Freedom in the World
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The center-right government resigned in June 2006 after an internal dispute involving the immigration minister and Somali-born Member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a collaborator of slain filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Early elections were held in November, and talks on a new ruling coalition were ongoing at year’s end. Nine members of a radical Islamic terrorist cell known as the Hofstad group, which had been linked to Van Gogh’s death, were convicted in March. Also in November, the Netherlands signed an agreement that would break up the Netherlands Antilles in 2007, granting autonomy to the Caribbean islands of Curacao and St. Maarten and making three smaller islands Dutch municipalities.
After the Dutch won their independence from Spain in the sixteenth century, the princely House of Orange assumed the leadership of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. A constitutional monarchy with a representative government emerged in the nineteenth century. The Netherlands remained neutral in both world wars but was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1940. The occupation ended after five years of harsh rule, during which Dutch Jews were deported to concentration camps and Dutch civilians 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, a 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 month. The good fortunes of the LPF were short lived, however, as party infighting led to the 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 time, ahead of William of Orange, the sixteenth-century founder of the modern Dutch state, and Anne Frank, the World War II diarist and Holocaust victim.
During the January 2003 elections, 80 percent of registered voters turned out, and nine parties won seats in Parliament. The Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) received more than 28 percent of the vote and 44 seats, just ahead of 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 about 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.
Nearly 62 percent of Dutch voters rejected the proposed European Constitution in a national referendum in June 2005, following a similar response by voters in France in May. The two votes effectively scuttled the EU charter for the foreseeable future.
In December 2005, 14 men went on trial for allegedly belonging to a radical Islamic terrorist cell known as the Hofstad group. The trial was seen as the first test of new antiterrorism legislation that created charges for “membership of a criminal organization with terrorist intent.” One of the accused was Mohammed Bouyeri, a radical Islamist who killed the controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 and was sentenced to life imprisonment in July 2005. The October 2005 decision by a Dutch court to make Bouyeri stand trial a second time on terrorism charges was criticized by some as a source of further ethnic tensions in the country. Nine of the defendants, including Bouyeri, were convicted in March 2006.
The coalition government resigned in June 2006 over an internal dispute about the immigration and integration minister, Rita Verdonk. In May, the minister had moved to annul the citizenship of a fellow VVD member of Parliament, the Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, after it was discovered that she had lied in her 1992 asylum application. Ali has received death threats for being an outspoken critic of Islam and for her film, Submission , which she made in collaboration with Van Gogh. D-66, a minor party, quit the government over the handling of the incident, causing the coalition to fall apart. Although the government said in July that Ali could keep her Dutch citizenship, she had already announced plans to relocate to the United States and join a conservative think tank.
In November, the country held elections for a new Parliament in the wake of the ruling coalition’s collapse in June. The CDA led the voting with 41 seats, followed by the PvdA with 32, the Socialist Party with 26, and the VVD with 22. Coalition talks were still under way at year’s end.
A political party with a pro-pedophilia agenda registered in the Netherlands in June, causing outrage and pressure on the government to block it. The group advocates lowering the age of sexual consent to 12 from 16, as well as legalizing child pornography and sex with animals.
The Netherlands signed an agreement in November granting autonomy to the Caribbean territories of Curacao and St. Maarten. The islands, which were part of the Netherlands Antilles at the time, would each be self-governing as of July 2007 except in the areas of defense, law enforcement, and foreign policy. Meanwhile, the smaller islands in the Netherlands Antilles—Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius—were set to strengthen their Dutch ties by gaining the status of Netherlands municipalities.
The Netherlands is an electoral democracy. The 150-member lower house of Parliament, or Second Chamber, is elected every four years by proportional representation and passes bills on to the 75-member upper house, or First Chamber, which is elected for four-year terms by the country’s provincial councils. 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 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 problems with political corruption. The Netherlands was ranked 9 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The news media are free and independent. Restrictions on 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 guarantees 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. According to the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2006, the government launched a comprehensive outreach program to counter growing anti-Muslim sentiments in the wake of the Ayaan Hirsi Ali controversy. In November, the Dutch cabinet backed a proposal by the immigration minister, Verdonk, to ban the burqa, the full face and body covering worn by some Muslim women, from public places. The government took no further action on the law during the rest of the year.
In order to curb undesired foreign influence in the affairs of Dutch Muslim groups, the government has begun to require all imams and other spiritual leaders recruited from Muslim countries to take a one-year integration course before practicing in the Netherlands. 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. In November, Parliament enacted legislation that outlaws organizations considered terrorist groups by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations.
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. In September, amid growing criticism by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and refugee groups for not expediting the asylum requests for 32,000 people, the government finally granted resident permits to about half and ordered the rest to leave the country. The U.S. State Department reports that several thousand left the country voluntarily and another few thousand were involuntarily repatriated. In December, the country instituted a general moratorium on expelling any more people from the group of 32,000 asylum seekers. In October 2006, the Dutch government instituted a moratorium on repatriating failed asylum seekers from Iran who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The government recognizes gay and lesbian Iranians as a “special group” who may face persecution at home and deserve protection in the Netherlands. 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 identify their biological 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 2005 that expanded 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. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2006 Trafficking in Persons report, the Dutch government that year continued its strict controls and licensing for legal brothels as a way to combat trafficking. The government also continued its support of NGOs assisting trafficking victims, and the Justice Ministry began its second assessment (since 2000) of the prostitution sector, in part to determine the number of women trafficked into the profession.