The Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy with a strong record of safeguarding political rights and civil liberties. Nevertheless, Muslims and immigrants experience harassment and discrimination, and polarization around cultural identity issues has increased. Harsh asylum policies have been a source of controversy. The Kingdom of the Netherlands also has overall responsibility for human rights compliance on six Caribbean islands. Corruption, prison conditions and asylum policies are of concern on the islands.
- The government restricted assembly rights periodically throughout the year to prevent the spread of COVID-19. During the first government-imposed lockdown in March, police dispersed antilockdown protesters for not respecting social-distancing rules. In September, authorities in The Hague, the location of many of these protests, implemented stricter rules on spontaneous assemblies that normally would be tolerated by police. According to government statistics provided to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 795,000 people tested positive for coronavirus and nearly 11,400 people died by year’s end.
- In October, research released by the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague showed that migrant workers, mainly from Eastern Europe, were living in degrading conditions, were not ensured proper compensation, and were housed illegally. Between a third and half of all workers in the agricultural sector are migrant workers at risk of exploitation.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The Netherlands is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The prime minister is the head of government, appointed by the parliament after elections. Prime Minister Mark Rutte won a third term following elections in March 2017, leading a cabinet of his People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) alongside the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), the Democrats 66 (D66), and the Christian Union. Elections are generally well administered, and the results are accepted by all parties.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The Netherlands has a parliament that consists of the First Chamber, elected indirectly by the members of the twelve provincial councils, and the Second Chamber, members of which are directly elected to terms of four years. After losing its majority in the First Chamber in 2019, the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Rutte has since lost its majority in the Second Chamber, as well. Subsequently, the coalition has become even more dependent on ad hoc majorities to have bills signed off and its policies approved.
The nationalist Forum for Democracy (FvD) party gained a plurality of the vote in the March 2019 Provincial Council elections (14.5 percent). Party leader Thierry Baudet was criticized for attempting to justify sexist and white supremacist statements as legitimate cultural commentary, leading to some defections of elected representatives in provincial councils and the First Chamber.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Elections are administered by the Electoral Council, which works impartially and professionally. Throughout 2020, the Minister of Interior began preparing for the March 2021 parliamentary elections, incorporating public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Political parties operate freely. The Elections Law does not impose any undue restrictions on the creation of political parties and the registration of candidates for elections.
Government funding extends to all parties with at least 1,000 members and at least one seat in Parliament.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
In the 2017 Second Chamber elections, several opposition parties gained seats and three of them joined the new government. In the March 2019 provincial elections, newcomer FvD made significant gains, winning the most votes of any individual party, and removing the governing coalition’s majority from the upper chamber.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
The people are free to make their own political choices without pressure from groups that are not democratically accountable.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4.004 4.004|
Marginalized groups participate freely in the political process. Several political parties specifically cater to the (perceived) interests of religious groups or ethnic minorities. Underrepresentation in politics of persons without higher education is sometimes identified as a problem.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Government policies reflect the choices of freely elected members of Parliament. Inordinate influence of corporate interests over government policies continued to be criticized by investigative journalists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||4.004 4.004|
The Netherlands has low levels of corruption and anticorruption mechanisms are generally effective.
In response to the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) recommendation to strengthen integrity safeguards for parliamentarians, the Second Chamber created a Code of Conduct in September 2020 with an independent complaints body (to begin working in2021), a stronger mechanism than the one created in 2019 by the First Chamber.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
Laws are in place recognizing the right to request government information, and they are generally enforced, although critics contend that long delays in responding to requests for information are common. The COVID-19 crisis was cited several times as an additional reason for delay in 2020. A bill initiated in 2012 that would require the government to make documents available online rather than by request continued to await parliamentary discussion.
Reports emerged about significant malpractice within the Tax Administration’s collection processes, including illegal practices involving childcare allowances beginning in 2012. The Dutch Personal Data Protection Authority concluded that discriminatory use had been made of data on the (double) nationality of certain applicants. In May 2020, the government filed a formal complaint to the public prosecutor, asking them to investigate Tax Administration officers for extortion and discrimination. In December 2020, a special parliamentary committee reported that families were punished illegitimately, and, when legitimate, to disproportionate extremes. Between 9,000 and 26,000 families are entitled to compensation.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
A free and independent press thrives in the Netherlands.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, which is generally respected in practice. A prohibition of burqas and niqabs in public establishments and on public transport came into force in August 2019. However, a report by de Volkskrant showed that no fines had been issued at all as of October 2020.
Religious schools became a contentious political issue with respect to Islamic establishments, after the government antiterrorism agency claimed that teachers at one secondary school seemed to foment hatred toward nonbelievers. This caused significant controversy, especially after the school was refused government funding, though this refusal was reversed by an administrative court decision in November 2019.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is largely respected in the Netherlands.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
There are no restrictions on freedom of speech or expression, apart from the criminalization of hate speech. The exact interpretation of hate speech provisions continued to be debated in 2020. The court rejected Geert Wilders’s appeal of his conviction for hate speech, after he called for the reduction of the number of Moroccans in the Netherlands, but annulled charges against him for incitement to discriminate.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected by authorities. The government restricted assembly rights periodically throughout the year to prevent the spread of COVID-19. During the first lockdown in March 2020, police dispersed antilockdown protesters for not respecting social distancing rules. In September, authorities in The Hague, the location of many of these protests, implemented stricter rules on spontaneous assemblies that normally would be tolerated by police.
