The 41st Session of the Universal Periodic Review
7th NOvember - 18th November 2022
Fourth UPR Cycle – Review of The Netherlands - 4th Cycle
15th November 2022
By Conall Corrigan / GICJ
On the 15th of November 2022, the Kingdom of the Netherlands underwent an examination of its human rights record during the 41st session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The Netherlands submitted its national report for the fourth cycle of the review process on the 23rd of August 2022. Within its report, the four countries comprising the Kingdom of the Netherlands affirmed their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and stressed that the fulfilment of its obligations remains a key element to the enhancement of democracy within the country. However, it acknowledges that since its last review in 2017, the human rights situation in the Netherlands has been significantly impacted in various ways. The report notes that the COVID-19 pandemic in particular has exacerbated existing challenges across a variety of areas including education, healthcare, and employment.
During the interactive dialogue, representatives of participating states offered recommendations for the Netherlands to adopt to address a number of issues including the increasing dangers presented by climate change, rising numbers of threats against journalists, the mistreatment of migrants and asylum seekers, and the prevalence of human trafficking. Many states encouraged the Netherlands to make a concerted effort towards the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers as well as the optional protocols to the CRC and the CRPD.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) commends the Netherlands for the proactive measures it has taken to address issues with its human rights record since its last UPR in 2017. Although steps have been made over the last five years to improve the human rights situation throughout the Netherlands, it is clear that much more needs to be done in relation to ensuring high levels of equality and non-discrimination, the fair treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, and eliminating human trafficking.
Pursuant to Resolution 60/251, all UN member states are required to undergo an examination of their obligations under international law and receive recommendations from their counterparts in the Human Rights Council. The Kingdom of the Netherlands consists of four countries of equal status: the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. Although there is some form of cooperation between the countries in the field of human rights, each of the countries is autonomous in its implementation of the obligations stemming from the different human rights conventions. In preparation for this report, the Netherlands held a consultative meeting in April 2022. The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights and various NGOs presented their UPR stakeholders’ submissions to government officials and each other. The report was then published in August 2022 and discussed the various ways the Kingdom of the Netherlands has sought to improve its human rights record since its previous review in 2017 and how it intends to advance its rights agenda going forward.
Speakers of the Country Concerned
During the interactive dialogue, the floor was given to the representatives of the four constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Ms. Anna Richardson, Minister of Justice for the Government of Sint Maarten, acknowledged the importance of the UPR process in monitoring the progression of human rights and assured the Council that the country remains committed to their protection. Minister Richards noted that, as a small island nation, the ramifications of climate change are a pressing concern for the government. She reminded the Council that countries such as Sint Maarten often lack the human and financial capabilities to invest in mitigation and adaptation initiatives which hamper the ability of the government to respond to the rising threat of climate change. Ms. Richards highlighted that the government of Sint Maarten has made extensive use of private/private partnerships to address the limited financial resources available to the government and has campaigned aggressively to bring this reality to the attention of the international community. However, she recognised that Sint Maarten’s limited resources can impede its ability to adequately fulfil its human rights obligations and undermines the ability to implement conventions such as those on asylum seekers and the disabled.
Ms. Hanke Bruins Slot, Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations of the Netherlands, thanked member states for participating in the 41st session of the UPR and emphasised the Netherlands’ commitment to the promotion of human rights. She noted that several changes have been made to the state’s constitution since the previous UPR cycle, including the alteration of an article that related to the right to privacy which dated back to pre-internet times. Moreover, Minister Slot added that the right to a fair trial has also been included within the list of human rights within the constitution. Additionally, Minister Slot drew the Council’s attention to the various action plans, national programmes and legislation initiatives launched in the area of human rights by the Netherlands since the country’s last UPR. These include an action plan to guarantee human rights protections within the private sector, a national programme to combat racism and discrimination, as well as an action plan to eliminate discrimination in the labour market. Despite these undertakings, Ms. Slot conceded that the Netherlands’ progress in advancing human rights protections over the last five years has not always achieved the high level of success it has strived for. She acknowledged that certain problems have been persistent and difficult to tackle, including human trafficking, gender pay gaps, issues related to migration, and discrimination within the labour market. Despite this, she reminded the Council that the Netherlands remains committed to its human rights obligations and that the government will continue to tackle these issues.
Mr. Rocco Tjon, Minister of Justice and Social Affairs of Aruba, noted that during the pandemic the government of Aruba worked alongside NGOs to develop a successful vaccination programme for everyone residing in Aruba regardless of their legal status. Post-pandemic, the government continues to work with civil society organisations to meet the physical and mental health needs of vulnerable groups, including migrants, regardless of their status. Mr. Tjon stressed that the government of Aruba has identified eliminating human trafficking and migrant smuggling as a priority issue for the country. He highlighted that since the last UPR of the Netherlands, Aruba has established a coordination centre for human trafficking and migrant smuggling to provide services to possible victims and connect all entities responsible for addressing this issue. Moreover, the government of Aruba has recently launched its first comprehensive gender equality policy document which seeks to establish an action plan and education framework to address persistent levels of domestic violence. Mr. Tjon noted that UN Women are currently assessing the Aruba gender machinery as part of a regional project with the objective of supporting and enabling the gender policy and action plan.
