Netherlands: different levels of ICCPR implementation in the four countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Published on 17 Jul 2019, 01:19 PM

Human Rights Committee - 126th session - July 2019

On 1 and 2 July 2019, the Human Rights Committee reviewed Netherlands’ fifth periodic report on actions the State has taken to implement the ICCPR. 

The Committee was mostly concerned about the treatment towards refugees in Netherlands, threats against unaccompanied children in detention camps and inadequate shelters for undocumented women. The Committee also discussed racial discrimination issues and hate speech. In general, the constitutional and legal differences between the four countries’ regulations was a main point of concern when discussing different rights.

The webcast is available here: part one and part two.

"The Kingdom of the Netherlands consists of four independent countries: The Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten. Each country is autonomous in implementing the Covenant, and faces its own difficulties. "

- Member of the Delegation of The Netherlands

ICCPR Implementation in the four countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

The Committee raised questions with regard to the legislative, policy and institutional framework to ensure equal protection of human rights in the four constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The State responded that there are no legal differences between the countries. However, the extent of protection offered by those States, depends on their economic reality. The countries have to make sure that their protection policies are in line with the ones of the Kingdom. They may not be parties to the same treaties, but they have to guarantee that they all apply the same regulations.

Gas extraction operations in Groningen

The Committee requested more information regarding the steps taken by the State after multiple earthquakes took place in Groningen caused by gas extraction. The regular earthquakes have a considerable impact on the enjoyment of numerous rights by individuals, including safety, right to privacy and family life, right to life and the rights of the child. The Committee asked whether the State had plans to decrease or stop the gas extractions that cause the earthquakes. Taking into account the long period of time that has passed since the earthquakes, the delegation mentioned that they will work harder to stop the gas extraction in east Groningen. They also specified that they are going to restore houses, schools and public facilities that were damaged by the quakes. They would also construct hospitals and other facilities based on earthquake proof standards in order to prevent future damages. It is worth mentioning that a recommendation has also been made by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2017 on the issue that, according to civil society, has not been implemented by the State yet. According to civil society, even though the earthquakes have been happening for many years, the State has not taken the necessary measures about it and it has been negligent about the situation.

Refugee Rights and Asylum Seekers

The Committee acknowledged the progress that has been made with regard to refugee rights by the State, but serious concerns still remain. The Committee asked the State to provide more data on the number of asylum seekers that have been granted international protection.

The Committee was concerned about reports of forced returns of asylum seekers, whose application has been rejected, to countries where they might be subjected to torture, in breach of the principle of non-refoulement. It was also concerned by the substantial numbers of asylum cases and family reunification cases pending decisions.

The Committee also inquired about the legal definition of a safe third country and whether legal assistance is provided to individuals whose asylum applications have been rejected.

Other questions were asked relating to the low number of individuals who challenge these rejections in court, since many are not able to afford the costs, and are not familiar with the legal procedures.

The delegation with respect to refugee rights, replied that even individuals who have been rejected, have the right to a temporary stay, in order to provide them with an opportunity to challenge this decision. It was also mentioned that the notion of safe third country and its criteria are applied on a case-by-case basis, and the applicants can challenge the State’s decision in this regard. The delegation also mentioned that more resources are allocated to reduce the time for processing asylum applications.

In follow up questions members of the Committee asked for more specific information, since the main challenges arise during the implementation of such regulations. Moreover, since the State has also ratified Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, the Committee inquired about the implementation of its decisions on different cases involving asylum seekers.

Pretrial detention

The Committee raised concerns with regard to pretrial detention of suspected terrorists. The Committee inquired about the criteria that constitute “reasonable suspicion” and expressed its concern in particular with regard to juveniles, as the number of juveniles held in pretrial detention for lengthy periods is increasing. The Committee also asked about the alternatives to detention, and whether they are implemented in practice.

Members of the delegation addressed this issue separately for each specific country. In Curacao, the delegation mentioned that they are trying to decrease the length of pretrial detention, and that they are providing more funds to improve the facilities and conditions. It was mentioned that according to the regulations, detention should be used as a last resort. Regarding the situation in Aruba, the delegation mentioned that the system is similar to the one in Curacao. In the Netherlands, pretrial detention can only be used when there are compelling reasons to do so. The delegation from Sint-Maarten did not address this question.

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

The State party is requested to provide, by 26 July 2021, information on the following recommendations from the Committee's Concluding Observations:

Racial discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes

  • Intensify its efforts to prevent hate speech, particularly by politicians and high-level public officials;
  • Develop an effective strategy, in cooperation with digital technology companies, to reduce online hate speech and at public events, including football matches;
  • Investigate hate crimes thoroughly, prosecute suspected perpetrators where appropriate and, if they are convicted, punish them and provide victims with adequate remedies;
  • Provide adequate training to law enforcement officials, judges and prosecutors on the issue;
  • Intensify its efforts to effectively implement the Action plan against labour market discrimination (2018) and the National Action Programme to combat discrimination (2016) with a view to increasing the actual participation of target groups in the labour market;
  • Continue its efforts to bring about the end or transform the nature of parades involving the character of ‘Black Pete';
  • Collect disaggregated data relating to the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.

Refugees and asylum seekers

  • Continue its efforts relating to the family reunification policy and the provision of free legal aid;
  • Introduce legislation governing asylum in line with international human rights and refugee laws, in particular in the Caribbean constituent countries and consider the ratification of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees by all constituent countries;
  • Ensure that the non-refoulement principle is secured in law;
  • Ensure that investigations are carried out into the cases of breach of the principle of non-refoulement;
  • Intensify its efforts to reduce the backlogs in the asylum application process and the family reunification process;

Gas extraction operations in Groningen

  • Take necessary measures to ensure the physical safety and mental wellbeing of people residing in the area of gas extraction in Groningen and the security and safety of their homes;
  • Provide adequate compensation to the victims and prevent future occurrences of damages related to gas extraction;
  • Ensure the meaningful participation of, and consultation with, inhabitants of Groningen in designing and implementing the phase-out plan.

The next report of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is expected by 26 July 2025.

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