Tech & Rights

National Action Plan on Human Rights Discussed by Dutch House of Representatives

For the first time, the broad spectrum of human rights in the Netherlands was the topic of debate in the Dutch House of Representatives.


During the first General Consultation on Human Rights, the Netherlands Committee of Jurists for Human Rights (NJCM) voiced a number of its concerns in a letter addressed to members of the House, who were urged to discuss these concerns with the Minister of Security and Justice, Ivo Opstelten, and the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Ronald Plasterk. The reason for this General Consultation was the first National Action Plan on Human Rights (NAP-MR) that was launched by the Dutch government on December 10, 2013. Below you will find more information about the Action Plan. In addition, the cabinet response to the 2012 Annual Report on Human Rights in the Netherlands by the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (September 9, 2013) was on the agenda.

Even though most of NJCM’s concerns have been discussed during the General Consultation, the ministers have made few commitments. They promised, among other things, that an overview of the international recommendations to the Netherlands (which was to be ready at the beginning of 2014, according to the Action Plan), including the compliance thereof, will be presented before the summer. Moreover, they assured that, by the end of 2014, a midterm evaluation of the National Action Plan will take place on the basis of this summary. By that time, a decision will also be made on the frequency of the General Consultation that is to be held either annually or every two years.

As for the merits of the issues discussed, which also relate to the policy areas of other ministries, Mr. Plasterk, the coordinating minister, was reluctant to make any real statements, and most of the time the discussions were passed on to the relevant specialist departments or permanent committees within the House of Representatives. This was the case, for instance, with regard to human rights education, the importance of which, for both Dutch society and for the strength of the democratic constitutional state, was emphasized by almost all of the members of the House who were present. Therefore, they urged the minister to ensure that human rights will be of greater importance within the education system. This too was assured.

Below you will find a somewhat shortened version of the discussion points that the NJCM put forward for the benefit of the General Consultation on Human Rights. The whole text of the letter can be found on the website of the NJCM through the link below.

Taking human rights seriously in the Netherlands

The NJCM stressed the concerns about racism and discrimination in the Netherlands that were voiced in 2013 by authoritative bodies such as the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (CRI(2013)39, October 15, 2013) and the National Ombudsman. The response of the Dutch state to these concerns is minimal, while they demand a thoughtful response and serious rebuttals. Drafting the National Action Plan is the first step in a cyclical process of drafting, implementing and evaluating. The General Consultation on Human Rights should become an integral part of this. The NJCM hopes that the House of Representatives will enforce a clearly phased plan including periodic evaluations with which the human rights debate will be continued after April 10, 2014.

Stop the restriction of judicial review of human rights

Through the amendment of Article 94 of the Dutch Constitution, on account of the legislative proposal on initiative of Taverne, judges would no longer be able to review national legislation on the basis of the provisions of conventions and decisions of international law organizations binding upon everyone. The provisions in this article concern fundamental rights, in other words, ‘minimum standards’ the government, Parliament and authorities have to abide by in relation to their citizens. In case national legal provisions are contrary to these minimum standards, the judge may deem them inapplicable. In so doing, the judge protects citizens against political and societal developments where other (short-term) interests often prevail. Within the Dutch legal order, in which a judge is not allowed to verify legislation in a formal sense against the Constitution, the protection of Article 94 is all the more important. In the view of the NJCM, this legislative proposal on initiative undermines the foundations of the Dutch legal system and should therefore be discarded by the House of Representatives.

Drop settlement requirements for ‘Antillean Dutchmen’

The legislative proposal on initiative of Bosman imposes settlement requirements for Dutchmen from Aruba, Curaçao and Saint Maarten. If they want to come and live in the Netherlands for longer than six months, they need to have a job and sufficient income and they have to be admitted to an educational program in the Netherlands, or have family there. This legislative proposal aims to prevent ‘...a new group of Antillean Dutchmen who cannot support themselves or commit serious crimes’ from settling in the Netherlands because it would nullify the participation and integration of Antillean Dutchmen who are already there (Kamerstukken (Parliamentary papers) II 2012/13, 33 325, nr 6, p. 1-2). The NJCM is of the opinion that this proposal will not solve the supposed problems of unemployment and criminality within the Antillean community, while it does differentiate on the grounds of origin. This is emphatically prohibited in the Dutch legal order. Therefore, the NJCM requests the House of Representatives to reject this proposal.

A more effective Netherlands Institute for Human Rights

The cabinet - comprised of the ministers and state secretaries - intends to cut the budget of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights. Even before the financial evaluation, which, according to the Minister of Security and Justice, was to take place two years after it was established, it was decided that the extra funding reserved for human rights will be cut back again. To the regret of the NJCM, this sends out the wrong signal at home and abroad. The Institute requires sufficient means in order to be able to fulfill its tasks as advisor to the authorities, supervisor and information officer. This is all the more important now that the Institute is about to obtain the A-status from the United Nations, which is what it was all about for the House of Representatives when the Institute was established.

Infrastructure and coherence – national level

If the Action Plan is to really show its worth for policy development, Minister Plasterk will have to ensure closer involvement of other ministries and their departments. To this end, the Interdepartmental Consultation on Human Rights has been put into place, for which all departments are invited to convene three or four times a year. The implementation of the Action Plan is on the agenda of this consultation. The NJCM is of the opinion that the coherence of the human rights policy for the Netherlands would benefit from this consultation being more transparent. By announcing the meeting dates in a timely fashion, for example, civil society would be given the opportunity to put forward suggestions for the agenda or come up with concrete issues for discussion. Specifically with regard to the Institute for Human Rights, the NJCM advocates for a larger role in this consultation body. The Institute should be able to join the consultation in order to fulfill its legal task of advising the government.

