Powerful people in the Netherlands

11 January 2014 Posted by Wibo van Rossum

Every year De Volkskrant has a network analysis to find out who the people are with the most power in the Netherlands. Democratically chosen people are excluded. They make a Top 200. One thing is clear: the Netherlands is Paradise for employers. No 1 on the list for several years is Bernard Wientjes, head of the VNO-NCW lobby of employers organisations.

Some interesting facts:

– 25% is women (last year 20%); the first woman is on nr 10

– 5 have an ethnic minority background (last year only 1)

– average age is 58 (stable)

Such a top is always interesting, but the interpretations even more. What does it mean …?

Here is my blogpost from November 2011 on the same list.

Polemics and academics on human rights

15 December 2013 Posted by Wibo van Rossum

The political and media debate on human rights and the interference of ‘Strasbourg’ (the European Court of Human Rights) with national politics and law, that raged two years ago and that died down somewhat, has returned to the Netherlands these days. Probably because of the 65 year anniversary of the UDHR of the UN. Anyway, the University of Leiden Law School in the name of Bastiaan Rijpkema more or less repeated its ‘anti’ sentiment by stating in a newspaper article ‘Please, not even more human rights’. Rijpkema argues that the human rights movement shows disdain for democracy. ‘The right answer to political questions in contemporary society should be found in the human rights documents’, he reconstructs their way of reasoning. In stead human rights should focus on its core business, not on whether people should be allowed to have a satellite antenna on their rented house, or whether people living in the Heathrow area have a fundamental right not to be disturbed by airplane noise at night.

Max Pam argues polemically that human rights have proliferated enormously, and that they have become a bunch of contradictory ideals and recommendations with which all states – be they Saudi Arabia or the UK – can do what they like. They give no guidance anymore.

On the other hand there is people like Marie-Benedicte Dembour who argues that human rights are obsolete – not to argue that they should be abolished, but that they should be even more extended to make a defence of the welfare state possible. Law=politics, and judges should be activists. ‘More Strasbourg!’ because ‘politics are highjacked by capitalism and the large media concerns’.

Latest contribution is by political commentator Martin Sommer on the ‘National Plan of Action Human Rights’ that was presented by Amnesty International last Tuesday. He observes a kongsi of human rights activists that ‘cite each other in order to conclude that the Netherlands does not live up to human rights standards’. He cites the debate on the subsiding of houses in the province of Groningen due to gas winning. ‘Should people really need to argue in terms of the right not to live in fear when a case can be filed under tort??!’ His real addition to the debate however lies elsewhere: the human rights activists and believers never talk about solving contradictory rights, and never talk about who will pay for all this. In politics you not only have to deal with contradictory rights and how to balance them, but the balance also includes a budget.

Judges and ‘polderen’

14 December 2013 Posted by Wibo van Rossum

This week the Vrij Nederland magazine has the traditional survey on the judiciary. Which newspapers do they read? On which political parties do they vote? What is their opinion on the role of victims in court? Etcetera.

Would be interesting to compare if there is similar data from another country ….

The magazine also has extensive interviews with several judges. One small item among many is on the ‘secret of the chamber of deliberation’. The Netherlands knows no dissenting opinions. The judiciary ‘speaks with one mouth’ even if three judges might have had an extensive argument about the right verdict. Ybo Buruma, judge in the Supreme Court, says – as other judges do as well – that there is a strong urge to keep talking until there is consensus. ‘We are forced to talk until we agree.’ Buruma: ‘We are very Dutch in this, it is a bit of polderen.’

‘Polderen’ is a metaphor for those instances where spokespeople of groups that have opposing interest on a specific topic sit together as (more or less) equals to negotiate and talk as long as is necessary to reach consensus. The end result they call a win-win situation. The metaphor was long used for those instances where ‘beleid’ (policy) was formed  in a pre or post lawmaking stage. Now we know that even the judiciary has it …

Doctors ignoring the rules on euthanasia

14 December 2013 Posted by Wibo van Rossum

A survey among 866 doctors who do ‘first contact medical care’ (huisartsen) in the Netherlands shows how they fill in the discretionary left to them by supposedly strict rules. Cases of terminal care of patients, requirements of speedy actions etcetera ask doctors to be lenient with the rules. With palliative sedation (terminally ill patients), 10% of the doctors says they sometimes give a higher dose of medication than is strictly required, 7% says they started before acting was strictly necessary etcetera.

The survey was held because of a doctor who committed suicide a few months ago, when he was profiled in the media as someone who did not live up to the rules of euthanasia. Now turns out he is not the only one. Two reactions possible: 1. Doctors ignore the rules (and act criminally), or 2. Doctors act professionally, since in practice discretionary room for manoeuvre is necessary for decisions on a case by case basis. The first reaction is based on (legal) ethics, the second on knowledge of medical practice.

See here for more info and the results of the survey (in Dutch).

Dutch worries on gay asylum seekers

11 December 2013 Posted by Wibo van Rossum

Do gays in legal terminology form a ‘group’ that need to fear ‘being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’? The Netherlands has several gay asylum seekers that say they do and three of them (from Sierra Leone, Uganda and Senegal) convinced the Dutch Council of State to ask the European Court of Justice (of the EU) in a preliminary judgment what to think of this. In November the Court ruled that a. “the existence of criminal laws (…) which specifically target homosexuals, supports the finding that those persons must be regarded as forming a particular social group”, b. “that the criminalisation of homosexual acts per se does not constitute an act of persecution. However, a term of imprisonment which sanctions homosexual acts and which is actually applied in the country of origin which adopted such legislation must be regarded as being a punishment which is disproportionate or discriminatory and thus constitutes an act of persecution”, and c. “When assessing an application for refugee status, the competent authorities cannot reasonably expect, in order to avoid the risk of persecution, the applicant for asylum to conceal his homosexuality in his country of origin or to exercise reserve in the expression of his sexual orientation.” (See the Court judgment here.)

