Unpopular Protest? Improving the implementation of the right in local Dutch context
The UGlobe Student Consultancy Project of 2018/2019 of the Centre for Global Challenges, conducted researched on the right to protest in the Netherlands, on commission by the Project Interest Litigation Project and supervised by Dr. Laura Henderson.
On 24 June 2019 the Utrecht Univerity Centre for Global Challenges held an expert meeting about current pressures and challenges to the right to protest in the Netherlands. The student consultancy team presented the main findings of their research on the right to protest in the local Dutch context, which addressed both legal, and societal and cultural aspects of protest. The expert meeting brought together academics, experts on human rights, activists, police and journalists to discuss how the current situation can be improved.
The UGlobe Consultancy report finds that even though the Dutch laws on protest are of a high quality, they are not always effectively enforced. The report studies one particular event, the Code Rood protests in Groningen in August 2018 and concludes that the Dutch authorities failed to properly enforce international, regional and Dutch law on the right to protest. Further, the report shows that Dutch officials and media pay a great deal of attention to security, safety, and public order in light of protests, rather than emphasizing protest as a democratic tool and human right.
Peaceful protest is a human right
The concern that the Dutch public does not necessarily perceive protest as a human right was highlighted by several of the participants in the expert meeting. This related both to the ways in which the media writes about protest and mayors’ understanding of protest. For instance, the Dutch media has been seen to write about protest as something that must be granted permission for by mayors. Quirine Eijkman, Deputy President of Netherlands Human Rights Institute, argues that there is a need for more general awareness and education of the Dutch public on their human rights, and the fact that protest is a human right. In particular, the media play a role in public awareness and opinion and should be critical and nuanced when framing stories involving human rights. Gerbrig Klos of Amnesty International points to the role the city council (gemeenteraad) has in ensuring the mayor deals with protests in ways that respect human rights.
Sometimes protests can limit others’ enjoyment of their human rights. For example, a protest at a mosque or at a school can lead to conflict between the right to protest on the one hand and the right to religion or education on the other. Taco Temminck Tuinstra spoke of the need to distinguish these types of protests from protests that are controversial or disruptive but do not infringe on others’ human rights.
Trust and distrust between police and activists
The police chief of Noord Holland Noord, Stijn van Griensven, explains that distrust between police and protesters can be a hindrance to good cooperation for peaceful protest. For the police, it is important to have dialogue with protesters at an early stage, especially when large-scale protests are being planned, or in the case of protests that involve issues that are especially controversial in Dutch society. Enough time is key for the police to be able to organize and mobilise enough police to successfully protect both protesters and bystanders. While police underline that prior notification is practical so as to ensure adequate facilitation of protest, the law does not require prior notification for protests.
For activists, however, planning is not always a realistic possibility, as protests aim to react quickly to current developments. Moreover, it is not legitimate to expect protestors to always trust authorities as protest is, ultimately, a reaction to experiences of injustice and a wish for changes to the current status quo. Human rights activist Jerry Afriyie wishes that the media and the government would emphasize the human rights of protesters, instead of emphasizing trust.
Journalist Kasper van Laarhoven (NRC) has done much reporting on protests in the Netherlands over the past years. Van Laarhoven experiences that colleagues do not have enough awareness of protest as a human right, and are not always aware that individuals and groups can execute this right without asking for prior permission by mayors. Other participants addressed the media’s tendency to heighten perceptions of conflict in their reporting on protest, rather than aiming for objective reporting of protests. Inaccurate journalistic reporting feeds into misunderstandings of protest, and heightening conflict through reporting is a negative contributor to both the execution of peaceful protest and of people’s perception of protests.
Speakers of the expert meeting included:
Quirine Eijkman, deputy director of National Human Rights Institute the Netherlands, and professor at University of Applied Sciences Utrecht
Gerbrig Klos of Amnesty International
Taco Temminck Tuinstra of Gemeente Amsterdam and author of ‘Demonstreren: Bijkans Heilig’
Stijn van Griensven, Head of the Police Noord Holland Noord
Kasper van Laarhoven, freelance journalist for, among others, NRC
Jerry Afriyie, human rights activist, founder of Nederland Wordt Beter and activist in Kick-Out Zwarte Piet
The team of the UGlobe Consultancy included:
Greta Louise Høvring Troup
Lizelotte Johanna de Rijk
Miguel Ángel Blanco Martínez
Waleed Magdy Abelkader Mahmoud