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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Freedom of Religion at the Dutch Parliament: A Debate

Freedom of Religion Debate, Dutch Parliament
16 May, 2013
GHRD attended a Foreign Affairs Committee debate on freedom of religion yesterday at the Dutch Parliament. Representatives from most of the major political parties in the Netherlands where in participation, actively setting forth questions to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frans Timmermans. While party representatives were in agreement on many accounts – such as the fact that at this very moment the fundamental right of freedom of religion is under more threat than it has been in years – the debate quickly became antagonistic when thoughts turned to appropriate actions and policies to tackle this problem.

Specifically, the point of contention was whether to address violations with regard to specific minority groups, or whether policies should target all minority groups at the same time. As expected, the representatives from the three Christian parties expressed a strong wish for individual attention, while the remaining representatives expressed strong convictions that policies that truly defend freedom of religion must address all minorities equally.

Han ten Broeke
Source: Martijn ten Broeke via Wikimedia Commons
“In order to be effective, any interventions or policies must target all minority groups at the same time” - Han ten Broeke (VVD)

In his response to the Committee, Foreign Affairs Minister Timmermans begun by acknowledging the contributions of the parliamentary representatives, and enthusiastically reiterated the point by SP party representative Harry van Bommel, that it is important to remember that socio-economic variables must not be overlooked when we are looking at the phenomenon of minority prosecution. Retorting to the request made by the Christian party representatives for individual attention for separate minority groups, Mr. Timmermans pointed out a considerable determinant for his own disagreement with such an approach:

“If we pay too much attention to Christians in countries such as Pakistan, we might actually be placing them in even more danger because they might then be seen as agents of the West in their own countries” – Frans Timmermans

Shockingly, however, Mr. Timmermans also clearly stated that stopping trade relations with countries with extremely high rates of human rights violations such as Saudi Arabia was out of the question, as he did not see the point of worsening the Dutch economy on top of everything else.

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