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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Denmark

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Denmark, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Denmark is a constitutional monarchy with a tradition of democratic parliamentary rule. Queen Margrethe II is Head of State. The Cabinet, accountable to the unicameral Folketing (parliament), leads the Government. A majority coalition led by Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen took office in January 1993.

Denmark has a unified national police. Its higher ranks are often filled with lawyers on internal rotation from the civil service. It is fully controlled by and responsible to civilian authorities. Personal freedoms and the right to pursue private interests and to hold private property are protected by law and respected in practice.

An advanced industrial state, Denmark has an economy with limited public ownership, except in utilities and public transportation. The Government continues to seek ways to reduce the public sector's share of the economy. In 1993, for example, the Government sold 51 percent of the Giro Bank, Denmark's fifth largest bank, and also privatized parts of the Copenhagen regional bus system.

Deeply rooted democratic principles, an egalitarian tradition, a lively press, and highly developed educational and social welfare systems have made Denmark a leading defender of human rights domestically and in the world. Anyone may protest to the Ombudsman, established by the Folketing as mandated by the Constitution, if he or she feels wrongly treated by any national authority.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Such killings did not occur.

b. Disappearance

There were no abductions or disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Such practices are prohibited by law. Torture does not occur. Allegations of inhuman treatment are rare, and there are legal means of redress if it occurs. Two cases alleging excessive use of police force against two African tourists were investigated; the result was a 1992 finding by a judicial inquiry that the force used was excessive, but that it was the result of individual action of one officer, not the result of government policy. While the Danish Government considers the case closed, it resurfaced in the Danish press in 1993, as some, including Amnesty International (AI), were unhappy with the result. AI expressed concern that the report of the inquiry had not accepted that force used against a detainee can qualify as cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, whether or not that treatment is deliberate or intended to frighten or coerce the detainee.

An innovative center for torture victims (from abroad) at a Copenhagen hospital, supported by the Foreign Ministry, treats patients, assists torture victims, and studies ways to counter the use of torture worldwide.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

No person may be deprived of personal liberty without due process of law. Those arrested must appear before a judge within 24 hours. A judge may order that they be held in pretrial detention, including detention in isolation, for a period up to the length of the prison sentence for the crime for which they were arrested. All accused have the right to obtain their own attorney or a public attorney. Bail is allowed. There is no exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Danish judicial system consists of a series of local and regional courts, and the Supreme Court at the apex. Trials are usually public; however, judges may make exceptions, e.g., in paternity and divorce cases. In criminal cases, trials are closed when necessary to protect a victim's privacy, such as in rape cases, or to safeguard a witness' identity.

The rights of the accused are carefully protected. Defendants have the right to be present, to confront witnesses, and to present evidence. They are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Both the defendant and the prosecution may appeal a sentence. The judiciary is fully independent. Judges appointed by the Minister of Justice serve until age 70. They may not be dismissed but may be impeached for negligence or criminal acts. There are no political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitutional prohibition against searching homes, seizing papers, and breaching the secrecy of communications without a court order is respected.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a democratic political system ensure freedom of speech and press. There is one large state-owned radio and television company. Editorial control is exercised by a board independent of the Government. A second national television channel is one-third government subsidized. In both cases, management decides programming content, but operational decisions are restricted by the television-radio law, which limits, for example, broadcast time reserved for commercials. Programs critical of the Government appear on both channels. Cable television and satellite dishes, which are now common, have greatly increased access to foreign news broadcasts.

Private stations are restricted to transmitters of 10 watts for radio or 100 watts for television. Direct relay transmission of foreign radio broadcasts is prohibited, although they may be carried on the cable net. Publications, including books and newspapers, reflect a wide variety of political opinion. Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Danes may freely assemble and form associations. Public meetings require permits, which are routinely given. Any organization may affiliate with international bodies in its field.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for religious freedom. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the state church and is state supported. There is religious instruction in the schools in the state religion, but any student may without sanction be excused from religion classes with parental permission. No religion is banned or discouraged and conversion is unrestricted. No one may be discriminated against for one's religious beliefs.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Danes have full freedom of travel and movement. People determined to be refugees are never repatriated against their will. However, there is a growing popular desire to repatriate those who have been unsuccessful in establishing a legitimate claim to political asylum. A 1991 decision by the Folketing made clear that, following due process, those denied asylum would be returned to their homelands. Meanwhile, asylum seekers who arrive in Denmark via another safe country are returned directly to that country, pursuant to the Dublin Convention.

