking as head of the delegation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, recalled that the Netherlands was a kingdom comprised of four countries.  Speaking on behalf of Curaçao, he reiterated its commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the recognition of the rights derived from it.  As a small island developing State, it would remain a challenge for Curaçao to pursue the effective advancement of human rights, considering the challenges that it was facing. 

Frans Van Deutekom, Deputy Prosecutor General at the Public Prosecution Service of Aruba, expressed Aruba’s strongest commitment to the implementation of human rights.  Concerning the crisis in Venezuela, he noted that it had led to an increase in irregular migrants and a significant rise in the of petitions from asylum seekers.  In that context, improved asylum procedures had been put in place.    

Siebe Riedstra, Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice and Security of the Netherlands, said the Kingdom of the Netherlands had a long and rich tradition of defending, promoting and upholding human rights.  The Government of the Netherlands was working unremittingly to ensure that national laws and policies complied fully with the highest human rights standards. 

Mr. Girigorie said that the Government of Sint Maarten would be represented only at the technical level and would participate as an observer. 

Committee Experts thanked the delegation for its presence and noted with satisfaction that the different constitutive parts of the Kingdom were represented.  They asked for clarification about the distinction between the territories and the countries of the Kingdom, notably as they pertained to human rights and protection.  Could the delegation update the Committee about the establishment of the office of the ombudsperson in Curaçao and the national human rights institution in Aruba?  While commending the delegation for its diverse composition, Experts expressed concerns about the Government’s handling of the “Black Pete” issue.  They asked for more information on measures it had taken, including the policy framework and structure underlying the dialogues that the Government was conducting. 

Mr. Girigorie concluded by thanking Committee Experts for the fruitful discussion and the understanding they had shown.  Parts of the Kingdom were facing difficult economic situations but all of them were doing their utmost to uphold human rights.

Ahmed Amin Fathalla, Committee Chair, in his concluding remarks, said it had been a constructive dialogue and the delegation had provided detailed responses. Pointing out that positive steps had been taken by the countries of the Kingdom, he thanked the delegation. 

The delegation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands consisted of the Minister of Justice of Curaçao, and representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Security of the Netherlands, the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations of the Netherlands, the Ministry of Social Affairs of the Netherlands, the Public Prosecution Service of Aruba, the Department of Foreign Affairs of Sint Maarten, the Department of Immigration of Sint Maarten, and the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage .

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/ .

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 2 July, to consider the third periodic report of Tajikistan (CCPR/C/TJK/3 ).

Presentation of Report

QUINCY GIRIGORIE, Minister of Justice of Curaçao, speaking as head of the delegation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, said that the Government of Sint Maarten would be represented only at the technical level and would participate as an observer.  He recalled that the Netherlands was a kingdom comprised of four countries.  Speaking on behalf of Curaçao, he reiterated his country’s commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the recognition of the rights derived from it.  As a small island developing State, it would remain a challenge for Curaçao to pursue the effective advancement of human rights, considering the challenges that it was facing.  The ongoing migrant situation, and the pressure generated by its neighbours’ instability, had led to the exhaustion of the country’s local resources.  Despite challenges, Curaçao had doubled its efforts, and the Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor’s Office and the police had worked together as per a cooperation agreement to tackle crimes against minors and sexual offences cases.  Concerning the situation of Venezuelan migrants and human trafficking, the Government of Curaçao had approved the allocation of additional funds to protect the victims of human trafficking. 

FRANS VAN DEUTEKOM, Deputy Prosecutor General at the Public Prosecution Service of Aruba, expressed Aruba’s strongest commitment to the implementation of human rights.  Regarding the prevention of and fight against child abuse and domestic violence, earlier initiatives in Aruba had been followed by further and new important steps, such as the establishment of a new and long-term multi-disciplinary “social crisis plan”, which was carried out in strict cooperation between all Governmental institutions, aiming to address these issues comprehensively.  Concerning the crisis in Venezuela, he noted that it had led to an increase in irregular migrants and a significant rise in the number of petitions from asylum seekers.  In that context, improved asylum procedures had been put in place.  A petition for asylum did not automatically lead to detention, but was combined with an ambulant reporting obligation for the asylum-seekers, and the two existing detention centres for undocumented and irregular migrants had been upgraded.  

