The Rights Forum was founded in 2009 by former Dutch Prime Minister Andreas van Agt. It is a high-level network of former ministers and professors of international law who have joined forces to promote a just and durable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The organization’s explicit and consistent reference framework is international law and human rights.
Since its launch in 2009, The Rights Forum has specialized in political advocacy, exploiting its unique asset: committed key people, who have direct access to key decision makers and a high media profile.
The organizations’ focus has been to realign the Dutch government’s operational policy concerning Israel-Palestine with international law. However, The Rights Forum has also intervened at European level.
Since 2009, associated key people, board members and the director have held dozens of meetings with members of parliament and civil servants and in-depth meetings with several acting ministers, including the Dutch Prime Minister. They also conducted high-level meetings at EU level, including meetings with Foreign Ministers of other member states as well as with the previous EU President.
Simultaneously, The Rights Forum build a public presence in the Netherlands and became an opinion leader regarding Israel-Palestine. Since 2009, it published dozens of op-eds and interviews in newspapers and was hosted by several television shows. It has an informative website, is active on social media and publishes a monthly newsletter.
The Rights Forum systematically monitors two categories of information, which serve as input for its direct political advocacy and communication: (1) political developments in the Netherlands and at EU level and (2) violations of international law and human rights in Israel and Palestine.
Associated key people have used this information in numerous interventions. Thanks to its ability to make it accessible and available, The Rights Forum has transformed into a trusted “expertise center” that services dozens of politicians, officials and journalists, as well as the wider public.
In 2012, The Rights Forum published a report about the Israel-Palestine positions of political parties in the Dutch parliament. In 2015, it published the report “Under the Radar” with Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din about the so-called “outposts” – unofficial settlements ignored by the international community, which destroy the viability of the two-state solution and are the main source of settler violence. In the run-up to the parliamentary elections of March 2017 The Rights Forum published a detailed overview of the positions of the main political parties on Israel-Palestine.
As the above illustrates, The Rights Forum is using a mix of methods to influence policies and public opinion.
In 2016 The Rights Forum made the strategic choice to reach out to the broader public to raise awareness about the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands and the violations of international law. The focus shifted to networking, working with mass media, use of social media, educational work and the development of a more journalistic website. The new website came on line in May 2017 and is updated daily with news regarding Israel and Palestine.
Simultaneously grassroot campaigns and the political lobby in The Hague and Brussels continued unabated.
The Rights Forum is the only advocacy organization in the Netherlands with a rights-based agenda that systematically and proactively engages key politicians and officials on Israel-Palestine. By doing so, it has helped transform the public and political discourse from blind support for Israel to vocal criticism of Israel’s occupation.
Its unique asset has been the group of key people on its advisory council: about 20 former ministers and professors of international law with direct access to key decision makers and a high media profile. These key people have given The Rights Forum unparalleled leverage in the Netherlands.
Relevance from international and European perspective
The Rights Forum’s focus has been Dutch policy and politics concerning Israel-Palestine. Realigning this policy with international law has been a domestic goal. However, doing so was and is also (very) relevant from a European and international perspective.
The Netherlands is one of the smaller EU member states, but when it comes to Israel-Palestine it punches above its weight. Beside Germany, the United Kingdom and France, it’s a key member state on Israel-Palestine. Strong political advocacy in the Netherlands prevents that it acts in Brussels as a blocker state and promotes that it leans towards the centre and progressive block.
This facilitates a more assertive EU policy. In fact, it has global relevance: the US won’t contain the occupation and preserve the two-state solution. If anyone does, it will be the EU. But the EU can’t toughen its policy when too many member states obstruct.
Moreover, political advocacy in the Netherlands consolidates Dutch policies that are principled and operational and of direct relevance to EU measures, such as the Dutch “discouragement policy” (policy that discourages Dutch companies from economically aiding settlements; this policy is the direct result of political advocacy and ground-breaking at EU level).
Last but not least, the Netherlands profiles itself and is perceived as the legal capital of the world. The International Criminal Court is finally looking into Israel-Palestine and it’s based in The Hague. The Netherlands is the centre of the battle over the ICC’s work on Israel-Palestine, which has international significance and ramifications.
How the Netherlands positions itself regarding Israel-Palestine carries disproportionate moral, legal and political weight. Hence, the Netherlands is a priority country for political advocacy on Israel-Palestine.
Collaboration with other stakeholders
Since its launch in 2009, The Rights Forum has coordinated and collaborated with other stakeholders that promote a rights-based solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. It has coordinated with civil society organizations in the Netherlands, in particular Een Ander Joods Geluid (A Different Jewish Voice).
The Rights Forum collaborated closely with the Brussels-based NGO platform Crisis Action. It contributed to the ground breaking NGO report “Trading Away Peace“, among others by providing the foreword, written by former Dutch Foreign Minister and EU Commissioner Hans van den Broek, a key member of Rights Forum’s advisory council.
Moreover, members of The Rights Forum have initiated and facilitated various interventions by the so-called European Eminent Persons Group (EEPG), a group of former European leaders who published joint letters to current EU leaders calling for a more robust and principled EU policy on Israel-Palestine.
The Rights Forum cooperates closely with Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, including: Adalah, Al Haq, Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Gisha, Peace Now, Who Profits, Yesh Din (incl. publication of a joint report) and a variety of other NGOs during fact-finding missions.
Through these collaborations, The Rights Forum has actively contributed to greater synergy among stakeholders and has been a catalyst for effective political advocacy that promotes concrete policy changes.
Board and Advisory Council
The Rights Forum has a board of dedicated experts, headed by former UN Child Rights Committee chair Prof. Jaap Doek. About 20 former ministers and professors of international law are associated via an advisory council.
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