The Kingdom of the Netherlands, a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, consists of four equal autonomous countries: the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. The kingdom retains responsibility for foreign policy, defense, and other “kingdom issues.” The Netherlands includes the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius, which are special municipalities. The six Caribbean entities collectively are known as the Dutch Caribbean.
The Netherlands has a bicameral parliament. The country’s 12 provincial councils elect the First Chamber, and the Second Chamber is elected by popular vote. A prime minister and a cabinet representing the governing political parties exercise executive authority. Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten have unicameral parliamentary systems, and each island country has one minister plenipotentiary representing them in the Kingdom Council of Ministers. Ultimate responsibility for safeguarding fundamental human rights and freedoms in all kingdom territories lies with the kingdom’s ministerial council, which includes the Dutch government and the plenipotentiary ministers of Curacao, Aruba, and Sint Maarten. (Note: The adjective “Dutch” throughout this report refers to “the Netherlands.”) Elections for seats in the European Parliament on May 23 and the Netherlands’ First Chamber on May 27 were considered free and fair.
The national police maintain internal security in the Netherlands and report to the Ministry of Justice and Security, which oversees law enforcement organizations, as do the justice ministries in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. The kingdom’s armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. The military police (Marechaussee) are responsible for border control in the Netherlands. Each country’s Border Protection Service (immigration), police, and the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard share responsibility for border control on Sint Maarten, Aruba, and Curacao, respectively. Civilian authorities throughout the entire kingdom maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: anti-Semitic incidents and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.
Authorities in the kingdom investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed abuses. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the governments throughout the kingdom generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Expression: It is a crime “verbally or in writing or image deliberately to offend a group of people because of their race, their religion or beliefs, their sexual orientation, or their physical, psychological, or mental disability.” The statute in the Netherlands does not consider statements that target a philosophy or religion, as opposed to a group of persons, as criminal hate speech. The penalties for violating the law include imprisonment for a maximum of two years, a fine of up to 8,100 euros ($8,900), or both. In Aruba the penalties for this offense are imprisonment for a maximum of one year or a fine of 10,000 Aruban florins ($5,520). In the Netherlands there are restrictions on the sale of the book Mein Kampf and the display of the swastika symbol with the intent of referring to Nazism. Legislation to decriminalize defamation of the royal family came into effect in August.
Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: Independent media in the kingdom were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The restrictions on “hate speech” applied to media but were only occasionally enforced. Disputes occasionally arose over journalists’ right to protect their sources.
Nongovernmental Impact: Several crime reporters and media outlets throughout the kingdom faced threats, violence, and intimidation from criminal gangs. Some reporters received permanent police protection. In June, three men were convicted for a rocket attack on the office of the weekly Panorama in Amsterdam in June 2018 and sentenced to three and four years of imprisonment. There was a similar attack at the office of the national newspaper De Telegraaf, also in June 2018. In April the prosecutor’s office, police, the Dutch Association of Journalists, and the Netherlands Society of Editors in Chief established the Safe Press registration center to facilitate journalists’ sharing their experiences of violence, threats, and intimidation with authorities. In June the Dutch Association of Journalists released a survey of 350 female journalists in which half of the respondents stated they had been exposed to violence or intimidation in their work, and 70 percent believed these conditions were a threat to freedom of the press.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The laws in the kingdom provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the governments generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The laws in the kingdom provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The NGO Refugees International in April criticized the government of Curacao for failing to provide temporary status to Venezuelan refugees and other displaced Venezuelans. They found that many migrants and displaced Venezuelans without legal status ended up living on the fringes of society, with no protection against abuse from neighbors or from employers in the informal sector. They noted that some migrant women had been forced into commercial sex.
The governments of the Netherlands and Aruba cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Refoulement: On Curacao and Sint Maarten, there is no legal protection from returning a person to their country of origin who faces a well founded fear of persecution. Curacao and Sint Maarten may have a legal basis to prevent returning a person to a country where they would face torture, or degrading or inhuman treatment or punishment based on the European Convention on Human Rights. As of year’s end, they developed corresponding national procedures but did not amend their immigration statutes.
