Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC)

Please present yourself

The Integrity and Accountability Programme at the NHC is centred around the belief that integrity and accountability are the natural enemies of corruption and nepotism, and essential in upholding the rule of law and maintaining a healthy democracy. The rule of law can only function when the judiciary is truly independent, when law enforcement honours the law, when public servants live up to their role to serve and in the community’s interests, and when civil society and the media play the critical role of an objective observer. The Integrity and Accountability Programme contributes to a change in mentality and mindset amongst all sectors of the government towards more proactive support for the rule of law.

What are your organization’s main goals?

The mission of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC) is to build and secure justice and compliance with international human rights agreements within OSCE participating states. Established in 1987, the NHC represented Dutch civil society in the Helsinki Process, following the examples of sister Helsinki Committees from across the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) area. The work of the NHC is aimed at contributing to a world in which citizens across the OSCE area peacefully live in more open and just societies. In order to secure the rule of law, safeguard human rights and strengthen civil society, we believe it is necessary to:

  • Hold to account and, where necessary, put pressure on authorities to act in line with human rights obligations. This is a major role for civil society, in particular of human rights organisations and people engaged in human rights as part of their professional duties such as lawyers or the media. Therefore, the capacities of these actors should be strengthened. They should also be protected against attacks and be able to operate freely.
  •  Cooperate with professionally run public institutions and independent oversight institutions. This entails ensuring public institutions (i.e., Ministries, Ombudsman, and Audit Authorities) have staff determined to keep up ethical standards and maintain human rights principles. Additionally, this involves investing in a judiciary that is resistant to political forces, government, or other undue interference in their work.
  • Ensure that operations of the criminal justice system align with human rights standards. The chain formed by police, prosecution services, courts and institutions involved in criminal sanctions has far-reaching authority to interfere with the lives of citizens. Therefore, they should scrupulously maintain international standards and treat citizens fairly. Civil society can monitor and assist these institutions thereby ensuring the rights of all citizens.
  • Pay particular attention to the protection of vulnerable and marginalised groups. Often neglected by government institutions and stigmatized in society, these groups are the most susceptible to violations of their human rights. It is, therefore, necessary to facilitate and improve access to the justice system for them.

How does your organization operate?

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee was founded in 1987 by Max van der Stoel (Dutch diplomat, Minister of Foreign Affairs and first OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities), Peter Baehr (professor of human rights at Utrecht University), Arie Bloed (Editor-in-Chief of Security and Human Rights journal), and Pieter van Dijk (member of the Council of State of the Netherlands).

The name of the NHC refers to the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. The Final Act was the conclusion of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, held as the relations between East and West were gradually thawing. Soon after the signing of the agreement, civil society groups emerged claiming that human rights should be complied with, one of the principles contained in the Final Act.

Over time, the Committee has become an advisory body and the secretariat has become the core of the organization, with currently over 20 employees, working together with partner organisations in a range of countries and thematic experts both from inside and outside the Netherlands.

Funding comes from different facilities such as the Dutch MFA and the European Commission, and from several private funders including recently the Dutch Postcode Lottery.

What are the biggest successes your organization has accomplished in the field of anti-corruption in the past years?

The NHC continuously works to promote and uphold human rights, the Rule of Law and democracy within and beyond Europe. Under the umbrella of Rule of Law, and across our four programmes, the NHC works on issues surrounding (anti)corruption. From reporting on transborder corruption to advocating against the persecution of anti-corruption activists in Ukraine, our activities attempt to address corruption on all levels.

In our collaborative project Tackling Russian Elites Corruption, the NHC, together with the Expert group on Transborder Corruption, looked at how murky money from Russia enters the European Union (EU).

Corruption is also an area that we focused on in our session for the 2021 inaugural Democracy Retreat, where we invited experts to a panel about exploring ways to monitor, prevent and sanction corruption practices that affect Rule of Law mechanisms in place. As part of NHC’s Integrity and Accountability programme we offer Rule of Law trainings covering civil servant and judiciary integrity issues. The trainings are aimed at government officials from EU accession and Eastern Partnership countries.

The NHC also internationally raised corruption as a factor to be addressed in fighting human rights violations, with a civil society ‘Tirana Declaration’ issued in December 2020 on the occasion of the yearly OSCE Ministerial Council meeting.

To what extent has your organization been involved in the UNCAC Review Mechanism?

No involvement until now in the UNCAC Review Mechanism; we hope we can start working on the quality of the mechanism to fight trans-border corruption.

What are the key challenges specific to your local context that your organization has been facing?

  • developing frameworks linking human rights and anti-corruption approaches
  • developing proposals for innovative approaches tackling transborder corruption, without undue dependence on judicial cooperation by kleptocratic states

What have you learned from your organization’s work in anti-corruption that could be useful to others?

That the potential for integrating anti-corruption and human rights approaches is hugely underutilized.

What motivates you/inspires you to work in anti-corruption?

Corruption is a human rights abuse in itself, and an engine behind autocratic and repressive tendencies: civil society, the media, the judiciary and the political opposition need to be curtailed in order to allow the control of sources of power and money. Persons who enter politics or governmental institutions purely for material will often resort to unethical, rights-violating behavior if no appropriate checks are in place.