Brussels, 24 November 2014
Dear Prime Minister, Dear Ministers,
We, the undersigned, are writing to express our concern regarding the conduct of Dutch authorities and law enforcement officials on the day of the ‘arrival’ of Saint Nicholas in Gouda, the Netherlands on 15 November 2014. First hand evidences show clear violations of the freedom of peaceful assembly and reveal patterns of racial discrimination. We urge you to ensure proper independent investigation into the law – enforcement actions, ensure equal treatment of ethnic minorities, and guarantee that future peaceful assemblies will be safeguarded and protected in accordance with international law.
The European Network Against Racism, a network of over 120 NGOs working to counter racism and racial discrimination in the European Union, supports calls to abolish the racist figure of Zwarte Piet. The fully black-faced character is a legacy from The Netherlands’ colonial past and contributes to fuelling stereotypes of People of African Descent and Black Europeans. While we take note of the recent efforts to tone down the figure, we believe that the Dutch authorities have fallen short to suppressing the racist element of the tradition.
The European Network Against Racism, a network of over 120 NGOs working to counter racism and racial discrimination in the European Union, supports calls to abolish the racist figure of Zwarte Piet. The fully black – faced character is a legacy from The Netherlands’ colonial past and contributes to fuelling stereotypes of People of African Descent and Black Europeans. While we take note of the recent efforts to tone down the figure, we believe that the Dutch authorities have fallen short to suppressing the racist element of the tradition.
Blackfacing is one of the broader manifestations of Afrophobia that contributes to the dehumanization of Black people and leads their exclusion. Studies conducted by the Fundamental Rights Agency show that the 7-12 million People of African Descent and Black Europeans in Europe are particularly affected by racist violence, hate speech and discrimination.
The decision by the mayor of Gouda to forbid the anti-Zwarte Piet protest to be held in the centre, near the ‘Markt’, clearly violates international standards with respect to the freedom of peaceful assembly, as recalled in the OSCE guidelines on this fundamental freedom. This right should be enjoyed without discrimination. As a rule protests must be organized within “sight and sound” of their target audience. The alternative locations proposed by the mayor were not suitable for the protesters to actually convey their message to the persons they wanted to target, in this case the audience of the festivity and the media.
Likewise, the mayor restricted the freedom of assembly for not being able to ensure protesters protection against far-right groups and Zwarte Piet supporters. We believe that this purported reason is not valid. Law-enforcement authorities have the positive obligation to facilitate peaceful assemblies and “to protect its participants from any persons or groups that attempt to disrupt or inhibit them in anyway”. OSCE guidelines further read: “potential disorder arising from hostility directed against those participating in a peaceful assembly must not be used to justify the imposition of restrictions on peaceful assembly.”
In addition, police behavior on the day of the protest is a source of concern. Reports of Black people arrested before arriving on the main square, in some case without any sign of being part of the protest, raise suspicion of racial profiling – the prohibited use of racial or ethnic characteristics as a way of singling out people for identity or security checks. One protester was tackled to the ground, kicked and blindfolded, using a modus operandi similar to 2011 arrests of anti-Zwarte Piet protesters. The Dutch Ombudsman recently concluded that the later constituted excessive use of force. The arrest, after the protest, and the detention for over five hours of the rest of the peaceful protesters – about 90 persons in total among which ENAR members and a 13 year-old girl with disabilities – does not comply with standards on arrest during protest. Mass arrest should be avoided and the time of detention should be limited to a minimum. In compliance with the jurisprudence from the European Court of Human Rights, restriction of liberty is only allowed when this is strictly necessary and proportionate to the aim pursued. Arrest and detention were not proportionate means to achieve the goal of giving a fine to the protesters.
The above-described procedure and violations of standards with respect to the expression of opinions, by means of peaceful protest, reveal patterns of racial discrimination and intimidation of the activists and citizens involved in this action. This is unacceptable in a
modern democracy such as The Netherlands.
Therefore we, the undersigned, ask that:
1. An independent investigation into the mayor’s decision is conducted in due time.2. An independent investigation into the law-enforcement behaviors is conducted in due time.3. All fines of peaceful protesters are dropped.4. Future decisions on assemblies are taken with due consideration of the freedom of peaceful assembly and the principle of non-discrimination.5. Police internal procedures include clear prohibition of racial profiling and police officers receive diversity training.6. A debate on blackfacing in the Saint-Nicholas celebrations is held in the National Parliament.7. Authorities take steps to forbid blackfacing in the Saint-Nicholas celebrations.
We trust that we can start a constructive dialogue in order to address the issues highlighted in this letter, and we remain available to provide any support in this process. We look forward to receiving your reply.
1. The European Network Against Racism
2. New Urban Collective, The Netherlands
3. Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland, Germany
4. Zwarte Piet Niet, The Netherlands
5. Roet in Het Eten, the Netherlands
6. Nederland wordt beter, The Netherlands
7. Stichting Overlegorgaan Caribische Nederlanders, The Netherlands
8. Africa Centre, Ireland
9. Pan African Movement for Justice, Sweden
10. Centre Against Racism, Sweden
11. INCIDE – Inclusión, Ciudadanía, Diversidad y Educación, Spain
12. JUST West Yorkshire, UK
13. Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council, UK
14. Radio AFRIKA TV, Austria
15. Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, UK
16. Migrant Tales, Finland
17. Foundation for Subjective Values, Hungary
18. Muslim for progressive values, France
19. Institute for African studies, Slovenia
20. Coordination des Associations & Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience, France
21. Association Des Juristes Arabo-Musulmans d’Europe, France
22. Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights, Lithuania
23. Plate-forme Migrants et Citoyenneté européenne, France
24. SOS mod Racisme, Denmark
25. Fight Racism Now (FRN), Sweden
26. European Association for the Defense of Human Rights–AEPADO, Romania
27. Operation Black Vote, UK
28. Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC), UK
29. Movement Against Xenophobia, UK
30. Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO)
31. European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights
32. African Empowerment Centre, Denmark
33. Movement X, Belgium
34. Mouvement contre le Racisme, l’Anti-semitisme et la Xénophobie (MRAX), Belgium
35. Conseil représentatif des associations noires (CRAN), France
36. Collectif Stop le Contrôle au Faciès, France
37. Les Indivisibles, France
38. Réseau des Femmes Immigrées et d’Origines Etrangères de Belgique, Belgium
39. Groupe de soutien des femmes africaines (SVAV) du Conseil des communautées africaines (RvdAGE), Belgium
40. International Institute for Scientific Research, The Netherlands
41. Justice 21, Bulgaria
*European Network Against Racism (ENAR)