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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers report of Denmark

10 May 2013

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today considered the fifth periodic report of Denmark on the country’s implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Introducing the report, Uffe Wolffhechel, Head of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, said Denmark placed high value on the treaty body monitoring process and it worked continuously to promote all human rights. An Expert Committee had been formed to consider Denmark’s incorporation of further international instruments. Efforts had also been made to get more people into work. An action plan for persons with disabilities was underway to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was acknowledged that there was room for improvement in ensuring that people’s economic, social and cultural rights were fulfilled, though challenging targets were set in areas that would pose difficulties. The Government had put vulnerable groups high on the agenda.

Adam Worm, Representative of the Government of Greenland, said Greenland had self-government and the population was recognised as an independent people. The Government of Greenland could assume all responsibilities of a State if it wished. A new economic model between the two countries had been adopted. Greenland would need to be consulted on foreign policy issues of importance to the country taken by Denmark. Greenlandic was the national language and steps had been taken to strengthen and develop this as the mother tongue. A Greenland Council for Human Rights had been established.

Durita Joansdottir, Office of the Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands, said human rights and democracy were fundamental values and the legislative framework on the islands sought to protect all rights. The general welfare system contributed to an overall high standard of living. It had taken time to develop. The Faroese Government welcomed the increased interest among non-governmental organizations in relation to human rights reporting. These efforts put human rights on the agenda and made the general public more aware of their rights.

Committee Experts asked questions about whether the low number of situations where the Covenant had been invoked domestically meant more education was needed on its potential applications, and the reason why the Covenant had not yet been incorporated into Danish law. It was also noted that Denmark had not ratified the Optional Protocols to the Covenant and to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; what steps were being taken by the Government to review this situation? Both minorities and persons with disabilities had difficulties in accessing the workplace and education, while the situation for minorities and asylum seekers was particularly bad as they also saw barriers to education, health services and adequate housing. On gender issues, Experts asked how efforts such as by the Board of Equal Treatment and guidelines for representation at the municipal and regional levels had improved the number of women in high-profile positions, which had previously been low, as well as efforts to close the pay gap.

In concluding remarks,Mr. Wolffhechel said the delegation felt there had been a fruitful dialogue and much had been learnt on procedure and substance. The next report would consider the impact of the policy of early retirement, the representation of women on boards, and generally more statistics.

Nicolaas Jan Schrijver, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Denmark, in preliminary concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for the dialogue and said much more had been learnt about the country than a person could read from a document. The pressure on the immigration situation seemed to have eased, and Denmark’s efforts on a comprehensive integration process were impressive.

Zdzislaw Kedzia, Committee Chairperson, said today's discussion had been a mutually useful process. In terms of follow-up, it was hoped that all the groups affected by the measures taken to follow-up on recommendations were allowed to participate in the process.

The delegation of Denmark consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Integration, the Ministry of Employment, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Children and Education, the Government of Greenland, the Office of the Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands, the Ministry of Social Affairs of the Faroe Islands and the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. on Friday, 17 May for the closing of the session. Concluding observations and recommendations for all the countries reviewed - Japan, Iran, Jamaica, Azerbaijan, Togo, Rwanda and Denmark - will be published on the first working day after the end of the session, on its webpage.

Report of Denmark

The fifth report of Denmark can be read here: (E/C.12/DNK/5).

Presentation of the Report of Denmark


UFFE WOLFFHECHEL, Head of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, said Denmark placed high value on the treaty body monitoring process as a crucial element in the promotion and protection of human rights internationally. Denmark respected the advice of the Committee and gave it serious consideration in policy development in areas related to economic, social and cultural rights. A new strategy for Denmark’s development cooperation had been unanimously approved, which adopted a human rights based approach. Denmark worked continuously to promote all human rights.