In other words, when it comes to asylum there is no fundamental distinction between homosexuality, religious conviction, and political conviction. Since one should not ask a political activist to ‘back down a bit’ or a believer in God to just do his prayers at night and behind closed doors, one should also not ask a homosexual to behave in public as if s/he is straight.

The decision of the Court did stir up some discussion on how many gay Muslims we may expect in the future …. and whether it is ethical to ask an asylum seeker to convince the Dutch judge that he really is gay …


18 November 2013 Posted by Wibo van Rossum

I have been subscribed to this YouTube channel for some time. About stereotypes. It is always relevant, funny, light, and serious. Focused on the USA with its weird ideas about ‘race’. Still, this one is nice, too. Watch and share!

Act against forced marriages

15 June 2013 Posted by Wibo van Rossum

The proposed ‘Act against forced marriages’ (Wet tegengaan huwelijksdwang) has finally on 12 June 2013 entered the houses of Parliament in the Netherlands. The Act changes several existing civil laws. The most important changes are:

– Marriage age is set at 18 years absolute. Existing law knows exceptions, like when a 16 year old girl is pregnant or has given birth,

– Family relations in third or fourth grade stand in the way of a marriage, unless both marriage partners under oath and in the presence of the civil servant declare that they freely consent to the marriage,

– Nullification because of ‘being forced’ of the marriage is possible until 3 years after the conclusion of the marriage,

– All marriages concluded in the Netherlands, must conform to Dutch legal requirements (means exit private international law at this point)

– Marriages concluded abroad can be recognized in the Netherlands when the marriage at the time of recognition conforms to Dutch law (partners at that time 18 years old and state that they freely consent to the marriage)

The government says that these legal rules need to be seen as a ‘last resort’. Other, more preventive measures will probably be much more effective “to ban forced marriages from Dutch legal order’.

Sources in Dutch: https://zoek.officielebekendmakingen.nl/dossier/33488

Fuss over a religious marriage of minors

15 May 2013 Posted by Wibo van Rossum

A small but maybe evolving to a large stir in the polder of Dutch legal culture and its relation to ethnic and religious minorities: The organization ‘Femmes for Freedom’ aired in a national newspaper that the Amsterdam police and the organization Fier Fryslan helped to arrange an Islamic religious marriage between a young Pakistani girl and boy. The case, as far as can be reconstructed from the newspaper article, was that the girl was promised to marry a cousin in Pakistan, but she fell in love with a local guy. This resulted in a clash with her parents, with (threats of?) violence toward the girl who was subsequently (with help of police) brought to a women’s shelter.

Negotiations then began, of which the result was that the parents agreed to a religious marriage with the local guy, so that they had a ‘valid argument’ for the cousin in Pakistan. During a workshop organized by the Ministry of Social Affairs on ‘Honour and Freedom’ the police and Fier Fryslan presented the case as a ‘success story’.

The newspaper cites one person, lawyer Ellie van den Brom who is experienced with ethnic minorities family legal issues, who agrees with the pragmatic solution for the dilemma of ‘either break with your family and get a new identity’ versus ‘negotiate for a pragmatic solution’. Others were ‘flabbergasted’ and ‘fell off their chair when they heard about it’. Their reactions are telling for the polarized discourse in this: ‘a woman in a religious marriage hardly has any rights’, there is a ‘danger of being locked up in the marriage because if a man does not agree with a divorce then you will never get rid of him’, and ‘a religious marriage leaves a woman without any rights’. The girl moreover – the tendency in the article is – probably did not know what she did.

Apart from this, the accusation was that the police broke the law because they aided in the religious marriage. In Dutch law however, only a person with a certain religious status who concludes the marriage, acts illegally (art 449 of the Criminal Law says “de bedienaar van de godsdienst” i.e. the servant of a religion).

And without being too cynical: Let us not forget the possibility that the girl will be killed anyway, married or not.

His name was Nadir …

10 January 2013 Posted by Wibo van Rossum

This is how far the Netherlands have drifted from what was once a relatively easy going, relaxed, tolerant society: a son of a Dutch-Turkish father and a Dutch mother was given a beautiful name at birth. I guess his name is Nadir, meaning ‘rare’. Born in 1995. At primary school however, he is reproached for his name by his peers. Called a foreigner and a Muslim. Same in high school. The guy in the mean time learned that having a name like ‘Nadir’ in Holland won’t get you into a job easily. So he wants to have his name changed.

His parents (because he is a minor) ask the court for a name change. They understand their son. They are realistic, and have to agree with him, regretfully. The court stresses the principle of equality of all citizens in the Netherlands and says that ‘names should not matter’ in a multicultural society. However, the court is realistic too, and is convinced by the stories of the parents and of Nadir himself. The judge allows for the change of name.

So now the guy is called … ? Jan? Koen? … What a pity.

See the court decision in Dutch.

Protesting Dutch judges

16 December 2012 Posted by Wibo van Rossum

This does not happen often in the Netherlands: judges protesting against their workload and the increasing urge for efficiency. According to NRC (in Dutch), judges from the court of appeal in Leeuwarden have written a manifesto that is discussed internally. The judges complain that the quality of their work hardly receives any attention, while there is an increasing tendency to just look at the number of cases processed. The need to do ‘production’ replaces the need for attention to individual cases and legal quality.

In a first reaction the Council for the Judiciary agreed. “We share the concern”, they said.

To be continued …

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