Threats against Palestinian groups may damage Netherlands, government says

The Dutch government this week expressed its public concern about the intimidation of human rights organizations assisting the work of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The positions outlined by Dutch ministers make clear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to the Netherlands has not tamped down concern over the threats and harassment authorities believe are connected to investigations into suspected war crimes by Israel.

For months, Nada Kiswanson, a lawyer with the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq, has reported receiving intimidating phone calls, emails and a bouquet of flowers with an ominous message, threatening the lives of her and her family.

Al-Haq and Kiswanson believe that the threats are related to their work on the ICC’s preliminary examination of possible war crimes committed by Israel in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.

Last month, Dutch authorities said they were investigating threats against several human rights organizations.

This came after intervention by the ICC itself. The court’s registrar Herman von Hebel told the newspaper NRC Handelsblad that the body has never seen such threats to employees of nongovernmental organizations working with the court.

And earlier this month, a veteran Israeli intelligence analyst tied the harassment of Kiswanson to “black ops” run by Israeli spy agencies intended to smear and intimidate people and organizations working for Palestinian human rights and Israeli accountability.

The Dutch government also suspects that the threats against Kiswanson relate to her activities with the ICC.

In a letter to parliament on 12 September, foreign minister Bert Koenders and justice minister Gerard Adriaan van der Steur recognize that Kiswanson is being “threatened and it is suspected that it is related to her work.”

Their letter responds to parliamentary questions from Tunahan Kuzu, a lawmaker who publicly refused to shake Netanyahu’s hand during the Israeli leader’s visit.

The ministers write that Kiswanson’s situation is being “taken seriously” by authorities, who opened a criminal investigation into the threats in February and who have been providing her with protection.

Harassment and intimidation of human rights organizations including Al-Haq and Amnesty International that support the ICC’s work is “never acceptable,” the Dutch ministers state. “Human rights defenders are indispensable for sustainable change towards more open and free societies.”

The government also expressed concern that the threats against human rights organizations could damage the “status and reputation” of the Netherlands, which hosts several international juridical bodies including the ICC.

The ministers would not comment on the outcome of the criminal investigation because it is ongoing.

Last month, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council condemned what it called a “continuing campaign of attacks and threats against human rights defenders and employees” of its member organizations “by the Israeli authorities and associated organizations.”

“These threats are part of a systematic and planned campaign that began in mid-2015, with the intent to disrupt the work of organizations, defame them and impact their funding,” the council said.

The council mentions in particular Al-Haq, Al Mezan, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights as targets of the campaign.

It is no surprise that all four organizations have made submissions to the ICC.


Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh