Human Rights in Europe - Review of 2019 - Denmark [EUR 01/2098/2020]


Survivors of rape continued to face inadequate and outdated laws although changes to the legal definition of rape were announced. Denmark announced it would re-enter the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) refugee resettlement programme – however, in very insignificant numbers. New housing legislation was criticized by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) for being discriminatory.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

In July, the Minister for Immigration and Integration announced that Denmark would re-enter the UNHCR resettlement programme and receive 30 refugees in 2019, but no refugees had been resettled to Denmark by the end of the year.

Individuals granted subsidiary temporary protection status still had to wait three years before being eligible to apply for family reunification. Asylum-seeking families with children whose claims were rejected were accommodated in the Sjælsmark deportation camp. Only very few children had access to ordinary schools and according to a survey, 61% of the children displayed mental health problems. In November, the government and its parliamentary support agreed to close Sjælsmark by April 2020.

Violence against women and girls

Danish legislation and practice of handling cases of sexual violence including rape continued to fall short of international human rights standards, as mentioned in the CESCR recommendations to Denmark in October 2019, with serious consequences for survivors of rape. While the prevalence of rape was significant, only a minority of cases were reported to the police and very few led to convictions. Sexuality education to tackle gender stereotypes and rape myths and prevent sexual violence did not reach enough students or include teaching on consent.[i] Denmark was also criticized by the CESCR in 2019 on this issue.

In June, the government and supporting parties agreed to change the legal definition of rape to a consent-based one. The government announced that a bill will be tabled in Parliament in February 2020, although no schedule had been put forward by the end of the year. This commitment came after years of campaigning by survivor-activists and women’s and human rights organizations.

Right to housing

Under the 2018 regulation L38 on social housing, a number of low-income neighbourhoods were categorized as “vulnerable areas”, ghettos” and “hard ghettos”. A “ghetto” is defined as an area where the proportion of immigrants and descendants from “non-Western countries” exceeds 50 percent, and where at least two of the four criteria for ”vulnerable areas” are met (higher than average rates of unemployment, criminal convictions, low education, and low income). A “hard ghetto” has met those criteria for four years. Special and disproportionate regulatory measures apply to residents living there such as compulsory day care for children from the age of 1 year and no access to family reunification. The associated programme of planned privatization or demolition of social housing in “hard ghettos” risks pushing residents into inadequate housing and even homelessness in the absence of any published plans to provide adequate alternative housing. In November, the CESCR urged Denmark to address this clear case of discrimination against and stigmatisation of residents in these neighbourhoods.


The adoption by parliament in 2018 of a ban on wearing face coverings in public has had a particularly negative and discriminatory impact on Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab or the burqa.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI)

Danish medical standards and decision-making processes continued to allow non-emergency and irreversible medical interventions on young children born with variations of sex characteristics. The Danish Health Authority did not introduce any human rights-based guidelines to say that such interventions, both surgical and hormonal, on infants and children should be postponed until they can meaningfully participate in decision-making and give informed consent. This resulted in a violation of the children’s rights to private life, bodily integrity and the highest attainable standard of health.

Arms trade

In January, the government extended the suspension of future exports to Saudi Arabia of weapons, military equipment and dual-use products it had made in 2018 to also cover the United Arab Emirates.

[i] Amnesty International: Denmark: "Give us respect and justice!" Overcoming barriers to justice for women rape survivors in Denmark (EUR 18/9784/2019)