Universal Periodic Review


First session meeting highlights

15 April 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the Netherlands this morning, during which 37 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Brazil, following the review of the country on Friday, 11 April.

Presenting the national report of the Netherlands was NEBAHAT ALBAYRAK, State Secretary for Justice of the Netherlands, noted that at present there was a lively discussion about fundamental rights in the Netherlands. The Netherlands attached great importance to promoting, protecting and upholding human rights, both at home and abroad. Human rights applied to everyone, everywhere at all times. The Netherlands was of the view that the respect for human rights was an important aspect of a constitutional State and the human rights system was an important component of the international legal order and a concern of all States, as stated in the Vienna Declaration of 1993. Human rights had a strong basis in the legislation, policy and enforcement of the Netherlands. The Netherlands believed that the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights and that civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights reinforced each other. Dutch society was characterized by pluralism. It was noted that the Dutch Constitution did not have any order of precedence for the fundamental rights.

On the issue of terrorism, the State Secretary said the Netherlands combated radicalization that preceded terrorist activities and was building an effective mechanism to counter terrorism in the earliest possible stages; the measures for combating terrorism were defined by law and enforced under legal supervision in the Netherlands. No one liable to Dutch legislation will every be knowingly and willfully subjected subjects to treatment contrary to the provisions dealing with the right to life and the prohibition of torture. Concerning human trafficking and prostitution, the Government of the Netherlands combated trafficking and all related criminal activities fervently. The Netherlands was also the first country to have established an independent National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking in 2000.

On the issue of discrimination, the State Secretary affirmed that discrimination, on whichever grounds, could not be permitted. The Government of the Netherlands had laws that prohibited discrimination and punished those who broke these laws. A policy plan was currently being developed that aimed to combat racial discrimination on the labor market, in law enforcement, criminal investigation and on the Internet. The Dutch Government strongly believed that real interaction between people of different backgrounds would help to combat discrimination and Islamaphobia in the country. Respecting the freedom of Muslims to practice their religion was a key theme of integration policies and was in line with a longstanding tradition of freedom of religion in the Netherlands.

The improvement of women’s rights and emancipation remained important, she added. The main issues in the policy of the State were labor participation, the position of women and girls from minority groups, safety and international emancipation policy. There was also a Minister for Emancipation. The importance of children’s rights of the Government was expressed, among other things, by the fact that they had appointed a Minister for Youth and Family. An Action Plan on Child Abuse had also been developed aimed at prevention, discovery, stopping and damage control.

During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included measures undertaken to raise the number of women at work to 80% and increased opportunities for minority women; centres to combat discrimination; steps taken to establish a national human rights institution; the State’s efforts to develop human rights education; the announcement to sign the Convention on enforced and involuntary disappearances; the commitment of the Netherlands to democracy; the State’s engagement with civil society; reaching the internationally set goal of 0.7% for Official Development Assistance; and the strong response of the Government against the documentary film Fitna and general efforts to combat racism and Islamaphobia.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to the perceived role of the proposed national human rights institution; the views of the State on the rights of a unborn child and efforts to protect their rights; efforts to enhance the personal safety of asylum seekers; steps planned to respond to clear demands of the population to reinstate the death penalty, given a recent poll suggesting that 72% of the population supported the death penalty; steps to include the gender perspective in the Universal Periodic Review; efforts to stamp out trafficking in women and prostitution; ways in which the programme on domestic violence will address the concerns expressed by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and relevant treaty bodies; plans to better integrate religious and ethnic minorities; how legislation on counter terrorism met human rights standard, including the right to a fair trial; measures taken to deal with de facto school segregation for families of foreign origin; measures to reduce drug and alcohol abuse and national programme to strengthen mental health of adolescents; and best practices experienced from the action plan for human rights education.

A number of speakers posed questions with regard to instances of Islamaphobia and manifestations of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, in view of the recent documentary Fitna by Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders. Some asked for information on concrete measures taken by the Government to tackle to the incitement to racial and religion, specific steps being taken by the Government to stem the recurrence of such incident in the future and the Government’s efforts to deal with racist profiling, in general.

Other issues concerned measures to stamp out the incidents of hate messages, racist views and pornography on the Internet and the scope of the established Cybercrime centre; steps to improve centres for asylum seekers and measures to investigate cases of human trafficking with a view to punishing the perpetrators; the human rights of migrants and the State’s re-integration efforts in that regard; information on undocumented migrants and the State’s 48-hour detention policy; steps taken to uphold the freedom of expression bearing in mind the provisions of the Convention of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; and the Equal Treatment Commission and its effectiveness in combating discrimination.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To establish a mechanism to verify that political parties or social groups do not adopt racist or xenophobia programmes; to ratify the Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; to accede to the Convention on the Rights of Migrants and their Families; to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children in armed conflict; to withdraw its reservation to the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights with respect to the Netherlands Antilles; to take steps to ensure that all reports submitted to treaty bodies include information on overseas territories of the Netherlands; to include the gender perspective in the Universal Periodic Review process; to consider implementing the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and CEDAW [Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women]; to accelerate efforts to secure a target of women representation to 25% by 2011, as stated in the national report; and to undertake an in depth study on trafficking and in light of child pornography.

Other recommendations included: To strengthen rules and regulations with respect to the fight against discrimination on grounds of religion or belief and Islamaphobia; to take every possible measure to combat Islamaphobia; to initiate prosecution against the author of the film Fitna; to undertake consistent efforts to combat racism and promote religious cohesion in society; to consider establishing a mechanisms for ensuring intercultural dialogue; to undertake an awareness campaign aimed at promoting tolerance in society; to continue to promote multiculturalism; to enforce legislation on equality; to review its legislation to respect the fundamental rights of all persons regardless of their migratory status; to review the procedure of detention for asylum seekers; to ensure the proper representation of minorities in the labor market; and to ensure measures under the State’s counter terrorism law was applied with strict respect to human rights standards.

