National statement Kingdom of the Netherlands in response to report by Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief on country visit to the Netherlands

43rd Human Rights Council – Palais des Nations Geneva

2 March 2020

Madame President  

On behalf of The Netherlands, I like to thank the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, for his country report on the Netherlands. The protection of freedom of religion and belief has been a priority in The Netherlands’ foreign human rights policy for many years. The Netherlands is committed to live up to the same human rights standards as to which it holds others accountable. In this light we strongly value and support the mandate of the Special Rapporteur to monitor and assess the situation of freedom of religion and belief in member states and appreciate his recommendations.

As indicated by the Special Rapporteur, The Netherlands has a robust policy and legal framework to foster a climate in which all inhabitants can enjoy their right to freedom of religion and belief and related rights to equality and non-discrimination, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. The Netherlands also has an institutionalized history of cooperating with different faith-based or ideological organizations in delivering necessary community services, such as education, healthcare and poverty reduction.

Moreover, through various mechanisms and programs, The Netherlands monitors and responds to different forms of intolerance and discrimination on religious and belief grounds. This includes training courses for government officials, the development of guidelines for implementing anti-discrimination policy at the municipal levels, and a comprehensive National Anti-Discrimination Action Programme that involves law enforcement officials, local anti-discrimination bureaus, and various frontline defenders including teachers.

Violence in any form against people, groups or communities on grounds of their religion or belief, or any other ground, is unacceptable. The Netherlands condemns any incitement to hostility, discrimination and violence on the basis of religion or belief and continues to invest in measures to monitor, report and respond to such incidents. As of January first this year, the maximum penalty for incitement to violence, hatred and discrimination has increased.

The Netherlands recognizes that more needs to be done to build more resilient, inclusive societies where individuals, including members of Jewish and Muslim communities, are afforded equal protections for their human rights. We echo the Special Rapporteur’s concerns about the worrisome increase in discrimination and intolerance against religious and ethnic communities, including Jewish and Muslim communities. The Special Rapporteur rightly warns for the negative effect of religious intolerance on human rights protection as well as on people’s trust in democratic institutions and on social cohesion at large. 

Trust in public institutions is indispensable for human rights protection. People will only report violations of their rights to state institutions if they trust that their issues will be recognized, remedied and prosecuted. Underreporting of discrimination, hate crimes, antisemitism or anti-Muslim hatred remains a problem, also in our country. We are therefore committed to continue investing in training, cooperation and capacity of police, local authorities and anti-discrimination bureaus, as recommended by the Special Rapporteur. We will also continue to support initiatives for combatting antisemitism, anti-Muslim hatred and other intolerance through safety and awareness programs in education and football.

Cognizant that governments cannot do this alone, the Netherlands continues to support numerous grass-roots initiatives for promoting dialogue and trust among and between religious and belief communities. One example is the “Building Bridges” program, which endeavors to establish volunteer teams from different religious and belief backgrounds to work on solving local tensions. Another example is the “Fan Coach” project of the Anne Frank Foundation that aims to help reduce anti-Semitic sentiments amongst soccer fans.

The Netherlands agrees with the Special Rapporteur that civil society and religious communities play a vital role in tackling discrimination and intolerance, as well as in the realization of tasks of general interest. We will therefore continue to cooperate with and facilitate civil society in building of an inclusive, human rights-based society.

Thank you.