UN rapporteur "genuinely afraid" of police brutality, violence escalation in NL
Despite a complaint filed by the Dutch police unions, Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, stands by his criticism last week of police brutality during several coronavirus demonstrations in the Netherlands. "I was genuinely afraid that the violence in the Netherlands would escalate, so I reacted quickly and firmly," he said to NOS.
Last week, Melzer drew the ire of the Dutch police with a series of tweets. In one, he compared the arrest of a man during a coronavirus protest in The Hague in March last year with the death of George Floyd, who was killed by police brutality and sparked the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020.
"I have enough experience in the field of war, military actions, and police brutality to say that this is torture," Melzer said. "The officers hit hard and then let the police dog bite the man. That is unnecessary, disproportionate, and the same disrespect for a human that I saw in George Floyd. This man is still alive, but he could have died from this violence. With the methods used, police officers accepted that risk."
According to Melzer, it does not matter that the video he used as an example was months old. "It does not detract from the authenticity of the images, and it ties into other incidents of police brutality," the professor said to NOS. He can conclude from this video that this was not an exception but a "system error." "Something criminal happened here, but other officers did not intervene. They stood there and watched it."
On Twitter last week, Melzer called for the officers involved to be prosecuted. Last month, the Public Prosecution Service announced that it would prosecute the two involved in the detainment. Melzer acknowledged that he missed that. But the prosecution of these two officers is not enough, he added. "The prosecution happened because the disproportionate violence was so visible and only after the public commotion. But the officers who stood by and did not intervene are not prosecuted."
Melzer said he is very worried about the developments around coronavirus protests over the past two years. Authorities coming down hard on these protests means that part of the population is neglected, he said to the broadcaster. "I am certainly not a coronavirus skeptic, but corona protesters have the right to demonstrate and the right to physical integrity."
He used French president Emmanuel Macron saying he wants to make the lives of unvaccinated people difficult as a worrying example. "You see something like this at an early stage of a civil war. If you dismiss a population group as a pariah or lesser citizens, you can also more easily tackle them with violence. That is a dangerous development," he said. "If you start to see part of your population as an enemy, they will eventually retaliate. They will organize themselves, possibly arm themselves, and pose a threat. I'm afraid of that. That's why I sound the alarm."
Melzer received a storm of criticism after tweeting about the Dutch police last week, but according to him, it is necessary to call out Western countries if they step out of line. "Western countries assume that they are the good guy and therefore often do little with my criticism on human rights."
He called on people in the Netherlands to share examples of police brutality and is receiving dozens of responses per day. They will all be investigated. In March, Melzer plans to visit the Netherlands and speak with the police. "I want to hear their side because these incidents can also stem from an overworked and overtaxed police force," he said.