Human rights: a cornerstone of Dutch foreign policy

Human rights are a cornerstone of Dutch foreign policy. ‘Without the promotion and protection of human rights, there can be no democracy or rule of law.’ Foreign minister Frans Timmermans has expressed this message in his new human rights letter, ‘Respect and Justice for All’. Where human rights are under threat, he adds, oppression and dictatorship lie in wait. The Cabinet gave the green light today to send the letter to the House of Representatives.

The priorities in the government’s new policy are protecting human rights defenders, championing the equal rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs) and promoting equal rights for women. Many Dutch people see these as important issues, because they reflect our shared values.

The Netherlands supports human rights defenders by offering them visibility and protection. Our country focuses attention on their work worldwide and helps strengthen their capacity and that of their organisations, working through the Dutch Human Rights Fund and embassies. The Shelter City programme in The Hague, which provides endangered human rights defenders with a refuge and an opportunity to continue their work, is being expanded. The annual Dutch human rights award will be given a new profile, focusing on promoting creative, innovative ideas about human rights.

‘Defending human rights at home and abroad is part of our tradition,’ said Mr Timmermans: ‘a tradition that Dutch people believe in and that we are internationally known for. We work to promote human rights because we believe that everyone’s rights deserve respect and protection. In addition, a world where human rights are better observed is more stable and prosperous; countries with open economies like the Netherlands benefit from that.’

At the same time, Dutch human rights policy is changing to reflect today’s reality in which emerging countries are asserting themselves on the world stage and the EU is playing a greater role. The letter sees the need for a proactive, innovative Dutch policy.

The Netherlands will seek out partnerships with rising non-Western countries as a way of breaking the taboo around the human rights situation in some countries. For example, our country will work with Brazil and Cuba to promote LGBT rights. This trilateral approach will help us get a hearing in more countries, and will enable our partner countries to take a prominent place in human rights debates.

A country that calls others to account on human rights issues must be prepared to be called to account itself. For this reason the Netherlands will be open to discussion with other countries that are critical of the human rights situation here. The government aims to work constructively with the new, independent Netherlands Institute for Human Rights. Regular assessments of human rights in other EU member states are also needed, and the Netherlands will join with Denmark, Finland and Germany to press for them.

New technologies like social media, apps and other tools will be used to raise human rights issues. The process of drafting this new human rights policy included online consultation with organisations and the general public, which yielded almost a thousand responses. A Dutch human rights Facebook page will be launched soon and will include a link to the blog in which Dutch ambassadors describe their efforts to promote human rights.