International Development Cooperation

In 1971 I was elected as member of Parliament in the Netherlands where I became spokesperson on issues concerning international development cooperation. I also was secretary of a commission (led by Sicco Mansholt) which had the task to draw political conclusions for the Netherlands on the basis of the findings of the Club of Rome (“Limits to Growth”).

Two years later I was appointed to be Minister for International Development Cooperation in the Cabinet (Joop) Den Uyl. In that period, I presided over the negotiations about a New International Economic Order (NIEO) at the 7th Special Session of the UN General Assembly. I participated in the negotiations on the independence of the former Dutch colony Surinam (1975) and chaired the Intergovernmental Group on Indonesia (IGGI) which had been established to coordinate development assistance to Indonesia, another former Dutch colony, independent since 1945.

In 1978 I returned to parliament. In the same year I was appointed Professor Theory and Practice of International Development at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague .  During that period, I was member of an international commission, chaired by Willy Brandt, which published a report on international development issues: North-South. A Programme for Survival.

In 1980 I left parliament in order to take the position (under Gamani Corea) as Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD). In that capacity I was responsible, amongst others, for the negotiations on an action program for the Least Developed Countries (LLDC). Other agenda items were, inter alia, world commodity policies, international finance for development, restructuring of debts, transfer of technology and South-South cooperation.

Six years later I returned to Dutch politics and was again elected to parliament. From 1989 until 2002 I served another three terms as Cabinet minister, twice with the portfolio of International Development Cooperation in the third cabinet of (Ruud) Lubbers and the first cabinet of (Wim) Kok. During those years I took part in international efforts to prevent escalation of conflicts in various countries (e.g., Afghanistan, Bosnia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan), providing humanitarian aid, assistance to refugees and the rehabilitation of war-torn areas. In 1992 I had to step down as Chairman of the IGGI due a dispute with President Suharto after a massacre by Indonesian military in East Timor. Development aid to Surinam, which had been halted after a coup in 1980 and the killing of opponents of dictator Bouterse in 1982 was resumed after a return to democracy several years later.  In Sudan I participated in mediation efforts between the Government and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM). After the genocides in Rwanda (1994) and Bosnia (Srebrenica, 1995) I took part in international efforts to provide assistance to the victims and their families and to enable return of refugees and rehabilitation of war-torn areas.  

My fourth position was Minister for Environment and Spatial Planning in cabinet Kok 2. In 2000 and 2001 I presided over the United Nations World Climate Negotiations:  the 6th Conference of Parties (CoP 6). These resulted in a binding international agreement to limit greenhouse gasses emissions: the Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  

I left Dutch politics in 2002. Following the presentation of a report on the responsibility of the Netherlands government for the failure of Dutch UN Blue Helmets to protect the Bosniak people of Srebrenica against genocide by the Serbs, the cabinet led by Wim Kok stepped down. Shortly thereafter my party, was defeated at national elections. Though I kept my seat in Parliament, I decided to step down in order to make room for representatives of a new generation.