Human rights in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, human rights are protected by national legislation and international agreements. Nevertheless, human rights are sometimes jeopardised, for instance when developments in computer technology pose a threat to the privacy of the individual.

What are human rights?

Human rights are rights that apply to all people, in all places, at all times. In other words, they are universal and indivisible. A distinction is often made between two types of human rights:

  • Civil and political rights

    Civil and political rights are also known as the ‘classical human rights’. They include freedom of expression, the right to privacy and the right to vote. Civil and political rights protect the individual against government.
  • Economic, social and cultural rights

    Economic, social and cultural rights include the rights to education, health care and employment. These rights obligate the government to actively provide certain facilities for the public.

Protecting human rights

Changes in society can give rise to new human rights dilemmas. Protection of privacy is a human right. However, developments in computer technology, for instance, may jeopardise this right. If so, government must continue to ensure that the human rights of the individual are safeguarded or, if necessary, enhanced. National and international court judgments or recommendations may give government cause to amend its human rights policy.

Protecting human rights is the responsibility not only of government, but also of individuals and businesses. They have a significant role to play, for instance in protecting personal data and preventing discrimination.

Human rights in the Constitution of the Netherlands

Many human rights are enshrined in Chapter 1 of the Dutch Constitution. They are also known as ‘fundamental rights’. For instance article 1 states that all persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. This article is elaborated in separate legislation such as the Equal Treatment Act (AWGB).

International human rights agreements

The Netherlands is a party to international human rights agreements, many of which derive from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Netherlands has signed and ratified the following human rights agreements:

National action plan on human rights

The Dutch government is constantly monitoring whether new policy and legislation and their implementation are compatible with the human rights that apply in the Netherlands. Sometimes the government may need to devise new policy or legislation to better protect human rights in the country.

The national action plan on human rights sets out the ways in which the Dutch government protects and promotes human rights. It also contains objectives and priorities for the Netherlands’ human rights policy.

Reporting possible human rights violations in the Netherlands

If you have a complaint about what you consider to be a violation of human rights, there are various institutions and organisations you can go to. They each have different approaches and responsibilities.

First, consult with the offending individual or organisation

First of all, you should always contact the person or organisation responsible for the perceived human rights violation. Try to discuss the matter and find a solution. If you are dealing with an organisation, check whether it has its own complaints committee.

Submitting a complaint

If your efforts to reach an agreed solution are unsuccessful, you can contact one of the following organisations, depending on the exact nature of your complaint:

  • The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights deals with complaints about discrimination in relation to, for instance, schools, housing, shopping, employment, entertainment venues and sport.
  • The National Ombudsman deals with complaints about government and monitors government’s compliance with human rights.
  • The Children’s Ombudsman (information in Dutch) deals with complaints related to children’s rights. They may be about government, healthcare organisations, voluntary youth care, childcare or educational bodies.
  • The Data Protection Authority deals with questions and tips from the public about personal data protection. It also deals with possible violations of privacy legislation.

Going to court

The last option is to take your case to court. If the outcome in the national courts is negative but you are still convinced that your human rights were violated, you can lodge an application with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.