A large influx of asylum seekers from the former Yugoslavia began in September 1992 and continued in 1993. Denmark's financial and logistical resources were stretched to help absorb the new arrivals. In 1992, 14,000 new asylum seekers entered Denmark. This was more than three times as many as came in 1991, and significantly more than came in the previous record years of the mid-1980's (the era of the Iran-Iraq war). In 1993 more than 15,000 asylum seekers arrived in Denmark, more than 10,000 of whom came from the former Yugoslavia. As a result of this influx, the Government modified the country's liberal asylum rules effective October 10, 1992, and again on June 24, 1993. The first change revamped asylum claims processing to make it easier to determine a case to be "obviously groundless." The latter change imposed a requirement that would-be asylum seekers from the former Yugoslavia had to be prescreened by Danish authorities resident in Zagreb. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the former Yugoslavia can also refer needy cases to the Danish refugee adjudication center in Zagreb. These changes permitted Denmark to control the inflow of asylum seekers from the former Yugoslavia in order to select refugees from the most troubled areas. After a slow startup and initial criticism from the Human Rights Center, the program has met with broad support in Denmark.

The Government of Prime Minister Poul Schlueter fell in January as a result of the "Tamilgate" scandal. An investigation led by an independent prosecutor concluded that Schlueter knew of the illegal activities of a justice minister who had ordered his ministry to slow its processing of family reunification petitions from Tamil refugees living in Denmark, with a view to pressuring the Tamils to return home. Although the investigation's conclusions were contested and denied, including by Schlueter himself (who nevertheless announced his intention to resign the day the report was released), the scandal indicated that there was at least some high-level tolerance of, if not active support for, actions to limit the number of refugees in Denmark. This scandal led to the first impeachment in 83 years by the Folketing. The case is now before a special court for trials of cabinet ministers.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Danes have the right to change their government peacefully. Ministers are responsible to the Folketing and may be removed by a vote of no confidence. The Prime Minister is appointed by the Queen after consultation with parties in the Folketing. Parliamentary elections must take place every 4 years or earlier by decision of the Prime Minister.

The Folketing's 179 members are chosen in free and open elections under a complex system of proportional representation designed to help small parties and to reflect the popular vote. Twelve parties ran in the 1990 election; eight, with a wide range of political views, achieved the minimum 2 percent of the vote needed to obtain seats. The current Government is a four-party majority coalition. Danes 18 years of age or over may vote. Foreigners who are permanent residents may both vote and run in local elections; such persons hold 13 city council seats nationwide. There are no restrictions, in law or in practice, on the participation of women in government or politics. Women head 7 ministries in the new Government, compared to 4 under the former Government, and hold 59 seats in the Parliament.

The territories of Greenland (which has a primarily Inuit population) and the Faroe Islands (whose inhabitants have their own language) have democratically elected home rule governments with broad powers encompassing all but foreign and security affairs. Greenlanders and Faroese are Danish citizens and enjoy the same human rights as people in the rest of Denmark. Each territory elects two representatives to the Folketing.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Domestic human rights organizations operate freely. The Danish Center for Human Rights, a government-funded institution, conducts research and provides information on human rights. Denmark is party to various international human rights conventions that promote and protect human rights.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The extensive state welfare system ensures that every member of Danish society regardless of race, religion, sex, age, disability, or ethnic background is provided with food, shelter, health care, education, and training. The rights of indigenous people are carefully protected. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited.