Ten human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Defense for Children International, campaigned against the repatriation of rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan who had received their final denial because they regarded the security situation there as too unsafe. The courts in the Netherlands, however, backed the government’s position that it was safe enough to repatriate persons to certain parts of Afghanistan. There were also disagreements between the government and human rights organizations on repatriations to countries such as Bahrain, Sudan, and Iraq, but ultimately the courts also ruled in favor of the government’s repatriation of persons to those countries.
Access to Asylum: The laws on asylum vary in different parts of the kingdom. In general the law in the Netherlands provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees.
Sint Maarten and Curacao are required to follow the European Convention on Human Rights. The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Foreigners requesting asylum are processed as foreigners requesting a humanitarian residence permit. If an individual is unable to obtain a humanitarian residence permit, authorities deport the person to their country of origin or a country that agreed to accept them. Curacao requested and received guidance and training from the Netherlands on asylum-processing procedures.
Most asylum seekers in the Dutch Caribbean were from Venezuela. In general authorities in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten considered most Venezuelan asylum seekers to be economic migrants ineligible for protection. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao deported undocumented displaced Venezuelans throughout the year. Local and international human rights organizations urged the governments of Aruba and Curacao to refrain from deporting refugees and other displaced Venezuelans back to their home country. There were no reports that refugees and other displaced Venezuelans faced persecution if returned to Venezuela.
In March the government of Aruba asked UNHCR for support with processing political asylum requests by Venezuelan migrants.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Authorities in the Netherlands denied asylum to persons who came from so-called safe countries of origin or who had resided for some time in safe countries of transit. They used EU guidelines to define such countries. Applicants had the right to appeal all denials.
Under the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, the Netherlands did not return third country asylum seekers arriving from Hungary back to Hungary, due to discrepancies between Hungary’s asylum laws and EU migration law.
Freedom of Movement: Government guidelines require that authorities not detain denied asylum seekers longer than three months, but they exceeded this term in several cases. In the Netherlands the national ombudsperson, Amnesty International, and other NGOs asserted that persons denied asylum and irregular migrants were regularly subjected to lengthy detention before deportation even when no clear prospect of actual deportation existed.
Durable Solutions: In the Netherlands the government accepted up to 500 refugees per year for resettlement through UNHCR, and the governments of the Dutch Caribbean accepted up to 250. These refugees came from UN refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Niger, and Uganda. The government also relocated up to 1,750 Syrians from refugee camps in Turkey under the terms of the EU agreement with Turkey. Most of the persons granted residency permits on Curacao and Aruba were from Venezuela. The government provided financial and in-kind assistance to refugees who sought to return to their home country voluntarily. The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide the opportunity for non-Dutch persons to gain citizenship.
Temporary Protection: The government of the Netherlands provided temporary protection to individuals who did not qualify as refugees. According to Eurostat data, in 2018 it provided subsidiary protection to 2,110 persons and humanitarian status to 530 others.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and laws in the entire kingdom provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The laws in the entire kingdom provide criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the governments generally implemented the laws effectively. There were isolated reports of corruption in the kingdom’s governments during the year.
Corruption: On Sint Maarten two members of parliament were arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes.
In November 2018 the High Court in the Netherlands upheld the conviction of a former Curacao prime minister on charges of corruption and money laundering.
In February in Aruba, a minister was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment and a nine-year prohibition to be elected for issuing work permits without following proper procedures.
Financial Disclosure: The laws throughout the kingdom do not require income and asset disclosure by officials. The evaluation of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) noted that prospective cabinet ministers are expected to discuss potential conflicts of interest with their future prime minister during the formation of a new government, but these declarations are not made public and do not cover holdings or offices held by the candidate minister’s family members. For most senior government positions, each ministry has its own regulations governing conflicts of interest.
