U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Netherlands

THE NETHERLANDS   The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary legislative system. 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 nationwide proportional voting. The police, Royal Constabulary, and investigative organs concerned with internal and external security are effectively subordinated to the executive and judicial authorities. The Netherlands has an economy which is based on private enterprise but which also has extensive involvement by governmental entities. A complex social welfare system provides a high level of social benefits. The Netherlands attaches great importance to human rights. Individual rights are protected by Dutch law and are widely respected in practice by both the State and the general public. The press, public interest groups, and domestic and international human rights organizations are quick to challenge practices which they believe violate established human rights norms. Any complaints are thoroughly discussed by the media and in Parliament and are often subjected to a judicial process. There are no significant differences in human rights practices between The Netherlands proper and the autonomous regions of the Kingdom, i.e., Aruba and the five islands of the Netherlands Antilles.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

No politically motivated killings by the Government or domestic political groups are known to have occurred.

b. Disappearance

No known abductions, secret arrests, or clandestine detention by police or other official security forces took place.

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

Torture and cruel or inhuman punishment are prohibited by law and were not known to occur in The Netherlands proper. An impartial Netherlands Antilles Commission of Inquiry constituted to investigate the claims of police brutality in 1991 and previous years concluded in September 1992, after extensive investigation, that the charges were unsubstantiated. However, according to Amnesty International, the Commission in August 1992 reported that "it found evidence of unlawful use of violence by the police on every island but Saba. The violence consisted of beatings with truncheons and, occasionally, fists." Further, "the Commission stated that neither disciplinary nor criminal action had been taken in obvious cases of serious police violence." Complaints about prison conditions on Curacao and St. Maarten in 1993, including allegations of beatings, lack of access to medical personnel and overcrowding, have prompted an ongoing official investigation by the public prosecutor's office. In 1992, at the instigation of the Dutch Government, the Government of the Netherlands Antilles established The Roemer Commission to look into reports of police brutalities in the Antilles and Aruba, and the structure of the police environment there. Subsequently, and in cooperation with the Governments of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, the Dutch Government encouraged the initiation of training courses for Antillean and Aruban police designed in part to prevent any future mishandling of prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Freedom from arbitrary arrest is provided for by law and respected in practice. Preventive detention is permitted only in an emergency declared by national or municipal authorities, and even then the detention may be for only a limited time. Under normal circumstances a suspect may be held for no longer than 6 hours (or 9 hours if arrested at night) before charges must be brought. Persons suspected of having committed serious crimes may be held in custody for 48 hours with the agreement of the public prosecutor, who is authorized to decide on an extension of the detention for an additional 48 hours. Any further decision on extending detention is made by an investigating judge. Search and arrest warrants issued by the judiciary are required in most criminal cases. There are no political prisoners. Forced exile is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The court system provides the right of appeal in all civil and criminal cases. The judiciary is independent. The right to a fair public trial is guaranteed by law and respected in practice. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Charges must be formally stated. Defendants have the right to counsel. A system of free or low cost legal assistance exists for those defendants unable to pay. However, The Netherlands was criticized in September 1993 by the European Commission for Human Rights for limiting the right of an attorney whose client is not present for the trial to speak in court.

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

A judicial warrant is required to enter a person's home or to monitor private correspondence or telephone conversations. Such warrants are granted upon the presentation of sufficient justification to judicial authorities. The State respects individual freedom of choice in family matters.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

A functioning democratic political system, an independent press, and an effective judiciary ensure freedom of speech and press. Dutch media policy allocates broadcast time to a wide range of social, political, and ethnic groups, ensuring that minority viewpoints are heard. In addition, a cable system brings in numerous television and radio broadcasts from neighboring countries. There are no prepublication restraints on any of the media. A traditional consensus precludes the mainstream media from disseminating sensitive information involving national security, defense, or the Royal Family. Violent or sensational crimes are treated with discretion, with suspects and victims often identified only by their initials. In ongoing investigations, only minimal personal data are released on criminal suspects, both to maintain the privacy of the suspect and his family and to protect the integrity of the investigation. Discrimination and incitement of hatred are prohibited under law. While courts may ban political parties at the request of the public prosecutor on the grounds of a party's racist, violent, or discriminatory character, there has never been an attempt to do so.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of assembly and association is virtually unrestricted. For large assemblies and demonstrations of a political nature, permits from local governmental authorities are required. These permits are routinely granted, but may be denied when authorities believe that "public order and safety" cannot be guaranteed as a result of a rally or demonstration. Public meetings of extreme rightist or racist groups have been prohibited from time to time. The Government does not arbitrarily impede membership in, or the formation of, organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

There is full freedom of religion. State subsidies are provided to religious organizations which maintain educational facilities.

