In 2010, the authors of this report were very pleased with the quick signature of the Netherlands of the OP-ICESCR on 24th of September 2009.13 Regrettably, seven years later the OP-ICESCR still remains unratified by the Dutch State. This lack of ratification already attracted much criticism in Dutch civil society and from members of Parliament (MPs).14
Explanations for non-ratification, for the past years, have been that the government ‘is studying the consequences’ of ratification.15 In December 2015, the Minister of Security and Justice replied to questions of the Parliament that:16
The individual complaints procedure is a relatively new task for the monitoring bodies [of OP-ICESCR, OP-CRPD and OP-CRC] and for this reason it is not easy to predict how they will deal with individual complaints on socio-economic matters. Moreover, these treaties touch many aspects of social life and contain a broad range of human rights. Assessing whether the Protocols will have consequences for the Netherlands, and if so, which, is therefore extremely complicated.. It is not easy, both legally and politically, to decide about ratification. It also needs to be taken into consideration that non-binding views of international monitoring bodies have legal effect in Dutch law. Potentially this is the reason why decision-making on ratification is more complicated than elsewhere. In 2015, the government commissioned a study to chart the consequences of ratification of OP-ICESCR, which found no major obstacles.17 Nevertheless, on 5 July 2016, MPs again had to inquire with the Minister when the start of the ratification process could be expected. After admitting that the process is ‘indeed taking very long’, but that he is very busy, the Minister appeared to have back-tracked on earlier promises to start ratification of OP-ICESCR this year, and instead promised to submit a mere letter with a ‘time schedule’ – to the dismay of MPs.18 Considering the pressure on the Dutch government to move forward on this issue, by both Dutch civil society and MPs, the submitting authors are highly disappointed about the progression so far and urge the government to step up its efforts.
The submitting parties recommend the Committee to urge the Dutch government to ratify the OP-IVESCR within a reasonable and transparent time frame.
Research shows that Dutch schools spend relatively little time on citizenship education19 and that Dutch students score relatively low in the area of political knowledge and social involvement compared to their peers in other countries.20 Moreover, in 2015 research revealed that 20 % of teachers have difficulties discussing sensitive (social) issues in the classroom, such as those on fundamental rights and freedoms occurring after (terrorist) attacks. In both primary and secondary schools 1% of the teachers avoid discussing these topics completely.21 In a diverse society and with the (international) social and political issues our country is facing, these are worrying findings. Human Rights Education offers the perfect framework for these kind of challenges.
Despite the proven benefits22 and the governments obligations under international law there is still little to no mention of human rights in Dutch primary and secondary education. Human rights are only addressed in reference to international conflicts, agreements and cooperation. This is a too narrow perception of human rights.23 In reaction to the (international) call for human rights education, the Dutch government simply refers to the autonomy of schools. However important this may be, it cannot possibly conflict with learning about fundamental rights. Moreover, the government does instruct schools to teach and implement policies on a number of different topics such as bullying, obesity, sexual abuse and sexual orientation. Human rights education cannot be the exception to this rule. Instead, as the Dutch Platform on Human Rights Education has repeatedly stated: human rights education should provide for a compass (context or perspective) for education of pressing topics.24
In the National Action Plan on Human Rights (hereafter: NAP) the government announced that the Ministry of Education would consider the proposal that human and children’s rights be mentioned explicitly in the goals of education defined for primary and secondary education.25 This was outsourced to an expert committee: Platform Onderwijs 2032,26 which also considered the role of schools in teaching citizenship. In its final advice, the committee recommended the State to describe concretely what the core of civic education should be. The committee stated that civic education should consist of four elements, among which: ‘the meaning of human rights and children's rights for their (mutual) daily life: knowledge of the functioning of human rights and their reciprocity: they are valid for everyone, and that is only possible when people respect each other’s rights; standing up for the adherence of human rights.’ The submitting parties welcome the advice of Platform Onderwijs 2032.
The submitting parties recommend the Committee to ask the Government:
what the status of the advice of Platform Onderwijs 2032 is?
The submitting parties recommend the Committee to urge the Government to:
subject policies in this field to demands of article 13 ICESCR, 29 CRC and 24 CRPD;
make sure that through the new curriculum human and children's rights become an integral part of civic education in the Netherlands, reaching all primary and secondary school children.
National Action Plan (NAP) on Human Rights
The submitting parties welcome the adoption of the first ever Netherland's National Action Plan on Human Rights (hereafter: NAP) which has been adopted by the Dutch government in December 2013, and covered the period 2012-2015.27 Albeit the initiative was welcomed, the submitting parties regret that the consultation process, the outcome document, and - as a result - the political implementation, fell short of the requirements set out by the UN Handbook on Human Rights Plans of Action. Among other things, it lacked an in-depth, broad consultation with all the relevant sectors of society: it appears that only three organization have been contacted instead of a much broader coalition given the wide range of rights protected by the ICESCR.28The government settled for the mere description of the state of affairs of human rights in the Netherlands. Therefore the NAP was not able to effectively trigger activities in relation to the NAP and was deprived of its credibility and effectiveness.
An evaluation of the NAP, which was promised by the responsible Minister, has not taken place yet, save for the interim review.29 In the light of the upcoming elections (March 2017) there is no mention of a second NAP on Human Rights to set out objectives for the years to come. We believe that this decision should not depend on the outcome of elections, for every administration is equally responsible for the implementation and protection of human rights.
The submitting parties recommend the Committee:
to ask when and how the Government intends to evaluate the creation and implementation of the first NAP on Human Rights;
to urge the Government to start the process of drafting a new NAP on Human Rights.
On a more positive note, the authors of this report are pleased with the decision of the Dutch government to establish a National Institute for Human Rights (College voor Rechten van de Mens (Crm) according to the Paris Principles.30The Institute has received the A-status in May 2014. Since its establishment in 2012 the Institute has advocated for various ESCR, such as discrimination in the workspace, human rights on a municipal level and the ratification and implementation of the CRPD. It has an important role to play in ‘bringing human rights home’,31 i.e. putting national issues in a human rights perspective. Recognizing socio-economic issues as human rights, both by the people and authorities, is an important step in their protection and implementation. “Nevertheless, in terms of the functioning of the new Institute, authors regret that the substantial increase in tasks attributed to the Equal Treatment Commission, and transferred to the new Institute, was not matched by a similar amount of budget to cope with these tasks.
Positive development: ratification of the CRPD
The submitting parties are also pleased that the government has ratified the Convention on the rights of people with disabilities on 14th of June 2016. The convention entered into effect on 14 July 2016. We deplore that the government has not yet signed the OP-CRPD or given any timeframe within which the issue will be considered.32 We welcome the government’s announcement to have a positive stand on the issue.33
The submitting parties recommend the Committee to urge the Dutch government to sign and ratify the OP-CRPD within a reasonable and transparent time frame.