Foreign Affairs wants to replace critical advisor

Foreign Minister Stef Blok wants to get rid of his external international law adviser. He examines whether the Ministry is acting in line with international law. The contract of the advisor, Andrรฉ Nollkaemper, has expired and the Ministry says that the position is now “not filled”. Minister Blok wants to have international law issues assessed from now on by a broad group of experts.

The external international law advisor in its current form was appointed after the Dutch political support for the American/British invasion of Iraq. At the time, the David Committee noted, among other things, that there was no adequate mandate under international law for this. The external international law advisor was one of the most important recommendations of the David’s Committee.

Blok wants to discuss his proposal to seek advice from a group in the near future with the House of Representatives. The coalition is divided: VVD and CDA are in favor, but D66 and ChristenUnie are critical.

End of international law advisor?

“If the Chamber goes along with this, it means the end of the international law advisor,” Nollkaemper observes. The spiritual father of the function himself, Willibrord Davids, calls it “risky” if the function would disappear. “You need one individual with authority, who can advise quickly. A group is far less able to do that.”

Andre Nollkaemper, Professor of International Law at the UvA, has held the position of international law advisor since 2012. He issued various opinions, particularly on the question to what extent the cabinet was allowed to intervene in the war in Syria and Iraq. For example, Nollkaemper warned against supplying weapons to armed groups in Syria, and advocated restraint when it came to bombing the country. According to him, such actions could be at odds with international law.

‘Doesn’t work’

Two years ago, Nollkaemper was remarkably critical when it turned out that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had secretly supported armed groups in Syria that violated human rights and cooperated with al-Qaeda. The ministry had kept Nollkaemper outside this state secret programme, but when Nieuwsuur and Trouw uncovered several facts, Nollkaemper wrote an advisory report and sent it to the House of Representatives.

He expressed serious doubts about the aid programme. He also expressed his surprise at the fact that the Ministry had not asked him for advice, and wrote that the position of international law adviser did not function in the way the Davids Commission had conceived it.

The VVD and the CDA welcome Blok’s proposal. Martijn van Helvert (CDA) calls it a “good idea” to replace the advisor with a group. Sven Koopmans (VVD) says that “even the best experts think differently about things”. According to Koopmans, it is “beneficial” when different experts “come to an opinion together”.

Opposition parties warn for the deletion of the consultant. Bram van Ojik (GroenLinks): “Replacement by a committee quickly leads to feeble compromises and grey knitting from which the minister chooses what he likes” Liliane Ploumen (PvdA) calls it “a bad thing” when the position disappears. “As far as the PvdA is concerned, a new external advisor will be appointed as soon as possible.”

Sadet Karabulut (SP) is “bewildered” by the attitude of the CDA in particular: “We have just joined forces with the CDA on this (Syria) dossier in order to get openness, and now that this has not succeeded, surely the CDA cannot be in favour of this plan”?

Also coalition parties ChristenUnie and D66 want to keep the international law advisor. Sjoerd Sjoerdsma (D66): “The feeling creeps up on me that the cabinet wants to shop around a bit in different opinions among experts

Many MPs recall the importance of the Davids Commission. Sjoerdsma: “One of the lessons was that the Netherlands, with The Hague as the capital of peace and justice, looks closely at whether foreign efforts are in line with international law. I think it’s rather premature, then, to throw one of the important recommendations of the Davids Committee into the wastebasket, just because you happened to be bothered by the adviser’s advice”

According to Davids, the international law advisor has become even more important now than ten years ago. “Quite apart from the moral debate, recently there has also been a tendency for people to try to hold the Dutch state financially liable for international wrongful acts in the Dutch courtroom,” says the former president of the Supreme Court. “Take the women of Srebrenica. The Netherlands is a reliable and solid creditor, a rich country, there is money to be made. So the ministry has to carefully weigh up what liability his actions may entail”