Anti-racism envoy criticizes Dutch government for not trusting citizenry; No apologies for slavery
Dutch laws and regulations introduced in recent years is "based on the institutionalized distrust politics and government has towards citizens," writes Rabin Baldewsingh, the National Coordinator against Discrimination and Racism. The remarks were part of the first National Program Against Discrimination and Racism, which was presented on Monday. The report did not include apologies for the Dutch historical ties to slavery.
This state of affairs has contributed to "a growing breach of trust" in society between "large groups of citizens" and politics and government, according to the Baldewsingh’s introduction to the program.
In recent years, the government's distrust of citizens was sometimes "implicitly aimed at certain groups of people in our society," Baldewsingh said, with reference to the benefits scandal at the Dutch tax office. The question that arises, he said, is how politicians can again apply humanity and nuance to legislation again.
"Too often in the Netherlands we think in terms of bureaucratic processes, while in the case of racism and discrimination it is just as important to pay attention to people’s life experiences, and their impact.”
The National Program against Discrimination and Racism contains concrete plans for tackling discrimination and racism in the Netherlands. The program was drawn up in consultation with various ministries. The coordinator also held talks with civil society organizations and citizens. Those conversations have made it clear to Baldewsingh how experiencing exclusion "leads to mistrust of government, increasing polarization and ultimately to people who drop out altogether."
No plan yet for apologizing for slavery
Clearly absent from the program was an apology for the historical exploitation of slavery and the Dutch involvement in the slave trade. The apologies were not included because there are still "financial and administrative obstacles," Baldewsingh said. He urged the Cabinet to work on formal apologies for the slavery past.
Apologies are "of great significance to the descendants of the enslaved people, who to this day experience the effects of it," said Baldewsingh in the offer letter accompanying the program. Such an act would help "in healing historical suffering" and "building a common future." He also wants the celebration of the abolition of slavery on 1 July to become a national holiday.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte previously said he expected to come up with "the next step" later this year in the context of apologizing for the slavery past. Baldewsingh's words are intended as an "exhortation" to the prime minister and Cabinet.
Headscarf ban for civil servants also not included
The much-discussed permitting of a headscarf for police officers was also not in the program, while Baldewsingh said he is in favor of it. "I find the idea that police officers cannot perform their function impartially when they are wearing a religious symbol to be incorrect and unnecessarily stigmatizing," he wrote. Baldewsingh said he believes that something should also be done about the so-called “Rotterdam Act,” which makes it possible to exclude people with a low income from certain neighbourhoods.
The program does include a national survey studying discrimination against Muslim people. It also states that descendants of enslaved people will soon be able to have their surname changed for free, an "extra boost" will be given to tackling discrimination on the internship Market, and anti-discrimination agencies will be strengthened. These are expected to be completed in the coming year. According to Baldewsingh, the program is intended as a "first step". He will produce a another edition next year.
Baldewsingh was appointed by the Cabinet last year in response to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020, and other ongoing issues. He said his talks with civic groups and residents resulted in "a lot of good ideas from society" about tackling discrimination in the Netherlands. The fact that not all of these have been given a place in the program is because Baldewsingh was instructed to also seek support from the participating ministries. The advantage of this, he clarified, is that "the measures that eventually have a place in the program will actually be implemented.”
The ministries that have taken part in the discussion about the program include those of the Interior, Education and Social Affairs.
Reporting by ANP