Dutch companies won't be prosecuted for using blackface Zwarte Piet: court

The Dutch judiciary does not have to prosecute companies for using blackface Zwarte Piet, the court in Amsterdam ruled on Wednesday in an Article 12 procedure brought by the foundation Nederland Wordt Beter, NU.nl reports.

The foundation wanted to force the prosecution of numerous institutions, including broadcaster NTR, municipalities and retailers like Hema, Blokker and Albert Heijn for using Zwarte Piet in his traditional blackface form. They filed the Article 12 procedure after the Public Prosecutor decided not to prosecute two years ago. The case is based on hundreds of statements by people who find Zwarte Piet offensive. 

The court ruled that most of these statements are so general that no criminal offense can be derived from them. One statement says that there were people dressed as Zwarte Piet at Sinterklaas' 2014 arrival in Gouda, but it does not say exactly how they were dressed or why it should be punishable, according to the court. 

The judge also pointed out that the social discussion about Zwarte Piet is still ongoing, but it is "tending towards getting rid of Zwarte Piet's stereotypes that can be perceived as hurtful". The court therefore left room for future cases to be prosecuted if it comes to it. If the discussion reaches a clear point, "there may be circumstances in which behaviors such as those against which the complainants object may turn out to be punishable", the court said.

The foundation's lawyer, Willem Jebbink, regrets the ruling, but does not think the procedure was a waste. He calls the verdict an "important boost" for those fighting for a Sinterklaas celebration that is "non-stereotyping" and not painful to many. He is discussing the option of turning to the European Court of Human Rights or the UN Committee Against Racial Discrimination with his clients."

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