11 November 2010
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has considered the combined periodic reports of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, including the Netherlands, Curacao, Aruba and Sint Maarten on how those countries implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Edwin B. Abath, Head of the Delegation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Minister Plenipotentiary of Aruba, said that just a month ago the Kingdom of the Netherlands underwent a major constitutional reform. On 10 October 2010, the Netherlands Antilles, consisting of the islands of Curacao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Sint Eustasius and Saba, ceased to exist. In the new constitutional structure, Curacao and Sint Maarten had obtained the status of countries and the Kingdom now consisted of four countries: the Netherlands, Aruba, Cuacao and Sint Maarten.
Introducing the fourth periodic report of Aruba, Mr. Abath said that Aruba was blessed with a geographic location with one of the highest potentials for cost-effective use of solar and wind energy resources for energy generation and use. Moreover, Aruba was blessed with a unique blend of people and cultures and next year would be commemorating its twenty-fifth anniversary of separate status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Presenting the report of the Netherlands, Lauris Beets, Director for International Affairs at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands, said that the basis of the Netherlands labour market proved to be sustainable and sound. While unemployment had increased from 4.5 per cent in 2007 to 4.9 per cent in 2010, the Netherlands had at this moment the lowest unemployment in Europe. Discrimination remained one of the main causes of high levels of unemployment among non-Western ethnic minorities. The Government had therefore launched various activities to improve the prospects of work for ethnic minorities and they had proved successful.
Presenting the report of Curacao, Anouk Swakhoven, Legal Advisor at the Directorate of Foreign Relations of Curacao, said that this was the first opportunity for Curacao as a new and autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands to address the Committee. While constitutional relations with the Netherlands had been modified, the Netherlands would remain the principal subject of international law with which agreements were concluded. Human trafficking was currently not yet a criminal offence by means of a separate article. Under Article 260 of the present Criminal Code, the trafficking of women and minors was an offence, which carried a maximum prison sentence of five years. Education was also a priority for the Government of Curacao and the National Ordinance on Compulsory Education, for children aged 4 to 18, had been implemented with full force.
Presenting the report of Sint Maarten, Jorien Wuite, Acting Secretary-General at the Ministry of Public Health and Social Development of Sint Maarten, said that the Government was duly aware of the additional tasks it had assumed a month ago, which included obligations under the human rights treaties and conventions. As a dynamic, multicultural society with specific economic developments, Sint Maarten recognized the need for sustainable social development. As such, the introduction of a national health insurance system guaranteeing all citizens equal rights to vital health services was considered a high priority for 2012. The delegation also said that Sint Maarten had a high number of illegal migrant workers and the Government had introduced a legalization programme, known as the Brooks Tower Accord, in order to eliminate the disadvantages affecting this vulnerable group.
During the questions and issues raised by Committee Experts, many comments were made on asylum seekers, refugees and other vulnerable groups. On the issue of illegal migrants, Experts were not sure exactly what measures had been implemented by the Government to tackle this sensitive and very important issue. More specifically, Experts asked for further clarification on the difference in status between asylum seekers and refugees. Concerning the detention of illegal foreigners, there were several questions on the process of seeking asylum as well as the average duration and conditions of detention. The Dutch delegation did confirm, however, that access to health care, basic assistance and a financial allowance was accessible to asylum seekers whilst their application was being reviewed and considered. Other issues that were raised concerned the protection of migrant workers; anti-discrimination initiatives; overseas development aid; gender policies and the role of women in Government positions; retirement pensions; social welfare services; and the right to strike.
Committee Experts also raised questions on domestic violence and the measures that had been implemented to protect the victims. There was also a discussion on the issue of honour crimes and the steps that had been taken to address the issue and deter its practice going forward. There was also a question on the subject of illegal drugs, given the fairly unique position of the Netherlands on this topic. Additionally, a discussion took place on the effects of the recent abolition on the prostitution ban, essentially making prostitution legal. The issue of human trafficking, particularly in Aruba, was also addressed by Committee experts in an effort to assess if any progress had been made in policies and practices against the problem. The case of abortion in Curacao was tackled as well, as it was still considered a criminal offence but tacitly accepted in certain exceptional cases.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Beets thanked the Committee members and stated that there had been an excellent exchange of views. The questions and remarks were very much appreciated and not always easy to answer. The delegation did its best to answer the questions accordingly and hoped that the responses were satisfactory. From a governance point of view, the delegation enjoyed the process and had learned a great deal about its Government’s own behaviours, practices and potential shortcomings. The rights of the Covenant were of utmost importance and the Government would continue to make its promotion and protection a high priority.
In concluding remarks, Jaime Marchan Romero, Committee Chairperson, thanked all the delegations for their participation and cooperation. Given that there were several delegations to hear from, the discussion went as smoothly as it could have. The Chairperson concluded by thanking all the representatives.
The delegation of the Netherlands also included representatives from the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Security and Justice, and the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The delegation of Aruba also included representatives from the Cabinet of the Minister Plenipotentiary of Aruba.
The delegation of Curacao also included representatives from the Directorate of Foreign Relations, the Directorate of Labour, the Social Insurance Bank, the Directorate of Education, Sport and Culture, and the Department of Education.
The delegation of Sint Maarten also included representatives from the Ministry of Public Health and Social Development and the Department of Labour.
The next meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Monday, 15 November in Room XII of the Palais des Nations, when it will hold a full day General Discussion on sexual and reproductive health.
