According to the report submitted by NJCM and Kompass, two Dutch advocacy foundations for human rights, the level of safeguard of the fundamental rights is not as high as one may think in the land of treadmills and freedoms.
We can read in the report: “the Netherlands is performing well in terms of the Human Development index and our children are among the happiest in the world. Nonetheless, some groups and individuals in the Netherlands are mistreated or failed by the system, and in this country also, there are several serious human rights issues at stake. The role of the government in promoting a human rights culture is very limited. The recommendations of UN treaty (monitoring) bodies deserve to be taken more seriously.”
Quite a strong j’accuse from the side of the civil society. To those allegations, the Dutch Government has been called to give a response this 3rd of February. But let’s make a step backwards.
Shadow report: this is the name of the report that, each and every five years, NGOs and associations are encouraged to submit to the UPR (Universal periodic review), the council of the UN that monitors the wellbeing of human rights all over the world. This document is to be sent six months before the country under analysis has to submit its own official version, taking into consideration the information collected by the associations working in the field and, eventually, their concrete suggestions for change.
This 3rd of February the Dutch Government has sent its report which, so far, remains confidential. Some parliament members have put forward a parliamentary question, whose response is still unknown.
In the meantime, TheSpokenews went to speak with Rene Rouwette, director of Kompass, to ask him about the findings of his research and the expectations for the next months, considering the Dutch Government’s report release and the controversial elections coming this March.
“The biggest mistake that we make in the Netherlands is to think that there are no human rights violations taking place here, that human rights violations are only something that has to do with World War II, or Apartheid, or people being tortured in China. In my view, human rights are for ordinary people, especially vulnerable groups. Human Rights affect all. We rely on human rights every day”, says Mr Rouwette.
According to the report that NJCM and Kompass’ wrote on behalf of the 23 Dutch organisations that collected the data for them, the most exposed categories in the Netherlands are migrants, minorities, young people and the elders who lost their job too early for retirement and are struggling to find a new one. “We have seen that the poverty gap in the Netherlands has increased again and that some people are finding it incredibly hard to get out of the crisis. When we speak about human rights we tend to forget them.”
Reading the report, we understand that the most concerning issue regards the migrants, especially undocumented ones. Those people are held in detention centres waiting for repatriation. According to Mr Rouwette, some people are kept there for a long time, many of them without the ability to move freely within the camp, let alone going out.
“Sometimes they don’t get fresh air, when something is happening they are moved to isolation cells. That’s a big problem. When you are a refugee and you have been told that you have to go back to your country, that is already not very nice. But when you are locked up before you go back, that is incredibly painful. If you look at human rights law, all the things that I report are violations.”
Despite this, after the release of the report, Mr Rouwette has received some disapproval glances and his word was scoffed during an interview with a big newspaper, as if talking about human rights violations in the Netherlands did not make any sense if compared with everything terrible that happens in the world.”Well, violations is an extremely legal term. Let’s just call them problems so we’re not going to get into legal discussions”, says Mr. Rouwette.
However, we actually intend to go deeper into the so-called legal discussions. After the chat with Mr. Rouwette we spoke with doctor Saleh al Sharieh, an expert in human rights and international law at the University of Groningen. To his ears as well, those depicted in the report seem like real violations.
“I am not sure about these claims but, if they are proven, they will be violation of international human rights law. (So far) these remain claims. One of the objectives of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is to investigate the claims of human rights violations in collaboration with the State under review and other stakeholders in the international human rights law community.” United Nations Member States usually endeavour to meet their obligations under the UPR process, explained doctor Al-Sharieh to us. If a violation is found, the Human Rights Council will remind, help and work with the State under review to comply with its obligations under international human rights law. In the case of persistent non-compliance, the Human Rights Council is responsible for describing the measures necessary to address this situation. Generally, “naming and shaming” is a common measure in international human rights law that promotes States’ compliance with their international human rights law obligations, as doctor Al-Sharieh told us.
Of course, these days a financial sanction would have a bigger impact on public opinion. However, these measures have a strong effect as well on international diplomacy, as doctor Sharieh told us. This is why the publication of the official document drafted by the Dutch Government is of utmost importance; it would help us understand whether Dutch institutions have listened to the alarm signal that Kompass and NJCM have launched in September, and if there is any chance that some improvement measures will be taken into place.
“Unfortunately, in the past not so much was done. We have seen that various reviews have been sent and the parliament paid very little attention to them. A big problem is the bureaucracy: since the issue is the responsibility of many Ministries, it becomes the responsibility of none. No one is taking responsibility for this”, told us Mr Rouwette.
Few weeks apart from the coming elections, with a candidate as controversial as Geert Wilders is, a question about the possible consequences of his victory on the level of human rights is demanded.
“I think that asking the question is answering the question”, says Mr Rouwette. “I don’t want to say anything about politics, but I just want to say that some problems are going to grow bigger. Imagine undocumented migrants. Now we have cities, which are giving basic social care to these people: a shelter and something to eat.Some parties say that people should be forbidden to do so. That wouldn’t make the problem disappear and it will definitely cause problems for the public order in the streets.”
As far as it concerns other categories that, according to Kompass’ report, are more vulnerable to the deterioration of human rights wellbeing, Mr Rouwette seems to be more positive. “I hope that, in the scenario that Mr Wilders is going to be elected, he will keep to his promises on social justice.”