CHAIRMAN: Mr. Fausto Pocar (Italy)
VICE-CHAIRMEN: Mr. Francisco Jose Aguilar Urbina (Costa Rica), Mr.
Vojin Dimitrijevic (Yugoslavia), Mr. Omran El Shafei (Egypt)
RAPPORTEUR: Mr. Nisuke Ando (Japan)
MEMBERS: Miss Christine Chanet (France), Mr. Janos Fodor (Hungary),
Mr. Kurt Herndl (Austria), Mrs. Rosalyn Higgins (United Kingdom), Mr.
Rajsoomer Lallah (Mauritius), Mr. Andreas V. Mavrommatis (Cyprus),
Mr. Rein A. Myullerson (Soviet Union), Mr. Birame Ndiaye (Senegal),
Mr. Julio Prado Vallejo (Ecuador), Mr. Waleed Sadi (Jordan), Mr.
Alejandro Serrano Caldera (Nicaragua), Mr. S. Amos Wako (Kenya), Mr.
Bertill Wennergren (Sweden)
All the members attended the forty-fourth session except Mr. Wako
and Mr. Lallah. Mrs. Higgins and Mr. Serrano Caldera attended only
part of that session.
||Sprenger v. Neth., Comm. 395/1990,
U.N. Doc. A/47/40, at 311 (HRC 1992)
||Report of the Human Rights
Committee, U.N. GAOR, 47th Sess., Supp. No. 40, U.N. Doc. A/47/40,
Annex IX, sect. P, at 311 (Oct. 9, 1992)
THE FACTS AS SUBMITTED BY
1. The author of the communication is Ms. M. Th. Sprenger, a citizen of the
Netherlands, residing at Maastricht, the Netherlands. She claims to be a
victim of a violation by the Netherlands of article 26 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
2.1 The author received unemployment benefits under the Netherlands
Unemployment Benefits Act until 20 August 1987. At that date, the maximum
benefits period came to an end. As a result of the termination of her
benefits payment under the Netherlands Unemployment Benefits Act, her public
'health insurance also expired, pursuant to the Health Insurance Act. The
author then applied for benefits pursuant to the State Group Regulations for
Unemployed Persons, under which she would be equally entitled to public
insurance under the Health Insurance Act.
2.2 The author's application was rejected on the grounds that she cohabited
with a man whose income was higher than the benefits then applicable under
the State Group Regulations for Unemployed Persons. Her companion was,
through his employment, insured under the Health Insurance Act. Under
article 4, paragraph 1, of the Health Insurance Act, the spouse of an
insured person may also be insured if she is below 65 years of age and
shares the household, and if the insured person is considered as her, or
his, breadwinner. The author explains that she had lived with her companion
since October 1982 and that, on 8 August 1983, they formally registered
their relationship by notarial contract, providing for the shared costs of
the common household, property and dwelling.
2.3 The author's application for registration as a co-insured person with
her partner was rejected by the regional social security body on 4 August
1987, on the ground that the Health Insurance Act did not provide for
co-insurance to partners other than spouses. In this context, the author
stresses that the very circumstance that she shares a household with her
partner prevents her from receiving benefits under the State Group
Regulations for Unemployed Persons, by virtue of which she herself would be
insured under the Health Insurance Act, in which case the question of
co-insurance would never have arisen.
2.4 On 3 February 1988, the Board of Appeal (Raad van Beroeg)quashed the
decision of 4 August 1987, stating that the discrimination between an
official marriage and a common law marriage constituted discrimination
within the meaning of article 26 of the Covenant. The judgement was in turn
appealed by the regional social security board to the Central Board of
Appeal (Centrale Raad van Beroeo) which, on 28 September 1988, ruled that
the decision of 4 August 1987 did not contravene article 26 of the Covenant.
In its decision, the Central Board of Appeal referred to the decision of the
Human Rights Committee in communication No. 180/1984, Dannina v. the
Netherlands 11 in which it had been held that, in the circumstances of the
case, a difference of treatment between married and unmarried couples did
not constitute discrimination within the meaning of article 26 of the
2.5 The author states that the Health Insurance Act has been amended and
that it recognizes the equality of common law and official marriages as of 1
3. The author claims that she is a victim of a violation by the State party
of article 36 of the Covenant, because she was denied co-insurance under the
Health Insurance Act, which distinguished between married and unmarried
couples, whereas other social security legislation already recognized the
equality of status between common law and official marriages.