An Expert Committee had been formed to consider whether Denmark was in a position to incorporate any further international instruments into domestic law. This Committee would make recommendations on if and how this could be done and would finish its work in September 2013. Efforts had also been made to get more people into work. There was an ongoing process to bring persons with disabilities into the workplace, for example, through the use of social and economic organizations. An action plan on persons with disabilities was underway which sought to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Government of Denmark had placed a particular focus on the rights of children, including the child reform initiative and a bill on coordinated measures to protect children from abuse. Children’s houses had been established where young persons could receive support from social services, police and health services. Initiatives had been launched to tackle hate crime and the Danish Parliament had adopted a bill on improving the conditions for asylum seekers, including giving them better access to employment. This covered notions such as allowing them to live outside of asylum centres. A policy encouraged artists and art projects of immigrant or intercultural backgrounds. It was acknowledged that there was room for improvement in ensuring that people’s economic, social and cultural rights were fulfilled, though challenging targets were set in areas that would pose difficulties. The Government had put vulnerable groups high on the agenda.

ADAM WORM, Representative of the Government of Greenland, said Greenland had been given self-government, and the population was recognised as an independent people and an equal partner. The Government of Greenland had the possibility of assuming all responsibilities of a State if it wished to become independent. A new economic model between the two countries had been adopted. Greenland would need to be consulted on foreign policy issues of importance to the country taken by Denmark. Greenlandic was was the national language and steps had been taken to strengthen end develop this as the mother tongue, though Danish may still be used in private and public matters. A Greenland Council for Human Rights had been established.

DURITA JOANSDOTTIR, Office of the Prime Minister of the Faroe Islands, said human rights and democracy were fundamental values and the legislative framework on the islands sought to protect all rights. The Covenant had been in force on the Islands since 1972, though this was the first periodic report where it had made a substantial contribution. The general welfare system contributed to an overall high standard of living. It had taken time to develop an effective and substantial reporting procedure involving cooperation between the various stakeholders and the Faroese Government appreciated and welcomed the increased interest among non-governmental organizations in relation to human rights reporting. These efforts put human rights on the agenda, as well as making the general public more aware of their rights.

Questions by Experts


NICOLAAS JAN SCHRIJVER, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Denmark, asked why international human rights treaties were not often invoked in domestic courts? Was there room to increase awareness of the treaties? What was the attitude towards the Optional Protocol of the Covenant? Denmark had submitted a reservation to the right to be paid for public holidays, was this still the case? Or was it no longer implemented in practice? Why did the mandate of the Danish Institute of Human Rights not cover the Faroe Islands? It was also noted that there was a gender wage gap and women were underrepresented in key posts. Minority women could not easily achieve their rights, and employment in this group was low.

There was currently no obligation on employers to have persons with disabilities in their workforce. Why was there no minimum wage? Civil servants were restricted on the right to strike. Corporal punishment of children was not outlawed in Greenland. A large number of children were placed in care outside of their home, including institutions. Families living on state benefits were living in poverty, what steps were being taken to reduce the risk of this? Migrant workers and minority groups had issues in accessing their rights to housing, as there seemed to be a shortage of social housing, especially in the Faroe Islands. Reports had been received of racism and discrimination against non-Danish persons in homeless shelters. Access to health care facilities and services was not easy for migrants and other vulnerable groups, and the education opportunities were not equal. Children with disabilities were far less likely to take final exams, compared to their more able peers. Why did the State party continue to not recognise the indigenous people of Greenland as a distinct community? To what extent were the rights explained in the Covenant played out in Denmark’s development cooperation strategy?

Another Expert said that reports had been received that minority women had problems in access to education, health care and other services. There were also high incidences of domestic violence and HIV in this group. Why were few women seen in high-profile jobs? Was there information available about the employment of migrant women? Could more information be provided on the outcomes of the plan to steer young people away from extremism? On another point, the national human rights institution had reflected the suggestion of the Committee that there should be one comprehensive discrimination law. It was also recommended that newcomers be advised on the cultural values of the country. How were the rights of the Covenant being integrated and observed in the Danish territories? Were members of civil society consulted on the content of the report?