Throughout the kingdom, a variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: A citizen of the Netherlands may bring any complaint before the national ombudsperson, the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (NIHR), the Commercial Code Council, or the Council of Journalism, depending on circumstances. The NIHR acted as an independent primary contact between the government, and domestic and international human rights organizations.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The laws in all parts of the kingdom provide for public- and private-sector workers to form or join independent unions of their own choosing without prior governmental authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for collective bargaining. Unions may conduct their activities without interference.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and retaliation against legal strikers. It requires workers fired for union activity to be reinstated. The law restricts striking by some public-sector workers if a strike threatens the public welfare or safety. Workers must report their intention to strike to their employer at least two days in advance.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties, including fines, were sufficient to deter violations. Throughout the kingdom, the government, political parties, and employers respected the freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Authorities effectively enforced applicable laws related to the right to organize and collective bargaining.
The Netherlands’ Trade Union Confederation alleged temporary workers were used to break strikes.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Throughout the kingdom the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government enforced it. The penalty for violating the law against forced labor ranges from 12 years’ imprisonment in routine cases to 18 years’ imprisonment in cases where the victim incurs serious physical injury and life imprisonment in cases where the victim dies. These penalties were adequate to deter violations.
Enforcement mechanisms and effectiveness varied across the kingdom. In the Netherlands the Inspectorate for Social Affairs and Employment investigated cases of forced or compulsory labor. The inspectorate worked with various agencies, such as police, and NGOs to identify possible cases. After completion of the investigation, cases were referred to the prosecutor’s office. On the islands of the Dutch Caribbean, labor inspectors together with representatives of the Department for Immigration inspected worksites and locations for vulnerable migrants and indicators of trafficking. In Sint Maarten the lack of standard procedures for front-line responders to identify forced labor victims hindered the government’s ability to assist such persons. Following an investigation into the possible exploitation of three Filipina women hired as domestic servants, the public prosecutor’s office determined in September that the case did not amount to forced labor, despite claims from the Filipino community alleging unfair labor practices and exploitation.
Isolated incidents of forced or compulsory labor occurred in the kingdom. Victims of coerced labor included both domestic and foreign women and men, as well as boys and girls (see section 7.c.) forced to work in, among other sectors, agriculture, horticulture, catering, domestic servitude and cleaning, the inland shipping sector, and forced criminality (including illegal narcotics trafficking).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
In the Netherlands the law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, and there were no reports of child labor. The government categorizes children into three age groups for purposes of employment: 13 to 14, 15, and 16 to 17. Children in the youngest group are allowed to work only in a few light, nonindustrial jobs and only on nonschool days. As children become older, the scope of permissible jobs and hours of work increases, and fewer restrictions apply. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working overtime, at night, or in hazardous situations. Hazardous work differs by age category. For example, children younger than 18 are not allowed to work with toxic materials, and children younger than 16 are not allowed to work in factories. Holiday work and employment after school are subject to very strict rules set by law. The government effectively enforced child labor laws. Offenders faced fines, which were sufficient to deter violations.
Aruba’s law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. In Aruba the minimum age for employment is 15. The rules differentiate between “children” and “youngsters.” Children are boys and girls younger than 15, and youngsters are persons between the ages of 15 and 18. Children age 13 or older who have finished elementary school may work, if doing so is necessary for learning a trade or profession (apprenticeship), not physically or mentally taxing, and not dangerous. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment, which were adequate to deter violations. The government enforced child labor laws and policies with adequate inspections of possible child labor violations.
Curacao’s law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The island’s minimum age for employment is 15. The rules differentiate between children and youngsters. Children are those younger than 15, and youngsters are persons between the ages of 15 and 18. Children age 12 or older who have finished elementary school may work if doing so is necessary for learning a trade or profession (apprenticeship), not physically or mentally taxing, and not dangerous. The penalty for violations is a maximum four-year prison sentence, a fine, or both, which was adequate to deter violations.
Sint Maarten’s law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. In Sint Maarten the law prohibits children younger than 14 from working for wages. Special rules apply to schoolchildren who are 16 and 17 years of age. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working overtime, at night, or in activities dangerous to their physical or mental well-being. Penalties ranged from fines to imprisonment and were adequate to deter violations. The government effectively enforced the law.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws and regulations throughout the kingdom prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation, and the government effectively enforced the laws. The law applies to all refugees with residency status. Penalties took the form of fines and were adequate to deter violations.