COMMITTEE'S ADMISSIBILITY DECISION
4.1 At its forty-first session, the Committee considered the admissibility
of the communication. It noted that the State party had not raised any
objection to the admissibility of the communication and it ascertained that
the same matter was not being examined under another procedure of
international investigation or settlement.
4.2 On 22 March 1991, the Committee declared the communication admissible in
respect of article 26 of the Covenant.
STATE PARTY'S EXPLANATIONS AND THE AUTHOR'S COMMENTS THEREON
5.1 In its submission, dated 15 November 1991, the State party argues that
the differentiation between married and unmarried persons in the Health
Insurance Act does not constitute discrimination within the meaning of
article 26 of the Covenant. In this context, it refers to the Committee's
views in communication No. 180/1984.
5.2 The State party contends that, although the author has entered into
certain mutual obligations by notarial contract, considerable differences
between her status and that of a married person remain. The State party
states that the Civil Code imposes additional obligations upon married
persons, which the author and her partner have not taken upon themselves; it
mentions, inter alia, the imposition of a maintenance allowance payable to
the former spouse. The State party argues that nothing prevented the author
from entering into the legal status of marriage, subsequent to which she
would have been entitled to all corresponding benefits.
5.3 The State party submits that it has at no time taken any general
decision to abolish the distinction between married persons and cohabitants,
and that it has introduced equal treatment only in certain specific
situations and on certain conditions. It further submits that each social
security law was reviewed separately with regard to the introduction of
equal treatment between married persons and cohabitants; this explains why
in some laws equal treatment was incorporated sooner than in others.
6.1 In her reply to the State party's submission, the author submits that
the differences between married and unmarried couples should be seen in the
context of family law; they do not affect the socio-economic circumstances,
which are similar to both married and unmarried couples.
6.2 The author further submits that the legal status of married couples and
cohabitants, who confirmed certain mutual obligations by notarial contract,
was found to be equivalent by the courts before. She refers in this context
to a decision of the Central Board of Appeal, on 23 November 1986,
concerning emoluments to married military personnel. She further contends
that, as of 1 January 1987, equal treatment was accepted in almost all Dutch
social security legislation, except for the Health Insurance Act and the
General Widows and Orphans Act.
CONSIDERATION ON THE MERITS
7.1 The Human Rights Committee has considered the present communication in
the light of all the information made available to it by the parties, as
provided in article 5, paragraph 1, of the Optional Protocol.
7.2 The Committee observes that, although a State is not required under the
Covenant to adopt social security legislation, if it does, such legislation
must comply with article 26 of the Covenant. Equality before the law implies
that any distinctions in the enjoyment of benefits must be based on
reasonable and objective criteria.
7.3 In the instant case, the State party submits that there are objective
differences between married and unmarried couples, which justify different
treatment. In this context the State party refers to the Committee's views
in Dannina v. the Netherlands, in which a difference of treatment between
married and unmarried couples was found not to constitute discrimination
within the meaning of article 26 of the Covenant.
7.4 The Committee recalls that its jurisprudence permits differential
treatment only if the grounds therefore are reasonable and objective. Social
developments occur within States parties and the Committee has in this
context taken note of recent legislation reflecting these developments,
including the amendments to the Health Insurance Act. The Committee has also
noted the explanation of the State party that there has been no general
abolition of the distinction between married persons and cohabitants, and
the reasons given for the continuation of this distinction. The Committee
finds this differential treatment to be based on reasonable and objective
grounds. The Committee recalls its findings in Communication No. 180/1984
and applies them to the present case.
7.5 Finally, the Committee observes that the decision of a State's
legislature to amend a law does not imply that the law was necessarily
incompatible with the Covenant: States parties are free to amend laws that
are compatible with the Covenant, and to go beyond Covenant obligations in
providing additional rights and benefits not required under the Covenant.
8. The Human Rights Committee, acting under article 5, paragraph 4, of the
Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, is of the view that the facts before it do not disclose a violation
of any article of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.