Freedom in the World
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A solid majority of Dutch voters rejected the European Constitution in a national referendum in June 2005. The Dutch government agreed to a plan by the integration minister to expel from the Netherlands jobless immigrants who come from the Netherlands Antilles. In July, the radical Islamist who killed the controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh was sentenced to life in prison for murder.
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 Jews were deported to concentration camps and Dutch workers were forced to work in German factories. 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 of right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn in May 2002, his newly formed party, the Pim Fortuyn List (LPF), won second place on an anti-immigrant platform in national elections that same month. The fortunes of the LPF were short lived, however, when party infighting 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, ahead of William of Orange, the seventeenth-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 Democratic Appeal (CDA) received more than 28 percent of the vote and 44 seats, just above the Labor Party (PvdA), which captured around 27 percent and 42 seats, and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which secured 18 percent and 28 seats. The 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.
In December 2004, Prince Bernhard, the father of Queen Beatrix, died of cancer at the age of 93. The BBC reported that the German-born prince had won the admiration of his adopted country by serving with the Allied forces fighting against Germany during World War II and by helping to rebuild the country after the Nazi occupation.
Sixty-two percent of Dutch voters rejected the European Constitution in a national referendum in June 2005, following a similar response by voters in France in May. The BBC reported that the no-vote was spurred by a number of factors, including anger toward the bureaucracy in Brussels and fears about the loss of national identity, as well as a general disapproval of the current Dutch government in power.
During the year, the Dutch government agreed to a plan put forth by the integration minister to expel from the Netherlands jobless immigrants who were born in the Netherlands Antilles. Antilleans, who are Dutch passport holders, will be returned to the Netherlands Antilles if they are aged 18 to 24, are not working, and are not studying in the country.
In October, 11 illegal immigrants were burned to death in a fire at the detention center at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. The immigrants were awaiting deportation to their home countries. The country is still in the process of implementing its highly controversial plan to expel 26,000 failed asylum seekers. In April, 200,000 people in the Netherlands signed a petition asking Queen Beatrix to royally pardon the failed asylum seekers.
Mohammed Bouyeri, the radical Islamist who killed the controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh, was sentenced in July to life imprisonment for murder. The October decision by a Dutch court to make Bouyeri stand trial a second time on terrorism charges was criticized by some as further escalating ethnic tensions in the country. In November, hundreds of people gathered on the street in Amsterdam where Van Gogh was killed to pay tribute to his life.
Citizens of the Netherlands 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. Foreigners resident in the country for five years or more are legally eligible to vote in local elections.
The leader of the majority party or leader of a majority coalition is usually appointed prime minister by the monarch, currently Queen Beatrix. The vice prime ministers are also appointed by the monarch. Mayors are not elected in the Netherlands but appointed from a list of candidates submitted by the municipal councils. The monarch 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 11 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 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, and 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 LPF won significant support in 2002 running on a platform that characterized Islam as a backward and intolerant culture that oppresses 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. An all-party parliamentary report issued in January 2004 concluded that the country had failed to create an integrated, multiethnic society. The report suggested a reversal of the country's 30-year-old policy of multiculturalism, arguing that Muslims resident in the Netherlands should "become Dutch." 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.
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 2004, the parliament approved a bill that will lead to the deportation of as many as 26,000 failed asylum seekers. In May 2005, Human Rights Watch accused the Netherlands, along with several other European countries and the United States, of undermining the global ban on torture by transferring alleged terrorism suspects to countries known for routinely torturing prisoners.
The Dutch are known for their liberal values and laws; among these are tolerant attitudes toward so-called soft drugs, such as marijuana, and the legalization of euthanasia and same-sex marriage. The country passed a law in June 2004 that abolished anonymity in sperm donations so that the children of artificially inseminated women can trace their fathers.
The country is a destination and transit point for trafficking in persons, particularly women and girls for sexual exploitation. New legislation came into effect in January that expands the legal definition of trafficking to include forced labor and increased the maximum penalty for traffickers to 12 years in cases of serious physical injury and 15 years in cases of death. The government also increased its funding for shelters assisting victims and, in April, expanded assistance and eased work visa regulations for victims. In early 2005, the government increased prevention efforts, aimed particularly at preventing youth involvement in prostitution. In April, Dutch police broke up a gang accused of smuggling Chinese asylum seekers and selling them as cheap labor. During the country's 2003 elections, 37 percent of parliamentary seats were won by women. The Dutch government moved in 2005 to prohibit women's wearing of the burqa-full body and face covering-in public.