Subscribe Here

Dutch Government Policies on Life Imprisonment Should Be in Line with CoE Standards, NGOs argue

30 September 2019

NGOs argue Dutch government should do more to bring policies on life imprisonment in line with Council of Europe Standards

Three Dutch NGOs are advocating for changes in the policy of the Netherlands with regard to the creation by the government of a realistic possibility for rehabilitation and eventual release of people sentenced of life imprisonment. One category of prisoners particularly affected by gaps in the current practice are those with mental health problems.  On 19 July and 23 September the groups, Forum Humane Execution of Life Penalties (Forum Levenslang), the Dutch section of the International Commission of Jurists (NJCM) and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC) petitioned the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CoE) about this issue.

The submissions make use of the possibility offered by point 9.2 of the Rules of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to submit information about the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Under the European Convention of Human Rights, the Committee oversees the implementation of judgments of the Court. Governments that have been convicted of violations of the Convention are required to make an Action Plan. In this particular case, the submissions are a reaction to the Action Plan submitted on the case of Murray vs. the Netherlands. In this case, the Court concluded in 2016 that Article 3 of the Convention (torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) had been violated.

The European Court rules that in sentences of lifelong imprisonment there should be a prospect of rehabilitation and release. The court found that this prospect was absent in the case of Murray vs. the Netherlands due to the lack of mental treatment offered to James Clifton Murray (the case’s applicant), despite his mental health problems. Without the possibility of treatment for his mental health problems, there was realistically no prospect of his release.

The three NGOs call upon the Department for the Execution of Judgements, which oversees the implementation process, to ask the Netherlands government to submit a sufficiently comprehensive Action Plan addressing the issues identified by the European Court of Human Rights in Murray v the Netherlands.  The NGOs are concerned with the slow manner in which action is being taken. The current Action Plan, submitted in January 2019 was submitted almost three years after the verdict and is only considered as a preliminary plan by the government. Proper implementation may take an significantly long time, and the Council of Europe is urged to enhance the supervision of the execution.

The second Rule 9.2 submission specifically deals with the exclusion from the Action Plan of the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. While Murray was indeed imprisoned in Aruba and Curacao, two countries in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a number of aspects of the case and the verdict also are relevant for the European part, in particular the governments excessively narrow interpretation of the notion of the “realistic opportunity to rehabilitate themselves in order to have hope of release”, as required by European Court jurisprudence.