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4. Support and protection

Unity without diversity is suffocating. Diversity without unity is grains of sand.

King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands

People live under the burden of discrimination, racism and exclusion, sometimes with disastrous effects on the victim’s participation in society. It can have a negative impact on health, wellbeing and prosperity. The reality is that we live in a society in which groups are increasingly in conflict with each other and where Dutch residents without a migration background are unfairly favored in job interviews, in the housing market and in healthcare. Tackling that inequality is a shared responsibility. Equality only truly exists if people are not obliged to deny or explain part of themselves.

Any sound approach to discrimination and exclusion involves support for people in at-risk groups and protection for the victims of discrimination. The government should take the lead with real solutions, policy measures and laws. This much we owe to future generations. Instead of countering them, colorblind policies allow inequalities to survive. There is no such thing as a neutral government, in the same way that there are no neutral human beings.

In this chapter we discuss the steps taken to reinforce government policy efforts aimed at supporting and protecting victims of discrimination and racism. These steps go beyond the current policy on these topics that the Government is already pursuing.

Better access to ‘Pink in Blue’

The police officers who make up the Pink in Blue (Roze in Blauw; an LGBTIQ+ organization within the police) network support the LGBTIQ+ community, for instance by reporting incidents when requested and wherever possible. The NCDR recognises the necessity of maintaining the national telephone contact number for Pink in Blue, so that it remains accessible, and any reports can be followed up on.

Neutrality and inclusivity within the police organization

The police exist for everybody and by the grace of everybody, and serves the whole of society. The police wish to be inclusive and to be a true reflection of society. One question currently occupying society is whether this desire is expressed in the regulations laid down in the lifestyle neutrality code of conduct. This code specifies that police employees (and special investigating officers), while on duty in uniform, must refrain from all expressions reflecting a political, religious or other preference that could risk detracting from a safe and neutral professional attitude. This prevents certain groups of people being eligible to perform police tasks.

The Dutch Parliament recently tabled two motions to emphasise that the secularity of government is of special value in our state structure and that, as a result, any expressions of religious conviction on the police uniform are inappropriate. Nevertheless, the social discussion on this topic is far from reaching its conclusion, and the discussion on the extent to which religious expressions such as a headscarf or a yarmulke as part of the clothing of a police officer detract from the neutrality of the government needs to be continued. The NCDR is keen to engage in that dialogue with all affected parties and stakeholders.

Investigation into discrimination and racism within the police organization

In line with the Regional Mayors’ Strategic Agenda 2022-2025, a wide-ranging investigation is due to take place in the police into discrimination and racism within the police organization. This investigation, to be conducted by an independent research institute, is partly aimed at determining the effectiveness of the police force’s own antidiscrimination policy. The State Commission against Discrimination and Racism has the option to follow up on this investigation.

Community service and training orders

Community service and training orders can be a valuable addition to the penalties imposed on perpetrators of discrimination and racism. Because these punitive measures clearly show the impact of discrimination and racism on victims, they are expected to be effective in preventing repeat offences. Civil society organizations have been called upon to develop ideas for an educational program for young offenders. These organizations (for example the Anne Frank House and COC, a Dutch LGBTI organization) may have a role to play in the implementation of the training orders.

The Educational Measure Alcohol is a good example of this type of sanction, under which a person convicted of a drink driving offence is required to follow a compulsory rehabilitation course. An Educational Measure Discrimination could be introduced along the same lines.

Tackling institutional racism

There are growing calls – expressed among others by the Council for the Judiciary – for a constitutional review of formal laws. Although formal laws can already be reviewed on the basis of the fundamental principles of law as formulated in international treaties, the same purpose could equally well be served by our own Constitution, also because our own Constitution is better known to Dutch citizens. The Government recently sent an outline letter on this subject.

It is important that we avoid any elements of exclusion in our laws. Even if such an element is neutrally formulated, it can in practice result in the indirect exclusion of groups of people. For that reason, the Government intends to identify as soon as possible the potential effects that the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Prevention) Act has on specific groups of people in practice, and the consequences these have for their ability to participate in the financial services sector. This identification process is in line with a motion adopted on March 30 2022, which calls upon the government to urgently investigate the risk selections that banks employ to implement the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Prevention) Act.

It is also essential for tackling institutional discrimination that existing government inspectorates have a clear understanding of institutional discrimination within their purview. Equally important is their ability to enforce appropriate regulations where necessary. A general guideline for inspections is being prepared for that purpose.

Signing the optional protocol to the UN CRPD

At present, citizens with a complaint about potential violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities cannot submit those complaints to a specialist UN Committee. The Netherlands has not yet signed the optional protocol intended to regulate this topic.The NCDR calls for the signing of this protocol without delay.

Making buildings accessible for people with a disability

The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations has commissioned the preparation of a voluntary standard for accessible building practices. The work is being undertaken by the Royal Netherlands Standardization Institute (NEN) in collaboration with a broad group of representatives of the construction world, housing associations, property developers, architects, government authorities and consumers. This standard should be viewed as a guideline for more accessible building practices and will supplement the current Building Decree, which already contains general requirements on building accessibility. Consideration is also being given to ensuring that maximum use is made of the standard.

LGBTIQ+: tackling conversion practices

In the Netherlands, there are at least fifteen providers of ‘conversion therapy’ programs that attempt to change, suppress or ‘repair’ a person’s sexual or gender identity. Conversion practices obviously do not bring about any change in sexual orientation or gender identity. Numerous studies have revealed that victims suffer serious adverse consequences, ranging from depression to attempted suicide. The NCDR therefore calls upon the Dutch Parliament to embrace the private member’s bill aimed at criminalizing conversion therapy treatments in the Netherlands. In preparing a prohibition under the law, the Government eagerly awaits the private members bill within the Parliament, and the recommendations from the Council of State.