The delegation of the Netherlands provided responses to a series of questions posed to it before and during the course of the discussion.

Responding to questions submitted in writing, the head of delegation stated that the Government was making the necessary preparations for the establishment of an effective national institution for the promotion and protection of human rights in accordance with the Paris Principles. Several active human rights institutions were already operational in the Netherlands. As to the Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, she announced that on 11 April, the Government authorized its Representative in Geneva to sign the Convention, which would take place at the next session of the General Assembly. As to cooperation with civil society, it was noted that following the discussion with the Working Group the Dutch delegation would take part in a discussion convened by two Dutch NGOs and that over 20 NGOs were consulted in the preparation of the report. The national Ombudsman and the Chairman of the Equality Commission were also present in these meetings. On another issue, it was noted that human rights education took place in primary and secondary schools. And on violence against women, the State Secretary said her country was currently working on a new action plan on domestic violence.

In response to several questions on discrimination and Islamaphobia, the delegation said it was the belief of the Netherlands that fostering real interaction will help combat discrimination and Islamaphobia. Respecting the freedom of Muslims was a key theme to the integration policies of the Netherlands. The Government of the Netherlands was firmly opposed to the decision of Mr. Wilders, the producer of the film Fitna, to post the film on the Internet and was of the view that the film was designed to create polarization. The Government of the Netherlands strongly rejected the message of the film. Dutch Muslims and Muslim Groups had trusted the Government’s response to the film and had openly rejected openly any form of violent reaction to the documentary. The Dutch Prosecutor was currently considering prosecuting the filmmaker.

On the issue of domestic violence, the delegation stated that a new action programme was created to address these acts. The Dutch policy on combating domestic violence was gender neutral; however, it was a fact that most victims were women. The Government was examining whether a specific form of legislation in this regard was advisable. Extra attention would focus on domestic violence and a national public information campaign and hotline was also launched recently. On the issue of migrant rights, it was noted that all the basic needs were afforded to migrants per Dutch national legislation.

As to victims of human trafficking, the Government provided immediate assistance to victims of trafficking. It was noted that in 2007, 99 residence permits were issued to victims. All recommendations by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking had been implemented by the Netherlands. On the issue of prostitution, the delegation recalled that the ban on brothels in the country had been lifted in 2000. The aim was to end abuse in the sex industry and to change the law to reflect every day reality. Moreover, the intent was to exercise more control in the sex industry and to counter abuses and to allow the authorities to pick up signs on human trafficking. This had, consequently, had a serious effect on improving the health and safety of sex workers.

As to the Convention on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the delegation announced that the Convention will be signed at the upcoming General Assembly session in September and ratified shortly thereafter. As to the ratification of additional instruments, the Government of the Netherlands was currently reviewing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children in armed conflict and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture would be submitted to Parliament in the course of the current year.

On questions of cybercrime, the delegations affirmed that the Government was continuing it efforts to combat online hate speech. It was the belief of the Netherlands that an international approach was needed to combat racism on the Internet. As to the questions on the human rights situation in overseas territories, the delegation stated that these territories were responsible for submitting their own human rights reports. Regarding segregation in schools, the delegation noted that a number of pilot projects were being undertaken to address such incidents. Responding to a question on abortion, the Netherlands was of the view that any action to end the life of an unborn child in the Netherlands was considered a homicide, however, such acts were permissible under extreme health-related circumstances. A committee of experts was appointed in 2006 to address this issue.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were France, Egypt, Canada, the United Kingdom, Peru, Brazil, Cuba, the Russian Federation, Pakistan, Malaysia, Slovenia, Guatemala, China, Indonesia, India, Ghana, the Republic of Korea, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Italy, Mexico, South Africa, Jordan, Azerbaijan, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Belgium, Holy See, the United States, Iran, Turkey, Belarus, Israel, Algeria, Morocco, New Zealand and Sweden.

The 18-person delegation of the Netherlands consisted of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Integration, the Ministry of General Affairs and Foreign Relations of Curaçao and The Netherlands Antilles and the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of the Netherlands are Peru, Pakistan and Nigeria.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on the Netherlands can be found here.

Adoption of report on Brazil: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Brazil are Gabon, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland. Introducing the report ABDULWAHAB ABDULSALAM ATTAR (Saudi Arabia) thanked the delegation of Brazil for its active participation in the process of the Review and in drafting the report. All the recommendations listed in the report had been accepted by the delegation of Brazil. Representing the State under review, SERGIO DE ABREU E LIMA FLORENCIO, Permanent Representatives of Brazil to the United Nations Office at Geneva, expressed recognition and thanks to all who had participated in the discussion on Brazil who made the Universal Periodic Review a real interactive promising exercise. The troika played a crucial role in clarifying comments and recommendations. Brazil viewed the Universal Periodic Review as the most innovative mechanism of the Human Rights Council. From its onset Brazil had been involved in this process in a broad and transparent manner. The Universal Periodic Review shared common grounds with a former Brazilian proposal submitted to the former Commission on Human Rights. It was recalled that among the voluntary commitments pledged by Brazil was the setting up of a national system of human rights indicators and the elaboration of annual reports on the situation of human rights taking into account the follow up to the Universal Periodic Review exercise.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of the Netherlands on Friday, 18 April.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2:30 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by South Africa after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of the Philippines.

 Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp