UN Rapporteur calls Dutch gov't to take the lead in Zwarte Piet debate, criticizes burka ban

Sinterklaas Amsterdam 2
Police form a line blocking Zwarte Piet protestors in Amsterdam. Nov. 16, 2014 (tui_tues/Twitter)Police form a line blocking Zwarte Piet protestors in Amsterdam. Nov. 16, 2014 (tui_tues/Twitter)

The Dutch government must take the lead in combating racism, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism and Xenophobia, Tendayi Achiume. While she applauds the decision to not have any blackface Zwarte Pieten at the national Sinterklaas arrival this year, an important issue like this cannot be left solely in the hands of society, she said, referring to Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his VVD saying multiple times that  Piet's appearance should be left up to society, NOS reports.

"The most important thing is that there is a dialogue now", Tendayi Achiume said in a press conference in The Hague. Her predecessor, Verene Shepherd, strongly criticized the character Zwarte Piet in a report in 2015. The Netherlands has taken important steps in this area, Achiume said on Monday. But the national government must take more responsibility on the Piet issue, especially because the national Sinterklaas arrival is a subsidized event. 

The United Nations Rapporteur also sees an important role for the government in education. She believes that history lessons should pay much more attention to Dutch involvement in slavery and colonialism and the arrival of migrant workers in the Netherlands. This will ultimately help to combat discrimination and intolerance, Achiume said. 

She also harshly criticized the recently implemented Partial Ban on Face Covering Clothing Act. This ban is aimed at Muslim women, who are already a vulnerable group in the Netherlands, Achiume said.

Tendayi Achiume visited the Netherlands last week to assess how the country is doing in the field of racism and xenophobia. At the press conference on Monday, she presented her preliminary findings. A full report will be published in July next year.