Human Rights Committee
21 June 2016
The Human Rights Committee today concluded its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Denmark on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Presenting the report, Tobias Elling Rehfeld, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, underlined Denmark’s long standing commitment to the fight against torture. Denmark also had a strong focus on human rights nationally. For example, all legislation that was proposed before the Danish Parliament included a section dedicated to the human rights obligations of Denmark describing the proposed bill within the framework of those obligations. Furthermore, all recommendations to Denmark from the United Nations Treaty Bodies were monitored by the country’s intergovernmental human rights working group.
While recognizing Denmark’s contribution to the international fight against torture, Committee Experts drew attention to the restrictive new immigration legislation and the protection of refugees against refoulement, and reviews of asylum requests by the Refugee Appeals Board. They also raised the issues of Denmark’s reservations to the Covenant, monitoring mechanisms for the implementation of international human rights obligations, representation of women in local politics, the employment gape between women and men, employment of migrants, gender-based violence and gender-based mainstreaming. Other topics included anti-terrorism measures, such as wiretapping, the issue of alleged Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) rendition flights, individual communications, and the use of solitary confinement.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Rehfeld thanked for the interest of international human rights experts for the situation in Denmark. They raised pertinent, relevant and complex issues. The Government of Denmark saw value in the international community that promoted and protected human rights. It looked forward to receiving the concluding remarks of the Committee, which would be very helpful in overcoming current challenges.
Fabian Omar Salvioli, Committee Chairperson, in conclusion, underlined the importance of the existence of domestic implementation of the Covenant rights in Denmark, noting that the lack of such a domestic implementation mechanism would weaken the Covenant. The issue of aliens and migrants had permeated all discussions with Denmark and it remained a challenge as migrants were in a situation of particular vulnerability.
The delegation of Denmark included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Foreign Affairs of Greenland, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Faroes, the Ministry of Children, Education and Gender Equality, the Ministry of Defense, the Immigration Service, the Ministry for Immigration, Integration and Housing, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, and the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to discuss the third periodic report of Kuwait (CCPR/C/KWT/3).
The sixth periodic report of Denmark can be found here: CCPR/C/DNK/6.
Presentation of the Report
TOBIAS ELLING REHFELD, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, underlined Denmark’s long-standing commitment to the fight against torture. Denmark also had a strong focus on human rights nationally. For example, all legislation proposed before the Danish Parliament included a section dedicated to the human rights obligations of Denmark, describing the proposed bill within the framework of those obligations. Furthermore, all recommendations to Denmark from the United Nations Treaty Bodies were monitored by the country’s intergovernmental human rights working group. Turning to solitary confinement, he explained that the Danish Administration of Justice Act stipulated very strict conditions for the use of solitary confinement during pre-trial detention, which had decreased by 93.5 per cent since 2001. In 2014, the number of solitary confinements had been 36, the lowest number since 2001. From 2011 to 2014, no person under the age of 18 had been placed in solitary confinement during pre-trial detention. In 2015-2016, only one person under the age of 18 had been held in solitary confinement during pre-trial detention under the suspicion of planning acts of terrorism. In the past several years, there had been a particular focus on limiting the use of solitary confinement in cases concerning minors. However, there were situations where the use of solitary confinement was deemed necessary, for instance because of violent behaviour or the use of mobile phones, which could be used to plan escape. Solitary confinement in Denmark generally took place in fully equipped cells with access to books, television and occupational activities.
In 2015, Denmark had launched immigration and penal initiatives which had sparked debate about its international human rights obligations. Some of the initiatives had been launched as a necessary response to the large influx of refugees and migrants in Europe, while others had been launched in response to domestic threats of religious radicalization and extremism. All of the initiatives were under close scrutiny to ensure that they had been in line with international human rights obligations. Sometimes it was necessary to remember one of the underlying principles of human rights protections, namely that no individual could use his or her human rights for the destruction of the human rights of others. As for individual complaints, Denmark fully supported the possibility of individuals to have their cases reviewed and assessed by the United Nations treaty bodies. In 2014, more than 25 per cent of all new cases before the treaty bodies had been complaints against Denmark. At the same time, the number of cases in front of the European Court of Human Rights had always been among the countries with the least cases, both totally and per capita. It was puzzling when the Committee dismissed the assessment made by the national authorities on credibility issues in cases where the national authorities based their assessment on oral proceedings and with direct access to the person in question and all the evidence of the case.