How successful had the Board of Equal Treatment been? What types of cases had it seen? What had the impact of requirements in the municipalities and regions for better female representation been? Was there more information available on how the State party dealt with violent men? It was also noted that the report was quite short considering the period covered, and there seemed an imbalance between the mainland and the territories. There was also a need for more statistics. How was the human rights approach of the Danish development cooperation policy operated in practice? Was assistance in any way conditional? Was their differential treatment of refugees in relation to the provision of social security, either among foreigners or nationals? What was the reason for high unemployment among immigrants? Denmark had not signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, was this planned? Had enough been done to promote the employment of persons with disabilities? Did the Government intend to introduce a policy on unfair dismissal or the need to accommodate employees with disabilities?

It was stated that there was no need for a minimum wage as workers were covered by collective bargaining, though only 70 per cent of employees were covered in this regard. There was a clause in new legislation that after collective bargaining discussions employees with a lower work efficiency than their peers could have their salary reduced, this was surely discriminative against persons with disabilities? What changes had been made with regards to the payment of cash benefits?

Response by the Delegation

A member of the delegation said it was not clear how to deal with situations where an international treaty was in conflict with national legislation, though so far such a situation had never resulted in a treaty being put aside. The reluctance to incorporation perhaps related to the vagueness of some of the articles. It was unusual for the Covenant to be invoked as there was rarely a conflict with domestic law. The Expert Committee mentioned would consider the Optional Protocols that had not been adopted. There was legislation in place to prevent discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation. Briefings were held with civil society in relation to interactions with United Nations bodies and there was a lively relationship with this group. The gender gap was noted, and it was suggested this was due to the different functions held between men and women. Few cases had gone before the Board of Equal Treatment and this was perhaps due to a lack of awareness. It was required that companies with more than 35 employees published details on wages to allow more transparent discussion.

The representation of women had improved, and the largest companies were required to have a good representation of woman and report on this. This was also the case in the public sector. Steps were being taken to offer maternity leave for self-employed persons. It was agreed that collective bargaining did not cover all areas, and there had been recent instances of work being done which did not meet the standard of the collective agreements. Awareness-raising about these cases was underway. It was also noted that the length of the report was dictated purely by efficiency, though the comments were noted for future compilations. On development cooperation, United Nations standards were considered in applying this policy. It was not about imposing ideas, but instead having a dialogue and using human rights as a basis for interactions. Denmark believed strongly in the role of human rights in development and would try to find ways to support civil society where such rights were threatened.

Questions by the Experts

How successful had efforts to reduce poverty been? What was the situation with regard to social housing for groups such as the Roma? Would an increase in social housing have brought down rates of forced evictions? What was the most recent figure on the number of homeless persons? It was said that the poverty line in Denmark had still not been defined, though an Expert Committee had been set up to make a suggestion for this, had there been a recommendation for this? Another Expert wondered about the provision of daycare, were there waiting lists? Was the provision of daycare centres public or private? What was Denmark’s perception of prostitution? Did legalisation promote trafficking or the introduction of children into the trade? To what extent had campaigns to tackle domestic violence been successful? What was the waiting time for operations like? Did health insurance cover dental work? Was there a mechanism for self-identification of a community as an ethnic group? What difficulties were there in applying this principle?

Response by the Delegation

A member of the delegation said it was the view of the Faroese people that the mandate of the national human rights institution of Denmark should not be extended to the Faroe Islands. A number of actors in the political set-up of the islands instead attended to these issues. On another topic, it was hoped that 10,000 immigrants or persons of immigrant descent would be in employment by 2020. Among the reasons for low migrant employment levels were a lack of language skills. Integration was dealt with by a number of ministries. A national integration strategy offered new arrivals the chance to learn about the language and culture of Denmark. It was hoped to create a holistic approach, reflecting the needs of the migrants and society, and allowing migrants to participate fully. The immigration policy aimed to be just and robust. Support was offered to help persons given refugee status to become economically active. Within the new political agreement on the policy in this area asylum seekers could now seek employment, providing they applied for asylum over six months before, their identity had been established, and that they had participated in the process. These policies were aimed at both adults and young people.

