The Netherlands not a refuge for war criminals and human rights offenders

​​By signing the UN Refugee Convention, the Netherlands has committed itself to providing protection to persons who have fled their country for fear of being persecuted.

The Netherlands not a refuge
Among them are, however, also persons who are suspected of having committed war crimes or crimes against humanity.

"The put me on a barrel and tied my wrists using a rope. They then kicked against the barrel. There was nothing under my feet anymore, they just dangled in the air. They brought in three sticks.. and started hitting me everywhere.. When they were done beating me with those wooden sticks, they took out cigarettes. They put them out all over my body. It felt like my body was being decomposed with a knife, like I was being cut up in small pieces."
(Amnesty International: ‘It breaks the human. Torture, disease and death in Syria’s prisons’)

We are all aware that there are people who do the most horrible things to other people. These are crimes that we classify under Article 1F of the UN Refugee Convention.  Persons who are suspected of having committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, can be excluded from the protection of the Refugee Convention according to Article 1F.

What crimes are involved?

Article 1F relates to war crimes, crimes against peace or crimes against humanity. Also other serious crimes, such as murder, rape, and drugs trafficking, may be a reason to exclude a person from protection under the UN Refugee Convention. Finally, acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations also fall within the scope of Article 1F. Several countries from which so-called '1F applicants' originate are Rwanda, Afghanistan, Iraq, and former Yugoslavia.

Protection is for victims, not for offenders

The Dutch government does not want the Netherlands to be a refuge for war criminals or human rights offenders. Therefore, if any signs of these crimes having been committed, the IND investigates whether Article 1F applies. It should not be the case that victims who have been granted protection still feel unsafe by the presence in the Netherlands of those who are actually responsible for the fact that they were forced to leave behind hearth and home.

When do we investigate?

We conduct our research based on the signals we receive. Think for example of information obtained from the asylum story that the foreign national tells the IND staff member.
A former employee of the Afghan Security Service stated during his interview the following:
"Of course, people were tortured during interrogations..."
"I was, of course, also responsible for these cruelties, but that's the way things go in Afghanistan..."
"I could not adopt a different attitude. This is what was expected and required from me. If you don't go along, you will never be able to attain a high position."

These off course have to be serious signals. Because, in order to be able to conduct an investigation of a person who has applied for asylum in the Netherlands or who already has a residence status, the Refugee Convention states that there must be serious reasons for considering that the person concerned has committed any of the above-mentioned crimes.
Examples in this context are soldiers who held specific positions in an organisation that is known for having violated these human rights or having committed war crimes. Or employees of a detention centre where detainees were being tortured. But it may also concern a doctor who has collaborated in the execution of specific acts of torture.

How does the IND conduct the investigation?

The 1F Unit of the IND has staff members who are specifically trained for this purpose. They can ask the foreign national questions about aspects that point to involvement in international crimes. Was the foreign national aware of the crimes or has he committed or helped committing such crimes? The information collected in this way is compared to other available information, from open sources (e.g. reports of Human Rights Watch) or Official Notices from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If all the facts, circumstances, and statements have been considered thoroughly, it is decided whether Article 1F will be declared applicable to the foreign national or not.

And then...

If the IND concludes that the foreign national may be held responsible for international crimes, the asylum application is always rejected. The rejection implies that the foreign national is obliged to leave the Netherlands. It also may be that a residence permit that has already been granted is revoked, that an application for naturalisation is rejected, or that Dutch citizenship is taken away. The foreign national may appeal to this decision. In that case it is up to the court to decide whether the decision of the IND was right.

Why are some still allowed to stay?

Sending an 1F applicant back to his country of origin may put him in serious danger. If that is the case, the Netherlands may not deport him forcibly. This does not mean, however, that this 1F applicant will be granted a residence permit. This is done only in very exceptional cases.

Does application of Article 1F also imply criminal prosecution?

The consequence of applying Article 1F is only that the application for a residence permit (or to become a Dutch citizen) submitted by the foreign national is rejected, that his residence permit is revoked, or that Dutch citizenship is taken away by the IND. This so-called administrative procedure is unrelated to any decision to prosecute the foreign national.

However, if it is a case in which Article 1F has been declared applicable, the IND notifies the Public Prosecution Service of this. This does not mean, however, that criminal proceedings are automatically initiated in that case. This depends on countless legal and practical factors, such as legal obstacles, availability of witnesses, safety of witnesses, and safety of Dutch police and judicial staff, etc.