Introducing the term ‘sexual orientation’

Discrimination against non-binary, intersex and transgender individuals is currently not explicitly prohibited in the Dutch Criminal Code. Transgender, intersex and non-binary persons are therefore not protected in law against expressions of group insult, despite being exposed to much discrimination. Moreover, the terms ‘heterosexual and homosexual orientation’ are not inclusive. The term ‘sexual orientation’ should be used in the law. It is also important to investigate whether the terms sexual characteristics, gender identity and gender expression need to be added.

Allowing ‘X’ as gender registration

Around 4 percent of all Dutch people do not identify as male or female. They see themselves as non-binary, for example. This group is faced with many uncomfortable situations in daily life because at present it is only possible to officially register gender as male or female. It should be easily possible to have the official gender registration deleted and replaced by an ‘X’ without judicial intervention.

Evaluation and revision of the ‘Rotterdam Act’

The Act on Extraordinary Measures for Urban Problems (also known as the ‘Rotterdam Act’) offers municipal authorities the possibility of operating a system of selective housing allocation in vulnerable neighborhoods. This special measure contributes to better prospects for residents and equal opportunities for children. Research by Erasmus University Rotterdam has revealed that growing up in a vulnerable neighborhood is a clear marker for fewer opportunities in later life. The measures result in more mixed neighborhoods that are less socioeconomically vulnerable. On the other hand, it is difficult to estimate the effects on quality of life. The intention of this measure is in fact part of a wide-ranging integrated area approach, and external factors also impact the results.

However, operating a selective housing allocation policy can also have far-reaching consequences for individuals wishing to live in these areas. It restricts freedom of establishment. In their housing allocation policy, municipal authorities can impose requirements on the nature of an individual’s income, give priority on the basis of socioeconomic characteristics (for example for specific professional groups) or screen home seekers for nuisance or criminal behavior.

In applying Article 8, municipal authorities can refuse to grant a housing permit to home seekers without paid employment in vulnerable neighborhoods. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that this is not in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and that limiting the freedom of establishment is justified.

In the current criteria of Article 8, a distinction is also made between home seekers without employment who have lived in the region for six years or more and those who have lived there for less than six years. Only the latter group is negatively affected by the measure, a fact that may also have consequences for newcomers to the Netherlands. In addition, the municipal authorities involved have indicated in the framework of a national evaluation that Article 8 needs to be revised to make it more effective.

The Minister for Housing and Spatial Planning intends to revise the Act on the basis of the evaluation and possibly the above considerations as well. The Dutch Parliament will be duly informed this autumn.

Importance of local policy

Municipal authorities have a vital task in tackling discrimination. Firstly, because they can ensure that the approach to discrimination is truly placed on the local political agenda, and secondly because local political bodies are able to free up the human and financial resources needed to provide better care to the victims of discrimination and racism. The Municipal Executive also has a role to play. The NCDR calls upon all mayors to shoulder responsibility.

The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations plans to analyze whether, how and to what extent municipal coalition agreements contain antidiscrimination policy.

Removing inequality between the Caribbean and European Netherlands

Discrimination is prohibited both in the European and in the Caribbean parts of the Netherlands. Although Article 1 of our Constitution and international treaties such as the European Convention on Human Rights also apply in the Caribbean Netherlands, to a large extent legislation on equal treatment still does not apply in the Caribbean Netherlands.

The NCDR calls for the urgent elimination of both formal and factual differences in the protection of human rights between the European and the Caribbean Netherlands by laying down a fixed timetable for implementing equal opportunities legislation in the Caribbean Netherlands and human rights treaties such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and for ratifying the Istanbul Convention. This Convention imposes requirements on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention came into effect in the European Netherlands on March 1 2016, but not in the Caribbean Netherlands. The State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport has promised the Dutch Parliament that he will take steps towards ratification of the Convention in the Caribbean Netherlands and announced his intention to ratify the Convention in 2025.

Improving human rights on the islands also requires a sound infrastructure. For example, it is vital that an organization where discrimination can be reported is established on the islands, open to residents with questions and complaints about the government, employers or any other parties.

In the European Netherlands, the Municipal Antidiscrimination Provisions Act ensures that, as far as possible, Dutch citizens can seek support in their immediate environment in the event of discrimination. The Act guarantees every citizen access to an antidiscrimination agency. As the Act does not apply in the Caribbean Netherlands, it should urgently be implemented in the Caribbean Netherlands.

The rights of LGBTIQ+ persons in the Caribbean Netherlands should be brought into line with the rights that exist in the European Netherlands. The ‘Transgender Act’ states that only an expert opinion is required to change legal gender registration. This Act is not yet in force on Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba – the so-called BES islands. At present, transgender persons only have the option to change their gender registration in the European Netherlands by following the Dutch procedure, before then being registered on the BES islands. This is unnecessarily time consuming and costly.

The BES Islands Civil Code still specifies that a child can only be adopted by a mixed-sex couple or a single person. This requirement was changed in the Netherlands as early as 2009. Partner’s pension rights for same-sex partners are also not yet regulated in the Caribbean Netherlands. The core objectives in education on sexual diversity do not yet apply in the Caribbean Netherlands, either. The new civic education directive (including a passage on the right to a safe environment irrespective of, for example, sexual orientation) is not yet in force on the BES islands. The NCDR calls upon the government to rectify this situation as quickly as possible.