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

There is freedom of domestic and foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. In May 1992, The Netherlands began to recognize dual citizenship and to make it easier for former Dutch citizens to reclaim their citizenship. The Netherlands has elaborate procedures for deciding asylum applications; these take into account conditions in the applicant's country of origin. Applicants who do not meet the criteria for political asylum are nevertheless permitted to remain in the Netherlands provisionally without refugee status if conditions in their country of origin are so violent or unsettled that returning them to that country would place them in danger. However, rules regarding asylum seekers which were proposed by the Ministry of Justice and approved by Parliament in September proscribe consideration of an asylum request if the applicant has had a previous request turned down or arrives from another country where he or she could have applied for asylum.

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

The Netherlands is a functioning multiparty democracy. Elections are based on proportional representation. There is universal suffrage for citizens aged 18 and older. Foreign residents may vote in municipal elections after 5 years of legal residence. Citizens elect the Second Chamber (House of Representatives) of Parliament generally every 4 years (sooner if a government resigns or falls due to a parliamentary vote of no confidence). The most recent national elections, held in September 1989, resulted in a formation of a center-left coalition, with Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers remaining in office. Four major and five minor political parties have seats in Parliament, representing the political spectrum from far left to far right. National elections are next scheduled for May 1994. There are no restrictions in law or in practice on the participation of women and minorities in government and politics. The Government has encouraged women to seek elected office by, among other things, a preferential hiring and promotion policy. Furthermore, political parties have made strong efforts to ensure greater representation of women on their election lists. The Second Chamber of Parliament now counts 44 women among its 150 members.

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

Human rights groups, the media, and other interested parties are free to pursue inquiries into human rights issues, and Dutch authorities readily assist international and nongovernmental organizations in their investigations.

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


According to a study of violence against women, financed by the Ministry of Welfare, Health, and Culture and published in 1989, 20.8 percent of Dutch women in heterosexual relationships were victims of violence. Slightly over half of these (11 percent) experienced repeated severe violence. The Government supports programs to reduce and prevent violence against women. Battered women find refuge in a network of 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. There are also organizations that advise and assist women who have been victims of sexual assault. Spousal rape is a crime and carries the same penalty as rape. Likewise, spousal abuse carries the same penalty as assault. Traditional cultural factors and inadequate child care facilities can discourage women, especially women with young children, from working, although part-time job opportunities are often filled by women with families. The Dutch tax system could be another obstacle to both spouses working, but only if they are in different tax brackets. In practice, this is not frequent because, since 1990, there have been only three tax brackets, and 80 percent of the working population is in the hightest tax bracket. The trend – especially for younger women – is toward a higher level of employment. Net participation of women rose by 180,000 labor years in the period from 1988 to 1991, a rise of 4.5 percent per year, compared to a 1 percent annual growth in male participation. Nearly one-third of all workers in the Dutch economy work part-time. Many of these part-time jobs are held by women who seek part-time, rather than full-time, work because of family demands on their time and lack of adequate childcare facilities. Social services lag behind the demand caused by the large increase in the number of working women with children. In 1992, 46 percent of women aged 15 to 64 had full- or part-time jobs, and about 40 percent of the work force was female. The unemployment rate of women reentering the labor market is high; most of the jobs available to them are in low administrative and service categories. Women have less chance of promotion than do men. In 1988 the Government started positive action programs for women, and a study of 1990 collective labor agreements by the Social Affairs Ministry showed that almost all of these contracts included 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 differentials. 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 throughout The Netherlands. In February 1991 the Equal Rights Council, in a report entitled "Sexual Intimidation in Work Situations," called for tougher legislation to control sexual harassment in the workplace. Nevertheless, a study published in January 1992 showed that 20 percent of working women said they had been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. This figure rose to 29 percent for women in the 25 to 34 age group. The Government has launched publicity campaigns 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 children's hotline and a network of pediatricians who track suspected cases of child abuse on a confidential basis.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Integration of racial and ethnic minorities into the social and cultural mainstream remains a difficult domestic issue. Incidents of violence against foreigners are relatively rare and isolated. In November 1993, for example, a group known as White Power took credit for an arson attack on a Rotterdam store owned by a Pakistani as well as a series of threatening letters to minority families. The Government has tried to increase public awareness of racism and discrimination through, among other media, television specials, billboard campaigns and public speeches. In February, following years of debate, Parliament approved an Equal Rights Act which bans discrimination on the basis of sex, race, nationality, creed, sexual, or political preference, and allows those who believe they have been discriminated against to take the offender to court under civil law. There was a small number of isolated anti-Semitic incidents at soccer matches, involving rascist chants and Nazi gestures. As a result of a year long study on racism and soccer, the Royal Dutch Football Union on January 22 announced a series of measures designed to combat hooliganism and racial incidents at soccer games, including a threat to stop matches if racial taunting was heard. No further incidents of racial taunting have occurred since that time. Some 264,000 persons from the former Dutch colony of Suriname have come to live in the Netherlands since 1975. There are also approximately 85,000 persons from the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. In addition, there are about 207,000 Turkish and 168,000 Moroccan workers and family members. These groups face some de facto discrimination in housing and employment, as well as practical limits on opportunities for economic and social advancement as a result of educational and skill levels which do not compare favorably with those of the majority of Dutch citizens. Unemployment among large minority groups is four times higher than the national average. Government, employers, and union leaders agreed in November 1990 on a series of measures designed to reduce minority unemployment levels to the national average. The goal was to increase minority employment by 15,000 jobs per year over a 4-year period. The Government continued to work with employers to meet this goal. It announced in July that the number of jobs held by ethnic minorities increased by 38,000 during the same period. Anecdotal evidence suggests the unemployment rate of minorities in the larger cities has steadily increased and now is estimated to stand at 35 to 40 percent in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, compared with the national unemployment rate (ILO criteria) of 7 to 8 percent. The unemployment rate is highest among Moroccans and Turks, and substantially higher for the female population or both communities. The municipalities of Rotterdam and Amsterdam have a number of programs to promote integration of ethnic minorities. Several seek to keep minority children in school and provide them with the skills they need to enter the labor force. Others seek to bring persons of different cultures together and prevent flare- ups in certain neighborhoods. Many of these programs receive funding from the national Government. Although police forces in Rotterdam and Amsterdam have outreach programs, efforts to hire minorities for the police forces have been largely unsuccessful. For example, Amsterdam has only two Turkish speaking policemen on its police force. While the Government has said it will refrain from using contract compliance measures or imposing quotas, the Second Chamber of Parliament approved legislation in July which will oblige businesses to report to labor councils on the number of ethnic minority personnel they employ. Minorities now comprise 3 percent of the personnel employed in the national Government; the stated goal is to raise this to 5 percent by 1995. The National Advisory and Consultation Board on Minority Policy addresses the problems of minorities in the fields of health, education, employment, and the law. Chaired by the Minister of Internal Affairs, it includes representatives of seven ethnic minority groups and acts as a consultative body to the Cabinet on minority issues and as a conduit to the Government for the expression of minority concerns. Currently represented on the Board are the Surinamese, Turks, Moroccans, Indonesians, legally admitted refugees, Antilleans and "Northern Mediterraneans." Administrative tribunals have been set up for filing claims of discrimination both against employers and the Government and in housing matters. They provide a practical means of redress for discrimination claims.