Report of the Netherlands
The combined fourth and fifth periodic report of the Netherlands (E/C.12/NLD/4-5) states that at this point the Government has no intention of acceding to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. This was, inter alia, related to the Benefit Entitlement (Residence Status) Act in the Netherlands, which entered into force on 1 July 1998. It was also noteworthy that only States that could be characterized as countries of origin of labour migrants have ratified the Convention while countries of destination have been reluctant to do so. On the use of information and communications technology, the Dutch Government made full use of the Internet in informing members of the public of their rights and obligations. Since not everyone has access to the Internet, the Government also produces information leaflets setting out people’s rights and obligations, which could be ordered free of charge. The Dutch Government also shares the Committee’s concerns about the dissemination of racist and discriminatory material on the Internet and the reasons behind the large number of complaints submitted to the Internet Discrimination Hotline included the fact that more and more people were using the Internet, were aware of the existence of the Hotline and also the fact that, as a relatively anonymous medium, the Internet was attractive to racist individuals and groups.
Concerning ethnic minority women and the labour market, the report states that there is still a great deal of room for improvement in the labour market status of ethnic minority women. Since the scheme under the Employment of Minorities (Promotion) Act ended in 2004 and the Committee for Ethnic Minority Women’s Participation was disbanded in 2005, extra measures have been taken to improve the position of ethnic minority women in the labour market. The Dutch Refugee Council has also launched a “jobs offensive” for refugees with the aim of helping 2,600 extra refugees into jobs over a period of three and a half years. The report also mentions the Committee’s request for the Netherlands to continue to strengthen its efforts to combat the problems of trafficking in persons and the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children. In specific response to this, the Expertise Centre for Human Trafficking and People Smuggling was launched in May 2005. Moreover, a national public prosecutor for human trafficking has been appointed, with the task of overseeing the human trafficking cases being investigated by the National Crime Squad. Human trafficking and people smuggling has been designated as one of the six national priorities in the investigation and prosecution of organized crime. The general ban on brothels was lifted in October 2000 and as a result, it was no longer a criminal offence to run a sex establishment where adult prostitutes worked of their own free will, provided that certain conditions were met. However, in February 2007 the Dutch Government announced that the sexual services sector would be monitored more closely and laws against human trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities would be enforced more strictly.
The report also touches upon a number of significant labour issues that include minimum wage requirements; equal pay for equal work; the Working Hours Act; the Working Conditions Act; maternity leave benefits; pensions; social assistance and discrimination in the workplace. On the right to food, the report indicates that the Dutch Government strives to ensure that safe, sustainably produced food is available in the Netherlands. The country was a net exporter of food and food products, and the amount of food available greatly exceeded domestic demand. In terms of its international obligations, in May 2001 the Netherlands embarked on a partnership programme with the FAO aimed at strengthening the organization’s capacity to assist developing countries in the fields of food security, agro-biodiversity and forestry. On the subject of health care, in the Netherlands everyone is entitled to receive necessary medical treatment. In 2005, life expectancy at birth was 77.2 for men and 81.6 for women. However, people with low socio-economic status had poorer health partly because they faced more health risks.
Report of the Former Netherlands Antilles
The fourth periodic report of the Netherlands Antilles (E/C.12/NLD/4/Add.1) states that the draft Constitution of the new country of Curaçao effectively incorporates economic, social and cultural rights on an equal footing with civil and political rights. In November 2007, the Government of the Netherlands Antilles adopted a new policy on human rights, with two main objectives: (a) to increase national awareness of the importance of compliance with human rights obligations; and (b) to improve the Government’s performance in the reporting process. On the issue of domestic violence, under article 317 of the present Criminal Code, assault within the home was seen as an aggravating circumstance and the sentence would be increased by a third if the victim was the offender’s mother, legal father, spouse or child. The economic recovery that started in 2001 was finally having a positive effect on employment in the Netherlands Antilles. This was reflected by the decline in the weighted average unemployment rate, from 16.4 percent in 2005 to 13.2 percent in 2006. The decline in the unemployment rate on Curaçao, the largest island of the Netherlands Antilles, had been particularly marked. Nevertheless, it had to be noted that youth unemployment in Curaçao was strikingly high in 2005, at 44 percent. In 2006 it had declined to 37.8 percent and in 2007 the rate declined considerably further to 24 percent. Concerning child labour, since 1 August 2000, the ban on child labour applied to all children up to the age of 14. Regarding the health sector, the most recent survey on the state of the nation’s health took place 15 years ago and none has since been carried out due to lack of funding. The report concludes that women, the elderly and people from lower socio-economic classes suffer from poorer health and are less likely to make use of health-care facilities. Finally, the report describes the education system in the Netherlands Antilles, which is accessible to all. While primary education is free, secondary education is not.
Report of Aruba
The fourth periodic report of Aruba (E/C.12/NLD/4/Add.2) states that at present there is no national action plan or strategy to combat poverty. However, the Government of Aruba recognises the need for one and believes it is necessary to strengthen local capacity, at both the macro and micro levels, to carry out systematic measurements of national public welfare. In line with this strategy, Aruba has approved the National Plan Aruba 2009–2018 to fight overweight, obesity and related health issues. The plan coincides with the World Health Organization’s Second Action Plan for Food and Nutrition Policy 2007–2012 and calls for a safe, healthy and sustainable food supply. Aruba’s Department of Public Health is responsible for monitoring, supervising and inspecting different aspects of health, including communicable diseases and medical care provided by physicians, dentists, physiotherapists and midwives. In fact, since 2001, health care in Aruba has undergone a transformation due to the introduction of a national health insurance system regulated by law, under which all registered persons in Aruba are insured. In term of Aruba’s education, the National Ordinance on Compulsory Education has not yet come into force. However, under this law, education will be made compulsory from the age of 4 to 17 years.
