U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Netherlands

THE NETHERLANDS     The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary legislative system. Executive authority is exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The bicameral Parliament is elected through nationwide proportional voting. The military, police, royal constabulary, and investigative organs concerned with internal and external security are effectively subordinated to the executive and judicial authorities. The economy is based on private enterprise, but also features 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. Dutch law protects individual rights, and both the state and the general public respect them. 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. Such complaints are thoroughly discussed by the media and in Parliament and are often subjected to a judicial process. In 1994 the treatment of minorities, immigrants, and asylum seekers was the subject of much debate, particularly in the context of the campaign for the May parliamentary elections. The racist political parties fared poorly in those elections, and there has been increased public concern about isolated incidents of violence against minorities. In most respects, 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. The exception appears to be, according to persistent reports, excessive use of force by police in the islands.


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 disappearance.

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. However, in response to persistent reports of police mistreatment of suspects and prisoners in the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, the Government of the Netherlands Antilles, at the instigation of the Dutch Government, established a commission in 1991 to investigate the subject. This commission reported in 1992 that there was no pattern of police brutality, but that verifiable incidents had occurred on every island but Saba. In 1994 the Netherlands Antilles Government responded to this report by establishing an independent commission with investigatory powers to respond to complaints from the public alleging police brutality, and by initiating a training program to professionalize the police force, with substantial financial support from the Government of the Netherlands. There were complaints about prison conditions on Curacao and St. Maarten in 1993, including allegations of beatings, lack of access to medical personnel, and overcrowding. In 1994 these complaints prompted an official investigation by the Public Prosecutor on St. Maarten and a program of prison improvements on Curacao. In March the investigation formally cleared the prison guards of the charges of brutality. In another response to the complaints, the Antillean Government persuaded the Dutch Ministry of Justice to send a mission to study the prison system on the islands. The mission reported its findings in September, and the Antillean Minister of Justice has pledged to follow the reorganization plan outlined in the report.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Freedom from arbitrary arrest is provided for by law and respected in practice. Preventive detention is permitted only if national or municipal authorities declare an emergency. On such occasions, however, the detention may only be for 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. The Public Prosecutor may allow a 48-hour detention of persons suspected of having committed serious crimes, and has authority to extend it to 96 hours. An investigating judge must authorize any further extensions. There are no political prisoners. The Netherlands does not practice forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and a right to a fair public trial. The Dutch court system provides for the right of appeal. Charges must be formally stated, and the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to counsel; free or low-cost legal assistance is provided for the indigent.

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

In most criminal cases, a judicial warrant is required to enter a person's home or to monitor private correspondence or telephone conversations. 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. There are no prepublication restraints on the media. A traditional consensus effectively prevents the mainstream media from disseminating sensitive information involving national security, defense, or the royal family. Violent or sensational crimes are treated discreetly, with suspects and victims often identified only by their initials. In ongoing investigations, only minimal personal data are released on criminal suspects. The law prohibits incitement of hatred. Courts may ban a political party at the request of the Public Prosecutor on the grounds of the party's discriminatory, racist, or violent character; but this provision has never been invoked.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of assembly and association is virtually unrestricted. For large assemblies and political demonstrations, permits from local authorities are required. These permits are routinely granted unless authorities believe that "public order and safety" cannot be guaranteed. 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 that maintain educational facilities.

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

There is full freedom of domestic and foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The Netherlands has elaborate asylum procedures which 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 stay, without refugee status, if conditions in their country of origin would place them in danger. In January a new asylum law came into effect, proscribing consideration of asylum requests by applicants whose previous requests were turned down by the Netherlands. Despite some tightening of regulations and procedures, asylum is still relatively easy to obtain. The number of asylum seekers trended dramatically higher than in 1993. After polls showed that the public considers this a major domestic problem, the Parliament passed legislation in December making applicants ineligible for asylum if they come from a country the law designates as a "safe country of origin" or if they arrive by way of a "safe third country" where asylum is possible.

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 every 4 years (sooner if a government resigns or falls). There are no restrictions in law or in practice on the participation of women and minorities in government and politics. The Government continues to seek to increase the number of female candidates for elected office. Only modest gains have been scored on the local level over the last 3 years, but women have fared better on the national level, due in part to efforts by political parties to feature more women on their election lists. The second chamber of Parliament now counts 49 women among its 150 members, up from 44 before the recent elections. In the Cabinet of the new Government, a record 4 of 13 ministers are women.

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

The law bans discrimination on the basis of any of these factors or on sexual orientation or political preference. A new Equal Treatment Act came into force on January 1, 1994, which allows complainants to take offenders to court under civil law.


