'The American legal order is not our legal order'

23 November 2005

'The American legal order is not our legal order'

Harry van Bommel gave pride of place to the question of transatlantic relations during today's parliamentary debate on the Foreign Affairs Ministry's budget. “There's every reason to do this,” said the SP Member of Parliament in the party's contribution to the first round of discussion. “Because in the struggle for a just world order, transatlantic relations are important, but the question is now whether it is self-evident what these relations should constitute.” His speech, and questions to the minister, follow:

Harry van BommelSince the attack on Afghanistan, America's policy has come under pressure from within NATO. This began under the slogan ‘who isn't for us is against us' and continues to this day. In our country it appears to be leading to divisions over the question of whether we should send still more troops to Afghanistan. Ten days ago there was open concern over this from within NATO and the government was urged to get on with making a decision. Last week we even saw a report leaked from the military intelligence service (MIVD) to the effect that the Uruzgan province was insufficiently secure to allow the planned operation to go ahead. How have things reached such a pass? Is the NATO summit in early December set to become a political battlefield? Is NATO to be subordinated to American intervention plans which the Netherlands will simply go along with? Is the minister still prepared to do that? And what have been the results of the Dutch presence in Afghanistan? Are no more people in the custody of Dutch military forces? And is it not true that a high-level defence employee has travelled to Canada in order to discuss how to settle the question of arrests in Afghanistan?

The decreasing trustworthiness of the biggest transatlantic partner seems even more obvious after the revelation of the existence of a network of secret prisons and over the treatment of prisoners of war. They're never to be called prisoners of war, of course, because if they were they'd have rights derived from the Geneva Conventions. Guantanamo Bay, Abu Graib and Baghlam form a small group which evidently must be extended by the addition of other, as yet unknown names, which together make up an archipelago of secret prisons, something like a black hole into which people disappear. It's possible that Syria is involved. Poland and Romania are under suspicion. Schiphol airport in Amsterdam has been named as the destination of CIA planes flying from Germany. That was in 2003. Last week a CIA aircraft arrived from Istanbul. The EU has asked for clarification from the US but it is common knowledge that the CIA never confirms or denies anything. The EU and the Dutch government should themselves launch an enquiry and get some answers. Can the government guarantee that the Netherlands has neither directly not indirectly cooperated in extra-judicial treatment of prisoners? Will the government investigate whether CIA planes have been landing at Schiphol, whether prisoners are on these planes and what their final destination was?

In short, Chair, the American legal order is not our legal order. The Netherlands supports the international law of the Geneva Conventions, of the International Court of Justice and of disarmament treaties. The US does not and we should have a critical attitude to this, and not the attitude of a lapdog.

New problems, now with Iran, are arriving on our doorstep. Once again the US appears to favour a different approach to that of the EU. Which of these attitudes will the Netherlands prefer? Will we stick with the European line or will we in the end follow the US here as well? Do you favour sanctions and the threat of violence or is the path of negotiation and inspection still open?

With the pull-out from Gaza the development of a Palestinian state had acquired new impetus. What has the Netherlands done to help bring about a viable Palestinian economy? What is being done about the construction of an airport or seaport? Are you prepared to investigate what the possibilities may be of developing these under the auspices of the UN and with means provided by the EU?

The intensification of cooperation with Indonesia is no surprise. We look forward to the promised policy note. The fact that the minister speaks with enthusiasm of, amongst other things, the modernisation of the new government's security sector is odd and his view would not be confirmed by human rights organisations. Numerous human rights abuses continue as does widespread indiscipline within sections of the armed forces.

Meanwhile the minister is avoiding thorny questions such as that concerning Papua, where the situation is menacing, because of the brutal actions of sections of the army and because of rapacious corporations in search of profits from raw materials. That's the crucial issue. If the minister wants to tackle this, he will also encounter historically sensitive points regarding Papua. The minister refuses to recognise the dangers deriving from the political behaviour of the Dutch government of the 1960s in relation to Papua New Guinea. Apparently this has no place in the current interests connecting the Netherlands to Indonesia. The minister wants to maintain friendship with the current President of Indonesia whatever, and things will go better if past mistakes are forgotten. Is the minister prepared to put present human rights abuses in Papua as well as predation by numerous corporations on the agenda in talks with the Indonesian government?

Another unresolved problem from the past is the difficult decolonisation of Suriname. Questions regarding the separation agreement remain unanswered. Why were the rights of Surinamese Dutch people as laid out in this accord not unequivocally recognised? Why was the cancellation of this agreement not considered while it remains subject to legal challenge in the Court of Justice in
Suriname? This is, moreover, in contradiction of earlier assurances from the Dutch government that nothing would be altered as long as the case was before the court. In what manner will the minister fulfil his earlier promise that he “will not bargain away any interests”?

