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NHC comments on Netherlands human rights policy

24 September 2013

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee applauds the government statement that human rights are the cornerstone of the foreign policy of the Netherlands. For this statement to be made true, further integration of human rights in all aspects of foreign relations is needed. More emphasis should be put on truthful implementation by all states of their international human rights obligations and the outcome of international procedures, such as the verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights. The paper’s emphasis on cooperation with the European External Action Service and other EU member states is understandable; the Union is likely to be more effective than individual member states. A vigilant role of The Netherlands is however required in upholding European Union human rights principles and strategies in the day-to-day shaping of policies.

The NHC comments on the new governmental human rights strategy paper Justice and Respect for All are laid down in a letter to the Netherlands parliament’s Second Chamber on the occasion of a debate scheduled on 30 September. Human rights should not be set aside in specific human rights dialogues and procedures, the comments say. Law enforcement cooperation, military support, economic relations, scientific exchange and cultural events all have their human rights elements.  Law enforcement cooperation for example will mostly focus on fighting criminality, human rights issues however should be a systematic point of attention – possibly as a condition for entering into such relations, but in many cases as an additional element in extending such cooperation. Similarly, in economic relations the four Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of the International Labor Organization should play an indispensable role.

The implementation by many states of the outcome of international human rights procedures leaves much to be desired. This is true for the verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights as well as for conclusions on human rights compliance reached by European or UN-related expert bodies. The Netherlands should place more emphasis on implementation not only in multilateral but also in bilateral relations.

The Human Rights Fund of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is an important tool to accompany political support for human rights defenders by Netherlands diplomats. As a key tool in promoting basic values of the international and national community, it should remain free from budget cuts and open for use on a broad range of countries. Similarly important are funds allowing knowledge and expertise from the Netherlands to be applied in human rights and rule of law reform in areas bordering the European Union.

The NHC supports the three main thematic priorities of the government: support for human rights defenders, for women’s rights and for LGBT rights. With respect to human rights defenders, the NHC notes that the annual human rights prize has shifted focus to ‘innovation’. It requests that the specific recognition for embattled human rights defenders that was extended since 2008 through the Human Rights Defenders Tulip, be continued in some form.

The letter (in Dutch) can be found here.

The NHC is a member of the Netherlands NGO Human Rights Platform. The Platform comments can be found here.