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Freedom in the World 2011 - Netherlands

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 12 May 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Netherlands, 12 May 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4dcbf5132f.html [accessed 22 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Amsterdam
Population: 16,527,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free

Overview

The People's Party for Freedom and Democracy narrowly won parliamentary elections in June 2010 and formed a minority coalition with the Christian Democratic Appeal party. In order to guarantee a voting majority, the coalition agreed to accept support from Geert Wilders' right-wing Party for Freedom, necessitating the inclusion of several anti-immigration measures in the new government's policy statement. Meanwhile, public support for Wilders' party, as well as a growing number of incidents targeting minorities, raised concerns of an increase in societal discrimination.


After the Dutch won their independence from Spain in the 16th century, the princely House of Orange assumed the leadership of the Dutch Republic, which later became the Republic of the United Netherlands. Following a brief period of rule by Napoleonic France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands emerged in the 19th century as a constitutional monarchy with a representative government. The Netherlands remained neutral in both world wars, though the 1940 invasion of Nazi Germany influenced the country to join NATO in 1949. In 1952, it became a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community, a precursor to the European Union (EU).

Right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered several days before general elections in May 2002. His newly formed party, the Pim Fortuyn List (LPF), had been running on an anti-immigrant platform, returning issues of immigrant integration to the forefront of Dutch politics. Following the elections, a new coalition – consisting of the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal party (CDA), the far-right populist LPF, and the right-of-centre People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) – took office in July, only to collapse that October due to party infighting. The CDA narrowly won ensuing elections in January 2003, and subsequently formed a center-right coalition government with the VVD and the smaller Democrats-66 (D66) party.

In May 2006, immigration and integration minister Rita Verdonk moved to annul the citizenship of a fellow VVD member of parliament, the Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, after it was discovered that she had lied in her 1992 asylum application. Hirsi Ali had received death threats for being an outspoken critic of Islam and for a film made in collaboration with controversial filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was killed by a radical Islamist in 2004. D66 quit the government over the handling of the incident, causing the coalition to collapse in June 2006.

The CDA led the voting in the November 2006 elections and formed a centrist coalition government with the Labor Party (PvdA) and the Christian Union party in February 2007. The CDA's Jan-Peter Balkenende continued as prime minister. The coalition government included the country's first Muslim cabinet ministers and marked the morally conservative Christian Union's debut in government. The LPF gained no seats and has since disbanded.

Elections were held again in June 2010 following the collapse of the CDA-led government in February. The VVD made major gains, winning a total of 31 seats. The PvdA followed with 30 and the CDA took only 21, down from 41 seats in the 2006 elections. Geert Wilder's right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) won 24 seats, nearly tripling the number of votes it received in 2006. The VVD and the CDA entered into a coalition agreement in September, but did not hold a majority of seats. The two parties agreed to include the PVV in its coalition government, thus awarding Wilders influence over the new government's policy statement. Several issues advocated by the PVV were included, such as a reduction in family migration, the elimination of financial support for immigrant integration classes, the possibility of withdrawing residence permits should the holder fail an integration exam, and a ban on clothing that covers the face. Mark Rutte of the VVD became the country's prime minister, with his party leading the government for the first time.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

The Netherlands is an electoral democracy. The 150-member lower house of parliament, or Second Chamber, is elected every four years by proportional representation. The 75-member upper house, or First Chamber, is elected for four-year terms by the country's provincial councils. Foreigners residing in the country for five years or more are eligible to vote in local elections. The Netherlands extended voting rights to Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles for the first time in the June 2009 European Parliament elections.

The leader of the majority party or coalition is usually appointed prime minister by the monarch, currently Queen Beatrix. Mayors are appointed from a list of candidates submitted by the municipal councils. The monarch appoints the Council of Ministers (cabinet) and the governor of each province on the recommendation of the majority in parliament.

The country has few problems with political corruption. The Netherlands was ranked 7 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The news media are free and independent. The 1881 lèse majesté laws restricting defamation of the monarch are rarely enforced. The trial of PVV leader Geert Wilders, which began in January 2010, was subsequently postponed until January 2011 after a judge reportedly attempted to influence one of the defense witnesses. Wilders faces charges of discrimination and inciting hatred through his anti-Muslim editorials and his film Fitna. In April 2010, a Dutch court acquitted the Arab European League of hate crime charges related to the 2009 publication of an allegedly anti-Semitic cartoon, ruling that the cartoon's production was protected under the European Convention on Human Rights. In September 2010, the European Court of Human Rights overturned a September 2002 ruling by a Dutch court that had compelled journalists to reveal their sources during an investigation into illegal car races.

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Religious organizations that provide educational facilities can receive subsidies from the government. Members of the country's Muslim community have encountered increased hostility in recent years, including harassment and verbal abuse, as well as vandalism and arson attacks on mosques. The government requires all imams and other spiritual leaders recruited from Muslim countries to take a one-year integration course before practicing in the Netherlands. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

People have the right to assemble, demonstrate, and generally express their opinions. National and international human rights organizations operate freely without government intervention. Workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike. In April 2010, sanitation workers ended a nine-week strike, the longest in the Netherlands since 1933.

The judiciary is independent, and the rule of law prevails in civil and criminal matters. The police are under civilian control, and prison conditions meet international standards.

The population is generally treated equally under the law, although human rights groups have criticized the country's recent asylum policies for being unduly harsh and violating international standards. Since December 2009, asylum applications have been assessed on an individual basis, not according to country of origin. In the fall of 2010, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized the Netherlands for its plans to deport several asylum seekers to their home countries of Iraq and Somalia, ignoring appeals from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to halt deportations to these countries. The PVV's gains in the 2010 elections have raised concerns about escalating levels of societal discrimination against minorities, as the party openly opposes immigration and supports a headscarf ban. In September, the Justice Ministry reported a nearly 50 percent increase in antisemitic incidents in 2009 over 2008 and a 13 percent increase in homophobic incidents.

In April 2010, the Dutch high court ruled that the Calvinist political party, which holds two seats in parliament, must allow women to run on the party's ballot; the party has previously fielded only male candidates. However, doubt remains over how the ruling will be effectively enforced. The Netherlands is a destination and transit point for human trafficking, particularly in women and girls for sexual exploitation. A 2005 law expanded the legal definition of trafficking to include forced labor and increased the maximum penalty for convicted offenders. Prostitution is legal and regulated in the Netherlands, although links between prostitution and organized crime have been reported.


* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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