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Activist, politician and writer
Boris Ottokar Dittrich (born 21 July 1955 in Utrecht) is a Dutch human rights activist, writer and politician. He grew up in Utrecht. From June 2019 he is a member of the Senate for the Dutch party Democrats 66 (D66). From May 1, 2007 to October 1, 2018, he served as Advocacy Director Sexual Minorities for the human rights organization Human Rights Watch. He was a member of Parliament from 1994 to 2006, where he was also party chairman and party leader of D66 in the period 2003-2006. Dittrich is known as a politician who came out openly for his homosexuality and campaigned for the rights of LGBTI+.
Dittrich’s Czech father Zdenĕk Radslav Dittrich fled from what was then Czechoslovakia to the Netherlands in 1948, was granted asylum and became a professor of Eastern European history at the University of Utrecht. Boris Dittrich grew up in Utrecht and Zeist and studied law at Leiden University. After graduating in 1981, he became a lawyer at the law firm Stibbe, Blaisse en de Jong in Amsterdam. In 1984 he became a partner at the law firm Ingelse c.s., also in Amsterdam. From 1989 to 1994 he was a judge at the court of Alkmaar. His political career began in 1990 when he became leader of the D66 party in the Amsterdam-South district.
In 1994 Dittrich was elected member of parliament for D66. Boris Dittrich became party leader of D66 in 2003 after Thom de Graaf resigned due to the disappointing election results for that party that year. Dittrich negotiated on behalf of D66 about the creation of the Balkenende II cabinet with the christian party CDA and the center right party VVD. As party leader, Dittrich decided not to become a minister, but to remain in parliament to ensure that the new cabinet would properly implement the coalition agreement.
Dittrich was strongly opposed to the Dutch military participation in the Afghan province of Uruzgan and tried to convince the cabinet and parliament of this. When the government (including the two D66 ministers) decided to follow US President Bush, supported by 75 percent of the Dutch parliament, Dittrich decided to resign as leader of D66, which he did on February 3, 2006. A few months later D66 ended its support for the cabinet because of a conflict with the Minister of Immigration and Integration Rita Verdonk about the way she had acted in the case of the Dutch passport of parliament member Ayaan Hirsi Ali. D66 and Minister Verdonk had previously fought many conflicts about her tough attitude towards asylum seekers and immigrants. The end of support to the cabinet led to the fall of the Balkenende II cabinet and new elections were held in November 2006.
Dittrich was an openly gay MP who focused on LGBTI+ rights (rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people). In 1994, he proposed introducing same-sex marriage. This was against the sore leg of the Dutch LGBTI+ organization COC, which was then opposed to it and many members of parliament. Dittrich and two fellow MP’s started a long campaign that ended in 2001 with the introduction of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands. By then COC had changed and supported equal marriage rights. The Netherlands became the first country to introduce same-sex marriage.
Dittrich was one of the most productive members of parliament since 1838. He wrote four private-initiative bills and piloted them through parliament and senate. These are the law against stalking, the law to allow victims to speak in court, the law on the abolition of the statute of limitations for murder and other serious crimes and finally the law on the fixed book price that small protects bookshops, writers and publishers.
In 2004 he traveled to communist Cuba together with CDA member of parliament Kathleen Ferrier and the Spanish parliamentarian Jorge Moragas to speak with political dissidents there. Already at the airport, the parliamentarians were arrested and then deported from Cuba. Minister Bot then summoned the Cuban ambassador.
As a Member of Parliament, Dittrich was a staunch human rights advocate and has represented the Dutch Parliament at numerous meetings at the United Nations. He was also a member of the Parliamentarians for Global Action organization and was also vice-president of Liberale Internationale until October 2007. Dittrich remained a member of the Dutch parliament until the November 2006 elections. After 12.5 years of parliament membership, he decided to continue his work outside national politics.
As of May 1, 2007, Dittrich was hired as Global Advocacy Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch, an international human rights nongovernmental organization headquartered in New York. He moved to New York for this.
