Last Updated: Friday, 28 August 2015, 14:50 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Denmark

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Denmark, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 28 August 2015]
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 parliamentary democratic rule. Queen Margrethe II is Head of State. The Cabinet, accountable to the unicameral Parliament (Folketing), leads the Government. A minority, three-party coalition took office in September following national elections.

The national police force is fully controlled by and responsive to civilian authorities. The advanced industrial economy is essentially market-based, with public ownership limited largely to utilities and public transportation. The Government continues to seek ways to reduce the public sector's share of the economy.

Deeply rooted democratic principles, an egalitarian tradition, and a free press have resulted in high official as well as societal respect for human rights. There are well-established legal channels for seeking redress for mistreatment by any national authority. Amnesty International (AI) issued a controversial report in June citing allegations that police in Copenhagen used excessive force in a 1992-93 crackdown on lawbreakers and during riots in May 1993. The Government suspended three policemen for firing into a crowd during those riots.

Indicative of the Government's commitment to promoting human rights internationally were its actions on behalf of the U.N. Tribunal on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia in bringing to justice an accused war criminal from Bosnia. After consultations with the chief prosecutor, the Government decided to bring Rafic Saric to trial in Denmark. In a landmark decision, in November a Danish court found him guilty of committing war crimes while he worked with Bosnian Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The court sentenced Saric to 8 years in jail for his assaults against inmates at the Dretelj camp.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of such killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no known abductions or disappearances.

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

Such practices are prohibited by law. Torture does not occur, and allegations of physical mistreatment are rare. However, since 1988 AI has complained that the police occasionally use excessive force, and AI has never been fully satisfied by the Government's responses to those complaints.

In June AI published "Danish Police Ill Treatment," a controversial sweeping criticism focusing primarily on two episodes. In one, the police on May 18-19, 1993, apparently shot indiscriminately at demonstrators in Copenhagen who were protesting the outcome of a national plebiscite in which the voters accepted the Maastricht Treaty. When demonstrators hurled paving stones at the police, some police fired into the crowd, wounding at least 11 people; in 1994 the police leadership suspended three police on a charge that these firings violated regulations on the use of firearms.

Also under focus in the AI report was the police's conduct of a campaign in 1992-93 against drug-dealers and other lawbreakers in a section of Copenhagen. Police detained or arrested hundreds of people, and immobilized some detainees by using a "leg-lock," a potentially very painful constraint. Immediately after AI's report, the police ceased using the leg-lock.

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 pretrial detention, and may require the detainee to be in isolation (for renewable 4-week periods after a hearing before a judge), for a period up to the length of the prison sentence for the charged crime. Pretrial detention usually lasts from a few weeks to a few months. As of October, 633 of the 3,752 prisoners in Danish jails (17 percent) were in pretrial detention. Any detainee has the right to choose an attorney or have a free public attorney. Bail is allowed, but it is rarely used; courts have prescribed six other means for obtaining pretrial release, and these are generally considered preferable. There is no exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The right to a fair public trial is enforced by a fully independent judiciary. Trials are usually public, but judges may make exceptions to protect the privacy or security of any participant, e.g., in divorce cases or where the charge is rape or paternity. 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.

Defendants are presumed innocent, and have the right to be present, to confront witnesses, and to present evidence. Both the defendant and the prosecution have the right to appeal a sentence.

Judges are appointed by the Minister of Justice, and serve until age 70. They cannot be dismissed but can be impeached for negligence or criminal acts. There are no political prisoners.

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

The Constitution stipulates that without a court order there can be no searching of any home, surveillance of any individual, seizure of any paper, or breaching of the confidentiality of any communication. The Government respects these prohibitions.

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 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. Several independently owned Danish-language channels are available on the local cable net or via satellite dishes. Programs critical of the Government appear on all channels. Cable television and satellite dishes, which are now common, ensure wide access to foreign news broadcasts.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these freedoms, and the Government respects them. Public meetings require permits, which are routinely given. Any organization may affiliate with international bodies.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for complete religious freedom, and the Government respects this in practice.

