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Dutch plans to limit minority Convention ‘invalid’ claims rights group

18 February 2004

Dutch government plans to make a declaration limiting the provisions of the Council of Europe’s, Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) only to the Frisian minority have been strongly criticised as contrary to the aims and objectives of the Convention. The most discriminated against groups in the Netherlands, including the Roma, are not considered to be ‘national minorities’ under Dutch interpretations of the term, and will therefore be excluded from the protection of the Convention as applied by the Dutch government. This declaration is considered invalid by Minority Rights Group International (MRG), and has highlighted the crucial debate over status and recognition of minorities in Europe, some of which lack citizenship rights or have had such rights removed.

Minority Rights Group International has argued that all national ethnic, religious or linguistic communities should enjoy rights under this Convention, the objective of which is to be inclusive of minorities existing within the national territory, including the possibility of protection for newer minorities. The Dutch concept of ‘national minorities’ is limited to Frisians and fails to accept Roma or Sinti groups, and others including Moluccans, Moroccans, Surinamese and Turks, despite the fact that many have long histories within Dutch territory. An original proposal on ratification submitted to the Dutch 2nd Chamber in 1999 was inclusive of minorities residing legally in the Netherlands, but was rejected as offering greater protection ‘than desired or intended’.

The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (Article 19) does not permit reservations to be incompatible with the object and purpose of a treaty, a provision which MRG believes renders the planned Dutch declaration invalid. According to MRG, which has been lobbying for Europe-wide ratification of the FCNM, ratification under such restrictive terms would be little more that a ‘diplomatic gesture’ offering no practical protection of the rights of most minorities and therefore clearly in breach of this condition. The most discriminated against and marginalized communities should benefit and be able to make claims on the government based on the FCNM provisions, stated MRG.

Head of International Advocacy at MRG, Clive Baldwin, stated: ‘Limitations such as this not only restrict the scope and application of the Convention in the ratifying state, they set a poor example for other states to follow, especially given the normal high standing of the Netherlands on human rights. This may also create further divisions between communities, some of which will feel additionally excluded, marginalized and apprehensive, in what appears to be a growing climate of anti-minority feeling in the Netherlands and Western Europe, particularly against groups such as the Roma.’

The Dutch will assume the EU Presidency in July 2004 and will therefore have a potentially important role in human rights within Europe, not least with regard to the current negotiations on an EU Constitution, and in work on conflict prevention. MRG suggests that the proposed limitations regarding the FCNM would result in the Netherlands being amongst the weakest, in terms of minority rights, of 35 states to have ratified the Convention, thus providing poor standards to follow for other states with far worse rights records. Denmark, and to a lesser extent Germany and Estonia, have previously ratified the FCNM with declarations limiting the potential beneficiaries of the Convention, resulting in a comment from the FCNM Advisory Committee(1) that ‘This approach is not compatible with the Convention’ and ‘the implementation of the Framework Convention should not be a source of arbitrary or unjustified distinctions’.

Minority Rights Group International calls on the government of the Netherlands to revue and amend its ratification of the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities to include all national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities within its territory.

Notes for editors

  1. Advisory Committee On The Framework Convention For The Protection Of National Minorities, Opinion On Denmark, Adopted On 22 September 2000.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].