Dittrich was concerned with equal rights and non-discrimination of LGBTI+. On a national level, he supports organizations worldwide that want to capitalize on these human rights in their country. For example, gay groups in Cameroon asked for support from Human Rights Watch to investigate the effects of the criminalization of homosexuality in that country. Human Rights Watch issued two reports on this. Dittrich, together with the leaders of the Cameroonian gay groups, discussed it with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, members of parliament and representatives of the United Nations in that country. At the international level, Dittrich discussed the research results in Geneva with the UN Human Rights Committee. On 13 March 2017, Dittrich awarded the Dutch Geuzenpenning in Vlaardingen to the Cameroonian lawyers Alice Nkom and Michel Togue. They received the medal because they continue to defend against all oppression and death threats in LGBTI+ in Cameroon. In the meantime, arrests in the country have decreased significantly.
In mid-2013, Dittrich moved from New York to Berlin, where he continued his work as Global Advocacy Director of the LGBTI+ program at Human Rights Watch. He remained active worldwide. He regularly guest lectures on human rights at universities such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins and universities in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Vietnam and Hong Kong.
Dittrich made frequent appearances in the international media. On October 1, 2018, he stepped down from Human Rights Watch.
In addition to his political work, Dittrich became known as a writer of thrillers. His first thriller, ‘Moord en Brand‘, was published in 2011. This was followed by five other fictional works, as well as the gift for the Exciting Books Weeks 2018.
Before Dittrich came out of the closet, he had a relationship with Kathleen Ferrier for five years during his student days, who later sat in the House of Representatives for CDA. Since 1982, Dittrich has had a relationship with the Dutch-Israeli artist Jehoshua Rozenman, whom he married in 2006.
- In 2006, on the occasion of his departure from the House of Representatives, Dittrich was decorated by the king as a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau.
- In 2012 he was awarded the Bob Angelo Penning, a prize from COC for his work for the rights of LGBTI+.
- On the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), 17 May 2013, Dittrich received the national Jos Brink State Prize from the Minister of Education for his years of commitment to LGBTI+ as a lawyer, judge, politician and as advocacy director of Human Rights Watch . The High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay attended the ceremony in The Hague. In her speech, she spoke about the United Nations global campaign against homophobia and transphobia, called “Free and Equal”.
- In 2013, Dittrich received a Golden Pennant in Nairobi on behalf of the Postcode Lottery for his LGBTI+ work for Human Rights Watch. The pennant was presented to him by Winston Gerschtanowitz, ambassador of the Postcode Lottery, in Kenya during a working visit to Kenyan LGBTI+ activists.
- On 11 March 2019, the Jillis Bruggeman Medal was presented to Dittrich at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam as a token of appreciation for his efforts to increase mutual understanding and tolerance for the LGBTI community, both in the Netherlands and abroad. Boris Dittrich was one of the first gay MPs to speak openly about LGBTI rights, and since 1994 he campaigned for same-sex marriage to be open. Internationally, he demonstrated great commitment as leader of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights program at Human Rights Watch.
- Een blauwe stoel in Paars (A blue chair in Purple), stories about his work as a Member of Parliament (with a chapter on the creation of the law on same-sex marriage, the anti-stalking law and the Act lifting the statute of limitations for murder and manslaughter), Van Gennep Uitgeverij, Amsterdam, 2001
- Elke Liefde Telt (Every Love Counts), about Dittrich’s worldwide work for Human Rights Watch, Nieuw Amsterdam, 2009
- Moord en Brand (Murder and Fire), a thriller about politics and journalism in The Hague, New Amsterdam, 2011
- De waarheid liegen (Lying the Truth), a novel about a murder at the Grand Central subway station in New York, De Arbeiderspers, 2013
- W.O.L.F., a thriller about extremism in Berlin, Uitgeverij Cargo, 2016. The book was named best Dutch-language thriller of 2016 by the Thriller and Detective Guide of the weekly Vrij Nederland.
- Halszaak (Big deal), a thriller about two police officers who accidentally kill a drifter, Cargo Publishers, 2017
- Barst (Burst), the book written for the national week of the thrillers in 2018
- Terug naar Tarvod (Back to Tarvod), a novel about life in a kibbutz in 1977, Ambo/Anthos, 2020
- Mandaat (Mandate), autobiography, 2022