Denmark places no restrictions on the participation of women in the civilian work force. Women hold positions of authority throughout society, including in politics, though they are less well represented at the top of the business world. Some 75 percent of all women between the ages of 16 and 66 belong to the work force; 46 percent of the work force is female, while

23 percent of all supervisors are women. Wage inequality exists, but wages are generally high for both men and women. Denmark has laws that guarantee equal pay for equal work and that prohibit job discrimination on the basis of sex. Women have and use the legal recourses available to them when they feel discriminated against.

Danish authorities do not tolerate, in law or in practice, violence or abuse against women or children. Crimes against women and children are considered serious; cases are investigated promptly by the State, and appropriate action is taken swiftly. However, according to the Danish National Institute of Social Research, less than 10 percent of cases involving domestic violence are reported. Denmark has no specific programs for the prevention of rape and domestic violence, although the Council for Prevention of Crime publishes a pamphlet entitled "Rape Can Be Prevented." There are 34 crisis centers for counseling and housing victims (plus a number of counseling centers without overnight facilities) which are supported by local governments, volunteer workers, and donations. In addition, Denmark has centers for abused men, women, and families.


Children in Denmark are protected by law; parents are required to protect children from physical and psychological abuse. The authorities act quickly to protect children from actually or potentially abusive or neglectful parents. Parents, regardless of income, receive the equivalent of about $1,300 per year for each child younger than 7 years old and about $1,000 per year for children from 7 to 17 years old. At least 20 percent of the total Danish social welfare budget is allocated to children and youths younger than 18 years.

Indigenous People

The rights of the people in Greenland and the Faroe Islands are fully protected. Greenlandic law is specially designed for Inuit customs. It provides for the use of lay people, rather than experts, as judges. Most prisoners are sent to holding centers – rather than prisons – where they are encouraged to work, hunt, or fish during the day. The Greenlandic Government again in 1993 rejected suggestions that the treatment of criminals be made more severe. This rejection was based partly on the experience of Greenlandic prisoners in Danish jails (they have a very difficult time adapting to confinement) and partly on the expense of building a prison. In Greenland, education is provided to the native population in the Inuit language.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The inflow of ethnically and racially diverse refugees and immigrants (mostly Iranians, Palestinians, and Sri Lankans, but since late 1992, overwhelmingly former Yugoslavs) has provoked a degree of tension between Danes and immigrants. Incidents of random, racially motivated violence do occur, but are rare. The Government effectively investigates and deals with all cases of racially motivated violence.

Overtly racist or neo-Nazi groups are few and small in size, and monitored closely by police. Swastikas and antiforeigner graffiti do exist in certain areas. Violent acts against refugees are rare. A woman active on behalf of refugees was beaten in Copenhagen, and two Albanian asylum seekers were attacked by three young Danish men. The case against the woman's assailant remains unresolved, but in the other case, the three men were prosecuted. Several politicians who have openly called for greater tolerance towards refugees have received hate mail and telephone calls. The former Turkish-born deputy mayor of Farum, the first immigrant ever to be elected to so high a post in Denmark, received telephone threats within the first week of taking office. The authorities investigated the threats, but did not find those responsible for the calls.

Refugees and asylum seekers can apply for Danish citizenship upon completing 6 years' residence and passing a language examination. Foreign-born, non-Nordic Danish citizens and legal permanent residents, however, suffer from significantly higher unemployment rates than Nordic residents and citizens. Some naturalized citizens have complained of job discrimination on the basis of race but have so far been unable to prove that they were discriminated against. Legislation prohibits job discrimination on the basis of race and provides for legal remedies.

In 1991 the Supreme Court rejected discriminatory racial and ethnic quotas in public housing which had been imposed by some towns to limit the number of immigrants who can live in a building. As a result, the quota system was dropped. Proponents claimed such limitation prevented ghettos. In 1993 about 5 municipalities refused to accept their share of the recent arrivals, despite rules and directives that they do so, because they objected to the cost and did not want the ethnic mix of the communities to be upset. The Government responded by forcing the municipalities to accept the refugees. In one case, the dissenting city councilors were found in contempt, and fines were imposed. The fines were never collected as the city council eventually accepted the Government's position and took the refugees.

