arrow-circle arrow-down-basicarrow-down arrow-left-small arrow-left arrow-right-small arrow-right arrow-up arrow closefacebooklinkedinsearch twittervideo-icon

City Spotlight: The Hague, The Netherlands

The Municipality of The Hague, which is home to more than 500,000 residents, is the capital of the Dutch province of South Holland. While Amsterdam is the country capital, The Hague is the political heart of The Netherlands, hosting, inter alia, the Dutch parliament and various government ministries. Internationally, The Hague is known for being host to numerous international organisations such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The Hague joined the Strong Cities Network in 2017 and its Mayor, Jan van Zanen, currently co-chairs its International Steering Committee (ISC). Officials from The Hague have also participated in a number of Strong Cities activities, including the Fourth Global Summit in New York City in September 2023 and several transatlantic dialogues. In November 2022, the Municipality co-hosted a transatlantic workshop at the Peace Palace, where Mayor van Zanen joined Mayor Andrew Ginther of Columbus, Ohio (US) to sign The Hague Mayoral Declaration on Preventing Hate, Extremism and Polarisation, and Safeguarding Local Democracy on behalf of dozens of cities that endorsed the document. The Declaration enumerates a series of practical steps that these cities commit to taking to protect the communities they serve against hate and extremism.

What is the local government concerned about?

In 2024, trends related to hate and extremism in The Hague correspond with the wider threat landscape in The Netherlands. According to the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security’s periodical terrorist threat monitor, jihadism remains the most pressing threat, while right-wing extremism, harmful (e.g., hate-motivated) conspiracy theories and anti-institutional extremism have become serious areas of concern. The Hague’s prevention and response approach is continuously adapted to ensure it is suited to cope with all forms of hate, extremism and polarisation.

Over the past years, one of the Municipality’s key priorities has been to rehabilitate and reintegrate returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and family members. In total, around 300 Dutch citizens, including many women and children, travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the so-called Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

As of October 2023, around 90 adults – and nearly as many children – have returned to The Netherlands. With over 60 Dutch travellers having lived in and travelled from The Hague, the Municipality is concerned with effectively rehabilitating those that have returned and facilitating their long-term peaceful reintegration into the Dutch society.

How is the local government responding?

The Information Point for the Prevention of Polarisation and Radicalisation (IPPR)

The Hague’s multi-actor prevention and response model consists of a combination of broad prevention policies and targeted interventions and is further defined by the Municipality’s close collaboration with partners at both the local and national levels. The Municipality has a dedicated Information Point for the Prevention of Polarisation and Radicalisation (IPPR), which is structured around four priority areas: 1) strengthening social resilience, 2) maintaining relationships with formal and informal partners, 3) delivering targeted interventions for at at-risk individuals and 4) building and transferring knowledge and skills.

Pillar I: Strengthening Social Resilience

As part of its primary prevention efforts, one of the Municipality’s key priorities is strengthening social resilience. The IPPR supports projects that help parents, youth and (high) school students to counter, mitigate and otherwise address the potential harmful effects of extremist and hateful ideologies.

A guiding principle behind the approach is that it is more effective to focus on strengthening protective factors than on removing risk factors, with The Hague’s approach underpinned by the understanding that increasing social resilience can be done by providing youth with tools and opportunities to help them cope better with negative life events. With city and national government funding, the Municipality works with civil society organisations to develop and deliver resilience-building programmes for youth in schools and their parents. As of 2024, there are seven ongoing resilience projects with the overarching aim to counter polarisation and extremism. Among others, this includes programmes that:

One of the most significant challenges with each project is reaching the right people: to mitigate this, the Municipality works closely with partners and schools to identify where projects are needed most.

Pillar II: Formal and Informal Network Partners

The second pillar of the Municipality’s prevention efforts focuses on community engagement. The Municipality maintains close relationships with community-based organisations, for example, by actively engaging them in conversation about recent developments in the city and regularly visiting community-based points of contact to talk about emerging issues and concerns. This includes a concerted effort by the Municipality to engage religious and faith leaders.

The Municipality sustains these networks through regular interaction, often spearheaded by Mayor Van Zanen, whose personal engagement helps make residents feel heard and connected with their local government. Both Mayor Van Zanen and the local government also deem such relationship-building important to know and understand The Hague’s diverse communities. Further, by investing in strong community engagement mechanisms, the Municipality ensures that community representatives know where to go when a problem emerges and vice versa, with the local government knowing who to contact when a crisis occurs, ensuring it can respond swiftly and effectively.

Maintaining these relationships has proven crucial in the context of the Israel-Gaza crisis, with residents reporting they feel fear and insecurity amidst the increased local impacts of such global crises. To mitigate inter-communal tensions, particularly between its Jewish and Muslim communities, The Hague has been able to tap into its existing community-based networks to facilitate conversations with and between residents, acknowledging their fears and concerns and fostering dialogue.