People with Disabilities

The Netherlands has made an effort to ensure that the needs of disabled people are met. The government-funded programs for the disabled included subsidies to adapt housing and public transportation, day activity centers, and incentives to employers to hire people with disabilities. Local governments are increasingly mandating access to public buildings for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The active trade union movement includes in its membership about 25 percent of the employee work force, but the collective labor agreements negotiated by the unions cover about 76 percent of all paid workers. Dutch trade unions used to be confessional, related to the three pillars of old Dutch society – Protestant, Catholic, and non-affiliated/Socialist. This clear division no longer exists. The largest labor federation is the Federated Dutch Trade Union Movement (FNV), created in 1982 by a merger of Catholic and Socialist unions. About 60 percent of all trade union members are in the FNV. About 20 percent of union members belong to the Christian National Trade Union Confederation (CNV), which is mainly but not exclusively Protestant. The Trade Union Confederation which covers middle management and managerial staff has about 7 percent of the union membership. Other union members belong to smaller, independent unions. Members of the Dutch armed forces may belong to unions. Unions are entirely free of control by the Government and political parties. They may and do participate in political activities. Several Labor Party (PVDA) Members of Parliament have a background as union activists. With the exception of most civil servants, all workers have the right to strike, and this right is exercised freely. In 1992 there were 23 labor disputes involving 52,419 workers with 85,416 workdays lost. Disputes involving civil servant complaints may be appealed to an arbitration panel. The Government and unions continue to discuss their longstanding differences over the issue of the right of civil service workers to strike and the definition of "essential" civil services.

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 their union membership is illegal and does not exist in practice. Collective bargaining agreements are negotiated in the framework of the social partnership in industrial relations developed among trade unions, private employers, and the Government. These three participants in the Social Economic Council meet every autumn and discuss labor issues, including the state of the economy, appropriate wage levels for existing conditions, and maintaining international competitiveness. They develop a "central accord" with agreed social and economic goals for the coming year. A central tripartite body, the Labor Commission, oversees implementation of the industrial relations system. Under this umbrella agreement, unions and employers' associations negotiate collective bargaining agreements on a sectoral basis. The Government can, and usually does, extend these agreements to all companies in the sector. As a result, approximately 76 percent of workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements. Government, unions, and employers recognize the seriousness of the unemployment problem (some of it structural and common to certain other industrialized countries) and the need to maintain Dutch competitiveness by moderating wage demands and keeping labor costs as low as possible. The Government announced in September that it would freeze wages, by legislation if necessary, to put pressure on employer groups and unions to reach collective bargaining agreements which do not include wage increases. This announcement created controversy because of commitments arising from International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and the Social Charter of the Council of Europe. The social partners agreed that in any case wage increases should not rise above the rate of inflation. The Government has been asked by ILO committees to amend the Wage Determination Act of 1970, which gave the Government the power to freeze terms and conditions of employment in the public sector in the face of compelling reasons of national economic interest. At year's end, the Government was in the final stages of amending the Act to remove these sections. 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 exist.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment is 16. At that age, young people may work full time only if they have completed the mandatory 10 years of schooling. Those still in school at age 16 may not work more than 8 hours per week. People under the age of 18 are prohibited by law from working at night, working overtime, or working in areas which could be dangerous to their physical or mental development. The laws are effectively enforced by the Labor Commission, a tripartite entity which monitors hiring practices and conducts inspections.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for adult workers is established by law and can be adjusted at government discretion every 6 months to reflect changes in the cost of living. Since 1982, few adjustments have been made; had adjustments been made consistently, it is estimated that the minimum wage would be about 15 percent higher than it is. There is a reduced minimum wage for workers under 23 which ranges from 33 percent of the adult minimum wage for workers aged 16 to 85 percent for those aged 22. The purpose of the reduced minimum wage law is to provide incentives for the employment of young people, one of the demographic groups with the highest rate of unemployment. The legislated minimum wage, together with social benefits available to all minimum wage earners, provides an adequate living for workers and their families. The actual working week in the Netherlands, according to European Union (EU) figures, is 35.8 hours, compared to the EU's average of 38.8 hours. This figure partly reflects the high level of part-time work done in the Netherlands. Maximum work hours are now legislated at 48 hours a week with strict rules about working hours at night, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday. At year's end the Government was preparing to introduce a bill to permit more flexible working hours, although the maximum number of hours per week will still be limited. Full time workers over age 16 receive, on the basis of 38 hours a week, 152 hours of vacation a year. However, the usual vacation period is 24.2 days or 190 hours a year. There are also generous welfare provisions for workers who become sick or disabled. For unemployed workers, there is an extensive system of benefits that allows recipients to maintain an adequate standard of living. Working conditions, including comprehensive occupational safety and health standards set by law and regulation, are actively monitored by the Labor Commission. Enforcement is effective. Workers may refuse to continue work at a hazardous work site. The Ministry of Social Affairs also polices standards through its Labor Inspectorate.

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