Demonstrations following the May 2020 death of George Floyd in the United States drew thousands of participants, a number not seen in antiracism demonstrations in a generation. In particular, protesters demonstrated in support of removing the figure Black Pete from Saint Nicholas celebrations.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
NGOs operate freely and without interference from the government or nonstate actors.
A draft bill proposed in December 2020 would enable local authorities and prosecutors to gather information from civil society organizations on any foreign funding that the organizations receive. The memo accompanying the draft bill links the proposal to concerns over foreign funding of religious groups in migrant communities. Civil society organizations voiced concerns over the possibility that the law would be applied arbitrarily and in a discriminatory manner.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Workers’ rights to organize, bargain collectively, and strike are protected.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary is independent, and the rule of law generally prevails in civil and criminal matters.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||4.004 4.004|
The right to a fair trial is legally guaranteed and respected in practice. By June 2020, extra judicial capacity was allocated to deal with the case backlog that was a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The courts employed retired judges and more frequently used single-judge panels.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
The police are under civilian control, and prison conditions mostly meet international standards. To prevent the spread of COVID-19 among prison populations, the government allowed the early release of detainees who had almost completed their sentence. Prison capacity went down from 85.8 percent at the end of 2019 to 78.2 percent as of mid-April 2020.
Sub-standard prison conditions continued to be reported on islands in the Caribbean under the jurisdiction of the Netherlands, notably on the island of Sint Maarten.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
The Netherlands has antidiscrimination laws and hate speech laws on the books. Rising anti-immigrant sentiment in recent years has been accompanied by more open expression of anti-Islamic views.
Muslims and people with a migrant background experience harassment and intimidation. Persistent labor market discrimination on ethnic grounds, of older people, of pregnant women, and of disabled people continued to be documented in 2020. The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (College voor de Rechten van de Mens) criticized the government’s inadequate policies to counter discrimination in the public sphere.
Protests in the Netherlands in June following the death of George Floyd in the United States strengthened the movement to remove the figure Black Pete from Saint Nicholas celebrations; mainstream political leaders, including the prime minister, supported the change. Discussion of the country’s the colonial past of the country and its role in the slave trade also gained prominence; Amsterdam and other cities issued formal apologies.
Actions by NGOs on ethnic profiling by the police focused particularly on the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, a gendarmerie force, whose tasks include border controls and checks on illegal residents. Reports emerged in 2020 that the use of racist language was prominent among the Rotterdam police force.
Dutch asylum policies have long drawn criticism for being unduly harsh. Dutch officials routinely register children born to those who have been trafficked or to asylum seekers under the category “nationality unknown” as opposed to “stateless.” This practice has reportedly affected more than 13,000 children under age 10, according to the most recent Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics data from September 2016. In December 2020, the UN Human Rights Committee urged the government to review its legislation and establish a procedure for determining statelessness.
Increasing delays in decision-making on asylum applications, for which the government was obliged to pay asylum seekers fees, led to the government reportedly paying €1 million in administrative penalties per week in 2020. Emergency legislation was introduced in July 2020 to suspend for one year the government’s obligation to compensate asylum seekers if their application had been unduly delayed.
Unlike other European Union (EU) member states, Dutch authorities refused to accept a contingent of young unaccompanied asylum seekers from refugee camps in Greece. After the fire at the Moria camp in September 2020, the government decided to accept 100 persons from the camp for resettlement, though this number would be subtracted from the 2021 quota of 500 refugees that are accepted annually from around the world.
The Caribbean islands that are part of the Netherlands lack well-developed asylum procedures. NGOs continued to call for more government action to support Venezuelan refugees on the islands of Aruba and Curaçao; reports suggest that many are regularly expelled from Curaçao. In 2020, about 16,000 Venezuelans resided on Curaçao without a residence permit, living off wages from informal jobs. After the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed the informal economy on those islands, NGOS stepped in to provide food to migrants and destitute citizens of the islands.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Residents generally enjoy freedom of movement and choice of residence, employment, and institution of higher education. Though the government did implement a lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, these measures were largely in line with public health guidance.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
Property rights are legally protected and generally upheld in practice.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||4.004 4.004|
Personal social freedoms are largely respected.
Domestic violence is a persistent problem. According to data published in December 2020 by the Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence Prevalence Monitor created by Statistics Netherlands, nearly half of all young adult women have experienced some form of sexual violence.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Increased efforts were set in motion in 2019 by government to prevent and fight human trafficking. The independent government-appointed National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children highlighted in 2020 the lack of attention for trafficking of young people and children who experience sexual abuse, both in the Netherlands and at refugee reception centers after they have applied for asylum.
Long-standing concerns over exploitative working and housing conditions for migrants, particularly in the agricultural and meat-processing sector, deepened in 2020. In October, research released by the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague showed that migrant workers, mainly from Eastern Europe, were living in degrading conditions, were not ensured proper compensation, and were housed illegally. Between a third and half of all workers in the agricultural sector are migrant workers at risk of exploitation. Government policies created in December 2019 were widely considered insufficient and have not properly regulated temporary employment agencies, which are often the cause of the problem.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because migrant workers face exploitative or unsafe working and housing conditions in some industries, despite government efforts to address their treatment.
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Global Freedom Score98 100 free