Exemption from criminal liability for aid workers and journalists for staying in areas controlled by terrorist organisations
Dutch and European society must be protected from the danger posed by returnees from areas controlled by terrorist organisations. Those who stay in such areas often identify (or are forced to identify) with the ideology of the organisations controlling these areas. Therefore, a bill is currently pending in the Senate that criminalises staying in such areas. But this should not prevent humanitarian aid workers and journalists from travelling to such areas to provide humanitarian aid and gather news. For this reason, a ground for exemption from criminal liability will be introduced for humanitarian aid workers and journalists staying in such areas. This is stated in a letter to the Senate by Minister Grapperhaus of Justice and Security.
It is crucial that humanitarian aid workers and journalists can carry out their important work in all areas of the world. Therefore, the bill criminalising staying in areas controlled by terrorist organisations now pending in the Senate provides a generic option for an exemption from criminal liability by means of a permission procedure. However, following input from parliament, journalists and aid organisations, it has been decided to prepare a separate bill. This bill will set out a ground for exemption from criminal liability for Dutch citizens staying in such areas exclusively to carry out activities as an aid worker working for an impartial humanitarian organisation or as a journalist or publicist for the purposes of gathering news. This will allow such persons to stay in designated areas without being criminally liable for this. And they will not have to apply for any prior permission/dispensation. This will enable better safeguarding of their independence and neutrality, which may be necessary for a proper and safe performance of their work.
Those who value greater legal certainty in advance (for example, because they are unsure whether they can invoke the ground for exemption from criminal liability) will still be able to use the permission procedure. This will enable striking a good balance between the importance of the independence and safety of aid workers and journalists and the need for legal certainty.
The design of the ground for exemption from criminal liability will be detailed in the near future. To this end, coordination will be sought with all relevant parties, including humanitarian aid organisations, representatives of journalism organisations and the Public Prosecution Service. Subsequently, this bill will go through the formal legislative procedures. In light of the safety of society and to avoid further delay, the Minister requests the Senate to proceed separately with the bill that provides for the criminalisation. This criminalisation will not come into effect until the ground for exemption from criminal liability has also been adopted by the House of Representatives and the Senate.