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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Netherlands

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Netherlands, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
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.


The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary legislative system and an independent judiciary. Executive authority is exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet representing the governing political parties (traditionally a coalition of at least two major parties). The bicameral Parliament is elected through free and fair elections.

Regional police forces are primarily responsible for maintaining internal security. The police, the royal constabulary, and investigative organizations concerned with internal and external security are effectively subordinated to civilian authority.

The market-based economy is export oriented and features a mixture of industry, services, and agriculture. Key industries include chemicals, oil refining, natural gas, machinery, and electronics. The agricultural sector produces fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat, and dairy products. Living standards and the level of social benefits are high. At just over 7 percent of the work force, unemployment is a serious problem, and one which affects minorities relatively more than the general population.

The Government fully respects the rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with instances of individual abuse. The Government is taking serious steps to address violence and discrimination against women. The Government has also taken steps to address societal discrimination against minorities. The Criminal Investigation Service registered dozens of racist incidents with life-threatening violence, such as shootings, arson, and physical abuse.

Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, which are two autonomous regions of the kingdom, also feature parliamentary systems and full constitutional protection of human rights. In practice, government respect for human rights on these islands generally is little different from that in the European Netherlands. The two Caribbean Governments have taken measures to address past reports of police brutality. Prison conditions remain substandard.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that officials employed them.

In response to police mistreatment of suspects and prisoners in the Netherlands Antilles, the Antillean Government established an independent commission with investigatory powers to respond to complaints from the public about police brutality, and the Dutch Government funded a police professionalization training program there, which graduated its first class in September. The Dutch agreed to adapt the training program for Aruba as well and to establish a commission to look into Aruba's police training needs.

Prison conditions in the islands, and particularly on Curacao and St. Maarten in the Netherlands Antilles, are generally considered substandard. Prisoners continued to complain of poor food, lack of access to medical personnel, and overcrowding. The Dutch Ministry of Justice made a series of recommendations in 1994 for the reorganization of the Netherlands Antillean prison system. In January the island government pledged to implement those recommendations but took no action during the year. The governments allow access by nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) to prisons; Council of Europe rapporteurs visited Aruba, Curacao, and St. Maarten in the spring.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and the Government observes this prohibition.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision in practice. The judiciary provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and the independent judiciary vigorously enforces this right.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such practices, government authorities generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanction.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government respects these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. State subsidies are provided to religious organizations that maintain educational facilities.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status. In January the Government instituted tighter criteria for granting asylum, resulting in a 50 percent drop in the number of asylum applicants in the first half of the year.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.

There are no restrictions in law or in practice on the participation of women and minorities in government and politics. The second chamber of Parliament includes 49 women among its 150 members. Four of 13 cabinet ministers and 80 of 633 mayors are women.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings. Government officials are very cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The law bans discrimination on the basis of any of these factors or on sexual orientation or political preference. The Government generally is effective in enforcing these provisions. Under a new Equal Treatment Act, complainants may take offenders to court under civil law.


The Government supports programs to reduce and prevent violence against women. Battered women find refuge in a network of 48 government-subsidized women's shelters offering the services of social workers and psychologists. In addition, battered women who leave their domestic partners become eligible for social benefits which include an adequate basic subsidy as well as an allowance for dependent children. Nongovernmental organizations also advise and assist women who have been victims of sexual assault. Since 1991 marital rape has been a crime and carries the same penalty as rape. Spousal abuse carries a one-third higher penalty than ordinary battery. However, since the judicial system does not compile statistics distinguishing spousal abuse from battery, it is difficult to estimate the extent of the problem. The most recent study, by the Ministry of Welfare, Health, and Culture in 1989, showed that over 20 percent of women in heterosexual relationships were victims of violence during their lifetimes. Slightly over half of these suffered repeated severe violence.

Concern over trafficking in women for prostitution is on the rise. The Dutch Foundation Against Trafficking in Women estimates that each year around 1,000 women are brought into the Netherlands for purposes of prostitution. The International Organization for Migration collected data on 155 women brought from Eastern and Central Europe to the Netherlands in 1994 and found that over 95 percent had become trapped in prostitution. Women who are forced to work illegally as prostitutes have special exemptions in immigration law and receive counseling and legal assistance. In June the Dutch Society of Attorneys General issued new guidelines for prosecutors to improve enforcement of the existing law against trafficking in women.

