Zwaan-de Vries v. The Netherlands

F.H. Zwaan-de Vries is a Netherlands national who worked for several years before becoming unemployed. Zwaan-de Vries qualified for unemployment benefits under the Unemployment Act until 1979, at which time she applied for continued support through the Unemployment Benefits Act (WWV). The Municipality of Amsterdam rejected her application in accordance with section 13 subsection 1 of WWV (the “breadwinner” clause) because she was a married woman. The WWV provision that required applicants to prove that they are the family’s “breadwinner” in order to qualify for benefits did not apply to married men. On appeal, the Municipality of Amsterdam affirmed the rejection, after which the author appealed to the Board of Appeal in Amsterdam. The Board of Appeals held that Zwaan-de Vries’ complaint was invalid, and the Central Board of Appeal affirmed this holding. In her complaint to the Committee, Zwaan-de Vries argued that the Netherlands violated article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under which all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In interpreting the scope of article 26, the Committee took into account the “ordinary meaning” of each element of the article in its context and in light of its object and purpose, noting that article 26 derives from the principle of equal protection of the law without discrimination as contained in article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thus, article 26 is concerned with the obligations imposed on States in regard to their legislation and its application. The Committee cited Hendrika Vos v. The Netherlands for the principle that differentiation based on reasonable and objective criteria does not amount to prohibited discrimination within the meaning of article 26. However, since the WWV required only women to prove their status as “breadwinner”, the differentiation was not reasonable. Therefore, the Netherlands violated article 26 of the Convention when it denied Zwaan de Vries a social security benefit on an equal footing with men.



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