SIEBE RIEDSTRA, Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice and Security of the Netherlands, said the Kingdom of the Netherlands had a long and rich tradition of defending, promoting and upholding human rights.  The Government of the Netherlands was working unremittingly to ensure that national laws and policies complied fully with the highest human rights standards.  At the international level, human rights remained a cornerstone of Dutch foreign policy.  The coalition agreement of the current Government explicitly affirmed the need to promote the international legal order as well as human rights in its foreign policy.  The Government was implementing its National Action Programme against Discrimination and was in the process of drafting a new national action plan on human rights, which would overview its human rights infrastructure and policies, including action plans on specific human rights issues.  Furthermore, the Government of the Netherlands was aware of its compelling duty to protect the general interest of public security and the rule of law without jeopardizing all individuals’ core human rights.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts thanked the delegation for its presence and noted with satisfaction that the different constitutive parts of the Kingdom were represented.  They noted that the report did not include information on the processes that were in place to systematically review the Committee’s recommendations.  Four cases were still pending before the petitions unit, for which the Committee had rendered decisions finding the Netherlands at fault, and yet there had been no follow-up on the part of the Netherlands.  They asked the delegation to assure the Committee that interim measures were important in the Government’s opinion.  They said it was unusual for the Government to pass the buck to municipal Governments in that regard.  On the national action plan on human rights and business, Committee Experts asked for examples of issues that had been addressed or assessed through it.  Did the action plans to which the report referred establish benchmarks?  Could the delegation provide examples illustrating how they were implemented?  Regarding the constitutional changes, Experts expressed concerns about remaining protection gaps, and asked if there was interest, in that regard, to harmonize legal provisions across the four countries and three territories.  On the Migo Boras project and the border data collection, what was the legal framework regulating them?

Noting the Netherlands’ reservations related to article 10 of the Covenant, Experts asked the delegation to elaborate on the reasons behind them.  They asked for clarification about the distinction between the territories and the countries, notably as they pertained to human rights and protection.  Could the delegation update the Committee about the establishment of the office of the ombudsperson in Curaçao and the national human rights institution in Aruba?  They inquired about the pre-trial detention of suspected terrorists, for which a “reasonable” suspicion was considered sufficient, and the Government’s action to ensure proper judicial review of it.  They asked for more information on the revocation of nationality in absentia and the steps taken to ensure that the persons whose nationality would be revoked would not be subjected to torture or ill-treatment.

While commending the delegation for its diverse composition, Experts expressed concerns about the Government’s handling of the “Black Pete” issue.  They asked for more information on measures it had taken, including the policy framework and structure underlying the dialogues the Government was conducting.  They stressed that the Black Pete character perpetuated stereotypes that were injurious to the dignity and self-esteem of black children and adults.  What steps had been taken to eliminate the features of the Black Pete character that reinforced negative stereotypes?

How diverse was the police service in terms of race and gender, Committee Experts asked?  They asked if the professional code would be made binding on law enforcement officials, as the professional code for policy, the 2017 Handelingskader, was not.  They asked if the Government was planning any changes to the criminal justice system to combat the over-representation of people of African descent in prison.  What steps was the Netherlands taking so that the well-being and safety of undocumented migrant children in family locations would be monitored and strictly observed?  Experts requested information about the steps taken to reduce the practical barriers to safely accessing abortion in the Carribbean Netherlands and address the insufficient number of health-care specialists providing HIV/Aids-specific care in Curaçao.  What steps had been taken to address the reportedly rising incidence of HIV in Aruba?

Turning to violence against women, Experts noted that the State party had ratified the Istanbul Convention.  Could the Government elaborate on the differentiated application of this Convention in localities as well as provide data on instances of violence against women in each of the four countries that comprised the Kingdom?  Were the police, prosecutors and members of the judiciary properly trained to adequately address, process and prosecute cases related to sexual violence?  The Committee Experts requested information on the provision of legal aid to victims of domestic violence, without any discrimination.  On rehabilitation services and safe centres, it seemed that capacities at the local level were insufficient.  In that context, was there an oversight mechanism at the State level to ensure that local authorities properly exercised their competencies?  It seemed that the assisted suicide review committee intervened ex post facto.  Could the delegation comment on the institutional safeguards in place in the country to regulate assisted suicide?  On the use of force by law enforcement officials, they asked how the use of tasers would be regulated.

Responses by the Delegation

QUINCY GIRIGORIE, Minister of Justice of Curaçao, said there were no differences between the rights given to people in different countries of the Kingdom.  Turning to Curaçao, he said that the Paris Principles were incorporated in the draft legislation that was under review.  Regarding the Istanbul Convention, Curaçao did not have any data on violence against women, only on rape.  There had been 23 rape cases registered in 2018 and 13 in the first five months of 2019.  On the training of police officers and prosecutors, the police departments dealing with rape and violence against women in Curaçao were regularly trained, and a new policy was being implemented whereby training would be given to prosecutors shortly.