Women are increasingly entering the job market, but traditional cultural factors and inadequate child care facilities can discourage womenÚÚespecially those with young childrenÚÚfrom working. Although more than 40 percent of the Dutch work force is now female, many women work only part-time. Only 52 percent of women ages 15 to 64 have jobs, and 64 percent of these employed women work less than 35 hours a week. By contrast, 75 percent of men in this age group are employed, 85 percent of whom work 35 or more hours a week.

Women are often underemployed and have less chance of promotion than their male colleagues. The unemployment rate of women reentering the labor market is high. A 1993 study of central government civil servants showed that, while 58 percent of those in the lowest salary grade were women, only 9 percent in the highest grade were women. These problems notwithstanding, women are making steady progress by moving into important professional and high-visibility jobs.

In 1988 the Government began instituting affirmative action programs for women. Collective labor agreements usually include one or more schemes to strengthen the position of women. Legislation mandates equal pay for equal work, prohibits dismissal because of marriage, pregnancy, or motherhood, and provides the basis for equality in other employment-related areas. A legislatively mandated Equal-Treatment Commission actively pursues complaints of discrimination in these areas as well as allegations of pay differences.

The Dutch social welfare and national health systems provide considerable assistance to working women with families. Women are eligible for 16 weeks of maternity leave at full pay. The Parental Leave Law allows new mothers and fathers to work only 20 hours a week over a 6-month period.

Women have full legal and judicial rights and enter marriage with the option of choosing community property or separate regimes for their assets.

Women's groups dedicated to such issues as equal rights in social security, the legal position of women, sexual abuse, taxation, education, work, and prostitution operate freely. The Social Ministry, citing research which showed that one in three working women has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, initiated legislation to address this problem. And in 1994, Parliament passed an amendment to the Workers' Conditions Act requiring employers to take measures to protect workers. The Government runs an ongoing publicity campaign to increase awareness of the problem. As the biggest employer in the country, it has taken measures to counter harassment among civil servants, for example, in the police force.


The Government is committed to ensuring the well-being of children through numerous well-funded health, education, and public information programs. The Council for the Protection of Children, operated through the Ministry of Justice, enforces child support orders, investigates cases of child abuse, and recommends remedies ranging from counseling to withdrawal of parental rights. In addition, the Government has set up a popular hot line for children and a network of pediatricians who track suspected cases of child abuse on a confidential basis. There is no pattern of societal abuse of children.

International sex tourism involving abuse of minor children is prosecutable under Dutch law. In November Parliament passed legislation raising the minimum penalty for child pornography offenses from 3 months' to 4 years' imprisonment, and to 6 years' in the event of financial gain. The new legislation also allows for provisional arrest, house searches, and criminal financial investigations. Moreover, it will no longer have to be proven that a person possesses child pornography for the purpose of distribution or public display. Sufficient cause for prosecution will be "the possession of pictures of sexual behavior with minors."

People with Disabilities

There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services. Local governments are increasingly mandating access to public buildings for the disabled.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Integration of racial and ethnic minorities into the social and cultural mainstream remains a difficult domestic issue.

The Government has tried to increase public awareness of racism and discrimination. The law bans discrimination on the basis of race or nationality and allows those who believe that they have been discriminated against to take the offender to court under civil law. A 1994 study by the University of Leiden and the Dutch Public Safety Service concluded that the number of incidents of violence against foreigners and ethnic minorities had increased in recent years. The study counted the number of reported racially motivated incidents of violence in 1993 to be around 350 but estimated the unreported number to be much higher. In 1994 the Criminal Investigation Service (CRI) registered 1,114 racist incidents, ranging from racist pamphlets and painted slogans to bomb threats, assaults, physical abuse, and destruction of property. There was no noticeable increase in the number of incidents in the first 6 months of 1995. CRI registers only incidents of "lighter offenses," e.g., painted swastikas, when a complaint has been field. Therefore, it estimates that the number of such incidents is much higher.