Presentation of the Reports
EDWIN B. ABATH, Head of the Delegation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Minister Plenipotentiary of Aruba, said that just a month ago the Kingdom of the Netherlands underwent a major constitutional reform. On 10 October 2010, the Netherlands Antilles, consisting of the islands of Curacao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Sint Eustasius and Saba, ceased to exist. In the new constitutional structure, Curacao and Sint Maarten had obtained the status of countries and the Kingdom now consisted of four countries: the Netherlands, Aruba, Cuacao and Sint Maarten. Mr. Abath stated that due to a number of socio-economic factors, the real income of many families in Aruba had dropped substantially in recent years. For any new policy initiative to successfully take root and have long-term effects, an honest and open dialogue with all socio-economic partners had to come first. Aruba was blessed with a geographic location in one of the world’s regions with the highest potential for cost-effective use of solar and wind energy resources for energy generation and use. Moreover, Aruba was blessed with a unique blend of people and cultures and next year the island would be commemorating its twenty-fifth anniversary of separate status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
LAURIS BEETS, Director for International Affairs at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands, introducing the combined fourth and fifth periodic report on the Netherlands, said that in spite of the current financial and economic crisis, the basis of the Netherlands labour market proved to be sustainable and sound. Unemployment had increased from 4.5 per cent in 2007 to 4.9 per cent in 2010. However, the Netherlands had at this moment the lowest unemployment in Europe. In recent years, young people had been in the spotlight of the Netherlands’ employment strategy. In 2006, unemployment among this group dropped for the first time in several years. Discrimination remained one of the main causes of high levels of unemployment among non-Western ethnic minorities. The Government had therefore launched various activities to improve the prospects of work for ethnic minorities and they had proved successful. As the economy recovered, employment among non-Western ethnic minorities was expected to rise faster.
Education was of fundamental importance and the Government would therefore stimulate the conditions to progress its quality. Improving basic skills in primary and secondary education was one of the top priorities of the Dutch Government. It prepared children for a life of gainful employment and it played an important role in improving people’s ability to support themselves. Education also promoted active citizenship and social integration and ensured that children had knowledge of and were familiar with the diverse backgrounds and cultures of their peers. With regard to access to health care, a new social health insurance system was introduced in 2006. Before 2006, only 60 per cent of the Dutch population was insured under a compulsory healthcare scheme. From 2006, all Dutch residents were obliged to take out a legally based healthcare insurance with an insurer of their own choice.
ANOUK SWAKHOVEN, Legal Advisor at the Directorate of Foreign Relations of Curacao, introducing the fourth periodic report of Curacao, said that this was the first opportunity for Curacao as a new and autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands to address the Committee. Since Curacao obtained autonomy in October of this year, constitutional relations with the Kingdom of the Netherlands had been modified but the Netherlands would remain the principal subject of international law with which agreements were concluded. Addressing other pertinent issues, human trafficking was currently not yet a criminal offence by means of a separate article. Under Article 260 of the present Criminal Code, the trafficking of women and minors was an offence, which carried a maximum prison sentence of five years. Education was also a priority for the Government of Curacao and the National Ordinance on Compulsory Education, for children aged 4 to 18, had been implemented with full force.
JORIEN WUITE, Acting Secretary-General at the Ministry of Public Health and Social Development of Sint Maarten, introducing the fourth periodic report on Sint Maarten, said that the Government of Sint Maarten was duly aware of the additional tasks it had assumed a month ago, which included obligations under the human rights treaties and conventions. As a dynamic, multicultural society with specific economic developments, the delegation of Sint Maarten recognized the need for social and economic initiatives with more emphasis on sustainable social development. As such, the introduction of a national health insurance system guaranteeing all citizens equal rights to vital health services was considered a high priority for 2012. In addition, since Sint Maarten was an ageing society, the Government was presently redesigning old age pensions to secure sustainability and alleviate the risks of poverty in the future. In closing, the delegation said that Sint Maarten’s population had a high number of illegal migrant workers and the Government had introduced a legalization programme, known as the Brooks Tower Accord, in order to eliminate the disadvantages affecting this vulnerable group.
Questions by Experts on Articles One to Five of the Covenant
Addressing issues linked to articles one to five of the Covenant, one Expert said that the length of the report was insufficient. Seventy pages were not long enough to fully describe all the aspects of a nation’s economic, social and cultural life.
Experts also asked about the direct applicability of the Covenant in Dutch law. The obligatory nature of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights meant that the Netherlands had to implement domestic legislation that enforced these rights, in a practical manner, to all citizens of the Netherlands.
One Expert asked for further details on the language of the Dutch constitution and whether or not it provided sufficient protection to its residents, including the fate of asylum seekers, refugees and other vulnerable groups.
Specifically on the issue of migrants, Experts were not sure exactly what measures, either training or awareness raising, had been implemented by the Government to tackle this sensitive and very important issue. Certain Experts therefore asked the Government to elaborate on this point.
Another Expert asked for clarification on the fact that while each of the countries being reviewed had a certain degree of autonomy, it appeared that much of their international obligations rested with the Kingdom. What did this mean in practical terms and where did the final responsibility lie in terms of enforcing each country’s international human rights obligations? Furthermore, one Expert asked what was the position of each country on extra-territorial rights?
