To the members of the Cabinet
Attn. the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations
H.G.J. Bruins Slot,
coordinating minister for tackling discrimination and racism
Date: August 31, 2022
Subject: National Program against Discrimination and Racism
It is unacceptable for people to be discriminated against or prevented from being themselves in public. We must therefore make a firm stand against discrimination and racism.
All too often, people in the Netherlands are discriminated against. All too often, people feel that they do not count. More than one quarter of all Dutch people have recently experienced discrimination. Year after year, we have seen a rise in the number of reports of discrimination and racism. This situation calls for a firm response to any form of exclusion. A response that underlines the fact that equality, justice and inclusivity are the norm in both the European and the Caribbean Netherlands. That approach is outlined in the attached National Program against Discrimination and Racism, which I am pleased to present to you.
Task of the NCDR and support
My task was, on the basis of discussions with representatives of societies, to investigate which supplementary measures and ideas are desirable and to subsequently join various departments in identifying which measures and ideas can be taken up and implemented by the Government. As commissioned, the enclosed National Program can count on the support of the departments involved.
Over the past few months, I have engaged in dialogue with dozens of civil society organizations and many hundreds of citizens – often victims of discrimination – by means of personal interviews and 22 so-called town hall sessions for groups of people across the country. I have listened to their stories and their ideas for reinforcing the approach. I was deeply affected by how painful the experience has been for people who have fallen victim to exclusion, and by how exclusion leads to mistrust of the government, growing polarization and eventually to people dropping out entirely.
Nevertheless, together with all discussion partners, we are striving to find possibilities for reinforcing the policy efforts proposed in antidiscrimination and antiracism policy.
The added value of the Government’s decision to not position the Government Commissioner against Discrimination and Racism as an independent advisory body but as a coordinator between society and the government departments is that the measures that have eventually been included in the National Program will be implemented. This, in turn, will make a major contribution to tackling discrimination and racism.
The downside of this approach, however, is that several ideas put forward by representatives of the community quickly came up against financial or administrative objections, which meant they could not be included in the National Program. Regarding certain elements, however, I am convinced that further-reaching measures or policy adjustments are both desirable and achievable in accelerating the pace for arriving at an inclusive society. I therefore take the liberty – over and above the National Program – to explicitly draw a number of these points to your attention:
- In line with my call to make July 1 a national holiday, I support the widely shared desire that the Dutch government should offer a formal apology for its historical involvement in the slave trade. This is of huge importance for the descendants of enslaved people, who to this day continue to experience the consequences of the past. I share the conclusions of the Advisory Board of the Dialogue Group on the History of Slavery that recognition should be accompanied by an apology, that such an official apology will help in healing the historical suffering and above all that an apology would contribute to building a common future.
- The discussion on the extent to which religious expressions (such as a headscarf, yarmulke or turban) should be permitted in the clothing of police officers is still far from reaching a conclusion. Motions in the Parliament have suggested that the secularity of the government means that any expression of a religious conviction in the uniform is inappropriate. However, during the town hall sessions organized by myself and in discussions with the organizations involved, I often heard the desire that religious expressions should be permitted in the clothing of police officers (and special investigating officers, BOAs). There was much support for the position that this in no way detracts from the professionalism and neutrality of the government. I share that position. The police is an organization for and of us all and serves the whole of society. At present, specific groups of people are excluded from participating in this very important organization. However, neutrality means that police officers must perform their duties objectively and impartially. The idea that wearing a religious symbol prevents police officers from impartially fulfilling their function is, in my opinion, both wrong and unnecessarily stigmatizing. It represents a missed opportunity to reinforce our police service, with a large group of women.
- In my discussions in society, both with individual citizens and interest groups, it became clear to me that the Act on Extraordinary Measures for Urban Problems (the so-called ‘Rotterdam Act’) has far-reaching consequences for individuals looking for housing because of its selective approach to the allocation of housing. The Act promotes unequal treatment on various grounds, and migrants suffer the negative consequences disproportionately. In other words, albeit unintentionally, the Act has a discriminatory effect. My proposal is therefore to entirely remove the most contested article of the Act (Article 8, which differentiates between newcomers and people who have been resident in a region for a longer period) to avoid any form of unintended discrimination.
You commissioned me to develop the role of the NCDR as a work in progress. Quite rightly, you pointed out that the first year would above all be hallmarked by ‘pioneering work’. I look forward to further fulfilling this role over the coming year and to further extending the National Program. Dialogue with civil society organizations and individual citizens will once again be of huge importance. My intention is to continue to engage in and to even intensify that dialogue over the coming years.
I see the National Program as a continuing process, and in the autumn of 2023 aim to present a new, updated program with additional reinforcement measures again supported by the Government. I plan to publish a new National Program each year as part of the ongoing struggle to bring about a Netherlands in which everyone is treated equally, and no one is excluded.
Rabin S. Baldewsingh
National Coordinator against Discrimination and Racism