Mr. Shalten Hato, Minister of Justice of Curaçao, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented several unprecedented challenges for the country. Despite this, these setbacks have not had a detrimental impact on the government’s ability to uphold basic human rights. He informed the Council that during the pandemic, with the help of the Dutch government and various NGOs, aid was given to vulnerable groups in the form of financial and food support. Mr. Hato added that the country’s recognition of the severity of child and domestic abuse within Curaçao led the government to ratify the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. Mr. Hato reaffirmed the government’s commitment to stepping up its efforts to eradicate domestic violence and abuse as well as gender-based violence.
Equality and Discrimination
Numerous delegations spoke of the need for the Kingdom of the Netherlands to tackle issues around equality and discrimination. Thailand recommended that steps must be taken to eradicate racial profiling and ensure equal opportunities in education and employment for all ethnic minorities. East Timor added to this by stressing that the Netherlands must strengthen its efforts to combat hate speech and the incitement of discrimination and violence on ethnic or religious grounds. In line with this, Venezuela recommended that the Netherlands provide compulsory training to the police on the human rights impacts of violence, hate speech, and hate crimes. The United States of America and Argentinanoted that measures must be taken to strengthen efforts to protect LGBTQI+ persons from violence or threats of violence. Moreover, Egypt encouraged the Netherlands to tackle the use of hate speech by politicians and high-ranking officials.
Togo, Australia, and Bangladesh congratulated the Netherlands for the appointment of a National Coordinator against Discrimination and Racism in 2021 with the former acknowledging its efforts to combat hate speech. Turkeyrecognised the Dutch government’s national policy towards strengthening the protection of human rights through legislation and monitoring bodies. It recommended that the Netherlands adopts and implements policies to address discrimination in public service and take all measures to combat racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and antisemitism. Ukraine commended the Netherlands’ for their commitment to the protection of human rights worldwide. The delegate thanked the Netherlands for granting protection to Ukrainian civilians who were forced to flee their homes due to Russian aggression. She then suggested that the Netherlands make full use of newly created mechanisms against discrimination and racism such as the newly appointed National Coordinator. She added that the governments of each country should intensify efforts towards ratification of the optional protocols to the CRC and the CRPD. Indonesiacalled on the Netherlands to take concrete measures to address and combat hate crimes and revoke discriminatory laws against minorities, especially Muslim minorities. Representatives were encouraged to take steps to address the legacy of colonialism concerning its history within the education system and pass national legislation to deal with damages caused by human rights violations and abuses of the past.
The Treatment of Asylum Workers and Migrants
The United States of America commended the Netherlands’ longstanding commitment to the promotion of democracy and human rights. Its representative recommended that additional resources be devoted to the protection and integration of members of national, racial and ethnic mins across the kingdom, especially among vulnerable refugee and asylum populations and to counter threats of crime and violence against these groups. Venezuela, Uzbekistan, and Belarus echoed calls for the Netherlands to make further efforts to protect the rights of migrants and vulnerable groups and end the exploitation of migrant workers. Moreover, the United Kingdom called on the Netherlands to ensure that facilities for asylum seekers meet international standards. Numerous delegations, including Indonesia, Zambia, Bangladesh, and Benin, encouraged the government to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
Uruguay appealed to the Netherlands to design specific plans to promote equal access for people of African descent and migrants to employment, housing, education, health, and social care. Additionally, he recommended that measures be taken to ensure the respect for the principle of non-refoulment of people seeking asylum to places where they might face a real risk of torture or other severe violations and to ensure that the best interests of the child become the main abiding concern in all migration-related decisions that affect them. Egypt furthered this by recommending that compensation should be awarded to asylum seekers who have been sent back unlawfully. Furthermore, Argentina and Botswana suggested that the state strengthen laws to better regulate the separation of migrant children from their families to avoid sending them to alternative care centres. Chile encouraged the Netherlands to take a human rights-centred approach to deal with migrants, while Cuba called for an end to the use of hate speech against them. The representative of Canada recommended that the Netherlands protect the economic, social, and cultural rights of migrants by reviewing conditions in centres for asylum seekers and combating the exploitation of migrants.
