Citizens as truth detectives

Free press is indispensable in a democratic society. In the Netherlands, it is laid down in the constitution as an integral part of freedom of expression. The same goes for the EU, as the Lisbon Treaty states that no country can join the EU without guaranteeing freedom of expression as a basic human right. However, worldwide freedom of expression is often under threat. In anticipation of Human Rights Day, on December 10th, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Beijing hosted a special movie screening, focusing on the importance of citizen journalists and investigators to combat impunity and injustice worldwide.

Uncovering Human Rights offenders

To uncover Human Rights offenders, resources are key. However, in many parts of the world journalists cannot do their work freely. The Netherlands works worldwide to improve human rights situations. The introduction of technology has opened up many new opportunities for both professional and citizen journalists to combat injustice. By combining resources it denies perpetrators the chance to deny. This is the essence of the story in the documentary ‘Truth Detectives’. As stated by Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the documentary: “Justice is about the truth”. He explains that institutions such as the ICC more and more rely on digital data from citizens to build their cases on war crimes or human rights abuse.

During a panel discussion with journalists, the challenges of working as a reporter and addressing difficult topics in China were discussed. This resulted in a lively and interesting conversation about the abilities and inabilities of doing research on social issues, crimes and human rights violations. As the documentary pointed out: ‘denial is part of the logic of states and that taking away the possibility to deny, is taking away the possibility to exercise violence.’ To counter this you need the freedom to do journalism and research. In China many challenges remain, though by facilitating this event and enabling a frank and open discussion the Netherlands positively contributes to the freedom of expression and the human rights situation in China.  

Cooperation to address violations

The Netherlands takes a joint approach with international organizations such as the EU or the UN to make an impact. As Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU, stated on Human Rights Day: “On this day, the EU also reaffirms its firm commitment to the multilateral human rights system as the platform for the international community to best address human rights violations and to seek accountability, both at international and regional level. We continue to honour the commitment made 70 years ago, at the heart of which lie the fundamental fact that all human beings are born free and equal, and the notion that we all need to act in a spirit of respect and solidarity.”