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Rudolphus Franciscus Marie Lubbers or (born May 7, 1939) is a Dutchmarker politician of the Christian Democratic Appeal party who served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands from November 4, 1982 until August 22, 1994. A political conservative, Lubbers was regarded by many during his time in office as an ideological heir to Margaret Thatcher; one of his campaign slogans was: "meer markt, minder overheid" (more market, less government).

After that, he was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, from 2001 until 20 February 2005, when he resigned because of continuous press attention about an allegation of sexual harassment. In July 2006, Lubbers acted as informateur of a new cabinet, after the second Balkenende cabinet handed over its resignation to the Dutchmarker Queen.


Early life

Lubbers was born in Rotterdammarker. He studied economics at Erasmus University Rotterdammarker and was a student of the first Nobel Prize Laureate in economics Jan Tinbergen. As suggested by the title of his 1962 thesis - "The influence of differing productivity trends in various countries on the current account of the balance of payments" - his main interest was in monetary affairs. He originally planned an academic career, but was compelled by family circumstances to join the management of Lubbers' Construction Workshops and Machinery Fabricators Hollandia B.V.Lubbers is a member of the Bilderberg Group.


From 11 May 1973 to 19 December 1977 he was Minister of Economic Affairs in the Den Uyl-government and a member of the Catholic People's Party (KVP). He was an effective, if sometimes somewhat bad-tempered minister. He chose to return to Parliament on the formation of the Van Agt-government in 1977, becoming Senior Deputy Parliamentary Leader of the CDA, the alliance between the KVP and the other two main denominational parties. His career got an unexpected boost when the leader of the parliamentary faction of the CDA, Willem Aantjes, had to resign in 1978 on accusations that he served in the Germanic-SSmarker during the Second World War. Lubbers took over the position of Aantjes and suddenly found himself in a powerful political position.

In 1982 after the general election won by Prime Minister Dries van Agt, a similar thing happened when Van Agt suddenly announced he would not be available for a third term. Lubbers took over the post, a position he held three successive governments through to 1994, making him the longest serving prime minister in the history of the Netherlandsmarker.

Major aspects of his time in office:
  • Extensive cutbacks in public spending
  • The launch of far-reaching deregulation and privatization programs
  • A massive demonstration in The Haguemarker (1983) against the planned installation in the Netherlands of nuclear-armed US cruise missiles (which was cancelled after all due to arms reduction talks between the US and the Soviet Union)

After leaving office, was put forward as a candidate for the head of NATOmarker, but the US vetoed his appointment.

Ecological activities

In the follow-up of the Earth Summit in 1992, Lubbers engaged with the Earth Charter Initiative in cooperation with Michael Gorbachov and Maurice Strong. The Earth Charter document was launched in the Peace Palace in The Hague in June 2000. Lubbers is an active member of the international Earth Charter Commission and reaches out, especially to youth in the Netherland, with the message of the Earth Charter for a sustainable and peaceful world.


From 1995 to 2000, he taught Globalization Studies at Tilburg Universitymarker in the Netherlands and at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard Universitymarker in the United States. He was also vice-chairman of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans and chair of Globus, the Institute for Globalization and Development based in Tilburgmarker.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees

At the end of the year 2000, Lubbers was appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, to succeed Mrs. Sadako Ogata as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Lubbers was appointed 1 January 2001 to head an organization which was concerned with an estimated 21 million refugees and internally displaced in over 120 countries world wide. He led a UN agency that comprised over 5,000 employees who work across the globe. During his tenure, the number of refugees worldwide decreased by almost 22% from 21.8 million in 2001 to close to 17.1 million at the beginning of 2004.

Lubbers also favoured a generous refugee policy for the Netherlands and he was critical of the Foreign Citizens Law (Vreemdelingenwet). Part of his achievement is that since he took on his duties as High Commissioner, the persistent criticism of UNHCR dating from before that time, subsided. He also managed to stabilise UNHCR’s financial situation and to greatly increase the financial means for the sheltering of refugees.

He annually donated some $300,000 to the refugee agency since he assumed his post in 2001, thereby covering his own $167,000 annual salary and travel expenses.

