High Council accepts SP objections to full body searches at airport

2 June 2007

High Council accepts SP objections to full body searches at airport

The SP's long-standing objections to the degrading total body searches carried out at Schiphol, the country's biggest airport, have now been recognised by the Netherlands' highest court of law. The 'Hoge Raad' (High Council), in effect the Dutch equivalent of the US Supreme Court or Britain's Law Lords, ruled this week that the body searches, which can include invasive probing of the vagina or anus, were unlawful.

Full body searches were introduced some years ago as a measure to combat the smuggling of hard drugs into the country. Passengers on flights from the Dutch Antilles, Aruba, Venezuela and Surinam have increasingly been subject to such searches. Sniffer dogs are used, and passengers are interrogated, as well as being judged on their appearances. People who, for example, have red eyes after a long flight are singled out as suspects. Customs personnel often go about their work in a way which is unsuitable and unacceptable, with people being forced to undress in the presence of numerous officers, to bend over, squat and allow themselves to be subjected to inspection in the most private parts of their bodies, including internally in ways which are explicitly forbidden.

The SP has repeatedly expressed objections to the degrading practices employed by customs personnel at Schiphol. Parliamentary questions from the party's MPs Jan de Wit and Harry van Bommel and hard-hitting interventions in debates have already had some effect, with the worst humiliations being abandoned. Lower courts and the national Ombudsman have also declared the worst of the search methods to be 'degrading', but with the High Council's ruling there can be no further doubt that passengers at Schiphol have been subject to unnecessarily humiliating treatment.

“It is shameful that the Netherlands treats people in this way,” Harry van Bommel said in reaction to the ruling. “It's good that the High Council has now recognised this, but this should of course never have happened in the first place.”

Jan de Wit, himself a lawyer, is of the opinion that the decision of the High Council will lead to a positive response to the complaints. “Searching for drugs is of course necessary, but the way in which it's carried out is unacceptable. It's never necessary to humiliate people, and there are much less offensive alternatives available such as the body scan.”

In addition, the fact that people were screamed and shouted at and addressed in an inappropriately and insultingly familiar manner, and that no apologies were given to people who turned out to be innocent of any wrongdoing, created widespread resentment. “We have indications that the situation for the moment has improved, but we will certainly be keeping an extremely critical eye on developments,” Van Bommel promised.

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