Black Pete Event 3 December 2015

Is the figure of Black Pete an innocent caricature or a vicious stereotype? Is there a role for the government or international law to intervene?

From the beginning of November the figures of St Nicolas and Black Pete appear in the Netherlands: a Catholic Bishop in full attire, accompanied by his knights: colorfully dressed black-faced characters with curly hair, golden earrings and red lips.

In particular students from abroad question and / or criticise this figure of Black Pete. But also among Dutch students there is no longer (silent) consensus about his role in the St Nicolas festivities on the 5th of December. In the country, a fierce debate is now taking place about whether Black Pete is a remnant of the Dutch colonial past and of slavery, or if he is part of a charming cultural tradition that should be left alone.

On 3 December 2015, Leiden Law School is organising an event - in English - to facilitate students in arriving at an informed opinion on this issue. During this event, we will address three topics that are related to this discussion:

  1. How to qualify the figure of Black Pete: as an innocent character in a traditional festivity or as a negative racial stereotype? Is this merely a discussion based on feelings or personal experiences, or are there any social science findings / legal norms that may help us to arrive at an answer to this question? 
  2. If it is deemed desirable to change this tradition: could or should there be a role for the local and/or national governments in facilitating such a change? What form could/should this role take (e.g. stimulating, through public awareness campaigns; or more coercive, through legal norms)?
  3. Is there a role for international organisations, like e.g. the CERD Committee, to intervene in such national traditions on the basis of Human Rights standards? What are the pros and cons of such interventions?

Student debaters and experts from various Dutch universities will be present. Afterwards, there will be a reception with traditional Dutch St Nicolas treats (hot chocolate and cookies) in the Restaurant of the KOG Building.


Host of the meeting: Prof Rikki Holtmaat (Leiden University)

Facilitator: Folkert Jensma (NRC Handelsblad)

Topic 1: Prof Judi Mesman, Leiden University / Prof Peter Rodrigues , Leiden University

Topic 2: Prof Meindert Fennema , Amsterdam University / Prof Barbara Oomen, Utrecht University

Topic 3: Prof Nico Schrijver, Leiden University / Prof Yvonne Donders, Amsterdam University


Admission is free only with LU Card or after having registered up via e-mail (see below).

If you do not have a LU card, please contact Lennart van Laake LL.M to register:

Practical information and registration
Date: December 3th
Time: 17.00-19.00 hrs
Location: Kamerlingh Onnes Building, Room C131

Last Modified: 25-11-2015