One other issue was raised on the Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers. It was clear from the report that the Netherlands did not intend to ratify the Convention. In addition, it was written in the report that no destination countries had ratified the Convention and one Expert therefore wondered whether or not this was a legitimate excuse for not ratifying the Convention and whether or not they condoned such a position.
One issue, which cropped up in all European Union countries, was the detention of illegal foreigners, whilst waiting for their refugee status to be determined. On this issue, how long was the average duration of detention and under what conditions? Were they detained in prisons or other types of detention facilities? According to Amnesty International, thousands of asylum seekers and irregular migrants were detained in Dutch centres and sometimes for periods of up to a year. Could the Government provide more information on this, including confirmation and figures?
Continuing on the subject of illegal migrants in detention, what percentage were women, older persons and, most importantly, how many were children and what measures were being taken to protect these groups in particular?
A few Experts described confusion about the nature of the four countries, which all had different levels of engagement to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Since there was a significant level of autonomy for each of the four countries, perhaps it made more sense to review each of them separately since their capacities to implement their human rights obligations were dramatically different.
On the issue of discrimination, one Expert asked for further information on the anti-discrimination initiatives from all four of the countries, specifically any case law in which discrimination was explicitly condemned and punished.
Another Expert pointed out that although all European countries had to deal with a certain degree of Islamophobia, it seemed that this phenomenon was more acute in the Netherlands. Given this situation, what steps had the Government of the Netherlands taken to combat the problem of Islamophobia specifically?
One question specifically aimed to the Government of Curacao concerned the dwindling presence of boys in public schools. Why was this the case and more precisely what measures were being taken to remedy this situation?
Concerning gender policies, were there affirmative action programmes to increase the presence of women in Government positions and also what ministerial departments dealt with the issue of gender equality and women’s rights? There were no figures of women in Government and statistics in this regard would be useful.
Responses by Delegation of the Netherlands
Answering those questions and others, the delegation of the Netherlands said that the autonomy of each country meant that they were responsible for their respective internal affairs and as such were solely responsible for the adherence to international human rights obligations.
The delegation reiterated its binding commitment to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, because of the monistic legal system, the Government did not have the power to influence decisions of the Dutch courts, which were left to interpret the obligations of the State to international treaties and conventions.
One example provided by one of the Experts on the right to water was not quite appropriate since the person involved had refused to pay for their water bill. While they were charged in the courts, their right to water, and its access, was not really infringed upon in this case.
On the issue of overseas development aid, the Dutch Government confirmed that it would continue to aim for the provision of 0.7 percent of its GDP. The Netherlands would also remain very active in development aid that strengthened human rights.
Detention of migrant workers was always a last resort and the Dutch Government sought alternatives for families and tried to ensure that the period of detention was as short as possible. The detention of illegal aliens was never longer than six months and juvenile facilities were provided to minors.
In the specific case of an asylum seeker, the candidate had to show that their return would be dangerous to their personal health or security. Access to health care, basic assistance and a financial allowance was accessible to asylum seekers whilst their application was being reviewed and considered.
On the issue of discrimination and Islamophobia, anti-discrimination services were now being provided in all communities and any citizen in his or her community could approach these services to lodge a complaint procedure with the Equal Treatment Commission. These complaints could ultimately lead to legal action and also fed into the statistics compiled by the Netherlands Equal Treatment Act.
The fight against discrimination was incredibly important for the Government of Netherlands and a number of work programmes aimed at promoting diversity had been implemented. In some cases, certain employers where discrimination had been proved, either through complaints procedures or discriminatory job advertisements, were asked to hire a more ethnically diverse mix of employees under the threat of a fine.
The socio-economic situation of women was of high importance to the Government. In fact, less than 50 per cent of Dutch women were financially independent. On the issue of their political representation, there were no affirmative action measures but this did not mean that the Dutch Government did not desire equal gender representation.
The representation of women in the national Parliament was at 40 per cent, which was well above the European average. However, in some rural areas, at the mayoral level, female representation remained a problem.
Responses by Delegation of Aruba
The delegation of Aruba said the Government had recently signed a reform for the pensions of political figures, which was standardized with the rest of nation and was accessible at the age of 60. At present, 75 per cent of people did not have a secondary retirement pension.
On the question regarding the Human Rights Committee, the Government of Aruba had established this body in order to comply with the country’s reporting obligations and to promote awareness among the general public of human rights.
Questions by Experts on Articles Six to Nine
Turning to articles six through nine, Experts asked the various delegations to describe the reasons for the very low wages for prison work, which was set at an hourly wage of 64 centimes per inmate.
In the Netherlands, minimum wage was set at 1,400 Euros per month but what enforcement mechanisms had been established to monitor that these minimum wages were respected throughout the nation?
On the issue of equal pay for equal work, what were the differences in average wages between men and women?
One Expert asked a question on the right to strike, which was severely limited in the Netherlands. How did the State or national courts weigh the right to strike versus the threats to other rights and what legal examples could be provided to respect the right to demonstrate?
There was an impressive array of leave schemes, whether for maternity, paternity, health reasons, etc. How was this monitored?
One Expert asked Aruba if they could elaborate on their position of protection of workers in the informal economy. There had been claims that this was a problem in Aruba and more information on the situation on the ground and measures that were being taken to protect their rights was requested.
Another question posed to the island delegation was how they were increasing not only the labour supply in their respective territories but, equally important, the steps they were taking to increase labour demand.
Another Expert questioned how the Netherlands could claim that they had no figures on underemployment. In this regard, how could the Netherlands make a proper assessment of their labour situation without figures on underemployment?