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

Citizens have full freedom of travel and movement within and outside Denmark and freedom of repatriation. People who qualify as refugees are never repatriated against their will. However, pursuant to the Dublin Convention, asylum-seekers who arrive via another safe country are returned directly to that country. Also, Denmark increasingly seeks to repatriate applicants unable to establish a claim to asylum. Unsuccessful asylum applicants are returned directly to their home countries.

In 1993 Justice Minister Erik Ninn-Hansen was impeached for his illegal actions in hampering the processing of family- reunification petitions from Tamil refugees. His trial was postponed in 1994 due to his severe illness.

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

Citizens have both the right and the ability 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 Parliament. Parliamentary elections must take place every 4 years or (by decision of the Prime Minister) earlier, with voting by secret ballot. A system of proportional representation benefits small parties. There are no restrictions, in law or in practice, on the participation of women or minorities in voting, politics, or government. Women currently head two political parties in the Parliament; hold 7 of the 20 cabinet positions; and hold 58 of the 179 seats in the Parliament.

The territories of Greenland (whose population is primarily Inuit) and the Faroe Islands (whose inhabitants have their own Norse language) have democratically elected home-rule governments with powers encompassing all matters except foreign affairs, monetary affairs, and national security. Greenlanders and Faroese are Danish citizens, with the same rights as those in the rest of the Kingdom. Each territory elects two representatives to the Folketing.

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

Domestic and international human rights organizations freely monitor and issue reports, without government restriction.

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

The Government's operations and extensive public services do not discriminate on the basis of any of these factors or on the basis of sexual orientation. The rights of indigenous people are carefully protected.


There are no restrictions on participation of women in the civilian work force. Women hold positions of authority throughout society, though they are underrepresented at the top of the business world. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but wage inequality still exists. The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and provides recourses such as access to the Equal Status Council.


The Government is committed to ensuring that each child receives humane treatment within the family and from society. There is no pattern of societal abuse against children. The production (but not the possession) of child pornography is illegal in Denmark. The law requires parents to protect children from physical and psychological abuse. The authorities act swiftly to protect children from actually or potentially abusive or neglectful parents.

Indigenous People

The law protects the rights of the inhabitants of Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The Greenlandic legal system seeks to accommodate Inuit customs. Accordingly, it provides for the use of lay people as judges, and it sentences most prisoners to holding centers (rather than to prisons) where they are encouraged to work, hunt, or fish during the day.

In Greenland, education is provided to the native population in both the Inuit and Danish languages.

People with Disabilities

There is no Danish legislation explicitly banning discrimination against the handicapped in hiring or on-the-job treatment. However, a longstanding regulation on hiring for the civil service gives preference to any handicapped candidates among equally qualified ones.

Danish regulations require special installations for the handicapped in public buildings built or renovated after 1977, and in older buildings that come into public use.

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 all workers are union members. The unions are independent of the Government and political parties. The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions, which includes about half of the country's work force, remains closely associated with the Social Democratic Party. Unions may affiliate freely with international organizations, and they do so actively. All unions except those representing civil servants or the military have the right to strike.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers and employers acknowledge each other's right to organize. Collective bargaining is protected by law, and is widespread in practice.

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. 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 throughout the public as well as the private sector. In the public sector, collective bargaining is conducted between the employees' unions and a government group led by the Finance Ministry.

Labor relations in Greenland are conducted in the same manner as in Denmark. 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 is no umbrella labor organization, but individual unions engage in periodic collective bargaining with employers. Disputes are settled by mediation.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited and does not occur.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for full-time employment is 15. The law specifies limitations on the employment of workers between 15 and 18 years of age, and it is enforced by the Danish Working Environment Service (DWES), an autonomous arm of the Ministry of Labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no legally mandated national minimum wage, but national labor agreements effectively set a wage floor. The lowest wage is currently about $11 per hour (Danish Kroner 68 per hour), which is sufficient for an adequate standard of living for a worker and family. The law provides for 5 weeks of paid vacation. A 37-hour workweek is the norm, established by contract, not by law. The law does, however, require at least 11 hours between the end of one work period and the start of the next.

The law also 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 DWES ensures compliance with labor legislation. Workers may remove themselves from hazardous situations or arms production without jeopardizing their employment rights, 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 standard workweek is 40 hours. As in Denmark, this is established by contract, not by law, and the law requires an 11-hour rest period.

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