PERNILLE BENGTSEN, Special Advisor at the Department of Foreign Affairs of Greenland, noted that in 2009, Greenland had entered into a new era with the inauguration of the Act on Self-Government which had given Greenland further self-determination within the Kingdom of Denmark. In 2013, the Greenlandic Council of Human Rights had been established, and in 2014, the mandate of the Danish Institute for Human Rights had been extended to Greenland. In 2014, the Government of Greenland had reviewed the Mineral Resources Act to further improve civil society involvement provisions, ensuring pre-hearings in advance of all exploitation applications. Since 2014 the Government had set aside approximately USD 150,000 to civil society organizations for technical, legal or other assistance. In 2015, the Greenland Parliament had requested the Danish Government to set the Danish Act on Parental Responsibility in Greenland into force. Thereby, corporal punishment of children in Greenland would be fully abolished. In light of the reports of serious negligence in caring for children, the Government had also made steps to improve the overall quality of the municipal case handling concerning children through the establishment of a consultancy unit to assist municipalities. The unit would be fully operational in 2016 and would provide counseling on legislation, best practice, and peer-to-peer training. In 2011, the Government had appointed the first Minister of Gender Equality. Women and men had equal political rights in Greenland.
MARGRETHA NONKLETT, Head of Unit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Faroes, explained that the negotiations on assuming responsibility on the Family Law and Immigration and Border Control had been initiated between the Governments of the Faroes and Denmark. Even though immigration remained under Danish authority, the rising number of immigrants to the Faroes demonstrated the need for an active integration policy. In 2015, an integration coordinator had been tasked to coordinate different initiatives on integration. An Integration Plan was currently being developed and it was expected to enter into force later during 2016. One of the recommendations during the Universal Periodic Review was to establish a national human rights institution in the Faroes. As a response, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade had set up a working group with the aim to advise the Government on the establishment of such an institution in line with the Paris Principles. As for the recommendation to amend the chapter regarding sexual offences in the Penal Code, the work had already begun and the proposal had been sent to relevant stakeholders for comments before submission to the Parliament in fall. Another priority area was gender-segregated labour market and the income gap between men and women. The Faroes had one of the highest female labour market participation rates in Europe, with 84 per cent of women active in the labour market. At the same time, it had one of the highest levels of female part-time work with almost 50 per cent of women working part-time. In order to address that imbalance, the Government was developing a gender policy with one element being longer parental leave. Another area that required attention was the lack of gender balance in political representation.
Questions by Experts
One Committee Expert asked that the list of issues be updated, notably on the amendments to the Alien Act. Some reforms, notably concerning immigration, had been more restrictive. There had been problems with family reunification applications. Was it true that applicants were split during the application process? He clarified that each case had to be considered on its own merits, and did not mean criticism of the country. There was no possibility to appeal decisions of the Refugee Appeals Board. Could that procedure be revisited? In 2015, 584 cases had been presented for review by the Refugee Appeals Board. How many decisions of the first panel had been reversed? Could the delegation provide data for 2014, 2013 and 2012?
Another Expert inquired about Denmark’s reservations to the Covenant, namely on the segregation of juvenile offenders from adults, the exclusion of press from trials, the resumption of criminal cases, and the prohibition against propaganda for war. Why did Denmark maintain those reservations?
As for the incorporation of the Covenant into Danish law, why had the Government, contrary to the Committee recommendation, concluded in 2013 that none of international treaties should be incorporated into Danish law? In nine decisions from January 2001 to January 2014, Danish courts “expressly applied” the Covenant, even though the Covenant had not been incorporated into Danish law. What was the basis of that statement? Had there been any cases according to which those rules applied to the Covenant? What value did the State party give to the views of the Committee?
The Committee welcomed Denmark’s plans to combat violence against women and girls. Despite the Government’s data on the decreased number of cases of violence against women, the Committee had received reports of higher numbers. There had been significant differences in the protection of victims of domestic violence across municipalities. What was done to do to even it out? To whom was the burden of proof in cases of domestic violence applied?
