Volkert van der Graaf’s Sentencing and Standard Dutch Practice

My amazement (expressed below in my previous entry) at the eighteen-year sentence given to the murderer of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn is an admittedly American point-of-view – but surely within the Netherlands there must be some dissension as well?

Naturally such dissatisfaction is rife among supporters of the List Pim Fortuyn; Het Parool has a good survey of the reactions, including the understandable rage expressed by current LPF leader Mat Herben: “How many crazies do we not have walking around on the streets who want to earn themselves a place in the history books by murdering a politician?” Surprisingly, though, Het Parool did find experts who estimated that the eighteen-year sentence was about what could have been expected, given that only one person was killed (according to one such expert, “That punishment [a life sentence] must be reserved for very serious cases of mass-murder.”) and Dutch “democracy” was not really harmed – because the murder did not involve a sitting member of the government. The Algemeen Dagblad in part focuses its coverage on reaction to the sentencing in Rotterdam, where Fortuyn got his political start, and people are certainly not happy; interestingly, in another article it also cites experts who claim that 18 years is perfectly consistent with the norms of Dutch law. One such expert, a Mr. Y. Buruma out of the city of Nijmegen, even calls the van der Graaf trial a “jewel for the rule-of-law” (rule of law is my translation of rechtstaat), because the presiding judges did not allow themselves to be swayed by the emotions surrounding the case to give out a harsher sentence than was justified. On the other hand, Dutch Internal Affairs Minister Remkes is quoted as being “surprised . . . and that is an understatement” by the sentence; he feels it is high time to pursue discussions about making Dutch penal sanctions more serious. And his ministry will appeal the sentence to a higher court.

Finally, for those interested in reading formal legal Dutch, the newspaper Trouw offers extracts from the actual judicial sentencing opinion, under the title Vanuit overwegingen van humaniteit (“Out of Considerations of Humanity”).

I find this a fascinating area for further research and thinking. Eighteen years does seem too lenient a punishment for such a significant, historic murder. Yet on the societal front Dutch society does trump much of what happens in the United States – in terms of population behind bars, safety on the streets, etc.

But perhaps I am now concentrating too much on the Netherlands (and I also wanted to write about the continuing crisis in forming a government – almost three months after the last election and still waiting . . .). After all, this is not the “Nedersavant” website! On the other hand, perhaps at this stage I can be granted a larger portion of self-indulgence (i.e. to cover what I want to cover, dammit!), considering I’m now at the earlier stages and basically no one is reading this. (If you are reading this, then chances are you have scrolled down to this relatively-old article to check it: welcome!) But later, when I hit the big time – when I become the toppermost of the poppermost – I suppose I should take care not to dwell for too long on any one country or situation, since devoted, loyal readers could nonetheless easily get bored with that. OK, tomorrow we’ll go look somewhere else.

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