Women’s Rights and Empowerment
Many delegations encouraged the Kingdom of the Netherlands to take proactive measures to strengthen women’s rights. The representatives of Tanzania and Bhutan recommended that the Netherlands improve labour market conditions for women and continue to make efforts to close the gender pay gap. Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Bangladesh, and East Timor called on the Netherlands to put an end to the high levels of violence and sexual harassment of women and girls and take all necessary measures to address their sexual exploitation. Moreover, Bulgaria and Cuba recommended that the Netherlands make a greater effort to ensure that more women occupy higher-level decision-making posts. Eswatini and Iraq echoed calls for the Netherlands to make greater strides in addressing the gender pay gap. Additionally, Cyprus implored the Netherlands to implement the guidelines for a more gender-sensitive approach to dealing with domestic violence and sexual harassment. The delegation of Thailandrecognised the Netherlands’ commitment to achieving full gender equality and increasing women’s participation in the labour market. However, it was suggested that the government should continue to encourage women’s economic empowerment.
The delegations of Georgia, Venezuela, and East Timor encouraged the Netherlands to adopt further measures to combat human trafficking. The representative of China called on the Netherlands to tackle the root causes of the trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation and to combat its pervasiveness. Eswatinicommended the work of the government in addressing human trafficking and recommended that the Netherlands continue to work closely with relevant agencies and the private sector on this issue to raise awareness of human trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation. Burkina Faso suggested that the Netherlands should do more to prevent and sanction the sale online of children for sexual exploitation and abuse.
After the conclusion of the Interactive Dialogue, the representatives of the four countries of the Netherlands offered remarks on the steps their countries have taken to address the issues raised.
Regarding the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants, Sint Maarten noted that in order to provide an avenue for support the government offers a humanitarian residence permit which gives would-be asylum seekers the right to reside in Sint Maarten. Ms. Richardson informed the Council that Sint Maarten adheres to the principle of non-refoulement and works closely with the UNHRC to refer persons to an accepting state. The representative of Aruba stressed that pressure on services that make up the migration system has increased in recent years. However, a specialised asylum unit was set up to deal with this increase and ensure that children of migrants are placed in foster accommodation temporarily.
In relation to the issue of human trafficking, Curaçao notified the Council that it has approved a national action plan on the basis of which a permanent commission of relevant stakeholders will be installed. This commission will see to it that a national coordination centre on human trafficking prevention will come into existence in 2023. Mr. Hato stressed the importance of ensuring cooperation and information sharing within the region to address this issue. The Netherlands stated that tackling human trafficking is a priority for the Dutch government and to do so effectively a common approach and long-term vision are needed. The existing programme established in 2018 titled Together Against Human Trafficking to address this issue is currently being reassessed with all stakeholders involved. To ensure the further implementation of the programme, the Dutch government has allocated two million euros on a yearly basis from 2023 onwards. The representative of Sint Maarten acknowledged that her country is working to address high incidences of human trafficking and that the kingdom as a whole is working under the auspices of the Treaty of San Jose to combat human smuggling, trafficking and narcotics crime. Currently, Sint Maarten is working to strengthen its border capacity with its French counterparts with whom they share the islands. She added that the government is working to raise awareness and increase protection mechanisms, including the reopening of the national reporting bureau.
With regard to ensuring equality and non-discrimination, the Dutch government concluded that its response to discrimination and racism needs to be improved. It has appointed a National Coordinator against Discrimination and Racism and a National Coordinator on combatting Antisemitism has been appointed to give advice to the Minister of Justice and Security. Furthermore, a state commission has been established to investigate discrimination and racism in the Netherlands and to provide recommendations on combatting these issues. Additionally, the government has developed guidelines for local authorities to combat discrimination against Muslims, Jewish, and Romani persons, as well as people of African descent. The representative of Aruba emphasised that the constitution and criminal code protect citizens from discrimination on any grounds and added that anyone can avail themselves of the legal remedies provided by the law.
Lastly, concerning women’s rights and empowerment, The Netherlands underlined that it has invested in cooperation between specialised organisations and the criminal justice system to offer support for victims of domestic and gender-based violence. Moreover, an independent government commission has been established to advise the government and establish a national action plan to combat sexual violence. Additionally, Ms. Slot stressed that the Dutch government has committed to closing the gender wage gap and has made it fiscally more attractive for women to enter the labour force. Flexible working arrangements have been introduced and funding has been allocated to childcare to increase affordability and accessibility. Sint Maarten underscored that it will continue to prioritise the eradication of domestic and gender-based violence. Curaçao added that it is fully committed to addressing the gender pay gap, particularly in areas such as medical care.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) commends the Kingdom of the Netherlands for its participation in the fourth UPR cycle and welcomes its commitment to the realisation and protection of human rights. Despite this, a number of issues exist which GICJ feel require the immediate attention of the Dutch government. The frequency of recommendations offered around the issues of racism and discrimination, the mistreatment of asylum seekers and migrants, the prevalence of human trafficking, and the need to strengthen women’s rights highlights the pervasiveness of these issues across the Netherlands. GICJ calls on the Kingdom of the Netherlands to counter these issues with great urgency and ensure that the key problematic areas discussed during this review cycle are adequately addressed.
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