A Committee Member raised the issue of protection of refugees against refoulement. In what way did the State party implement recommendations of the Committee? As for deportation cases, how was it ensured that there was a bona fide approach when a case was reopened, rather than repetition of the previous ruling? The Expert also asked about the standards of review applied by the Refugees Appeals Board. There was a real risk of irreparable harm. It appeared that there had been flaws in the system.
As for legislative procedures regarding the implementation of the Committee’s views, it appeared that the source of many problems were insufficient procedures and procedure safeguards. Why was it necessary to wait for the European Court of Human Rights before implementing the views of the Committee? Did the State party consider establishing a precept procedure?
Bearing in mind the high degree of autonomy of the Faroe Islands and Greenland, question was asked on the mechanisms for monitoring of their implementation of international human rights obligations. It seemed that the level of protection of human rights in the Faroe Islands and Greenland was lower than in the mainland. There was no established human rights institution in the Faroe Islands. What had been the progress in that regard? As for Greenland, what were the results of the report of the Danish Institute of Human Rights concerning the human rights situation in Greenland? Had there been any action plans in that respect?
How effective were the initiatives and measures to increase the number of women in local politics? Representation of women at local level was modest compared with the state level. How did the State combat that situation? There were no gender mainstreaming plans in place.
Concerning the employment rate of women and men, there was a gap, especially among immigrant and vulnerable women. What had been done to overcome significant lower employment rate of immigrant women, inquired an Expert.
Another Expert drew attention to the legislative and administrative measures in the fight against terrorism. There had been criticism and concerns by civil society regarding the vague nature of various crimes under the Terrorism Law, which could be a bit too broad. There seemed to have been interference with the freedom of expression. How should pressure and interference be avoided in line with the Covenant rights?
As for potential interference with private life, there had been indications of wiretapping without authorization of the judge. Was the judge able to annul those practices in case of irregularities? There had also been two extensions of the powers of intelligence services. What guarantees were made to ensure the right to private life? What were the implications of extraterritorial surveillance measures?
The same Expert raised the issue of safety measures taken vis-à-vis aliens, such as deportation when deemed that national security was threatened. As defence lawyers did not have access to national security information, to what extent could defence of the defendant be effectively achieved under those circumstances? How could the measure of withdrawing nationality be reconciled with Article 26 of the Covenant?
Regarding the measures taken by Denmark to carry out inquiries into the use of Danish airports, namely in Greenland, for the alleged Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) rendition flights, an Expert noted that there had been an ongoing controversy over that issue. More than 100 flights had been reported to have stopped in Danish territory. What had been the lessons learned by those allegations? Had any measures been undertaken to deal with the consequences and to prevent such flights?
One Expert underlined that it would be very difficult to reduce the number of cases from Denmark arriving to the Committee. As for the issue of substantiation, he referred to the need to incorporate the Covenant into Danish law. The Committee had developed jurisprudence that was sometimes at odds with the decisions taken by local authorities. All relevant considerations had to be reviewed by the Committee. He noted the relative reluctance of the Danish refugee authorities to conduct medical examinations to substantiate the allegations of torture. Denmark’s reliance on the European Court of Human Rights was surprising because the Committee’s approach was different.
Another Expert welcomed Denmark’s support and activity in the fight against torture. As for the Committee’s approach to individual communications, he noted that the Committee needed evidence on what had happened in each case. If it was asserted that there had been an exhaustion in the case, then the Committee would turn to the State party. It was clear the Refugee Appeals Board had better access to information than the Committee. However, sometimes the Board did not communicate its decisions clearly.
Replies by the Delegation
TOBIAS ELLING REHFELD, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, explained that the incorporation of the Covenant into Danish law had been considered several times and they had always reached the same conclusion: the implementation of United Nations treaties was not the right path for Denmark. Nevertheless, they were a source of law for Danish courts and could be applied by them. The same principle applied to the incorporation of the Covenant into laws of the self-governing territories.
As for the alleged CIA rendition flights, every stone had been turned and the issue had been investigated by a very large inter-ministerial working group, which had concluded in 2008 that it was not possible to conclude whether those flights had taken place, and whether extraordinary renditions had been carried out in Danish airports. In 2012, another study had confirmed that the 2008 report had been legitimate and that there had been no duplicity on the part of the Danish Government. The Government now considered the matter closed.