Last week scientist Hamelink of Amsterdam was in the news as a result of his resignation as an advisor to Kofi Annan. He resigned in protest at the fact that the UN Conference in Tunisia over access to digital information itself offered no access to the public. Tunisia is moreover well-known as a country in which human rights are abused and political freedoms limited. In the person of Minister for Economic Affairs Brinkhorst, the Netherlands participated in this conference. Did the government, unlike the Amsterdam scientist, not have the courage to make open criticisms of human rights in Tunisia and the limitations on political freedoms there?

A recent study of the World Bank shows that last year developing countries received $167bn from migrant workers sending money to their families in their countries of origin. This is 73 percent more than in 2001 and twice as high as the sum total spent on development aid. In some countries, for example Tonga, it represents as much as a third of Gross Domestic Product. “Good and growing business”, you might say. It is no panacea, but it is well demonstrated that it combats poverty, working also as a safety net. So this development is worthy of our support and it fits completely the cabinet's vision of “less government”. There is certainly a downside, because there is little competition in a market for monetary transfers sewn up, principally, by MoneyGram and Western Union. 10 to 15% is raked off from every transaction. The Chief Economist at the World Bank has made a number of recommendations as to ways in which these costs could be lowered and competition effected. State authorities could develop a shared network. Cooperation over infrastructure and competition in the delivery of relevant services could bring advantages to the consumer. Is the minister, with the finance minister, prepared to draw up a plan to tackle this?

Prospects for the progress of the Millennium Development Goals do not appear good, not only for Africa but also for large parts of South-East Asia and Latin America. The SP is extremely concerned that the evaluation of the United Nations summit indicated that so much emphasis was laid on security and the combating of terrorism. This is also the case in the Development Cooperation budget. Once again the geopolitical aim of development spending is on the agenda. In the past it was East versus West, now it's Islam vs non-Islam. Millennium Goal 6: As a result of the poverty strategies of the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank many developing countries are unable to reserve sufficient money for social sectors (e.g health care). For example Zambia and Kenya: the budget ceiling for salaries is 8 percent of Gross National Product. This creates a crisis in health care. In the SP's view, this ceiling is arbitrary and not based on a calculation of what personnel are needed if the Millennium Goals are to be reached. Is the minister prepared (via the International Monetary Fund) to argue for an end to be put to the stipulation of this ceiling and to support governments in formulating and financing
a sound human resource plan based on the results to be achieved, results specified by the governments and the most important stakeholders? And is the minister going to argue within the World Health Organisation for donor harmonisation around questions of work migration in the health care sector and the prevention of a 'brain-drain'. If so, how?

Development Cooperation is a member of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM) established in 1998. That the target is not going to be achieved can be seen from a range of studies by, amongst others, the World Bank and The Lancet. The number of deaths from and cases of malaria has in fact risen rather than fallen. According to the World Bank and Artsen Zonder Grenzen(Médécins sans frontières, an international medical aid NGO), the production of ACTs must be increased and mosquito nets and medicines must be made more accessible to the poorest. What is the minister going to do to improve things and make this possible?

78.000 women die annually as a consequence of unsafe abortion. President Bush's “global gag rule” is contributing to this rather than bringing it to an end. Is the Netherlands prepared to offer additional support to countries which make no use of the gag rule?

What is the minister's reaction to the UN AIDS report, published last Monday, in which arguments presented included a plea for greater efforts to be made in HIV prevention? In 2005 five million people were infected with the HIV virus. In many countries knowledge of safe sex and HIV appears even to be in decline. What is the minister going to do in order to increase this knowledge?

And what is the minister going to do to achieve the goal of universal access to treatment, care and prevention?

In De Volkskrant (national daily newspaper) of Saturday 19th November, the independent researcher and adviser in the aid sector David Sogge asserted that the aid industry had done more harm than good. He was referring in particular to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. According to researchers from, notably, the World Bank itself the number of Africans living in extreme poverty (on a dollar or less a day) rose between 1981 and 2001 from 164m to 316m. Only radical democratisation of aid can turn the tide, Sogge says. To that end, he argued for, amongst other things, the dropping of unsuccessful economic doctrines, the democratisation of aid through more transparency and responsibility before the public as well as the transfer of decisions over development from economists and bankers to politicians and citizens' organisations. Could the minister give his views on these suggestions?

Last week a majority in the European Parliament voted against the monthly displacement from Brussels to Strasbourg. This is a hopeful sign. The costs of this monthly change of address for hundreds of Euro-MPs, assistants, officials, interpreters, journalists and so on are, due to the accession of ten new member states, possibly set to grow to as much as €500m per year. What is the government going to do to support the move for just one meeting place?

On 7th November an aircraft belonging to the German company Hapag Lloyd wanted to travel from the Cypriot airport at Paphos to Dalaman in Turkey. In the first instance permission was given by the Turkish authorities to land in Dalaman, but at the last minute this permission was withdrawn and the aircraft could not depart. Not long ago the Secretary of State for European Affairs stated that if Turkey continued to refuse access to Cypriot ships, “Turkey would have a major problem that very day”. Does Turkey now have a major problem?

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