Responses by the Delegation of Curacao
The current core document was indeed outdated, as was pointed out by one of the Experts, and the new countries of Curacao and Sint Maarten would prepare a new core document soon and submit it to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Responding to the question on the preparation of the report, the delegation confirmed that all islands of the former Netherlands Antilles had been consulted and in some way or another had been involved in the preparation of the report.
Concerning the creation of an official human rights institution, the delegation promised to convey the recommendations of the Committee to their Government.
On the issue of female representation, Curacao was the only country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to have had five female Prime Ministers thus far in its history. With the newly elected Government, female representation was around 40 per cent. While there was no official gender policy to date, the issue was of critical importance to the former Netherlands Antilles.
Responses by the Delegation of the Netherlands
In response to the question of direct applicability, the delegation was pleased to announce that reforms of the Dutch Constitution were being considered by the Government, including the direct applicability and enforcement of human rights instruments to which the Netherlands was a party. In general, Dutch courts and judges were very familiar with their international human rights obligations and often applied them in their final judgments.
The Netherlands deemed it incredibly important to have legal measures to protect against discrimination. The Equal Treatment Act had been set up to promote equality amongst all Dutch residents. A broad Internet consultation on the Equal Treatment Act had recently come to a close and was being reviewed by the Government.
On the issue of migrant workers, the Netherlands had not ratified the applicable convention because it did not appropriately touch upon the issues of social welfare provisions and was incomplete in this regard. Aside from Spain, no other European Union countries had ratified this document.
Having been asked to provide figures on discrimination, the delegation said that annually, there were about 2,500 discrimination complaints submitted to the police each year in the Netherlands. Most of these complaints were centered on religious and ethnic discrimination and anti-Semitic incidents only accounted for approximately 6 per cent of these cases.
Concerning the subject of domestic violence, 45 per cent of the cases of domestic violence were physical, although the Netherlands also considered verbal abuse as domestic violence. While the victims were often women, a quarter of the cases were men, which was why the legal language on domestic violence was gender neutral.
On the question of the benefits afforded to asylum seekers, their housing, health care and weekly financial allowances were provided during the asylum review process. However, it was true that these provisions were not extended to undocumented migrants. Since 1998, the right to such social provisions was linked to the residential status of the migrant in question. However, illegal child residents were entitled to education.
Questions by Experts on Articles Six to Nine
Continuing the questions on articles six to nine, from the morning session, a number of Experts asked for further examples of how the Netherlands’ human rights obligations were being implemented in a practical way and what kinds of legal measures were being taken to align national law with international human rights law.
The right to strike was the prerogative of the trade unions, not the courts. Courts could consider whether or not a strike was legal but not whether it was justified. In this sense, one Expert asked what factors the courts used to accept or reject public demonstrations.
On the rights of persons with disabilities, one Expert noted that the Netherlands had signed the Convention but not ratified. The Expert was curious to know why it had not been ratified and whether or not the delegation had any information on when it might be ratified.
One Expert also asked about the state of the underground economy in the Netherlands. Did the delegation have any figures or statistics on the size, influence and nature of the underground economy?
Domestic workers in the Netherlands were not considered employees and the employers did not need to give domestic workers sufficient notice before terminating employment. What steps were being taken by the Government to protect this particularly vulnerable group?
Responses by the Delegation of the Netherlands
Responding to an earlier question on unemployment, the delegation said the Netherlands had been affected by the financial crisis. Especially during periods of recession, it was important to help the unemployed by providing additional education and training. In this respect, a number of initiatives and employment plans had been established for youth without high school diplomas, aimed in part at migrant workers with poor educational backgrounds.
Part of the longer-term employment strategy was to improve the image of youth amongst employers. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment also established the Youth Employment Taskforce and the results had been rather positive.
In terms of employment statistics, the Government considered employment on the basis of at least 12 hours of work a week and the figures for employment focused on employees working above that legal minimum. Unfortunately, however, it was difficult to track those working below 12 hours.
Minimum wage remained an important issue for the Netherlands and the Government was continuing to ensure that adequate wages were provided to cover basic living expenses.
On the issue of prisoners and their working conditions, work was part of their daily programme. Half of their day was spent working and this was done as a measure for social rehabilitation. This form of employment did not generate any profits for the Government and the low wages allowed the prisoners to purchase cigarettes and other provisions whilst under incarceration.
The high percentage of women who worked part time certainly played a role in the gender pay gaps and was being addressed by the Government.
On the issue of persons with disabilities, a Government-funded scheme, including provisions for young persons with disabilities, was an important part of the nation’s safety net.
Regarding the questions on the right to strike, it was a judicial law and the Dutch law worked on a case-by-case basis. One example of case law was the strike of cleaning personnel on public transport, who were partially allowed to strike out of respect and concern for the health and safety of public transit users.
Concerning pensions, for persons aged 65 and above who did not benefit from a sufficient pension package, they were subsequently eligible for additional Government funding to reach the minimum social level.
On the issue of ratifying conventions and treaties, the delegation reminded the Committee Experts that they had one of the highest percentages of ratification within the International Labour Organization. The Dutch Government did, however, denounce ILO Convention 118 because it was incompatible with domestic legislation.
Specifically referring to the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons, the Netherlands said it was reviewing the Convention, which it had signed and not yet ratified.
On the issue of domestic workers, the employers were private individuals and the administrative burden was kept simple in order to maintain the employment of domestic workers. The idea was that if there were too many administrative hurdles, private employers would either perform the domestic work themselves or resort to hiring employees in the underground employment sector.
