UN investigates ‘racist stereotype’ claims for Zwarte Piet (update)

The United Nations high commissioner on human rights is looking into whether Zwarte Piet, considered an essential part of the Sinterklaas festivities, is a racist stereotype, the NRC reports.

In a letter to the Dutch government in January, the body stated that according to information it has received ‘the character and image of Black Pete perpetuate a stereotyped image of African people as second class citizens, fostering an underlying sense of inferiority in Dutch society’.

The letter also hints that the character of Black Pete may undermine the Netherlands’ efforts to have the Sinterklaas celebrations recognised as part of the official Unesco immaterial cultural heritage listings. It ends by asking the Netherlands to answer five key questions about the tradition and the public debate.

The letter was replied to by the Dutch ambassador to the UN, Roderick van Schreven. In his answer, dated July, the ambassador says the Netherlands has not applied to have Sinterklaas included on the UN’s cultural heritage list and that the government is aware ‘Black Pete’ is considered offensive by some people.

The government regards Sinterklaas as a children’s festival with a ‘focus on Sinterklaas who hands out presents’, the ambassador states.

The NRC says the UN officials will discuss the Dutch response to their letter at the end of November.

Prime minister Mark Rutte was asked for his opinion about the ongoing Zwarte Piet debate by reporters on Friday and said he does not consider it an issue for the government. In Amsterdam, activists are trying to stop the traditional Sinterklaas procession because of the inclusion of Zwarte Piet.

Read the full UN letter

Read the ambassador’s reply

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