Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

The Netherlands: Protection available to women victims of domestic abuse; public attitudes toward domestic violence

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 30 November 1999
Citation / Document Symbol NLD33240.E
Reference 4
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, The Netherlands: Protection available to women victims of domestic abuse; public attitudes toward domestic violence, 30 November 1999, NLD33240.E, available at: [accessed 24 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.

According to a 26 February 1996 United Nations report, the Netherlands has an extensive state-subsidized legal aid system for which roughly one-half of the country's citizens qualify on the basis of the minimum income or assets requirement (paras 204, 211). Legal representation in the legal aid system is provided both by advocates, of which there are approximately 8,000 in the Netherlands, and by legal aid advice centres in each court district (ibid., para 206). Legal aid advice centres are staffed by lawyers who offer short-term legal advice in cases that have not yet come before the courts (ibid.). According to the same UN report, "legal aid may be granted under the system regardless of the nationality or residential status of the applicant provided the legal interest at issue lies within the domain of Dutch law" (ibid., para 210).

According to a report on the political participation of women in the Netherlands, on both the national and local level the Dutch state has provided "a regular stream of subsidies … to finance activities of women's organizations and to set up women's groups, women's health centres, rape crisis centres and shelters for battered women" (Leijenaar and Niemoller 1994, 509). These initiatives, according to the report, have been "quite successful" (ibid.).

In 1984 a network of 72 Victim Support Centres was established, where victims of various offences may apply for: information and advice; emotional support; help in completing forms and writing letters and petitions; accompaniment on visits to the police, public prosecutor's office, the courts or a lawyer; mediation services; and referrals to other social service agencies (UN 26 Feb. 1996, paras 236, 237). The Victim Support Centres cooperate with many other organizations such as the police, public prosecutions department, social work agencies and the legal aid centres (ibid., para 236). Special agencies have been established to assist victims of certain kinds of offences, including sexual assaults (ibid., para 237). In 1991 new legislation criminalizing rape within marriage came into force (ibid. 12 Apr. 1994, para 303).

Women victims of domestic abuse may seek redress through the civil and criminal law (UN 26 Feb. 1996, para 230). Although in a civil procedure the victim must be represented by a lawyer, must pay court fees and runs the risk of having to pay the opposing party's costs, "civil law has certain advantages over criminal law" (ibid.). First, the courts have a much greater latitude in awarding compensation or imposing obligations, such as placing a restraining order on the offender and forbidding him from contacting the victim or entering the street where the victim lives (ibid., para 231). Second, since victims can take the initiative rather than rely on the public prosecutor to do so, civil law affords greater scope of action for victims (ibid., para 232). And third, civil law sets no limits on the claims that victims may make (ibid., para 233). While there is no guarantee that the offender will comply with a court's decision, and it is the victim's responsibility to secure compensation from the offender, victims who are unsuccessful in collecting compensation may apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (ibid., para 233, 234). According to the report, "many victims of rape or incest … seek compensation through the civil courts demanding large awards for non-material damage and applying to the court to order the offender not to contact them or to enter their neighbourhood" (ibid., para 233).

Although information specific to public attitudes toward domestic abuse could not be found among the sources consulted, they do indicate that since the early 1970s the government has pursued an "emancipation policy" and conducted a public awareness campaign to change people's attitudes and outlooks about the roles of men and women (Leijenaar and Niemoller 1994, 509; UN 12 Apr. 1994, para 250). While the Bureau of Women's Affairs, the coordinating body of the national machinery on women's issues, has identified violence against women as a priority area, responsibility for the government's emancipation policy falls to a complex of organizations and institutions, including various government departments, commissions and agencies, as well as local and regional authorities, trade unions and non-governmental organizations (ibid., paras 250, 256).

The Netherlands is signatory to a number of important international treaties governing human rights, including the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (ibid. 26 Feb. 1996, para 245). The Netherlands follows a monistic system with regard to international and national law (ibid., para 244). Under this system "international law is incorporated unchanged and without national legislation into national law" (ibid.), while Dutch laws and regulations that contravene international law lose their validity (ibid. 12 Apr. 1994, para 248). Laws of the European Community (EC) are also automatically incorporated into the Dutch legal system, meaning that rights codified or recognized within the EC become national rights (ibid. 26 Feb. 1996, para 243). Only in situations where Dutch national law offers greater protection than supranational or international law does the former prevail (ibid., para 247).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Leijenaar, Monique and Kees Niemoller. 1994. "Political Participation of Women: The Netherlands." Women and Politics Worldwide. Edited by Barbara J. Nelson and Najma Chowdhury. New Haven: Yale University Press.

United Nations (UN). International Human Rights Instruments. 26 February 1996. (HRI/CORE/1/Add.66). Core Document Forming Part of the Report of States Parties: Netherlands (European Part of the Kingdom).

_____. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). 12 April 1994. Concluding Observations: Netherlands 04/12/94. A/49/38, paras. 245-317. [Accessed 26 Nov. 1999]

Additional Sources Consulted

Human Rights Watch Global Report on Women's Human Rights

Sisterhood is Global. 1984

WIN News [Lexington, Mass.]. 1996-1999

Women and Politics Worldwide. 1994.

Two oral sources contacted.

Electronic sources: IRB databases; LEXIS-NEXIS; WNC; Internet sites, including:

CEDAW (United Nations)

RefWorld (UNHCR)


Utrecht University Institute for Human Rights.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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