The United Nations claims the Netherlands has breached the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination with its traditional Christmas celebration.
On Friday a report produced by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said the government must “actively promote the elimination” of the Black Pete figure, the African companion of Saint Nicholas, who is known as Sinterklaas in Holland.
Black Pete, or Zwarte Piet, is said to be a black Moor from Spain. He is part of the annual feast of St. Nicholas on Sinterklaasavond, or Nicholas’ Eve, celebrated on December 5. The character distributes sinterklaas candies to children during the festival.
“While the Committee understands that the tradition of Sinterklaas and Black Pete is enjoyed by many persons in Dutch society, the Committee notes with concern that the character of Black Pete is sometimes portrayed in a manner that reflects negative stereotypes of people of African descent and is experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery, which is injurious to the dignity and self-esteem of children and adults of African descent. The Committee is concerned about the discriminatory effect of such portrayals, which may convey a conception at odds with the Convention,” the United Nations report states.
The organization has called on the Dutch government to “actively promote the elimination of those features of the character of Black Pete which reflect negative stereotypes and are experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery.”
Despite previous and ongoing efforts to modify or eliminate the character, a survey conducted in 2013 found that 93% of the Dutch public do not consider Zwarte Piet as racist or associate him with slavery.
91% of the respondents said they are opposed to altering the character’s appearance.