Human Rights in Europe - Review of 2019 - Netherlands [EUR 01/2098/2020]


Forcible returns to Afghanistan continued. Security measures used in the context of the counter-terrorism strategy continued to be a pressing concern. At the request of the police, the government announced the introduction of projectile electro-shock weapons (Tasers) for day-to-day use.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Political pressure to increase deportation rates continued to pose a risk to human rights. The Netherlands continued to forcibly return asylum-seekers whose claims were rejected to Afghanistan, including families with children, in breach of the principle of non-refoulement (i.e. forced return to a country or territory where persecution is likely).

A draft law on amending immigration detention rules was adopted by the House of Representatives in July and was pending in the Senate at the end of the year. Due to new amendments the bill will be offered (again) to the Council of State in January 2020. After this the House of Representatives must decide again about the new proposals. Although the bill offers minor improvements, the detention regime would remain “prison-like” in terms of facilities, detention conditions and the use of disciplinary measures, including isolation cells and handcuffs.

In Curaçao, one of the constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Venezuelans seeking protection were denied their rights. Venezuelans faced deportation without an individual assessment of their protection needs and were held in detention centres in appalling conditions.

Counter-terror and security

The Minister of Justice placed restrictions on individual liberties and initially revoked the Dutch nationality of 13 individuals, based on perceived national security risks rather than established criminal offences. It made use of two new counter-terrorism laws that are at odds with international human rights treaties and limit the rights to both an effective remedy and a fair hearing. Nevertheless, some individuals have successfully challenged the decision to revoke their nationality and thus remain Dutch nationals.

The Netherlands continued to automatically place people suspected and convicted of terrorism-related charges in two special high-security detention units, without any prior individual assessment. Without such assessments concluding that a placement is necessary and proportionate, security measures routinely used in these units, such as frequent invasive body searches, prolonged isolation and constant monitoring, may constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Changes to the controversial Intelligence and Security Services Act are pending. These changes still provide sweeping surveillance powers to intelligence and security services, threatening the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and non-discrimination. Safeguards against abuse of these powers are insufficient. Serious concerns remain about the possibility of information-sharing with intelligence agencies in other countries and direct access to databases of informants.

Police and security forces

The police requested that electro-shock weapons be authorized for use in day-to-day policing and that the government should equip some 17,000 patrol officers with a Taser X2.

A one-year pilot project concluded in 2018 showed that police used these weapons in situations where there was no imminent threat to life or risk of serious injury, which is the internationally recognized standard for such use of force by police. In over half of the situations where the weapon was discharged, individuals were given electric shocks in direct contact mode (drive-stun mode), including when already handcuffed, inside a police cell or vehicle, and in a separation cell in a psychiatric hospital. Direct contact mode causes significant pain to the person it is used on, but without incapacitating them. This usage is inconsistent with international human rights standards. In November, the Minister of Justice announced that this usage (drive-stun mode) will be restricted. Data on Taser use in the first half of 2019 show that the drive-stun mode has been used only once.

Freedom of religion and belief

A ban on face-coverings in certain public spaces entered into force in July, restricting the rights to freedom of religion and expression, particularly of Muslim women.