Regarding individual communications, Mr. Rehfeld explained that the delegation wished to carry out an open and honest dialogue with the Committee, which was also an opportunity to explain why the Government sometimes saw matters differently from the Committee. As for the work of the Refugee Appeals Board, details would be provided in writing subsequently.
A wide range of recommendations were being addressed by the Government of Greenland. As for the strengthening of human rights monitoring, in 2016 a review would be conducted. The Parliament had requested the Danish Government to enact the Act on Parental Responsibility, thus ending the corporal punishment of children in Greenland. The Government had given a higher priority to data collection on children’s living conditions. Assistance to families in substance abuse cases had been launched.
Different monitoring mechanism for the Faroes had been assessed and recommendations would be given by the end of 2016. The Danish Institute of Human Rights had offered its assistance in that regard. In September 2016, the working group would hold a meeting with all relevant stakeholders.
As for the Danish reservations to the Covenant, those were very few in number and had been subjected to a thorough assessment. Denmark was continuously giving attention to the possibility of narrowing those reservations. The national legislation was already in line with international human rights. The guidelines of the Ministry of Justice were used in the incorporation of the Covenant provisions.
A national mechanism handled investigating complaints against excessive or illegal use of force by the police. It was agreed that the police complaints system should be evaluated three years after it had been established. The evaluation was expected to be completed in the beginning of 2017. Regarding ensuring consistent protection to the victims of domestic violence, guidelines were provided to the police and prosecuting authorities. How different police stations applied those guidelines was up to the chiefs of police districts. A risk assessment tool was used to determine victims’ vulnerability factors.
On anti-terrorist measures, the delegation explained that a committee was tasked to evaluate all relevant laws with respect to the rule of law principles. The Government would launch a review of anti-terrorist measures within a year or two. As for the withdrawal of nationality, it was said that the measures were part of the 2014 bill against foreign recruitment of Danish nationals. It was correct that the Danish Supreme Court had reached a decision in June 2016 to revoke the citizenship of one person and expel him from the country.
Interception and surveillance of private communications could only be ordered by a court on the condition that requirements of the measure had been met. Such a measure could not exceed four weeks at a time. Any extension would be made by a court order. If the court found that the measure was unfounded, it would notify the Ministry of Justice that evidence obtained in such a way was illegal.
Regarding the recent Danish initiatives in the field of immigration and asylum, the Government introduced those at a time when Europe was facing the largest number of refugees and migrants since the end of the Second World War. Denmark was among the top ten European Union Member States receiving migrants in 2015. The Government was willing to take its part of responsibility to host refugees. However, it also believed that the number of refugees mattered in the question of successful integration, which was why a reduction in the number of admitted refugees was necessary.
As for the amendments to the Danish Aliens Act, namely those pertaining to family reunification, the delegation informed that in 2015 it had been decided that persons who were in real life danger in their home countries would be granted a temporary protection status. The adopted amendments stipulated that such a temporary protection status would be reviewed on a yearly basis. Family reunification would be granted for a period of two or three years. Two cases of naturalization in Denmark were still pending in front of the European Court of Human Rights.
Turning to the systematic medical screening of alleged torture victims, a delegate affirmed that all asylum seekers underwent such a screening. The Immigration Service checked background situation on asylum seekers’ countries. Administrative expulsion of foreign nationals due to national security reasons could only be assessed in closed court sessions. Foreign nationals needed to have access to sufficient information about their cases.
The employment of immigrants had decreased from more than 60 per cent to some 50 per cent. In March 2016, the Government had signed agreements with social partners on integration of immigrants, with a particular focus on labour market integration. Municipalities received bonus for every immigrant integrated into the Danish labour market. All immigrants needed to have lived at least seven years in the country in order to receive benefits. Those with residence permits could freely use education and health care services just like the rest of Danish citizens.
On gender-based violence and gender-based mainstreaming, the delegation stated that a new gender equality index had been established, which consisted of grades from 0 to 100 points. Each municipality provided bi-annual reports on gender equality parameters. Every Ministry was responsible of conducting the gender impact of their new legislation. The majority of 2015 draft bills had been tested for gender equality. Some 32 draft bills were gender impacted in 2015. In December 2015, a report of the Danish Business Authority had shown progress in female managerial representation. In 2014, there had been a slight increase in the female labour market participation, amounting to 69 per cent.