Responses by the Delegation of Sint Maarten
The delegation said that it was currently considering long-term pension schemes and there was an increase of requests from migrant workers for additional social welfare, given the low benefits associated with a lot of migrant employment.
On the status of domestic workers, these employees did not benefit from full benefits but employers still needed to observe minimum wage requirements and employers could not hire a domestic worker if they could not prove that they had medical insurance for the entirety of their work contract.
Domestic workers were also covered by the vacation ordinance to ensure that they had paid vacation leave, in line with all other employees in Sint Maarten.
In terms of regularizing illegal migrants, a number of undocumented migrant workers, who had been living on the island for a period of over five years, were recently made legal. The total number that had been made legal was 1,255, of which approximately half were female.
One Expert was curious to know why the Government was removing affirmative action plans. Also, while it was commendable that nearly 40 per cent of Government positions were filled by females, it seemed that from the period of 2000 to 2005 the percentage of women from ethnic backgrounds had not really increased and the Expert was curious to know why this was the case.
Another Expert said that there needed to be a balance between labour supply and demand and it was not merely sufficient to better train the unemployed and increase the supply. In this regard, what measures were being taken by the Government of the Netherlands to increase the demand for employees?
On the issue of equality of treatment, which was an ILO Convention that had not been ratified by the Dutch Government, one Expert wondered in what instances were domestic laws incompatible with the principles of equality of treatment in the workplace?
Finally, there was an allegation from the United States Department of State on the underground economy in the Netherlands. The expert therefore repeated an earlier question and asked for exact figures on the underground economy.
Responses by the Delegation of the Netherlands
The delegation asked the Committee Experts if they could answer some of the questions the following morning, in order to verify figures and better prepare responses.
On the issue of affirmative action, the delegation acknowledged that the Government was moving away from a system of quotas and positive discrimination for women and ethnic minorities but this did not mean that the Government did not strive for gender and ethnic balances, even if it was no longer institutionalized.
Finding the balance in the labour market was indeed important and with the growing domestic economy, the demand for qualified labour was also increasing.
The denunciation of ILO Convention 118 was done because bilateral agreements had been established and it would interrupt Dutch policies of portability of benefits under agreements with other countries.
Responding to the question on the underground economy, this sector accounted for approximately ten percent of the Netherlands’ domestic economy, which by international standards was considered quite low.
Questions by Experts on Article Ten to Twelve
On the issue of domestic violence, one Expert said that the tone of the periodic report was quite fatalistic and went so far as to say that domestic violence could not be wholly eliminated but measures to protect the victims were being established. One Expert asked whether there was clear criminalization of domestic violence.
Another Expert asked for further clarification on the mention of honor crimes, and more specifically the effect on men, which was mentioned in the report. In concrete terms, what was being done to address the issue of honor crimes and deter its practice going forward?
An Expert asked about the policies of corporal punishment in Aruba, which was apparently still used in schools and classrooms.
While there was mention of the consumption of tobacco and alcohol, there were no details about drugs. It would be useful to have more details on this sector given the Netherlands’ unique position on the sale and consumption of certain narcotics.
Also, one Expert asked what the justification was for allowing certain spaces to permit indoor smoking, whilst the Government had banned smoking in almost all other public spaces.
Regarding the recent legalization of prostitution, what were the effects of this legalization and what was the outcome of the Government evaluation in 2007 on this specific issue?
Another question posed by a Committee Expert asked whether child pornography was criminalized or merely prohibited.
Recently the Netherlands seized a consignment of generic medication whilst in transit in the Netherlands from one developing country to another. Why did the Government seize this medication and what was the eventual outcome of this situation?
On the subject of human trafficking in Aruba, it appeared that there had been arrests but the details remained vague. One of the Experts asked the delegation to provide more information on these arrests, in addition to any progress it had made in its policies against human trafficking.
Abortion in the former Netherlands Antilles was a criminal offence but apparently it still occurred behind closed doors. The report stated that even in the new Criminal Code, abortion would remain illegal. One Expert asked for more details on the scale of punishments for conducting an abortion. Also, if abortion was accepted but illegal, why not simply make it legal?
In terms of poverty, what was the rate of families living below the poverty line, particularly in Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maartens? And, furthermore, what national plan of action existed or was planned to combat poverty and its root causes?
Concerning homelessness, in early 2008, it was estimated that there were some 17,500 homeless people in the Netherlands. And by 2009, some statistics show that the figure of homeless persons was as high as 35,000 people. Could the delegation provide details on the number of homeless people today and, moreover, what was the Dutch Government doing to combat homelessness and rehabilitate those who lived on the streets?
Another Expert asked for further details and figures on the presence of street children in the various countries of the Kingdom.
Questions by Experts on Articles Thirteen to Fifteen
One Expert said that undocumented children were still a vulnerable group. Whilst in administrative detention, it was difficult to enforce compulsory education? What was being done to encourage the education of undocumented children?
Another Expert raised the point that there were no formal human rights education programmes in the Netherlands. It was not part of the national curricula and was up to the teacher to instruct. Was that in fact the case and were there any plans to change this situation?
On the subject of preschool education, one Expert asked to what extent it was private or public and were preschools free of cost for low-income families.
Concerning sexual and reproductive education, what programmes existed in both primary and secondary schools and what was the main focus of their educational content?
One of the Committee Experts asked what was the portion of the nation’s budget that went to cultural affairs?
