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The Netherlands and the Development of International Human Rights Instruments

By H. Reiding


When discussing the Netherlands' international human rights policies, the first aspects to come to mind are usually those related to how it addresses and reacts to concrete human rights violations by other countries. In fact, there sometimes appears to be a tendency for public opinion to identify a government's human rights policy with its attempts to pursue human rights issues in its relations with other states. An important element of the Netherlands' human rights policy that does not generally generate widespread public attention concerns the further development of regional and global human rights systems. The present study thoroughly investigates the Netherlands' policies towards the creation of international human rights norms and accompanying supervisory procedures from the late 1970s to 2006. It analyses the Dutch position in negotiations on a number of instruments that deal with the freedom from torture, economic and social rights, children's rights and minority rights. For each theme, a number of smaller case studies and a detailed, in-depth case study are presented. The study examines whether the Netherlands was in favour of the creation of further human rights standards and more intrusive supervisory mechanisms, and what arguments and interests determined its position. It is concluded that the Netherlands was usually cautious to accept new norms, but after a while, it normally adjusted its opinion concerning the desirability of a standard-setting initiative to coincide with that of the proponents. In respect to the creation of supervisory mechanisms, Dutch policies were more consistent: the Netherlands favoured effective and independent procedures. Nonetheless, it must be noted that complaints procedures were not always supported. Apart from human rights considerations, security interests, sovereignty interests, and considerations of reputation co-determined the Netherlands' policies. The interests at stake were represented and defended by different actors. Sometimes, NGOs or transnational human rights networks exerted considerable influence on the Dutch position, although in other instances, they were not involved. Usually parliament did not directly influence the Netherlands' policies until the ratification process started. Finally, the question of which ministry or department was in charge of formulating the Dutch position in the negotiations proved to be an important determinant for the Netherlands' policies. On the basis of the case studies and an appraisal of the influence of different interests and actors, the study makes a general evaluation of the Netherlands' policies. Generally speaking, the Netherlands has a favourable international reputation in the field of human rights, and for a long time domestically, the idea has existed that the Netherlands had a special role to fulfil in the world. This study demonstrates that the Netherlands did indeed take human rights seriously, but it also shows that the idea that it acted as a 'guiding' human rights country, as many seem to presume, needs to be put into perspective. The overall impression is not one of a 'guiding' human rights country with a clear and long-term policy vision on the development of international human rights instruments, but rather that of country continuously adapting to domestic as well as international circumstances

Topics: Rechtsgeleerdheid, Netherlands, human rights, norms, supervisory procedures, foreign policy, torture, minority rights, social and economic rights, rights of the child, international law
Year: 2007
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