Interview: ‘Existing legislation on intimidation often doesn’t work,’ says Dutch lawmaker
Ruben Brekelmans discusses his parliamentary motion to include Uyghurs and other diaspora groups in the government’s human rights policy.
Ruben Brekelmans, a Dutch politician and member of the Netherlands House of Representatives since March, introduced a motion for diaspora groups — including Uyghurs from northwestern China’s Xinjiang region — who live in the European country and are subject to diplomatic pressure, to be included in the Dutch government’s human rights policy and annual human rights report. Lawmakers unanimously passed the motion on Wednesday.
The moves comes nearly eight months after the Dutch parliament passed a nonbinding motion declaring that China’s systematic persecution and mass detention of Uyghurs amounts to genocide — the first such move by a European country. At the time, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative-liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) voted against the resolution.
Brekelmans, 35, spoke to Mamatjan Juma, deputy director of RFA’s Uyghur Service, about why he introduced the recent motion, how it will affect Uyghurs living in the Netherlands, and whether the Dutch parliament will introduce further motions on Uyghur human rights. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
RFA: Why did you introduce the motion, which the Dutch parliament passed on Wednesday?
Brekelmans: In the Netherlands, we have a human rights policy, and every year the government writes an extensive report on what has been achieved across the world, but it’s all about what happens outside the Netherlands. What my motion asks from the government is to look at repression that’s happening within the Netherlands for minority groups that are threatened by their respective governments. Of course, the Uyghurs are an important example, but also with opposition members from Iran or journalists from Belarus we have seen the same thing — that regimes are also threatening them inside the Netherlands. The motion asks that we include these in our human rights policies as well, to report on this every year. And if we put pressure on a foreign regime, then we also take into account the violations of human rights inside the Netherlands. The resolution has passed. It was accepted by the entire parliament. We have 150 seats in the Netherlands, and everyone voted in favor of the motion. So, it has been widely accepted.
RFA: What happens now that the motion has passed?
Brekelmans: The motion has been accepted, which means that now the government has to implement the motion. So they have to include repression of minorities inside the Netherlands in their human rights policies. It doesn't mean that there is now new legislation because it was not an amendment, as we call it, to any existing legislation. But the motion has legislative power in the sense that the government now has to implement it because it has been accepted by parliament.
RFA: So the government can mobilize law enforcement agencies and take some necessary steps to protect the Uyghur population in the Netherlands, right?
Brekelmans: Yes, those laws and legislation already exist. When there is any intimidation and if it can be proven that there is an individual behind it, then of course we have all the usual laws for any intimidation in the Netherlands. But what we see in practice is that it’s often very anonymous what’s happening. Someone gets a phone call from someone they don’t know but it’s very likely that it’s someone working for the Chinese Embassy or for the Chinese regime. It is very hard to attribute it to an individual and to prosecute that individual. So that’s why existing legislation on intimidation often doesn’t work. And this law doesn’t change anything about that. It’s not about having new forms of punishment or anything like that. But what it does do is that it brings more attention to this problem, makes it more known to our diplomats, so that when our diplomats are interacting with China they also take into account intimidation and repression that's happening inside the Netherlands. That’s often neglected now or it’s not taken into account to the fullest extent, and it’s becoming more prominent in our diplomatic interactions with China. So for next year, this element will be included, and it will be part of the human rights report that is written every year. From tomorrow onward, it will be part of the diplomatic practice.
RFA: The Dutch parliament has recognized the policy China is conducting in Xinjiang as a genocide and as crimes against humanity, but so far the Dutch government hasn’t recognized it as such. What’s the possibility that the Dutch government will accept, denounce, or recognize these atrocities as genocide and crimes against humanity?
Brekelmans: At this point, it’s a bit hard to say because the current government had some strict rules for recognizing a genocide in general, not specifically for the Uyghurs. There were different criteria for accepting and recognizing a genocide. We are currently forming a new coalition government, and it might be that those criteria will be slightly amended, but it’s still very uncertain. It could also be that those criteria remain the same. And then we would need to see whether it’s possible, whether the government is willing to recognize it.
RFA: U.S. lawmakers have passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act and are working on a Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. Does the Dutch parliament plan to introduce similar legislation concerning Uyghur human rights issues?
Brekelmans: Yes, in the Netherlands it works a bit differently, so we don’t have this big legislation or these big acts like you have in the United States. We normally work more through motions and amendments as we have discussed in this interview. I think there will be a lot of attention not only on China and China’s internal policies, but also on foreign policy. There will be many new policies and measures introduced over the next couple of years, but I don’t think that there will be a big act or a big package of legislation as in the United States because that’s not a political practice in the Netherlands.
RFA: Is the new amendment basically for the Uyghurs?
Brekelmans: It’s broader than that. It’s not only for Uyghurs — that’s also mentioned in the motion — but also, for example, for opposition members from Iran. We have seen a lot of intimidation of them. We see it for journalists and people working for NGOs that have come from Belarus. We’ve also seen it from the diaspora from Eritrea which is intimidated by the embassy. It is for multiple governments and multiple minorities, though Uyghurs are definitely one of the major [groups], and that’s why it was also mentioned in the motion.
Reported by Mamatjan Juma for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Edited by Roseanne Gerin.