Overview of international recommendations

To the benefit of this Interdepartmental Consultation, the government was to provide an overview of international recommendations and the compliance thereof. The overview was to be finalized at the beginning of 2014 (NAP-MR p.21). To the NJCM this seems a very useful basis for the consultation. Moreover, it would be practical to check the progress of the implementation process as, currently, the concrete points of action that are part of the Action Plan are small in number or already outdated. Measuring government action against human rights criteria is of primary importance for the legitimacy of the government within a democratic society. Therefore, the NJCM would be in favor of making public this overview.

Infrastructure – role of the civil society

As far as the further involvement of civil society is concerned, there is no lack of ideas in the Action Plan (p. 28). However, the experience of the NJCM with regard to consultations about government reports for supervisory committees of the United Nations is that a lot of the time they are an accumulation of the criticism to be expected rather than a joint identification of the bottlenecks in policies and legislation and a dialogue about possible solutions. This can be done differently, if the government is truly prepared to be receptive to recommendations and criticism and is prepared to turn these into points of action. The cabinet is prepared to make a contribution to the Human Rights Coalition (BMO-NL, a collaboration between fourteen human rights NGOs in the Netherlands, in which the NJCM currently holds the presidency) and this, in view of a fruitful dialogue, is a cause for optimism for the NJCM. However, this consultation cannot be put on a par with civil society as a whole, which is much greater and more diverse.

Ratification of OP-IVESCR

The response to the question of whether or not the cabinet intends to ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (signed in 2009) is that the consequences of ratification are looked into. For the NJCM it is time for a definite answer as to when this study will be completed and requests members of the House of Representatives to ensure that the results of this study will soon be made public. However, on April 10, 2014, the previous response was reiterated.

Checklist socio-economic rights

With reference to the compliance of the government with socio-economic rights, the Action Plan announces a checklist with respect to these human rights in order to examine policies and legislation (p. 20). The NJCM fully supports this idea but is keen to know how this checklist came into being.

Human rights education

During the presentation of the National Action Plan on Human Rights, all of the introductory speakers, among whom was the Minister of the Interior, agreed with each other: in the Netherlands there is an overall lack of knowledge and awareness of human rights at all levels (ranging from schoolchildren to civil servants). Even though the importance of this is underlined by the Action Plan (NAP-MR p. 29), it doesn’t do much more than passing on this responsibility to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). In his reaction to the report of the Education Council (‘Further with citizenship in education’), the State Secretary of this ministry indicated that he will examine in which ways human rights, including children’s rights, can become a part of the key objectives with regard to citizenship (Letter State Secretary OCW, Citizenship in education, December 16, 2013, p. 6). The NJCM calls on the House of Representatives to make the State Secretary keep his promise and make sure that in education he indeed puts more emphasis on human rights, in line with their importance for the functioning of the democratic constitutional state.

Background National Action Plan Human Rights

The National Action Plan on Human Rights aims to provide an understanding of the task of the state, in particular that of the government, for the enforcement and promotion of human rights in the Netherlands. To this end, it makes transparent in broad outline the infrastructure of human rights protection in the Netherlands and the role of the authorities therein. It also provides an overview of the measures that have been introduced and applied in order to protect human rights.

With the National Action Plan on Human Rights, the government aims to follow up on the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee in the context of the Universal Periodic Review in 2012 and on those of a number of supervisory committees created for the human rights conventions concerned. The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe also recommended to the Netherlands to create such an Action Plan back in 2009. The government has committed to creating this Action Plan in the policy letter ‘Respect and rights for everyone’ of June 14, 2013, and did so again in the cabinet response to the annual report by the Institute for Human Rights of September 9, 2013. In that report, the Institute identified the added value of an Action Plan from the government and has made a supporting recommendation to bringing forward such a plan.

Apart from the National Action Plan on Human Rights, the cabinet has also published the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights on December 20, 2013. This Action Plan came into being in the context of the policy objective of the government to promote the respect for human rights by the business sector and to prevent human rights violations by both individual companies as well as supply chains. The Action Plan is based on principles of business and human rights that have been conceived by professor John Ruggie at the request of the United Nations. In October of 2011, the European Commission ordered the Member States of the European Union to devise a plan for the national implementation of these UN Guiding Principles. The Dutch House of Representatives has made the same request.


NJCM Letter to the benefit of the General Consultation on Human Rights (in Dutch)

National Action Plan on Human Rights (in Dutch)

National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights

Donate to liberties

Your contribution matters

As a watchdog organisation, Liberties reminds politicians that respect for human rights is non-negotiable. We're determined to keep championing your civil liberties, will you stand with us? Every donation, big or small, counts.

We’re grateful to all our supporters

Your contributions help us in the following ways

► Liberties remains independent
► It provides a stable income, enabling us to plan long-term
► We decide our mission, so we can focus on the causes that matter
► It makes us stronger and more impactful

Your contribution matters

As a watchdog organisation, Liberties reminds politicians that respect for human rights is non-negotiable. We're determined to keep championing your civil liberties, will you stand with us? Every donation, big or small, counts.

Subscribe to stay in

the loop

Why should I?

You will get the latest reports before everyone else!

You can follow what we are doing for your right!

You will know about our achivements!

Show me a sample!