Questions and answers

  1. Why does the Netherlands have a Human Rights Institute?
  2. Why was the Equal Treatment Commission incorporated into the Human Rights Institute?
  3. What can the Human Rights Institute do for you as a citizen?
  4. What role did the United Nations play in the creation of the Human Rights Institute?

1. Why does the Netherlands have a Human Rights Institute?

The Netherlands is known internationally as a country very much committed to the cause of human rights, both at home and abroad. During the elections to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council (2006) the Netherlands promised to set up a national human rights institute. The Dutch parliament approved the law in 2011 and since October 2012 the Institute has become one of the more than one hundred national human rights institutes operating throughout the world. The Institute plays an important role in drawing the attention of all Dutch citizens to human rights and promoting the protection and observance of those rights in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands there are numerous organisations actively involved in human rights. Until now these Dutch organisations and institutions have each dealt with a particular part of the human rights spectrum, each approaching human rights issues from its own specific perspective. The Institute plays an important role because it delivers advice and opinions from an independent position, carrying out investigations and making proposals across the entire range and cohesion of human rights issues. 

2. Why was the Equal Treatment Commission incorporated in the Human Rights Institute?

Subsequent to a range of initiatives from organisations closely involved with human rights in the Netherlands, in 2007 a consortium of the National Ombudsman, the Dutch Data Protection Authority (Dutch DPA), the Dutch Equal Treatment Commission (ETC) and the Netherlands Human Rights Study and Information Centre (SIM) drew up a report called ‘human rights oblige and connect’. The recommendation to the Minister of the Interior was to come up with a new human rights institute alongside the already existing organisations. Following up on this the Lower House explicitly asked the Minister if the new institute could be incorporated into an existing institution or organisation. In July 2009 the government decided to incorporate the Equal Treatment Commission into the new institute, citing as the most important reason the fact that the principle of equality is not just an independent human right, but also an important component of all the other human rights. It is not possible, after all, to observe human rights and discriminate at the same time. The ETC was already responsible for some of the tasks which have to be performed by a human rights institute, such as advising, reporting and cooperating with civil society in relation to equal treatment. With the establishment of the Human Rights Institute, these tasks are extended to cover the entire human rights spectrum.

3. What can a Human Rights Institute do for you as a citizen?

The core task of the Institute is to protect human rights in the Netherlands and promote the respect for human rights. The Institute will execute this task through a combination of advice, research and information services. The new Institute will also look at actual practice, focusing particularly on the Dutch government which ultimately bears the prime responsibility for guaranteeing human rights in the Netherlands. Human rights apply to everyone in the Netherlands and anyone can appeal to such rights. Citizens can find answers to their questions about human rights thanks to the informative task of the Institute. For the citizen with a complaint about a particular human rights violation, there is a front office at the Institute where he or she can make inquiries and be referred on to institutions which are able to assess those complaints.

4. What role did the United Nations play in the creation of a national human rights institute?

By ratifying international human rights treaties the Netherlands has accepted international supervision of her human rights policy through UN bodies. During elections to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council, the Netherlands promised to set up a human rights institute. Through the establishment of the Human Rights Institute the Netherlands realised a human rights institution with the so-called ‘A-status’. Such an A-status allows the Institute to participate fully in meetings of the UN Human Rights Council and other supervisory bodies of the UN. The Human Rights Institute acquired the A-status in May 2014.