Questions from Experts

An Expert asked why the payment period of unemployment benefit was cut by half? Was there some kind of informal national minimum wage that was not enshrined in law?

Response by the Delegation

A member of the delegation said the cut of the period when the unemployment benefit could be offered was hoped to increase the labour supply, and related to recovery from the financial crisis. A higher than expected number of persons had been affected by this, and some acute measures had been put in place to provide assistance. There were no plans to introduce a national minimum wage, and the lack of process outside of collective bargaining was full accepted by all partners in the Danish system.

Danish legislation offered protection from discrimination in many forms, and offered many solutions. On health services, they were free and covered a variety of treatments. Child dental care was free, and adult services were reimbursed, with the patient paying a contribution. All persons had the right to acute hospital treatment in case of emergency, and treatment was provided on the same basis as registered citizens. Undocumented persons could also continue to receive treatment when it was considered inappropriate to return the patient to their home country. About HIV and AIDS among migrant women, it was agreed that two-thirds of the cases diagnosed since 1990 had come from the migrant women community. A publicly-funded organization sought to bridge the gap to this group and provided it with assistance and support.

The Expert Committee considering the Danish poverty line would shortly present its findings. Discussions would then be undertaken on how to tackle this. On homelessness, the number of persons on the streets had risen only marginally. New figures on this were expected this year. Municipalities had obligations vis a vis shelters. A publicly-funded homelessness strategy was in place, which focused on offering people a permanent housing solution, as the basis was helping people deal with any other issues they may be facing. The final outcomes of this project would be published soon. The number of cases of forced evictions had increased, and then fallen slightly. Local governments could now help those at risk of eviction to pay rent on a temporary basis. In Greenland, the issue of poverty was closely linked to where a person lived. The Government of Greenland was working to improve the quality of life of its citizens.

There were a number of different childcare options, and efforts had been made to ensure access to a daycare place once a child reached 26 weeks old. This guaranteed an institutional place, within five kilometres. There were sanctions in place for municipalities which did not meet these targets, though in the last five years this had not been a problem. Parents made a contribution to costs and those unable to meet the costs could be given up to 100 per cent fee remission. The cost of second children was lower.

On the taking of children into care, it was thought that wherever possible a child should remain with its family, and if this was not possible then, where appropriate, children remained in contact with the family. Efforts were made to ensure continuity in care, and the return of children to families had to be carefully planned. Denmark considered it important that placement was avoided wherever possible. In this regard, the State party had invested heavily in parenting training to work towards alternatives to placement. Outlawing corporal punishment was being planned in Greenland by the beginning of next year.

Prostitution was a complex matter and currently neither offering or receiving sexual services for money was an offence, however exploitation in these circumstances was. It was decided that criminalisation of the acts themselves, though considered, was thought to have too much of a negative impact. Denmark sought to tackle trafficking by identifying victims. Local and national police had received training on this, as had trade unions, and other groups. Other activities to tackle trafficking had included a mapping of the demand for services, and communication strategies for campaigns against trafficking. On domestic violence, an action plan had broken the silence on the crime and had decreased the number of victims. A residence permit obtained on the basis of marriage was now not necessarily rescinded if a domestic violence victim left a violent partner. Instead the efforts that that person had made to integrate were considered.

Question from Experts

An Expert asked how this new rule allowing foreign domestic violence victims to stay in New Zealand was publicised?