On Aruba, the delegation stressed that in the Caribbean Netherlands efforts were being made to harmonize legal provisions, such as the definition of rape.  The legislation related to the penal code and the criminal procedure was the same across the countries, and there was one supreme court with jurisdiction over the whole Kingdom of the Netherlands.  Regarding the ombudsperson in Aruba, it was a work in progress.  The Constitution had to be changed and the Advisory Council of Aruba was reviewing draft legislation in that regard.  The Government was prioritizing the creation of the office of the ombudsperson; it would nevertheless take a close look at the creation of a national human rights institution.

There were no reasons to believe that the number of HIV infections was going up in Aruba and there was therefore no reason to change Government policy, which focused on prevention and early detection.  The treatment of HIV/AIDS was covered by Aruba’s healthcare assurance.  Aruba did not have data on domestic violence nor on rape at the moment, but the prosecutor’s office had issued an order requiring a close examination of all domestic violence cases.  There was a special prosecutor responsible for domestic violence cases, and there was a special detective team in charge of sexual offences.  In Aruba, legal aid was provided free of charge to victims staying in safe shelters.  There was only one shelter in Aruba, to which 12 new places would be added.  The shelter would be accessible to all victims, whether they were documented or not.  

When a fundamental rights treaty was signed by the Government, the rights would not vary from one country to another, and there would not be any difference between the European part of the Kingdom and the Caribbean part.  Given the cultural diversity of the Kingdom, however, there could be differences in the way the treaty was implemented.  

Turning to the Netherlands, the delegation said that the Government of the Netherlands regularly submitted reports to Parliament related to the treaty bodies’ recommendations.  If the Committee found instances where the Government of the Netherlands had not met its treaty obligations, it should not hesitate to bring them to the attention of the Government of the Netherlands.  The Government of the Netherlands was currently drafting a new national human rights action plan drawing from input from the public, non-governmental organizations and treaty bodies, inter alia.  Concerning the exercise of the special powers of interception, the authorization of the Minister was required, notably for data collection and meta-data analysis.  The authorization granted by the Minister was subject to review by an independent intelligence committee.  What was more, the law required that the data’s relevance be assessed, and that the data be destroyed if not found to be relevant. 

On the Migo Boras system, the relevant legislation contained strict conditions and all necessary safeguards, the delegation assured.  The law required that motorists be warned when automatic licence plate recognition technology was deployed.  On referenda, the delegation recalled that they had been introduced to foster the greater participation of the public in political processes.  There were many other participatory processes in the Netherlands, such as focus groups and consultations. The Government of the Netherland was also considering recommendations to create new participatory instruments.  The national human rights institution was set up in accordance with the Paris Principles.  On the detention of suspected terrorists, only in exceptional circumstances could it be prolonged, and only for periods of 10 days at the time.

On the “Black Pete” issue,” the delegation pointed out that there had been changes in the appearance of Black Pete over the last few years.  The Government of the Netherlands fostered dialogue conducted at the local level on that issue.  Sometimes, this dialogue had resulted in the creation of guidelines.  In the context of the International Decade for People of African Descent, the Government had put a greater focus on combatting discrimination against this segment of the population, including measures to raise awareness of and better address this issue.  Efforts were being made to tackle negative stereotypes, including by highlighting the culture of people of African descent.  Efforts were also being made to promote dialogue and awareness through education to combat anti-Semitism and discrimination against Muslims.  The Government of the Netherland did not interfere with the content of the media, but welcomed any initiative from the media to implement self-monitoring measures. 

The specialized agency on human trafficking investigated cases of disappeared children, and an analysis was being conducted on such cases, the results of which would be published in the summer.  On assisted suicide, there were six criteria that had to be met for it to be carried out, the delegation recalled.  Ethnic profiling was not allowed and the Government of the Netherland had taken vigorous measures to combat this practice.  On the diversity of the police corps, data would be provided at a later time.  In principle, the Netherlands prohibited the collection of information on an individual’s ethnic origin.  While there were a few exceptions to that rule, this explained why it was impossible to provide some of the disaggregated data that the Committee had requested.

Due to the high income per capita, Curaçao was not considered a developing country and was not therefore eligible for cheaper medicine, the delegation explained.  Curaçao had in vain tried to be recategorized by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.  

Aruba had made a lot of progress regarding the establishment of the ombudsperson’s office.  The Government’s decision to focus on this issue did not mean that the creation of the national human rights institution was not being considered.  Additional information would be provided by the delegation tomorrow.

Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts

Committee Experts asked who were the physicians who could make decisions related to the termination of life.  Would the creation of bodies akin to ethics committees be considered?  They asked for more information on the 2011 disappearances of migrant children.  On abortion services and their criminalization, in Sint Maarten in particular, more information would be appreciated, they said.  

Experts asked for more information on measures taken to reduce the number of persons in pre-trial detention, particularly for juveniles.  The high number of juveniles that were in pre-trial detention for lengthy periods was concerning.  To what extent was the Government considering alternatives to pre-trial detention?  Could the delegation provide information on the bill extending the grounds for pre-trial detention?  Experts requested details on the situation of Dutch nationals born in Aruba, Sint Maarten and Curaçao vis-a-vis the imposition of settlement requirements.  Given that local authorities sometimes were given far-reaching powers to restrict the freedom of assembly, Experts asked to what extent the right to hold peaceful demonstrations could be limited by them.  Could the delegation comment on the restrictions potentially chilling effect on the holding of demonstrations?

Committee Experts said that between 2015 and 2018, the number of people in immigration detention reportedly rose by more than 60 per cent.  There were reports that all asylum seekers who asked for protection at the border were detained in the Schiphol Criminal Justice Complex.  Was this information correct?  Were non-custodial alternatives considered in practice?  How was the Government addressing the backlog of asylum requests?  Experts asked the delegation to outline the steps taken to ensure that immigration detention complied with legal limits and was reviewed by effective oversight mechanisms as well as any challenges they faced in this regard.  

Turning to the Repatriation and Detention of Aliens Act, Committee Experts pointed out that it appeared that the act did not prescribe a vulnerability assessment; allowed seclusion measures for children above the age of 12; allowed for isolation to be used as a disciplinary measure; and placed all newly arriving migrants in a restrictive regime under which individuals could be locked in a cell for a maximum of 17 hours per day.  How did this bill comply with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?

They requested information on the training provided to police officers dealing with agitated patients in psychiatric hospitals to prevent trauma and avoid use of force.  What steps were taken by the Government to employ specially trained staff to work with agitated patients and end police involvement?  On the Zuyder Prison, Experts asked how decisions to use disciplinary confinement were reviewed, if prisoners were informed about the availability of these review mechanisms, how many cases had been submitted since 2016, and what had been the results of their challenges.

Experts underscored that, while the Constitution’s definition of discrimination was all encompassing, the specific grounds included in the Equal Treatment Act were not.  What was more, they did not meet the Covenant’s standards.  Were the anti-discriminatory provisions in Aruba and Curaçao in line with the Netherlands’ Constitution, Sint Maarten’s Constitution or neither?   On healthcare, they pointed out that employees at healthcare insurance companies were not bound by confidentiality.  On the burqa and niqab issues, Experts asked the delegation to comment on the necessity of the law enacted by the Government.  What was the public interest of banning full head coverage and the rationale behind the decision? They requested information on the scope of the phenomenon.  How many women were wearing full head coverage?

Experts asked how the Dutch Government intended to strengthen the asylum procedures in the Caribbean.  Could delegates provide information on the process used to determine that a third country was safe?  On access to legal aid, they pointed that the number of people choosing not to bring a case before a judge was going up, as these people deemed the costs too high and felt insecure about the results of the trial.  The reform of the legal system might heighten this problem, Experts warned, and asked the delegation for their comments.

On the elimination of slavery, servitude and trafficking in persons, Committee Experts asked for information and data on the prosecution of suspected perpetrators of human trafficking; the number of victims of trafficking from Hungary and Poland; measures targeting the criminal networks profiting from such practices; and the particular vulnerability of women to trafficking.  

Responses by the Delegation

QUINCY GIRIGORIE, Minister of Justice of Curaçao, noted that the pre-trial detention durations mentioned by Experts were accurate.  He assured that alternatives to this practice existed and were in place, such as “quick justice” measures, bail and settlements.  On the anti-discriminatory legal framework in Curaçao, he pointed out that Curaçao had its own Constitution which included anti-discrimination provisions, as did its penal code.  Since September 2018, the Government of Curaçao had been collaborating with the Dutch Government to strengthen protection procedures.  Curaçao had received funds to improve detention facilities for migrants, to avoid overcrowding.  There had been little complaints, even of the informal or anonymous kind, about the ill-treatment of undocumented migrants by Government officials.  Not all people who came to the country were detained; detention was a last resort measure.  There were independent oversight bodies that visited detention centres regularly.

