UN Rapporteur urges Dutch government to combat inequality

UN Special Rapporteur on Racism and Xenophobia, Tendayi Achiume, has called on the Dutch government to play a greater role in promoting racial equality and non-discrimination in the “political, economic, social, and cultural spheres” after her official visit to the Netherlands from 30 September to 7 October. The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed the Zambian woman as the new successor to Rapporteur Verene Shepherd.

In an official End of Mission Statement, the Special Rapporteur notes “concerns that the Government has not done enough to stand against explicit and subtle forms of intolerance and discrimination against racial, ethnic and religious minorities,” with emphasis on Islamophobic sentiments. While she commends Amsterdam and Rotterdam for investing in actions which foster an inclusive national identity, she emphasizes that “these efforts should be strengthened and the national government should show even greater leadership where these efforts are concerned.”

Specifically, she notes that “the highest levels of political office in the Netherlands do not reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the Kingdom.” The UN Rapporteur writes of “grave concern about violence and harassment in public against women visibly displaying symbols of their Muslim religion, especially with the introduction of the Nikab ban.”

Achiume notes discrimination within the police force such as “profiling during traffic control, identity checks, preventive searches and border stops,” police misusing their power, “police brutality against anti-racism activists,” and “institutional racism within some police departments.” She reports that “Minority communities expressed fear, mistrust and frustration at being over-policed but under-served” and added that one 2017 survey found that Dutch Muslims have the lowest level of trust in the police compared to Muslims in other European countries. Achiume prescribes in part, “systematic anti-discrimination and intercultural sensitivity training…across all sectors of national authorities.”

The Special Rapporteur raises concerns over the implementation of laws and policies designed to protect refugees, pointing out increasingly high waiting times for refugee status determination and “an emphasis among officials on deterrence of asylum seekers and refugees, rather than on guaranteeing their protection.”

She calls attention to racist and antisemtic chants in the context of football, hate speech within public discourse, and emphasizes a need for education reform, saying “far more needs to be done to educate all Dutch people both about the histories of slavery and colonialism as histories of systematic racial subordination, including and especially of the peoples of former Dutch colonies, and those peoples enslaved and traded by the Dutch.”

The Special Rapporteur commends the recent decision to eliminate full blackface from the televised national Sinterklaas parade but writes that a genuine commitment to equality “requires national and municipal authorities to play their part in engaging with racial and ethnic minority communities.” NOS reports the Special Rapporteur’s call for continued government action in the context of Zwarte Piet is related to Prime Minister Rutte who “who has repeatedly said that he leaves the change of Zwarte Piet to society.”

The Special Rapporteur commends the recent decline in prison population and the Dutch government’s investment in “humane conditions of confinement” but urges research into the cause of overrepresentation of minorities incarcerated. She commends efforts at combatting labor market discrimination as well as discrimination within the housing sector. Achiume praises the government’s “admirable and forceful steps” toward the rights of LGBTI persons and prescribes continued government effort in these areas.

The Special Rapporteur calls the Netherlands’ famed commitment to inclusion “impressive” but cautions that, “The paradox in the Netherlands is that insistence that equality and tolerance already exist operates as a barrier to achieving this equality and tolerance in fact, because the insistence makes it difficult to mobilize the resources and action necessary to ensure equality, non-discrimination and inclusion for all.”

The Special Rapporteur stated she will release a detailed report to the 44th Human Rights Council session in July 2020.


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