Response from the Delegation

The delegation said the new policy only come into force a week ago. The outreach approach to be used to publicize it was not yet clear. On education, there was an increasing feeling that schools needed to become more inclusive to allow children with disabilities to fully enjoy the right to education. For children from minorities, allowing full access for this group to education was a high priority as there was often a performance gap between these and native children due to their socio-economic status. Other groups facing challenges included boys and those from a home with a low education level. Initiatives to meet these challenges had been launched and had had results; for example, the number of students with poor reading skills had fallen. A bilingual task force set out to improve the educational offer given to students from minority groups, and a large development programme was in place to help schools where large groups of students had a difficult educational background. A large study was currently underway about minority tongue teaching.

With regard to asylum-seeking children, this group was subject to compulsory education in the same way as local children. Initial tuition was offered through Red Cross tuition centres, which gauged the level of knowledge and skills of the child. Children that were at the appropriate level could enter schools outside of the asylum centres. On indigenous persons, the Supreme Court had ruled that the Thule tribe did not constitute a unique group.

Follow-up Questions

An Expert wondered what the implications of the lack of recognition meant for the Thule tribe? What was meant by Danish culture? How long was it before a person who had taken part in all integration courses and activities could apply for citizenship?

Response from the Delegation

The delegation said the Thule tribe had exactly the same rights as other citizens of Greenland and was free to use the dialect of their part of the country. Danish culture was difficult to quantify, though an idea of it could be seen in the training offered to new arrivals for those that were interested to inquire further. Persons wishing to be naturalised needed to meet rules related to their stay in Denmark, including to have been a resident in Denmark for nine years (eight persons for refugees), though these rules could be waived for those suffering from a mental illness.

Follow-up Question

An Expert wondered on what grounds bestowed citizenship could be revoked? Were there any restrictions on dual citizenship?

Response from the Delegation

The delegation said the revocation of citizenship was possible when it was granted following fraud, following a court decision, or also when a person had committed an act in contravention of the Constitution, such as terrorism. On other points, it was explained that following a survey on satisfaction with the Board of Equal Treatment, amendments were made allowing it to consider gender-based harassment, and clarification as to which cases could be dismissed. The Board had been most effective on cases of unfair dismissal related to maternity leave. There had been increases in the levels of women’s representation across the board in the municipalities and regions.

On quotas for the employment of persons with disabilities, this approach was not accepted in Denmark. Instead it was hoped to bring people with disabilities into the workplace by either allowing them to have a personal assistance or have a flexible work plan. The laws and rights around these were based on interaction between the employer and the employee. As of April 2013, fewer persons were in the civil servant scheme, meaning the overall number of persons with the right to strike would increase. The unemployment rate of older persons was lower than the average, with the highest unemployment rates instead being seen among young people.

Concluding Remarks

In preliminary concluding remarks,NICOLAAS SCHRIJVER, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Denmark, thanked the delegation for the dialogue and said much more had been learnt about the country than a person could read from a document. It was a matter of time before Denmark moved to anchor more international human rights instruments into domestic law. It was important to know what the Government was thinking on a number of topics, and further questions may be forthcoming on this. The pressure on the immigration situation seemed to have eased, and Denmark’s efforts on a comprehensive integration process were impressive.

Also speaking in concluding remarks,UFFE WOLFFHECHEL, Head of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of New Denmark, said the delegation felt there had been a fruitful dialogue and much had been learnt on procedure and substance. The views and comments and recommendations from the Committee would be introduced to the forum considering the further application of international instruments into national law. The next report would consider the impact of the policy of early retirement, the representation of women on boards and generally, more statistics. Denmark firmly believed that respect for human rights was a prerequisite in the promotion of development and human well-being.

ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson, said it was reassuring to hear of the support from Denmark on the process of strengthening the treaty bodies. The representatives of the Government in the delegation were welcome and today's discussion had been a mutually useful process. In terms of follow-up, it was hoped that all the groups affected by the measures taken to follow-up on recommendations were allowed to participate in the process.
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