Questions by Experts
An Expert followed up on his question about the Refugee Appeals Board. Some 584 cases had been submitted to the Board for reopening. In how many of those cases had decisions been reversed in 2014? He also asked for statistics for 2011, 2012 and 2013, and reminded that in many cases applicants were recent immigrants who did not speak Danish.
As for human trafficking, the Expert took note of the fact that the State party had set up an anti-human trafficking center. What was the number of prosecutions and convictions for the past four years? He asked for more details about the special rules regarding human trafficking and a new action plan. What kind of assistance was given to the victims of trafficking?
On freedom of expression, there were limits to the exercise of that right, as in all countries. Was every case subject to criminal procedure, or could the aggrieved party seek a civic procedure? Why was criminal procedure decided upon in some cases? How many prosecutions were there and where were they initiated? How many convictions had been made?
Regarding the expulsion and deportation of refugees and asylum seekers, it was encouraging that Denmark had accepted a high number of refugees, said the Expert. However, what was discouraging were changes to the asylum and immigration law. What were the planned changes to that law? Was it true that foreigners who had lived in Denmark for less than 10 years could be automatically expelled from the country if they had committed a criminal offence? Another problematic issue was the apparent presumption that family reunification could outweigh the interest of the child for successful integration into Danish society. Under the new immigration and asylum laws, the police could confiscate money and property from immigrants. What were the statistics on the use of medical examination to identify victims of torture in the asylum process?
What procedures were in place to monitor diplomatic assurances in receiving Stags? There were reports that Denmark had forcibly returned persons even to dangerous countries, such as Iraq. According to the Council of Europe, there had also been complaints of returns to Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia. What was the policy with respect to Somalia? Regarding the pre-deportation detention of foreigners, was it true that a law had been adopted without a public hearing and was it true that the Ministry of Immigration could suspend the automatic judicial review of detention of asylum seekers? What were the statistics on the number of person in pre-deportation detention?
On Danish foreign policy in the area of human rights protection, the problem was whether that positive foreign policy was jeopardized due to the influx of immigrants to Europe. In January 2016, a law had been adopted allowing the border police to confiscate from immigrants and asylum seekers the belongings and money exceeding 10,000 korunas. That law posed a problem of not being in line with European and international human rights standards. Was the real purposes of that law to deter migrants from coming to Denmark? How would that law affect the application fees for family reunification?
Another Expert followed up on the issue of integration of international agreements into Danish law. How could treaties that had not been incorporated into domestic legislation become a source of law? Were the police and law enforcement officers given training on the Covenant human rights? How were the Covenant rights disseminated to the wider public?
As for the freedom of religion, the Expert raised the issue of the disparity in the treatment of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and other denominations. The previous explanation of the State party was that the Evangelical Lutheran Church had a special status under the Constitution and, as such, it received direct financial support from the State. However, why was that financial support given for maintaining public cemeteries and civil registration? Those were managed according to the civil law.
Speaking of the rights of minorities, one Expert asked what had been done so far to promote their cultural, linguistic and ethnic identity. What activities had been undertaken to promote the use of Inughuit and Uummannaq dialects? How many cases of discrimination against Roma had there been? What had been done to disseminate the work of the Board of Equal Treatment among ethnic minorities? There had been some allegations that the German ethnic minority could not fully use their language to communicate electronically with the administration. What had been done to disseminate the work of the Board of Equal Treatment among persons of non-Danish origin?
Another Expert noted that some of the previous answers by the delegation were a repetition of their submitted written replies. He reiterated his questions about the alleged CIA rendition flights. There had to have been records and oversight of such flights. Had there been any follow up in the Council of Europe?
Were not the definitions of terrorist activities too wage, such as an “attempt to destabilize the fundamental political and constitutional structure” or “public order” of the country? That seemed to be too broad of a definition of terrorism. Had an impact assessment been carried out in that respect? Was not the revocation of nationality discriminatory? The cumulative effect of restrictions could present a violation of Article 3.
As for prohibition of torture and treatment of detainees, had the delegation thought how to implement recommendations of the Committee against Torture? Did it think of incorporating a specific crime of torture in the Criminal Law?