The NIHR focused on discrimination in the labor market, such as discrimination in the workplace, unequal pay, termination of labor contracts, and preferential treatment of ethnically Dutch employees. Although the NIHR’s rulings are not binding, they were usually adhered to by parties. In 2018 the NIHR addressed 277 cases of possible labor discrimination. In November 2018, for example, the NIHR ruled that a software company discriminated against a female employee when it notified her that women were required to wear dresses as part of appropriate work attire. Plaintiffs may also take their cases to court, but the NIHR was often preferred because of a lower threshold to start a case. The Inspectorate for Social Affairs and Employment conducted inspections to investigate whether policies were in place to prevent discrimination in the workplace. The law addresses adaptations that require employers to accommodate employees with disabilities, and the government worked to improve the position of persons with disabilities in the labor market (see section 6).
Discrimination occurred in the Netherlands, including on the basis of race and sex. The country’s nationals with migrant backgrounds faced numerous barriers when looking for work, including lack of education, lack of Dutch language skills, and racial discrimination. According to Statistics Netherlands, the minority unemployment rate of non-Western migrants during 2018 was more than twice that of the native workforce, while the unemployment rate among youths with a non-Western migrant background was almost three times higher than among native youth. The government implemented a program called “Further Integration on the Labor Market” to improve the competitiveness of those with a migrant background seeking work in the Netherlands. The program set up eight different pilot projects to identify which interventions would better increase labor market participation among these populations.
Discrimination in employment and occupation also occurred with respect to race, religion, and disability. Migrant workers also faced discrimination in employment. The International Labor Organization noted, for example, in the Netherlands, non-Western persons were more likely to work under flexible contracts, had higher rates of youth unemployment, and continued to encounter discrimination in recruitment. The NIHR reported in 2018 that 61 percent of the discrimination in employment claims it received were related to pregnancy. Female unemployment was higher than male, and female incomes lagged behind male counterparts.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In the Netherlands the minimum wage for an adult older than 21 was 1,635 euros ($1,800) per month, which was sufficient for a single-person household but inadequate for a couple with two children, according to the government. The government effectively enforced wage laws.
In Aruba there was no official poverty level, and the monthly minimum wage in 2019 was 1,762 Aruban florins ($974). In Curacao the minimum hourly wage was nine Netherlands Antillean guilders (five dollars), and the official poverty level was 2,195 guilders ($1,230) per month. The official minimum hourly wage in Sint Maarten was 8.83 Netherlands Antillean guilders ($4.93); no poverty-level income information was available.
In the Netherlands the law does not establish a specific number of hours as constituting a full workweek, but most workweeks were 36, 38, or 40 hours long. Collective bargaining agreements or individual contracts, not law, regulate overtime. The legal maximum workweek is 60 hours. During a four-week period, a worker may only work 55 hours a week on average or, during a 16-week period, an average of 48 hours a week, with some exceptions. Persons who work more than 5.5 hours a day are entitled to a 30-minute rest period.
In the Netherlands the government set occupational health and safety standards across all sectors. Standards were appropriate for main industries and frequently updated. The situation was similar in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten. In Sint Maarten the government established guidelines for acceptable conditions of work in both the public and private sectors covered specific concerns, such as ventilation, lighting, hours, and terms of work. The ministries of labor within the kingdom reviewed and updated the guidelines and routinely visited businesses to ensure employer compliance.
In the Netherlands the Inspectorate for Social Affairs and Employment effectively enforced the labor laws on conditions of work across all sectors, including the informal economy. Resources, inspectors, and remediation were adequate. In 2018 labor inspectors imposed an average fine of nearly 9,800 euros ($10,800), which was sufficient to deter violations. The inspectorate can order companies to cease operations due to safety violations or shut down fraudulent temporary employment agencies that facilitate labor exploitation.
Most violations in the Netherlands were in temporary employment agencies that mainly hired workers from Eastern Europe, particularly in the construction and transportation sectors, without paying the minimum wage. The situation was similar in Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten, although the underpaid workers were generally from Latin America.