Pillar III: Individual Case Approach

Context: the Dutch PGA CTER

In 2014, in response to the departure of Dutch citizens to Iraq and Syria, the Government of the Netherlands’ National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV) rolled out the Person-Centred Approach to Counterterrorism, Extremism and Radicalisation (PGA CTER). At the time of its launch, the PGA CTER focused primarily on preventing individuals from travelling to Iraq and Syria and to providing rehabilitative care to those leaving prison for terrorism-related offenses. Since then, it has expanded to include all types of returnees from conflict zones and to address the broader ideological spectrum, including cases of far-right, far-left and anti-institutional extremism.

Importantly, the PGA CTER provides a case study of national-local cooperation in that it is an initiative of the national government that considers Dutch municipalities key to its implementation. For example, ownership over individual case management lies with local governments, who, alongside the Public Prosecution Service and police are considered the ‘core partners’ in the implementation of PGA CTER. The NCTV supports municipalities with the implementation of PGA CTER through providing resources, information sharing and facilitating community-based partnerships.

PGA CTER: The Hague’s Approach – Multi-Actor Collaboration

In The Hague, the PGA CTER is implemented in close collaboration with a diversity of actors both within and outside of the Municipality. This multi-actor effort underpins the entire approach, from individual-level risk assessment and case management to community-based programmes. According to an independent evaluation of The Hague’s PGA CTER programme, which was conducted in 2021, mutual trust and close ties between these different stakeholders – particularly between the Municipality, the police and Public Prosecution Service – has been a crucial contributor to the successes of The Hague’s approach.

PGA CTER: The Hague’s Approach for Returnees

The Hague approaches the rehabilitation and reintegration (R&R) of returnees through a combination of hard and soft measures. It is mainly concerned with prevention and resocialisation of returned and potential travellers. The Hague works closely with a range of national agencies and civil society organisations on this topic and has developed a ‘Returnee Manual’, a confidential document for all city-level and national stakeholders involved in returnee R&R. The document outlines relevant municipal policies as well as actions that can be taken with regard to returnees. It focuses on the role of local actors but positions R&R within the national framework, underscoring the need to work in consultation with national stakeholders.

To prevent individuals from leaving the country in the first place, the local government collaborates closely with the national government. When there are signs indicating a person wants to leave the country, the case is first discussed in a meeting between various stakeholders: the Municipality, national police, public prosecution and any other relevant partners. During these case meetings, these partners decide on possible interventions, which may include revoking someone’s passport, issuing an arrest warrant or taking child protection measures. 

With regards to returning citizens, The Hague’s primary focus is sustained reintegration into society. The Municipality works closely with national parties such as the Public Prosecution Service, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND), the NCTV, the police, and the Child Care and Protection Board to be able to respond swiftly when FTFs and/or their family members return from Syria and Iraq, ensuring the necessary case management processes are delivered per individual in an effective and prompt manner.

An important element of The Hague’s approach is sustaining close relationships with families of FTFs, ensuring they receive the necessary (psychosocial) support and understanding that R&R is a long-term process. For example, if a family moves, The Hague proactively collaborates with the local government of the family’s new area of residence to ensure case management processes can continue. The importance and successes of such an explicit effort to sustain transparent relationships between local government and case individuals and families was highlighted in the 2021 evaluation of The Hague’s PGA CTER.

Pillar IV: The Knowledge and Skills pillar

Finally, the IPPR’s Knowledge and Skills pillar plays a vital role in ensuring the Municipality’s approach to prevention remains up to date. Under this pillar, experts track and analyse trends in the local threat landscape, jointly discussing these with relevant municipal officials to ensure data informs the other three pillars of the IPPR. Local data is also to national threat data to identify, analyse and address discrepancies.

Another responsibility is the delivery of expertise and training programmes for partners, such as teachers, mental health professionals and youth workers, equipping them with the necessary skills to deal with extremism-related issues, including what to do should there be concerns about radicalisation, thus facilitating the whole-of-society approach to prevention that is globally recognised as good practice.

What’s next?

The Hague remains dedicated to strengthening its integrated prevention and response approach. The IPPR will continue to invest in successful resilience projects in the city, and it will support the development of new programs where necessary. The Municipality also remains committed to ensuring it stays well-informed about current trends and local dynamics. Not just by proactively monitoring and identifying emerging threats, but also by expanding its network of partners within the city.

The 2021 evaluation of The Hague’s implementation of the PGA CTER shows it has had notable impact particularly through adopting a networked, multi-actor approach that recognises that hate and extremism do not manifest in silos and therefore necessitate a multi-faceted response. The Hague continues its implementation and has invested significantly – through the Strong Cities Network and other platforms – in sharing lessons with other municipalities in The Netherlands and beyond.

Further, beyond its continued and active participation in Strong Cities peer-learning activities, The Hague will continue providing Strong Cities’ Management Unit with insight and guidance on its forward strategy, in its capacity as co-chair of the ISC.

Is your city a Strong City?

Strong Cities membership is open to local authorities at the city, municipal or other subnational level. Membership is free of charge.