With regard to the review of rules on statute of limitations and bringing them in line with international standards, could the statute of limitations for civil suits on torture be extended? The Committee Against Torture had recommended that Denmark abolish solitary confinement of minors. At the same time, minors on pre-trial continued to be detained together with adults. The Committee had also recommended that solitary confinement be limited in use in general. The maximum limit for solitary confinement was eight weeks for adults and 28 days for convicts. Prolonged solitary confinement was forbidden according to the Nelson Mandela rules. Did the State party consider revising the maximum length of solitary confinement?
Regarding coercive treatment in mental health facilities, the Committee Against Torture had also recommended to Denmark to continue to take measure to reduce the number of decisions to give coercive treatment. What did the State party intend to do to respond to those recommendations?
Another Expert noted the absence of comprehensive civil anti-discrimination legislation outside the labour context, as well as a serious lack of statistics on discrimination. How would the State party address that concern?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the Government had taken all the necessary steps to investigate the alleged CIA rendition flights. All planes had been monitored and the report had been very thorough. However, that was not a criminal investigation. The Government could not establish whether the rendition flights had indeed taken place on the Danish territory, but it could also not claim that they had not taken place.
As for the Danish foreign policy on human rights, indeed Denmark was greatly challenged by the influx of immigrants in Europe. In spite of that, Denmark was one of the few countries that had set aside a consistent proportion of its Gross Domestic Product to help refugees. The Government took the recommendations made by the Committee Against Torture very seriously, and it hoped to come up with its own conclusions very soon.
The Refugee Appeals Board’s decisions were final and could not be appealed. Proceedings were oral and very similar to proceedings in front of an ordinary court. The assessment of evidence was free and thus not governed by a special set of rules. If the asylum seeker’s arguments appeared consistent and well founded, the Board would usually take them as credible.
Regarding diplomatic assurances, the delegation informed that in 2009, the Government had formed a working group which looked into the matter. The group had established that one could not use diplomatic assurances without violating international standards. Their use required careful consideration and each individual case was examined by the Danish Immigration Service and the Refugee Appeals Board in accordance with Denmark’s international obligations. Special considerations were given to vulnerable groups of asylum seekers, such as minors, pregnant women and persons with disabilities. No foreigner would be expelled from the country if that was contrary with Denmark’s international obligations.
According to the Danish Aliens Act, pre-deportation detention was allowed only in special facilities, and unaccompanied minors would not be held in detention. Those who were held in detention had the right to participate in various activities and had the right to spend a certain amount of time in fresh air. The new rules stipulated for judicial review detention for asylum seekers in three days. The duration of detention for asylum seekers depended on how quickly the police could conduct their cases. The Ministry of Immigration could suspend the automatic judicial review under specific circumstances, such as high number of new arrivals of asylum seekers. The new rules were in full conformity with Denmark’s international obligations. The Government found that it was necessary to pass the amendments to the Alien Act more quickly, in view of the high number of refugee arrivals.
The Refugee Appeals Board could decide to reopen the cases of aliens expelled from the country. As for the confiscation of the property and money from asylum seekers, the rules implied that the asylum seekers could keep up to 10,000 korunas, whether whatever exceeded that amount would be used to cover the costs of asylum processing. Asylum seekers who wished to oppose the confiscation could bring their complaint to a court of law.
Regarding human trafficking, a delegate explained that a recovery and reflection period of 30 days was granted to immigrant victims of trafficking and could be extended to a period of 120 days. A residence permit would not be granted solely on the ground of being a victim of trafficking. Asylum would be granted if the alien was under the risk of death penalty in the home country and in line with the Geneva Convention. A temporary residence permit may be issued to persons who were in Denmark for the purpose of an investigation or prosecution.
As for the new rules on family reunification, the Government found that they were in line with Denmark’s international obligations. If a foreigner was an unaccompanied minor whose parents resided in Denmark, she or he could receive a residence permit. Integration assessment would be carried if the child was eight years old or older. In 2012, the fees for family reunification had been abolished. Refugees had to pay a fee when submitting an application for a residence permit. Those fees could be waived in case of a breach of Denmark’s international human rights obligations.
On the equal treatment of minorities, a public campaign had been carried out in 2015. Various civil society organizations were granted funds to promote ethnic tolerance and intercultural dialogue.