People with Disabilities

The extensive social safety net ensures that the special needs of the disabled are addressed. Danish building regulations provide for special installations for the handicapped in public buildings built or renovated after 1977. Older buildings which change the nature of their use also must meet the regulations for public access. The code calls for easy access for the handicapped, defined as level-free access to the ground floor and at least one restroom equipped for use by the handicapped. The Danish Act on Social Welfare includes the provision of financial assistance for the alteration of private dwellings to accommodate the special needs of those in wheelchairs or needing other special equipment and for assistance in purchasing vehicles with special accessories for the disabled. The Center for Equal Treatment of the Handicapped was launched in August 1993. The Center is a consultative body that assists communities and individuals to ensure that existing regulations concerning the handicapped are followed. There is no Danish antidiscrimination legislation in connection with equal employment for the handicapped. However, a written rule on hiring in the civil service states that preference should be given to the handicapped individual when other factors are the same.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law states that all workers, including military personnel and the police, may form or join unions of their choosing. Approximately 80 percent of Danish wage earners belong to unions, which are independent of the Government and political parties. The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), which includes about half of the country's work force, remains closely associated with the Social Democratic Party. Over the years (but not in 1993) there have been a few – but widely reported – incidents in which workers who joined trade unions not affiliated with the LO were harassed or rejected by members of the mainstream unions in the workplace. All but civil servants and the military have the right to strike. The number of days not worked due to labor conflicts in 1992 was 62,800 (down from 101,000 in 1991). Unions may affiliate freely with international organizations and do so actively. Worker rights, including full freedom of association, have the same respect in Greenland and the Faroe Islands as in the rest of Denmark.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers and employers acknowledge each other's right to organize. Collective bargaining is widespread. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against union members and organizers, and there are mechanisms to resolve disputes. Employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities. In the private sector, salaries, benefits, and working conditions are agreed upon in biennial negotiations between the various employers' associations and the union counterparts. In the event of a stalemate, the Confederation of Danish Employers' Associations and the LO conduct these negotiations. If the negotiations fail, a national conciliation board mediates, and its proposal is voted on by management and labor. If the proposal is turned down, the Government may force a legislated solution on the parties (usually based upon the mediators' proposal). The agreements, in turn, are used as guidelines by the rest of the labor market, including the public sector. Collective bargaining in the public sector is conducted between the public sector employees' unions and government representatives, led by the Finance Ministry.

Labor relations in Greenland are conducted in the same manner as in Denmark. Working conditions are negotiated through collective bargaining, usually led by the largest Greenlandic union, SIK, which has about 8,000 members, about one-half of the indigenous work force. In disputes, Greenlandic courts are the first recourse, but Danish mediation services or the Danish Labor Court may also be used.

In the Faroes, there are unions but no umbrella labor organization. Labor relations in principle are a matter between management and labor. Between them, they decide on salaries, wages, and terms of employment. Should the parties not be able to reach an agreement, a mediator is called in to resolve the dispute. Faroese legislation regulates conditions of apprenticeship, cost-of-living adjustments to negotiated wages, minimum wages in the fisheries sector, length of the workweek, and annual vacations.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited and does not exist.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for full-time employment is 15. The law prescribes specific limitations on the employment of those between 15 and 18 years of age, and it is enforced by the Agency for Supervision of Labor Standards, an autonomous arm of the Ministry of Labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no legally mandated national minimum wage, but the lowest wage in any national labor agreement is sufficient for a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The law provides for 5 weeks of paid vacation, and a 37-hour workweek is generally observed. The law prescribes conditions of work, including safety and health; duties of employers, supervisors, and employees; work performance; rest periods and days off; and medical examinations. The Labor Inspection Service ensures compliance with labor legislation. Workers may remove themselves from hazardous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and there are legal protections for workers who file complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

Similar conditions of work are found in Greenland and the Faroes, except that their workweek is 40 hours. Unemployment benefits in Greenland are either contained in labor contract agreements or come from the general social security system. A general unemployment insurance system in the Faroe Islands was established in August 1992, replacing former unemployment compensation covered by the social security system. Sick pay and maternity pay, as in Denmark, fall under the social security system.

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