Turning to Aruba, the delegation said its pre-trial detention system was akin to that of Curaçao.  The public prosecutor and the investigating judge had to consider formally the possibility of suspending detention.  The investigating judge had the possibility to use a wide range of alternatives to custodial measures, taking into account the prosecutor and the defendant’s points of view.  It was very rare that people stayed in police stations for more than 10 days, and when it happened it was on exceptional grounds, at the request of the judge, and this detention period was taken into account by trial judges, who handed down sentences accordingly. On the legal framework on discrimination, Aruba’s Constitution included anti-discriminatory provisions.  The delegation only had data on “violence against people” and did not have any specific data on domestic violence.  However, a social crisis plan would be put in place to ensure, inter alia, a very detailed registration of instances of domestic violence and child abuse.  The number of petitions for asylum had gone up.  Aruba had received help and funds from its European partner, United Nations entities and non-governmental organizations.  Aruba, like Curaçao, had also received funding from the Netherlands.  Aruba did not have a border detention facility and did not detain minors.  Non-refoulement was observed; persons who had been denied protection were issued an order of departure but could be granted a temporary stay and had access to legal counsel.

On the situation in the Netherlands, non-custodial alternatives were prevalent and pre-trial detention was used only when there were specific and compelling reasons to do so.  As a general rule, the suspect could remain at liberty during the pre-trial phase.  Pre-trial detention was critically assessed in every case, the delegation stressed.  If a child over 12 years old was suspected of a crime, he could be held at a police station.  This detention could be extended, but only when there was no space in youth facilities.  On the right to peaceful assembly, the right to demonstrate was guaranteed by the rule of law.  The mayor was responsible for managing demonstrations.  There were several legal criteria and requirements regulating the possibility to restrict this right.  Due to social media, the context within which the mayors operated had changed, but the Government believed that mayors took well founded decisions, taking into account all the relevant information.  It was up to the local councils or, ultimately, the courts to hold a mayor responsible in that regard.  All the questions on data and statistics would be responded to in a written submission.  To ensure appropriate healthcare for inmates addicted to drugs, lifestyle training was provided, inter alia.  Parliament had adopted a bill on mandatory healthcare which prevented the restriction of patients’ liberty without prior assessment by courts.  The use of police in psychiatric institutions was a last resort measure.  

In the Netherlands, detentions were only used for migrants when other alternative measures could not be put in place effectively.  The use of such measures was provided for in the new Aliens Act.  If as a last resort unaccompanied minors were detained, they were put in a child-friendly institution.  Minors over the years of 12 could be placed in isolation, but the situation was then assessed every day to ensure the isolation was still necessary.  Some groups were not detained at the border such as minors applying as asylum seekers.  When detained, individuals received adequate medical attention.  The use of the restrictive regime on new arrivals was necessary to protect the foreign nationals concerned as well as other foreign nationals.  The detention regime for undocumented migrants was compliant with European legislation and relevant human rights norms.  An extension of article 1 of the Constitution was being debated and the inclusion of sexual orientation in the grounds for which discrimination was prohibited was under consideration.  The Government was confident that patients’ data was well protected in the Netherlands, in line with European and international legislation.

The Dutch Senate had approved the bill banning full face coverage, which would come into force later this year.  This legislation complied with the Covenant.  It could lead to a limited restriction of the freedom of religion, but was necessary and proportionate.  It struck a balance between the need for open communications and the freedom of individuals.  There were between 200 to 400 women concerned.  The reformed legal aid system sought to help people solve their problems.  It would be in full compliance with international norms as well as provide solid legal protection and assistance to people who needed it.  The principle of non-refoulement was respected and an applicant could challenge the application of the safe third country principle if his particular situation warranted it.  The safe third country criteria were applied on a case by case basis.  To reduce processing time and backlog, additional resources had been allocated to entities processing asylum applications.

The Government of Sint Maarten took note of the questions and comments by the Committee Experts and apologized for the absence of its Minister, whose trip had been cancelled at the last minute.  It would provide answers in writing.

Concluding Remarks

QUINCY GIRIGORIE, Minister of Justice of Curaçao, speaking as head of the delegation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, thanked Committee Experts for the fruitful discussion and the understanding they had shown.  Parts of the Kingdom were facing difficult economic situations but all of them were doing their utmost to uphold human rights.

AHMED AMIN FATHALLA, Committee Chairperson, noted that the responses to some of the questions addressed to Sint Maarten would be submitted in writing.  It had been a constructive dialogue and the delegation had provided detailed responses.  Pointing out that positive steps had been taken by the countries of the Kingdom, he thanked the delegation.

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