On the issue of education, one Expert asked for further details on additional support to handicapped children. Unfortunately, the statistics provided in the report only went up to 2007 and it would be useful to know the full picture in 2010. The same Expert pointed out that for Sint Maarten, there were no figures at all.
Continuing on the issue of education, one Expert noted that there were currently three laws in place: one for primary education, one for secondary and one for specialized centers. Why could the same law not govern these different sectors? Were the objectives of each level of education different?
Were schools obliged to teach religions and systems of beliefs and what was the State religion of the Netherlands?
Given the Netherlands’ large Turkish community, what percentage of schools offered Turkish as a language option and what percentage of students studied this language in school?
Moving to the educational system of the islands, did preschool children have the possibility to learn in their maternal language, particularly given that there was a steady decline in the use of Dutch?
Regarding student mobility at the university level, one Expert also asked whether students from the islands had real access to attend universities in the Netherlands.
Responses by the Delegation of the Netherlands (Articles six to nine)
The delegation began by providing the requested statistics on the Netherlands’ leave schemes. Concerning the different forms of leave, maternity leave covered a period of four weeks before the pregnancy and then ten to twelve weeks after birth at one hundred percent of the woman’s salary at the time of leave. Paternity leave, by contrast, was only for a duration of two days.
The Government was committed to influencing the mindset of employers so that they could be more flexible with the duration and nature of the leave of their employees.
Regarding the Dutch labour market, there was an increased shortage in skilled labour, which could be a cause of the decrease in underemployment but, as mentioned previously, no precise figures were available on the percentage of underemployed people, who worked under 12 hours a week.
On the issue of external strength of economic, social and cultural rights, a large number of Dutch multinationals were implementing internationally a code of conduct that was in line with the general principles of international human rights.
In the Netherlands, there was no objective poverty line and so the Government’s poverty reduction strategy was based on context and also addressed the potential of poverty as well. In the Government’s view, poverty meant any individuals living below the social minimum and single parent families were oftentimes most at risk of living in poverty.
Responses by the Delegation of Aruba (Articles six to nine)
With respect to pension schemes and retirement age, the delegation of Aruba said that at the age of 60, every citizen was entitled to full retirement pension.
The State also provided monthly assistance to households in need. An allowance was allocated per child in low-income households where multiple children lived.
Responses by the Delegations of Curacao and Sint Maarten (Articles six to nine)
The percentage of boys in high school was lower than that of girls. Boys were more impulsive and more prone to social distractions. The Government was trying to involve parents in teaching and influencing male children and there were also programmes to stimulate the interest and involvement of boys at the school age.
On the question of the informal economy, in Sint Maarten the informal work sector accounted for about 34 per cent while in Curacao it was significantly lower, at around 21 percent.
Responses by the Delegation of the Netherlands (Articles ten to twelve)
On the issue of domestic violence, the approach of the Dutch authorities was far from fatalistic. The fight against domestic violence was being conducted with unprecedented vigour and the Government treated this issue with the utmost importance.
Domestic violence constituted acts of violence from within the victim’s domestic circle and was not therefore confined to location or the domestic home. It could involve physical or psychological abuse, including verbal abuse. The wording of the legislation was gender neutral as the cases of domestic abuse also affected men, albeit in much lower percentages.
While it was true that there was no specific criminal conviction for domestic violence, other articles in Dutch law, such as sexual violence and physical harm, were used when considering cases of domestic violence. Regrettably, the delegation of the Netherlands did not have specific figures on the number of relevant prosecutions since the judicial database did not have a category for domestic violence specifically.
On the issue of honor crimes, such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation or even murder, these could affect males as well. There was, however, more specific attention to this particular form on this aspect of domestic violence. The delegation confirmed that shelters were made available for the victims of honor crimes.
In the cases of child abuse, the age of the minor was enough to prosecute. The acquiescence of the child or the context surrounding the crime was inadmissible and not considered in cases of child abuse.
The Netherlands was a destination or transit country in cases of human trafficking. Women and young girls were particularly vulnerable, oftentimes roped into the sex trade, but men and boys were also at risk because of the cheap labour they provided.
Investigating and prosecuting human trafficking was one of the spearheads of Dutch police. Investigations were not limited to the human traffickers themselves but also those who facilitated the process by providing false identity papers, safe houses, etc.
On the issue of prostitution, the ban on brothels was abolished in 2000 as the Government wished to gain control of the industry to better regulate the use of underage sex workers and undocumented migrants and promote better health. The ban had not worked completely because there was still some incentive for some brothels to remain underground.
Continuing on the subject of prostitution, a new bill was proposed in which all prostitutes would have to be registered as well as a provision for the penalization of customers who purchased the services of unregistered prostitutes. Although certain groups were fighting for the anonymity of prostitutes, registration could easily minimize the risk of violence against prostitutes.
Regarding the process, asylum seekers had 28 days to leave the country when rejected from the asylum procedure. If this time was too short, then the asylum seeker could stay for an additional 12 weeks in housing facilities with restricted freedom of movement. Oftentimes, asylum seekers stayed in specialized housing even after their asylum had been granted, whilst they sought affordable accommodation and employment.
In response to one question on the access of prisoners to mental health support, the Dutch Government now provided mental health facilities in prison. Since 2007, all nurses working in prisons had to receive specialized training in mental health. Prisoners suffering from severe mental health could be put in isolation if they represented a danger to themselves or others. Doctors had to visit the patient at least once every 24 hours.