Regarding solitary confinement, the delegation assured that the Government was looking into the recommendations of the Committee Against Torture. For the moment, solitary confinement was used for offences such as attempted escape, violence among inmates, smuggling of cigarettes and alcohol. It could not exceed four weeks and it normally took place in facilities with full access to books and television. Since 2011, there had been a slight decrease in the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary tool. Solitary confinement of minors was rarely used and only in exceptional cases. From 2001, the use of solitary confinement had decreased by 93.5 per cent.
It was true that there was a psychological element to the Danish perception and definition of terrorism. The Government would launch a thorough review of the newly adopted anti-terrorist measures, once their impact was known. For most criminal acts, prosecution was public. However, the prosecution of suspected terrorists was private. As for the criminalization of torture, it was not recommended that the Criminal Code contain a special section on torture due to the risk of double criminalization. Instead, a special provision in the Criminal Code was adopted to make torture an aggravating circumstance. The Government considered that the current legislation on torture was adequate.
A number of exceptions under the Covenant allowed States to limit the freedom of movement, such as those relating to national security and public order.
As for the right to language and identity in Greenland, there was only one indigenous people in Greenland, the Inughuit. The Thule tribe did not constitute a separate indigenous group. Greenlandic was the only official language in Greenland, and it consisted of three dialects.
On the scope of the action plan on human trafficking, it was not only aimed at victims of prostitution, but at all victims of human trafficking. Victims would be offered individually coordinated support, such as safe houses, psychological help and medical attention. In November 2015, the current action plan had been amended to strengthen the outreach work to encompass victims of forced labour and foreign nationals working in brothels. The action plan would be externally evaluated.
All citizens were equal under the law and could not be discriminated on the basis of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation and gender identity. Steps had been taken to ensure that transgender persons also received the same equal treatment.
On the issue of coercion in mental health institutions, the delegation explained that patients’ rights were protected by the Danish Psychiatric Act. Coercive measures could not be used until every other measure had been exhausted. Those would be exercised as gently as possible. The nursing staff could at any time discontinue the use of mechanical constraints without prior consultation with senior medical staff. The goal was to reduce the use of coercive measures by 50 per cent by 2020.
On the specific procedure used by the Danish Government to follow-up on the Human Rights Committee’s views and judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, it was explained that the procedure was the same for both. The relevant authorities would then assess the views and undertake follow-up measures. There were two main tracks to disseminate information and views of the United Nations treaty bodies. One was through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the other through the Danish Institute of Human Rights.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
One Expert noted that in the replies on the Refugee Appeals Board there was a reference to the separation of power. The Refugee Appeals Board was considered part of the judiciary branch, which was also of concern to the Committee. The Expert observed that it would be necessary to give the right tools to the court so that it could operate accordingly in line with the Covenant. A lot of things could be remedied if the Covenant was made directly applicable in Danish law. Often the authorities in Denmark were reactive to decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and international bodies.
Another Expert wondered whether asylum seekers would ever receive a different decision by the Refugee Appeals Board. It seemed they always received the same negative answer. Was there any oversight of the decisions of the Board?
As for the non-discrimination legislation, it seemed that similar legislation had not been adopted in the Faroes. In April 2016, the Faroes had adopted legislation on same-sex marriage, but that still needed to be adopted by the Danish Parliament.
Replies by the Delegation
It was up to the Refugee Appels Board to decide whether it wanted to review the cases of asylum requests, said the delegation.
TOBIAS ELLING REHFELD, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, thanked for the interest of international human rights experts for the situation in Denmark. They raised pertinent, relevant and complex issues. The Government of Denmark saw value in the international community that promoted and protected human rights. It looked forward to receiving the concluding remarks of the Committee, which would be very helpful in overcoming current challenges.
FABIAN OMAR SALVIOLI, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the delegation and commended the Danish Government for having taken the dialogue with the Committee seriously. Nonetheless, Mr. Salvioli underlined the importance of the existence of domestic implementation of the Covenant rights in Denmark. The lack of such a domestic implementation mechanism would weaken the Covenant. In that respect, he reminded of Danish reservations to the Covenant. The issue of aliens and migrants had permeated all discussions with Denmark and it remained a challenge as migrants were in a situation of particular vulnerability. Perhaps the most important issue was the one of credibility, which could decrease the number of individual communications from Denmark. At the same time, Mr. Salvioli recognized Denmark’s important contribution to the international fight against torture.
For use of the information media; not an official record
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