There is increased awareness in the Netherlands that abuse of women is a problem that needs to be aired and addressed. Accordingly, the Government materially supports programs to reduce and prevent violence against women. Battered women find refuge in a network of government-subsidized shelters offering the services of social workers and psychologists. Battered women who leave their domestic partners become eligible for social benefits, including 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 or abuse each carry the same penalty as the same crime against other persons. The Social Ministry, citing recent research indicating that one-third of all working women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, initiated legislation to address this problem. In July the first chamber of Parliament passed an antiharassment amendment to the Workers' Conditions Act requiring employers to take measures to protect workers (of either sex). The Government--the nation's largest employer--has instituted such measures in the civil service, and it runs an ongoing campaign to publicize the problem. Women are increasingly entering the job market, despite traditional constraints and inadequate child-care facilities. Although more than 40 percent of the Dutch work force is now female, many women work only part time. The social welfare system provides considerable assistance to working women with families. Women are eligible for 16 weeks of maternity leave at full pay. The parental leave law allows parents (of either sex) to work only 20 hours a week over a 6-month period; since the enactment of the law in 1991, 27 percent of eligible women have used this benefit, and 11 percent of eligible men. On the other hand, many women work in low-level administrative or service jobs, and women often have less chance of promotion than male colleagues. The unemployment rate of women reentering the labor market is high. Legislation mandates equal pay for equal work; prohibits dismissal because of marriage, pregnancy, or motherhood; and provides for equality in other matters regarding employment. A legislatively mandated equal-treatment commission deals with complaints on these matters. Women have the same legal and judicial rights as men. Upon marriage, a couple may sign a prenuptial agreement to preserve individual ownership of their respective assets, or they may declare their assets joint property.


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, which operates under 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, along with a network of pediatricians who look for indications of child abuse and also track suspected cases.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

A study by the University of Leiden and the Dutch Public Safety Service found that the number of incidents of violence against foreigners and ethnic minorities has increased over recent years. The study tallied about 350 reported racially motivated 1993 incidents, and estimated that there were a significant number of unreported incidents as well. The Government has been trying, through publicity campaigns and legislative initiatives, to increase public awareness of racism and discrimination. The main immigrant groups in the Netherlands are from the former Dutch colony of Suriname, the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, Turkey, and Morocco. Concentrated in the larger cities, they suffer high unemployment. The Government has been working for several years with employers' groups and unions to reduce this to the national average rate. As a result, over the past year the rate of job creation among ethnic minorities has been higher than among the general population. But with the influx of immigrants still growing, the unemployment problem remains difficult to overcome, especially during the current recession in the Netherlands. The municipalities of Rotterdam and Amsterdam have a number of programs, many funded in part by the national Government, to promote integration of ethnic minorities. Several focus on education and vocational training for minority children. Others seek to bring persons of different cultures together and prevent flare-ups in certain neighborhoods. A law effected July 1 requires employers with over 35 employees to register with the local Chamber of Commerce the number of their employees who identify themselves as members of a non-Dutch ethnic group. People who do not wish to be identified as ethnically non-Dutch are not required to register. Employers must submit confidential affirmative action plans, including recruitment targets and proposed means of attaining them.

People with Disabilities

Government-funded programs for the disabled include subsidies to adapt housing and public transportation, day-activity centers, and incentives to employers to hire the handicapped. Local governments are increasingly mandating access to public buildings for the disabled. Since 1992, there has been a national telephone line to report structural obstacles to handicapped access or mobility on public property.

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. They may and do participate in political activities. All workers have the right to strike, except 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. There is no retribution against striking workers.

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 among 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 aim to develop 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, 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 Labor Commission, which monitors hiring practices and conducts inspections of work sites.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for adults is established by law and may 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 minimum wage is $1,243 (2,163 Dutch guilders) per month. Fewer than 3 percent of all workers get the minimum wage. Sectoral wage contracts usually fix a minimum that is high above the legislated minimum wage. For workers under age 23 the minimum ranges from 33 percent of the adult minimum (for those aged 16) to 85 percent (for those aged 22). The legislated minimum wage, together with social benefits available to all who receive only that, provides an adequate living for workers and their families. The standard workweek in the Netherlands is 40 hours. The workday, fixed by law, cannot exceed 8 1/2 hours a day. There are legislated curbs on work during nights and weekends. In December, Parliament approved some deregulation of workhours to encourage flexible work schedules, and delegated limited authority to localities to make decisions on workhours. Working conditions, including all safety and health standards set by law and regulations, are actively monitored and effectively enforced by the Labor Commission. The Ministry of Social Affairs also polices standards, through its Labor Inspectorate. Workers may refuse to continue work at a hazardous site.

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