Sexual harassment complaint

In May 2004, Lubbers was accused by Cynthia Brzak, an American UNHCR employee, of sexual harassment following a meeting in his office that was attended by two other UNHCR staff members. The complaint was reported in the media, prompting Lubbers to inform UNHCR staff about the accusation. On this occasion, he denied any wrongdoing and rejected the allegation against him. On 2 June 2004, the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) which was tasked with investigating the accusation, sent its report to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In its public annual report to the UN secretary general (presented to the UN General Assembly), the OIOS reported concerning the case that it had “submitted a report to the Secretary-General supporting the allegations and recommended that appropriate actions be taken accordingly.”

Lubbers responded to the OIOS report in a letter (a)setting out to deny acts of sexual harassment or abuse took place; (b) to establish that such evidence of the alleged misconduct as is said to exist is insufficient and flawed; and (c) to conclude that the report itself would appear to be based on an irregular statutory basis and also flawed by errors of law and reasoning."

Lubbers asked Max van der Stoel, former Dutch high commissioner for minorities, to comment on the confidential report. He concluded that: "the OIOS report is deficient in objectivity and impartiality." He added “that the only two other persons in the room did not provide evidence confirmíng the version given by the complainant.” Furthermore he accused UN officials of leaking information to the press and recommended that an investigation of the leaks be undertaken.

The Secretary-General reviewed the report and the responses of the High Commissioner and the senior manager to the report, and decided that the complaint could not be substantiated by the evidence and therefore closed the matter." He is also reported to have consulted with Stephen Schwebel, an American judge and former President of the International Court of Justice. The Secretary-General failed to order an investigation of the deliberate leaking by OIOS itself to the media as recommended by Max van der Stoel.


In February 2005, the case was in the news again when the British daily the Independent obtained a copy of the OIOS report and published its contents. Inter alia, the report stated that:
the allegation against Lubbers is substantiated in that Lubbers did engage in unwanted physical contact with the complainant, a subordinate female staff member.
New allegations that came to OIOS’ attention during the investigation, were also examined and indicate a pattern of sexual harassment by Lubbers, OIOS is also of the view that Lubbers abused his authority as High Commissioner by his intense, pervasive and intimidating attempts to influence the outcome of this Investigation.

Lubbers met with the Secretary-General on 18 February 2005, and resigned as High Commissioner on Sunday, 20 February 2005, stating to the press: "For more than four years I gave all my energy to UNHCR. To be frank, despite all my loyalty, insult has now been added to injury and therefore I resign as high commissioner." The UN secretary general's office issued a statement the same day which stated, that the High Commissioner's resignation was in the best interests of theUNHCR. In his letter of resignation, Lubbers stated that his resignation constituted no expression of guilt, but that he had become the victim of smearing, adding that he had resigned “in the interest of the organisation”. In October 2005 Kofi Annan reiterated that he had come to the conclusion that "the evidence did not support the accusation" but that because of ongoing media-pressure Mr. Lubber's resignation was in the best interests of the UNHCR.In a letter to UNHCR staff, Kofi Annan wrote, “My decision to accept his resignation should not be interpreted as a finding of guilt”.

During a farewell meeting for Lubbers as High Commissioner for Refugees he received from Acting High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin the first annual UNHCR Achievement Award for exceptional services to UNHCR and for the world’s refugees.

Netherlands Prime Minister Balkenende in a formal statement called the departure of Lubbers “bitter” since the complaint against him had been dismissed as unsustainable.


  1. New York Times 18 May 2004
  2. OIOS Investigation report
  3. Supreme Court Annex 1 p.35
  4. A/59/359* Report of the Office Internal Oversight Services to the UN General Assembly, p. 31
  5. Lubbers memo pp 2-4 Lubbers Memo pp 5-8 Lubbers Memo p 9
  6. Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General 2005-02-22
  7. van der Stoel memo p 1 (after Lubbers p. 9) van der Stoel memo pp 2-4
  8. New York Times 2004-07-16
  9. Independent 2005-02-18
  10. Washington Post 2005-02-21
  11. Resignation letter
  12. Geneva Press Conference 2005-10-10
  13. 2005-02-23

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