Iranian students take Dutch state to court
Iranian students in the Netherlands are not satisfied with the government's explanation of stricter sanctions aimed at Iran.
By Perro de Jong*
Iranian students in the Netherlands are not satisfied with the government's explanation of stricter sanctions aimed at Iran. As of 1 July they have been excluded from taking certain courses and visiting certain places if Iran could make use of these to develop nuclear weaponry. The students say this is discrimination and are going to court to prove it.
The restrictions are based on a two-year-old United Nations resolution. Resolution 1737 obliges UN member states to ensure that certain sensitive information cannot find its way to Iran.
Behnam Taebi, spokesman for the Iranian students, says the Netherlands has put its own interpretation on the UN's intentions:
"It's not the resolution we object to. It's the Dutch government's interpretation. I would like to point out that the resolution dates from almost two years ago and says nothing about excluding students or about a master's degree.
The cabinet is assuming that students here intend to pass on information to Iran and that the type of information in a master's course - fairly fundamental, basic information - could be of use to the Iranian nuclear programme. These are two assumptions the cabinet will have to defend."
The students are invoking Article 1 of the Dutch constitution, which outlaws all forms of discrimination... and applies to education too. However, according to Dick Leurdijk of the Clingendael Institute for International Relations, it's not that straightforward.
"Here in the Netherlands we have a principle that international law always prevails over national legislation, and paragraph 17 of UN Resolution 1737 clearly states that member states are expected to prevent Iranian students from receiving specialised training. I think in this case the Dutch government's decision is the result of extremely careful consideration. It's not a question of the fact that you come from Iran, but that you come from Iran and also express an interest in certain studies available at certain universities and polytechnics. It's not about access to Dutch education as such, that is an entirely different issue."
Mr Leurdijk disputes the idea that the Netherlands is alone in its interpretation of the resolution. He claims around 90 countries have responded to the UN call. However, since the actual implementation is left up to the individual member states, all of which have their own laws and regulations, it is difficult to make a comparison.
Behnam Taebi points out, however, that in recent months when he was doing research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - in the United States, the country most actively opposed to Iran - he was subject to no restrictions whatever.
"There I was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has a reputation as one of the world's most distinguished universities, and I can tell you there were hundreds of Iranian students wandering around. They are happy to go there, they are happy to have them and they are made very welcome. At that institute it is not at all important what your nationality is. They look at you and the results of what you do. That is a mentality that is sadly lacking here in the Netherlands."
Moreover, legal experts such as Joyce Schiferli of the Rotterdam collective Art.1 emphasize that UN resolutions are not simply accepted as exceptions to the constitution. Separate legislation is needed for that.
All parties involved agree on one thing: taking it to court, as the Iranian students have announced they will, should at least produce clarity in this complex and vital question.
*RNW translation (imm)
4 September 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]