Freedom in the World
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In November 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered a few months after his controversial film on the position of women in Islamic society was aired on Dutch television and more than two years after the death of the far-right politician Pim Fortuyn. Van Gogh's murder led to protest demonstrations in which thousands took part and sparked fears of increased racial tensions. In October, thousands protested a new austerity plan that will cut welfare support and health coverage, among other reforms. Parliament approved a new asylum bill that will forcibly remove thousands of failed asylum seekers over the next few years.
After the Dutch won their independence from Spain in the sixteenth century, the House of Orange assumed sovereignty over the United Provinces of the Netherlands. A constitutional monarchy emerged in the 1800s with a representative government. The Netherlands remained neutral in both world wars, but was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1940. The occupation ended in 1945, after five years of harsh rule during which Dutch workers were forced to work in German factories and Dutch Jews were deported to concentration camps. The Netherlands ended its neutrality when it joined NATO in 1949; it then became, in 1952, one of the founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community, the precursor to the European Union (EU).
Following the shooting death in May 2002 of far-right politician Pim Fortuyn, his newly formed party, the Pim Fortuyn List (LPF), went on to win second place on an anti-immigrant platform in national elections that same month. The fortunes of the LPF were short-lived, however, when infighting within the party led to a collapse of the new government in October and new elections were called for 2003. In November 2004, Dutch television viewers voted Fortuyn the greatest Dutchman of all times, beating William of Orange, the 17th century founder of the modern Dutch state, and Anne Frank, the diarist.
During the January 2003 election, 80 percent of those registered voted and nine parties won seats in parliament. The Christian Democrats (CDA) received more than 28 percent of the vote and 44 seats, just above the Labor Party (PvdA), which received around 27 percent and 42 seats, and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which received 18 percent and 28 seats. The Pim Fortuyn List (LPF) dropped to fifth place with only around 6 percent of the vote and 8 seats. Following four months of talks and a failed attempt to form a broad center-left coalition with the PvdA, the CDA brought the VVD and Democrats-66 (D66) into a center-right coalition with a slim majority of only 6 seats. Jan Peter Balkenende was named prime minister for a second term.
In April 2003, an animal rights activist, Volkert van der Graaf, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for the murder of Pim Fortuyn.
An all-party parliamentary report issued in January 2004 concluded that the country had failed to create an integrated, multiethnic society. The report further made an about-face from the country's 30-year-old policy of multiculturalism, arguing that Muslims resident in The Netherlands should "become Dutch." In addition, parliament adopted a government proposal to forcibly deport as many as 26,000 failed asylum seekers over the next three years, including many who have been in the country for years. Human Rights Watch has criticized the country for sending people back to places where they could be in danger.
The murder of Theo Van Gogh in November led to heightened racial tensions in the country. Twenty incidents of vandalism at Muslim buildings, including arson at an Islamic school, took place during the two-week period after the murder.
On the international front, the Dutch took over the rotating European Union (EU) presidency in July just after the largest expansion of the organization since its founding in the early postwar period.
A new government austerity plan sparked the largest public demonstrations in Amsterdam in two decades. The plan would extend the workweek from 36 to 40 hours, cut health care benefits, and end financial benefits that make early retirement possible. The austerity measures were introduced to help reduce the costs of the country's ageing population. The number of people over 65 in the country is expected to double over the next 35 years.
The Dutch can change their government democratically. The 150-member lower house, or Second Chamber, is elected every four years by proportional representation and passes bills on to the 75-member upper house, or First Chamber, for approval. During elections in 2003, 80 percent of those registered voted and nine parties won seats in parliament. Foreigners resident in the country for five years or more are legally eligible to vote in local elections. Uniquely among the EU member countries, mayors are not elected in The Netherlands but appointed from a list of candidates submitted by the municipal councils. The monarch, currently Queen Beatrix, appoints the Council of Ministers (cabinet) and the governor of each province on the recommendation of the majority in parliament.
The country has few issues with political corruption. The Netherlands was ranked 10 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The country's media are free and independent. Restrictions against insulting the monarch and royal family exist but are rarely enforced. Despite a high concentration of newspaper ownership, a wide variety of opinion is expressed in the print media. Internet access is not restricted.
The Dutch constitution provides for freedom of religion. Religious organizations that provide educational facilities can receive subsidies from the government. Members of the country's Muslim population have encountered an increase in racist incidents in the recent past, including vandalism, arson, defacing of mosques or other Islamic institutions, harassment, and verbal abuse. The Pim Fortuyn List (LPF) won significant support in 2002 running on a platform that characterized Islam as a backward and intolerant culture that oppressed women and homosexuals. Membership is decreasing among all religious denominations, except Islam.
In order to counter undesired foreign influence in the affairs of Dutch Muslim groups, the government has decided to require all imams and other spiritual leaders recruited in Islamic countries to take a one-year integration course before practicing in the country.
The government does not restrict academic freedom.
People have the right to assemble, demonstrate, and generally express their opinions. National and international human rights organizations operated freely without government intervention during the year. Workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike. In October, more than 200,000 people took to the streets in Amsterdam to protest a government austerity plan that will lead to the biggest cutbacks in public spending in the country's history. The demonstration was organized by a broad coalition of Dutch trades unions and represented a wide spectrum of workers.
The judiciary is independent, and the rule of law prevails in civil and criminal matters. The police are under civilian control, and prison conditions meet international standards. The population is generally treated equally under the law, although human rights groups have criticized the country's recent asylum policies for being unduly harsh and violating international standards. Early in the year, parliament approved a bill that will lead to the deportation of as many as 26,000 failed asylum seekers. A Dutch court sentenced a former colonel from the Democratic Republic of Congo to 30 months in prison for torturing people there in the 1990s.
The Dutch are known for their liberal values and laws; among these are tolerant attitudes towards so-called soft drugs, such as marijuana, and the legalization of euthanasia and same-sex marriage. However, the country passed a law in June that abolished anonymity in sperm donations so that the children of artificially inseminated women can trace their fathers.
The country is a significant destination and transit point for trafficking in persons, particularly women for sexual exploitation. The Dutch government, however, has made efforts in recent years to confront the problem, cracking down on illegal employment of prostitutes in the 2000 Prostitution Law and making trafficking in persons a priority issue during its 2003 chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. During the country's 2003 elections, 37 percent of the seats in parliament were won by women.