Immigrant groups face some de facto discrimination in housing and employment. These groups, concentrated in the larger cities, suffer from a high rate of unemployment. The Government has been working for several years with employers' groups and unions to reduce minority unemployment levels to the national average. As a result of these efforts, in recent years the rate of job creation among ethnic minorities has been higher than among the general population.

A 1994 law requiring employers with a work force of over 35 people to register their non-Dutch employees has run into implementation problems. Some employers find the law burdensome, and some minority employees object to being counted as "non-Dutch." Employers must submit confidential affirmative action plans including recruitment targets and proposed means of reaching that target.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Membership in labor unions is open to all workers including military, police, and civil service employees. People are entitled to form or join unions of their own choosing without previous government authorization, and unions are free to affiliate with national trade union federations. This right is freely exercised.

Unions are entirely free of control by the Government and political parties. Union members may and do participate in political activities.

All workers have the right to strike, except for most civil servants who have other institutionalized means of protection and redress. The right to strike is exercised freely, but the number of strikes each year is very low and resulted in only 47.5 lost labor days in 1994. There is no retribution against striking workers.

About 25 percent of the Dutch work force is unionized, but union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements are usually extended to cover about three-quarters of the work force. The white-collar unions' membership is the fastest growing.

There are four union federations in the Netherlands, and there are also independent unions. These federations are active internationally, without restriction.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to organize and bargain collectively is recognized and well established. Discrimination against workers because of union membership is illegal and does not occur.

Collective bargaining agreements are negotiated in the framework of the "Social Partnership" developed between trade unions and private employers. Representatives of the main union federations, employers' organizations, and the Government meet each autumn to discuss labor issues, including wage levels and their relation to the state of the economy and to international competition. The discussions lead to a central accord with social as well as economic goals for the coming year. Under this umbrella agreement, unions and employers in various sectors negotiate sectoral agreements, which the Government usually extends to all companies in the respective sector. As a result, collective bargaining agreements cover three-quarters of the labor force.

Antiunion discrimination is prohibited. Union federations and employers' organizations form the "Social Partnership" and are represented, along with independent experts, on the Social and Economic Council. The Council is the major advisory board to the Government on its policies and legislation regarding national and international social and economic matters.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by the Constitution and does not occur.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment is 16 years, and for full-time work it is conditioned on completion of the mandatory 10 years of schooling. Those still in school at age 16 may not work more than 8 hours per week. People under age 18 are prohibited by law from working at night, overtime, or in areas dangerous to their physical or mental well-being. The laws are effectively enforced by the tripartite Labor Commission, which monitors hiring practices and conducts inspections.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for adults is established by law and can be adjusted every 6 months to changes in the cost-of-living index. Since 1982 few adjustments have been made, and the rise in the minimum wage has lagged well behind the rise in the index. The gross minimum wage is $1,352 per month (2,163 guilders). For workers earning the minimum wage, employers currently pay $3,750 a year (f. 6,000) in premiums for social security benefits, which includes medical insurance. Only 3 percent of workers earn the minimum wage because collective bargaining agreements, which are normally extended across a sector, usually fix a minimum wage well above the legislated minimum. Government, unions, and employers are discussing ways to increase the number of minimum wage jobs and to decrease employers' social payments in order to lower the cost of hiring new workers and to create more jobs, especially for the long-term unemployed.

There is a reduced minimum wage for young people under age 23ÚÚone of the demographic groups with the highest rate of unemploymentÚÚintended to provide incentives for their employment. This wage ranges from 33 percent of the adult minimum wage for workers ages 16 to 85 percent for those ages 22. The legislated minimum wage and social benefits available to all minimum wage earners provide an adequate standard of living for workers and their families.

A 40-hour workweek is established by law, but collective bargaining agreements often set a shorter workweek. The rapid increase of telecommuting and high level of part-time work have lowered the estimated actual workweek to 35.8 hours, under the European average. As a job creating measure, the Government now permits flexible hours. For some, this could mean more than an 8-hour day, within the weekly legal limits. However, collective bargaining negotiations are heading toward an eventual 36-hour week for full-time employees.

Working conditions, including comprehensive occupational safety and health standards set by law and regulations, are actively monitored by the tripartite Labor Commission. Enforcement is effective. Workers may refuse to continue working at a hazardous work site. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs also monitors standards through its labor inspectorate.

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