On the subject of the generic medications that were recently seized in a port in the Netherlands, it was indeed a very sensitive issue. In general, the shipment of medicine that was seized came mainly from India and was destined to countries where they did not infringe on intellectual property laws. However, at the time of seizure, it did contradict domestic and European intellectual property law. It was also noteworthy that this specific case occurred in 2008 and there had been no recurrence of the same problem since then.
On the issue of Dutch drug policy, the national strategy was aimed at reducing the number of users and the negative impact of drug addition. Both policy and legislation made a distinct difference between hard drugs and cannabis. The possession of cannabis was a minor offence and was sold legally in approved and regulated coffee shops. The justification for this legal distinction was that by purchasing cannabis from drug dealers on the streets, the possibility or purchasing other, harder drugs was a lot easier.
In terms of smoking in public venues, all public places had been made smoke free. However, small pubs, below seventy square meters, were allowed to decide if their establishments were smoke-free or not.
On the subject of the number of homeless people, the number presented yesterday by one Expert was not accurate. The Government estimated that there were approximately 80,000 homeless people in the Netherlands, which included those sleeping on the streets as well as homeless shelters. That said, the number of homeless people sleeping on the streets remained quite low.
Responses by the Delegation of Aruba (Articles ten to twelve)
On the issue of child pornography or abuse, any citizen accused of such crimes abroad would be prosecuted upon return to the country. At present, however, no foreign pedophiles had been prosecuted either abroad or upon their return to Aruba.
In the Aruban criminal code, there were provisions against physical assault against both women and men.
On the subject of corporal punishment in schools, Aruba did not condone the practice even though it did not officially criminalize it. There was a remarkable move to eliminate corporal punishment both in schools and in the home and educational campaigns and a child abuse help line had been established.
Responses by the Delegation of Curacao and Sint Maarten (Articles ten to twelve)
On the issue of human trafficking, there was no specific article in the Criminal Code devoted exclusively to the problem of human trafficking but it was covered under the crimes of fraud, people smuggling and kidnapping. The trafficking of women and children was an offence that carried a maximum sentence of five years.
Abortion was not allowed under the Criminal Code but exceptions were permitted if the health of the mother was at severe risk.
Child pornography and child prostitution were illegal and the Government of Curacao took a very firm stance in prosecuting such cases.
Concerning child labour, the minimum age for labour had been set through national legislation at the age of 15. The only exceptions were if the activities directly benefited the family the child was from or if it was in the context of a school. Under no circumstances were children allowed to work in the evenings or engage in work that was hazardous to their physical or mental health. Secondary education was compulsory and should be the priority focus of all children.
On the question of combating poverty, the delegation stated that the majority of those suffering from poverty were the unemployed and the elderly. Neither Curacao nor Sint Maarten had a poverty reduction strategy at present but measures were being undertaken to set an official poverty line and to develop on long-term approach that provided housing subsidies, increased pension plans for the elderly and addressed the root causes of poverty.
In response to the question on childcare facilities and waiting lists, the delegation confirmed that there were no waiting lists.
Responses by the Delegation of the Netherlands (Articles thirteen to fifteen)
On the issue of merging education legislation, the delegation said that the influence of parents was quite significant and merging legislation would constitute a lengthy and expensive process.
Regarding human rights education, the Dutch Government considered human rights to be extremely important and plans to promote human rights education were underway. For secondary education, schools were not obliged to teach human rights but there was increasing support and training for schools to do so.
On the subject of student mobility, the delegation confirmed that there existed programmes both within the European Union but also within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
While there was no official State religion, there were private religious schools that were administered by an independent education board. These schools could not charge tuition above the standard rates.
Preschool education was publicly funded and municipalities registered an average of 90 per cent attendance rates for children living in their areas.
On the subject of the budget allotted to cultural affairs, the Government funded a number of initiatives that promoted cultural diversity in the Netherlands. The right to participate in cultural life for disabled persons did not have specific legislation but wheelchair access in museums, libraries and municipal buildings was common.
Responses by the Delegation of Aruba (Articles twelve to fifteen)
Responding to the issue of street children, the delegation said that there was no problem of street children in Aruba and therefore no specific legislation on this subject.
Secondary sexual education covered the reproductive system as well as respect and responsibility for one’s self and others.
Responses by the Delegations of Curacao and Sint Maarten (Articles twelve to fifteen)
The compulsory education law meant that all children were entitled to schooling and undocumented minors did not need a resident permit in order to attend schools or be admitted to certain internship programmes.
Human rights education was not mandatory in school curricula but the delegation would communicate the Committee’s request to the Government to increase human rights education. In the meantime, every year in the month of November, special attention was given in schools to the subject of the rights of the child.
All preschools in Sint Maarten were private and the costs were borne by the parents but in Curacao there existed some Government funded preschools.
LAURIS BEETS, Director for International Affairs at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands, in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee members and stated that there had been an excellent exchange of views. The questions and remarks were very much appreciated and not always easy to answer. The delegation did its best to answer the questions accordingly and hoped that the responses were satisfactory. The other delegations of the Kingdom were also thanked for their professionalism and involvement.
Mr. Beets also thanked the Committee for accepting the somewhat peculiar structure of this review, given that there were multiple delegations to ask questions and hear from. From a governance point of view, the delegation enjoyed the process and had learned a great deal about its Government’s own behaviors, practices and potential shortcomings. The rights of the Covenant were of utmost importance and the Government would continue to make its promotion and protection a high priority.
JAIME MARCHAN ROMERO, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, thanked all the delegations for their participation and cooperation. Given that there were several delegations to hear from, the discussion went as smoothly as it could have. The Chairperson concluded by thanking all the representatives.
For use of the information media; not an official record