Dutch Advisory Council broadly endorses Government’s human rights policy

January 10, 2014

On 24 September 2013 the Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs [AIV] published its advice on the Government’s policy letter (a kind of white paper) on human rights (“Respect and Justice for All”) of June 2013. The Council, which can be quite critical, has broadly endorsed the proposed policy. The link to the full document is below but the highlights are as follows:

The AIV sees the words ‘[h]uman rights are the cornerstone of our foreign policy’ in the opening paragraph as characteristic of the whole policy, but forging numerous links with other aspects of foreign policy, the letter testifies to a realistic view of international relations and international developments. The policy letter is relatively short and does not claim to offer a solution to all situations – foreseen or otherwise – that may arise. It thus allows maximum scope to respond to new developments in thinking on human rights in large parts of the world and to create shifting coalitions to promote respect for human rights worldwide. It also sets clear priorities, which the AIV also sees as positive.

The emphasis on credibility is a particularly prominent point. In the AIV’s view, the letter shows convincingly that internal credibility is a precondition for credible, effective external action (i.e. ‘practise what you preach’) which is important in view of a number of international recommendations addressed to the Netherlands in recent years.

The AIV believes that human rights education should be even more of a priority than it is already, in training for officials and in basic education, both in the Netherlands and elsewhere. Human rights education can also help to combat intolerance and discrimination, both of which surface time and again.

The policy letter states that the Dutch human rights award (the Tulip) is changing in character and will focus on highlighting and promoting creative and innovative ideas on human rights. The AIV understands the government’s wish to reconsider the nature of the award now that it has been presented five times. The government’s answers to questions in the House of Representatives about the policy letter show that in future the award will still be given to human rights defenders. The AIV believes this is extremely important, since the boost given by a state award to people with the courage to run great personal risks by championing human rights cannot be overstated. The award can offer them protection and help them develop their activities further. In addition, in this form the award helps to improve observance of human rights. Moreover, continuing to present the award to human rights defenders will ensure that it does not become diluted or diffuse and hence in a few years unrecognisable.

Five issues  which may help guarantee the external credibility of Dutch human rights policy are

Ratification of instruments. If the Netherlands is to have a credible human rights policy it must commit itself not only to the principal human rights instruments but also to the associated protocols providing for the right of individual petition.  The AIV therefore thinks that the wording of the passage on accession to human rights instruments is a bit too cautious.

Freedom of expression and internet freedom. The policy letter states that the Netherlands is unflagging in its efforts to promote freedom of expression, both online and offline. The Netherlands is right to devote unremitting efforts to this issue. Even now, the government could consider more explicit ways of promoting a global guaranteed human right of free access to crucial communication infrastructures and services like the internet.  The AIV wishes to point out that the policy letter is wrong to omit the protection of the right to respect for electronic correspondence, i.e. confidential communication over the internet. The large-scale interception and monitoring activities of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the security services in the EU that work with it have rightly prompted international consternation. The AIV believes that the free flow of confidential communication via email, web applications or telecoms should be guaranteed worldwide in accordance with standards similar to those that apply in Europe under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Freedom of religion and belief. Freedom of religion and belief are rightly still a priority area for the Government but the AIV believes that bilateral efforts are being narrowed down to too few countries. The AIV would advise the government – with a view to preventing civil conflicts – to put freedom of religion back on the agenda, in particular in the interests of peaceful and tolerant relations between different religious groups and of personal freedom to make religious choices that diverge from the dominant belief system.

Human rights and development coöperation.……..

Corporate social responsibility. The government states that ‘human rights and corporate enterprise’ is still a key theme (examples from Bangladesh to the Niger Delta). The government states that the Netherlands ‘promotes the comprehensive dissemination and implementation of the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, adopted in 2011’ and ‘emphasises the importance of self-regulation by the companies concerned’. The AIV agrees with the approach adopted by the government and looks forward to seeing the specifics in the delayed Action Plan. However, at present one key element appears to be missing: what happens if self-regulation fails ? For AIV self-regulation should be the starting point, but believes that more far-reaching measures will soon be necessary to ensure an efficient way of holding enterprises to their obligations whenever – despite their good intentions – things go wrong.

The AIV appreciates the government’s upholding the tradition of conducting regular reviews of human rights policy in the light of changing circumstances… The AIV fully endorses the approach taken in the policy letter, shares the ambitions expressed in it and hopes that the government can achieve them, in the midst of numerous global tensions and despite the cutbacks that are affecting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as other government departments.


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