Netherlands - Lawsuit

New Victory Confirmed: 9 Dutch Universities Obliged to Disclose Information About Human Rights Policies Regarding Palestine 

Published on Tue Apr 16 2024 - modified on Wed Apr 17 2024

In December 2023, a Dutch court ordered nine public universities to comply with the freedom of information act (FOIA) and answer requests about what role – if any – Palestinian rights play in their decisions to partner with Israeli companies and institutions. They must also disclose ties to pro-Israel organisations. The Rights Forum and students and scholar activists filed these FOIA requests and defended them in court with the help of the ELSC. This is an important win for people pushing to change the policies that enable universities to work with human rights offenders and their supporters. 

In early 2022, students and staff in cooperation with Dutch human rights organisation The Rights Forum filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with all universities in the Netherlands. Concerned about their institutions’ transparency and human rights policy on Palestine, they requested disclosure of partnerships with institutions and companies complicit in violations of Palestinian rights, as well as partnership policies and ties to pro-Israel organisations.  

Dutch universities partially complied by providing documents about partnerships. Disclosed documents detailed well-known research and exchange relationships between Dutch and Israeli universities and confirmed activists’ suspicion that Dutch universities ignore the abysmal human rights records of their Israeli partners.   

However, amid anti-Palestinian smear campaigns and disinformation, the universities refused to disclose – without legal basis – any documents on partnership policy and ties to pro-Israel organisations. 

Represented by the ELSC and FOI law expert Tim Staal, The Rights Forum appealed the refusals of nine Dutch universities – first internally and later before the courts. In the 2023 court case, the universities’ lawyers themselves admitted that the decisions had no legal basis.   

 In December 2023, the court ruled their decisions unlawful and annulled them. It ordered the universities to decide anew in compliance with the freedom of information act. No appeal was lodged against the ruling, and the universities have disclosed documents that are currently being researched by activists. 

Photo Credit: Jamie – NCPN

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