THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A Dutch court on Wednesday ordered the government to compensate owners of cannabis-selling cafes who say they lost money because of measures aimed at stamping out drug tourism.
The court said that turning coffee shops in the southern Netherlands into private member-only clubs last year deterred not only foreigners but also Dutch customers, and ordered compensation for the cafe owners. The amount will be settled later.
The decision was the latest skirmish in a long-running legal battle between the government that wants officially tolerated coffee shops to sell cannabis only to locals, and owners of the cafes who insist they should be allowed to sell to anybody.
Cannabis is technically illegal in the Netherlands, but police turn a blind eye to possession of small amounts and it is sold openly in coffee shops. Large-scale growers are prosecuted.
Michael Veling, a spokesman for the Dutch Union of Cannabis Retailers, said the group was disappointed by the parts of the ruling that upheld anti-drug-tourism measures, and would appeal.
In a written reaction, the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice called the judgment “a powerful underpinning of the present policy” and said it saw grounds to appeal the ruling that said turning coffee shops into private clubs was too harsh and unnecessary.
Under a government policy change that came into force May 1 last year in southern provinces close to the Dutch borders with Germany and Belgium, only holders of a “weed pass” are allowed to buy cannabis. The measure took aim at problems caused by thousands of foreigners who pour across the borders each year to buy drugs.
The government scrapped the pass in November, but continued its policy of allowing coffee shops to sell drugs only to Dutch residents.
However, it said local authorities would be responsible for enforcing the measure. Amsterdam, whose scores of coffee shops are a major tourist draw, immediately said it would continue to allow tourists to buy weed in the cafes.
By Mike Corder, The Associated Press
Catholic Church offers apology to victims after report published
The report, published yesterday, brought an immediate apology from the Catholic Church, which said that not only had the victims been blameless, but they had been entitled to live and study safely in the homes and schools where much of the abuse took place.
In a statement last night, the church said the victims were entitled to apologies from the bishops and superiors of the religious orders who had failed to protect them. It also said there should be a period of “recognition and healing” in tandem with financial compensation.
The 1,100-page first report of the Deetman commission – chaired by former Dutch education minister Wim Deetman – shocked the Netherlands last year when it revealed that 800 Catholic priests and monks abused as many as 20,000 children in their care between 1945 and 1985.
It said the abuse took place in boarding schools, children’s homes and orphanages, but was not openly acknowledged by the church authorities because of their “culture of silence” and determination “not to hang out their dirty washing”.
What surprised the Deetman investigators was the scale of the abuse of women and girls. In just one home for children with mental disabilities, 40 girls under the age of 12, many just babies and toddlers, died over a three-year-period in the 1950s. As a result it was decided to make this the focus of a second report.
Yesterday’s report examines in detail a sample 150 cases of sexual abuse and physical or psychological violence. Three cases are so serious they are to be referred to the public prosecutor – even though technically they are outside the statute of limitations. The report said 40 per cent of the 150 cases involved “severe sexual abuse”, and the perpetrators had almost always been priests, brothers and other male clerics.
Dutch authorities have decided to approve a motion abandoning a law under which it is a crime to insult God.
A majority of parties in parliament said the blasphemy law was no longer relevant in the 21st Century.
The legislation, introduced in the 1930s, has not been invoked in the last half century.
Freedom of speech is a much-cherished right in the liberal and traditionally tolerant
The BBC’s Anna Holligan, in The Hague, says that there was much debate about the issue after a Dutch court ruled that the far-right anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders should be allowed to criticise Islam, even if his outspoken opinions offended many Muslims.
In 2008, a coalition government decided against repealing the blasphemy law in order to maintain support from an orthodox Christian political party.
Lawyers for both parties will plea at a key hearing in The Hague on 11 October at 9:30am.  The verdict is expected early in 2013.
“This court case will have groundbreaking legal repercussions for multinational corporations globally, and especially for European corporations,” says Geert Ritsema, globalisation campaign leader at Friends of the Earth Netherlands / Milieudefensie.
“Due to the poor maintenance of pipelines and factories, Shell let tens of millions of barrels of oil leak in the Niger Delta, with disastrous consequences for local people and the environment. The Anglo Dutch oil giant must now stop its pollution, compensate the damage and prevent more oil spills from happening,” he adds.
Geert Ritsema and Hans Berkhuizen, the director of Friends of the Earth Netherlands, will conduct a fact-finding mission in Nigeria from September 27 – October 2.
“Nigerians have to sue Shell in The Netherlands to obtain justice. Meanwhile Shell uses the threat of legal action to attempt to silence legitimate protests, for instance the recent Greenpeace protests against Shell in Europe. They pollute with impunity, destroy livelihoods and block dissent. This is deplorable,” says Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria and Chair of Friends of the Earth International.