Leiden Law Blog

Ethnic Profiling: The Pot Calling the Kettle Black?

Ethnic Profiling: The Pot Calling the Kettle Black?

From May 21st until June 4th, the thirteenth session of the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group was held in Geneva. During this session, 14 States had their human rights records examined under this mechanism. In an interactive dialogue, largely based upon Country Reports which are drawn up by rapporteur-states (also: troikas), each country is reviewed by the Council. While browsing through the various Country Reports, I was quite surprised by a question from the Dutch Government addressing the United Kingdom:

“Could the Government of the United Kingdom elaborate further on how it is addressing the need, as identified by the Committee against Racial Discrimination, to ensure that the new system of terrorism prevention and investigation includes safeguards against abuse and the deliberate targeting of certain ethnic groups?” (A/HRC/WG.6/13/GBR/2, par. 59)

Following its recommendation on p. 22 of the Draft Country Report on the UK, the Dutch Government states that it is very important to steadily review the implementation of new systems of terrorism prevention and investigation to ensure the effectiveness in practice of safeguards against abuse and ethnic or religious profiling. It seems remarkable that the Dutch government addresses these concerns, since they do not seem to be reflected by the actions the government has taken with regard to evaluating its own counterterrorism measures.

In January 2011, the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice presented the report Counterterrorism measures in the Netherlands in the first decade of the 21st century. The report is supposed to be the final product of an evaluation process of Dutch counterterrorism legislation which was set in motion by the 2009 report of the Suyver Committee. This committee had reached the conclusion that some of the post 9/11 counterterrorism measures were poorly coordinated, that there was a lack of clarity concerning individual responsibilities of law enforcement agencies and that some of the legislation seemed to be adopted rather arbitrarily. Therefore, the Committee recommended a comprehensive evaluation of the government’s package of counterterrorism measures. A specific aim of this evaluation should be to evaluate the  (un)foreseen negative side effects  of various counterterrorism measures such as, for instance, ethnic profiling and stigmatization of certain minority groups. Since the danger of selectively applying investigative powers and so contributing to feelings of stigmatization among the targeted (minority) groups - possibly even fuelling processes of radicalization - had also been repeatedly pointed out during the parliamentary procedure of various Dutch counterterrorism laws, I was very curious to read about these potential side effects in the 2011 evaluation.

I could not have been more disappointed: nowhere in the 2011 report reference is made to the possibility of ethnic profiling or the lurking danger of selectivity. Despite the clear and rather pressing recommendation of the Suyver Committee to seriously investigate these issues, the Ministry of Security and Justice – who carried out the larger part of the evaluation themselves – simply ignored it all. Instead, the 2011 report was launched as the report showing that Dutch counterterrorism policy is sound and reliable. Apart from the fact that, looking at 22 recommendations by the Suyver Committee and the 2011 Evaluation, one could seriously doubt the quality and thoroughness of the evaluation , to me it seems rather hypocrite to explicitly recommend the UK government to be wary of the discriminatory enforcement of counterterrorism powers. We cannot deny the increasingly negative political and social discourse with regard to immigrants as well as the various related reports on ethnic profiling in the Netherlands (EU-FRA 2009, 2010; OSJI 2008; ECRI 2008)  These concerns shared by various states during  the UPR in Geneva: India, the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan and Greece pointed at the increase in reports of racial discrimination, xenophobia and ethnic profiling in relation to preventive police practices in the Netherlands over the past couple of years (A/HRC/WG.6/13/L.13). Therefore, in order for the recommendations to gain authority (and to be taken seriously), before starting to point the finger at other countries, it seems appropriate to also critically reflect upon our own national counterterrorism practices.

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