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Visit to the Netherlands

Preliminary findings and recommendations of the United Nations Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Mr. Obiora C. Okafor, at the end of his visit to the Netherlands

Geneva (14 November 2018) – At the end of his mission to the Netherlands and Bonaire during which the Independent Expert held meetings in The Hague, Amsterdam and Kralendijk, Mr. Obiora C. Okafor delivered the following statement:

“I would like to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude to the Government of the Netherlands for inviting me to the country to conduct my second official visit as Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, and for their full support and cooperation before and during my time here. 

During my official visit to the Netherlands and Bonaire from 5 to 13 November 2018, I met with the Deputy Director General of International Cooperation and other representatives at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, Infrastructure and Water Management, Interior and Kingdom relations, Justice and Security, and a representative from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency. I also met with the President of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (the National Human Rights Institution). A visit was also paid to officials at the Municipality of Amsterdam. I had the opportunity to discuss with representatives of diverse civil society organizations based in the Netherlands, both in The Hague and in Amsterdam. A visit was also paid to the Shelter City programme in Amsterdam.

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, I was not able to meet with Members of Parliament and representatives of political parties. 

In Bonaire, I was honoured to meet with the Island Governor, the representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Directors of the Migration and Social Affairs and Employment Services of the Government of the Netherlands as well as the Bonaire Commissioner of Community and Care. I also visited the Krusada Foundation and met with civil society organisations. 

My objectives during my visit were primarily to learn more and gain first-hand understanding of issues related to the experience and practice of human rights-based international solidarity in the Netherlands, including efforts that have been made in that direction and the remaining challenges. I was especially interested in learning more about how the Netherlands incorporates human rights in its international solidarity thought and action, as well as how Dutch programmes and initiatives contribute to the promotion of a human rights approach to addressing many of the global challenges that the world is currently facing, including – but not limited to – development cooperation, climate change, cross-border migration, refugee issues, and social inclusion.

The Dutch people have a long-standing tradition of practising human rights-based international solidarity at the international level, including through their individual and civil society action and the provision of financial and other assistance by their Government to other countries and peoples.

In the Netherlands, the welfare state model is designed to provide basic social security and social protection to citizens and residents, with the distinction of it aiming to be universal and tending to cover the entire regular population living in the Netherlands. This has allowed the country to grow over the decades into one of the countries with a high GNI, making it a strong and relatively egalitarian society. I was very impressed, during my visit, by the efforts being made to advance human rights-based international solidarity locally and around the world.

The Netherlands has for a very long time been a welcoming society for persons fleeing persecutions and an outspoken defender on the international scene of principles of human rights and democracy. These remain at the heart of their foreign foreign policy. The country has played a leading role among nations in the promotion and protection of human rights and the advancement of gender equality, combating discrimination, promoting the rights of LGBTI persons and combating child labour. 

I also particularly commend the strong support of the Dutch Government for the kind of multilateralism that makes human rights-based international solidarity effective, including at the EU and UN levels, bilaterally with other countries.

I also commend the efforts that have been made by the Dutch Government and by several civil society organizations, company employees, and private businesses to get Dutch companies to implement corporate social responsibility and human rights principles in their work abroad, most often in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines. 

Furthermore, I welcome the efforts that have been made by all levels of Government to mainstream the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development from a human rights perspective in all Government policy areas. I encourage the authorities to strengthen their efforts with regard to the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of Agenda 2030 in all laws, policies, regulations, plans of actions, and programmes.

I was also pleased to hear about the preparations in place in developing a new National Action Plan on Human Rights through several open and transparent consultations with all stakeholders. I hope that this will lead to a comprehensive and inclusive National Action Plan which will include combating inequality and discrimination, as part of the solidarity of the Dutch society at large. 

The Netherlands has always been an innovator when it comes to living in a more sustainable and environmental-friendly way, due to its geographic location where a significant part of the land mass is under the sea-level, prone to climate change and a rise in sea levels. I was pleased to hear during my visit about the many innovative policies and measures that are being implemented and taken to ensure a more sustainable society at home and abroad. This is a signal contribution to international solidarity in this area. The management of water through independent and non-political boards is an example of creative innovation that could be replicated in other countries facing similar environmental issues.

During my visit, I was pleased to hear about the many initiatives available upon their arrival to refugees and regular migrants, and the measures taken to ensure that these newcomers are better integrated into Dutch society, including through their insertion into the labour market, and by being able to quickly learn the Dutch language.

I was impressed by the significant work undertaken by the municipal authorities of Amsterdam to promote and protect human rights, mainstream gender equality, implement environmental friendly solutions and implement the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. These efforts contribute immensely to a form of human rights-based international solidarity.

I commend their extensive work on diversity, inclusion of migrants and refugee and promotion of human rights internationally. Their Shelter City programme, which provides safe spaces for Human Rights Defenders, which I had the opportunity to visit, is an example of best practice that should be replicated by other local governments.

I strongly believe that the role of civil society organizations and their cooperation with the authorities and other relevant stakeholders is fundamental to the advancement of human rights-based international solidarity in several thematic areas, such as migration, refugees, and climate change. I had the opportunity to hear and learn more about the innovative and efficient work undertaken by some Dutch NGOs and actors through the establishment of development cooperation projects and programmes, where human rights principles, corporate social responsibility and gender equality occupy a pride of place. 

However, I also learnt from grassroots civil society organisations about the challenges faced by persons of migrant or minority ethnic descent, especially with regards to discrimination in employment, social life, and politics, as well regarding their ill treatment by the Police. This is particularly the case for persons of African descent and migrant women, who have brought forward the challenges of integration into Dutch society, even after generations of presence in the country. Too many of these migrant or ethnic minority families and groups do not feel that those they represent have been socially and politically included to an adequate extent in Dutch society even after more than one generation of living in the Netherlands.

I also learnt about the shrinking of civic space as the Government has reduced funding of civil society organisations that leads them to compete against each other for fewer resources and heard allegations that only organisations that did not openly criticize official Government policies were able to secure public funds to do their work. This has had a disproportionate impact on some immigrant and/or minority civil society groups.

I was also made aware of problems of poverty that have been on the increase, both in the European part of the country but especially in the Dutch Caribbean where the cost of living is much higher and the isolation a barrier to get access to health and social services.

In Bonaire, I was able to see first-hand the differences in this Caribbean island compared to the European part of the Kingdom, historical, geographical and cultural. I was made aware of the changes that have affected the inhabitants since the new constitutional arrangements of 2010 that ended the Netherlands Antilles and made Bonaire a special municipality of the Netherlands, over which the Kingdom of the Netherlands now exercises direct competence from The Hague, just as with any other city in the European part of the Kingdom. I was also informed of the challenges faced in the poverty alleviation and social cohesion areas, the cultural differences between the native Bonarians and newcomers there, and the resulting change in demographics on the Island. I was also able to see the efforts made by the Krusada Foundation, now a private NGO, in its efforts to prevent the occurrence of social problems affecting youth and other vulnerable persons on the Island, as well as in their rehabilitation programs for persons with addictions and those recently released from imprisonment. 

My visit to the Netherlands has been a productive and fruitful mission. The above comments are preliminary in nature and are not comprehensive in scope. I will prepare a full and detailed report of the visit with recommendations to the Government and other stakeholders and present it to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2019.