Denmark is a robust democracy with regular free and fair elections. Citizens enjoy full political rights, the government protects free expression and association, and the judiciary functions independently. However, Denmark has struggled to uphold fundamental freedoms for immigrants and other newcomers.
- Parliament rejected a petition requesting amendments to Denmark’s controversial “antighetto” initiatives in May. The initiatives, which seek to shift the demographics of areas identified as having high unemployment and crime rates, have been criticized as discriminatory by numerous human rights bodies, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
- In September, former immigration minister Inger Støjberg was found guilty of violating the Ministerial Responsibility Act in 2016, when she illegally ordered the separation of several couples seeking asylum in Denmark, and sentenced to two months in prison. She was voted out of Parliament by a majority of legislators in December.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution retains a monarch, currently Queen Margrethe II, with mostly ceremonial duties. The monarch chooses the prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party or government coalition. Mette Frederiksen of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was appointed by Queen Margrethe in June 2019, after that party emerged as Parliament’s largest in the election held that month.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The 179 members of Denmark’s unicameral Parliament (Folketinget) are elected to four-year terms through a system of modified proportional representation.
Since the June 2019 elections, Frederiksen has headed an SDP-led government with the support of the Red-Green Alliance, the Socialist People’s Party (SF), and the Social Liberal Party (SLP). The election was considered free and fair, and the results were accepted by stakeholders and the public.
Local elections held in November 2021 were competitive and well-administered.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Robust electoral laws are upheld impartially by the various bodies tasked with implementation.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Numerous political parties compete freely.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
The Danish political system is open to the rise of opposition parties through elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
Voters and political figures are generally free from undue influences by actors who are not democratically accountable.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||4.004 4.004|
The electoral laws guarantee universal suffrage for citizens, as well as representation in regional and municipal elections for permanent residents. Refugees and other immigrants may vote in municipal and regional but not general elections, after having obtained permanent residence at least three years before an election date. Women, LGBT+ people, persons living with disabilities, and members of ethnic and religious minority groups are represented in prominent positions.
The territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands each have two representatives in Parliament. They also have their own elected institutions, which have power over almost all areas of governance, except foreign and financial policy.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Denmark’s freely elected government is able to craft and implement policy. Danish governments most often control a minority of seats in Parliament, ruling with the aid of one or more supporting parties. Since 1909, no single party has held a majority of seats, helping to create a tradition of compromise.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||4.004 4.004|
Anticorruption laws and bodies are generally effective, and corruption is not considered an urgent problem in Denmark. The government upholds a zero-tolerance policy for corruption and is subject to independent audits; those found in violation of anticorruption regulations face criminal prosecution.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||4.004 4.004|
Government operations are generally transparent. The Public Access to Information Act recognizes the right to request government information, though with some exceptions, such as information concerning national security and foreign policy.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
Domestic media reflect a wide variety of political opinions and are frequently critical of the government.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of worship is legally protected. However, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is subsidized by the government as the official state religion. The faith is taught in public schools, though students may withdraw from religious classes with parental consent.
In 2018, a general ban on the public wearing of face coverings, widely referred to as a “burqa ban” applicable to Muslim women, took effect. By July 2020, 60 people had been charged with violating the ban, out of which only some cases addressed specifically the wearing of burqas. Fines for defying the ban range from $150 to $300.
In 2018, Parliament adopted a law requiring mandatory participation in a ceremony for confirmation of newly granted Danish citizenship, with guidelines including a requirement for shaking hands. The provision was viewed as a means of requiring Muslims who refuse to touch someone of a different gender on religious grounds to adopt practices seen as “Danish.” In February 2020, one man rejected the handshake—not for religious reasons, but out of principle—and as a consequence was not granted citizenship. When COVID-19 struck Denmark in March 2020, all citizenship ceremonies were put on hold, but they were later resumed; as a temporary measure, the mandatory handshake introduced in 2018 was suspended and replaced with the signing of a statement. The government plans to reinstate the policy when public health guidance permits.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
Private discussion is vibrant and unrestricted.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, which is upheld in practice. Restrictions were placed on assembly throughout 2020 and 2021 to limit the spread of COVID-19. Most restrictions were lifted in September 2021, but reintroduced in December in response to a spike in the number of coronavirus cases in Denmark.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate freely in Denmark, and frequently inform policy debates.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Workers are free to organize and bargain collectively.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary is independent. Judges are formally appointed by the monarch but are recommended by the Justice Minister in consultation with the independent Judicial Appointments Council.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3.003 4.004|
Citizens enjoy full due-process rights. However, restrictions imposed especially on rejected asylum seekers remain in force. Individuals who were denied asylum in Denmark, but whom the government is for various reasons unable to deport, may be subject to administrative measures parallel to those imposed on people with criminal convictions. Many such individuals live in isolated centers with poor facilities where they are subject to travel restrictions and have no legal option to challenge their placement.
In 2019, the Youth Crime Board was established to deal with individuals between the ages of 10 and 17 who violate the law or are at risk of criminal behavior. Youths may be placed in secure institutions where conditions closely resemble those in the detention system. Professionals have criticized the mechanism for reinforcing criminal identity among youth, in addition to effectively lowering the age of criminal responsibility below the age of 15, as outlined by law. In a 2021 evaluation of the mechanism, the Justice Ministry assessed the program as generally effective, though recommended the Board work toward shortening case processing times.
In October 2019, Parliament adopted legislation that would allow the minister of immigration and integration to strip citizenship from individuals who fight abroad for extremist groups, namely the Islamic State (IS); the minister only has the power to do so for those holding dual citizenship. Further, children born to Danish parents in conflict zones are no longer granted Danish citizenship at birth, and the Danish foreign service may deny fighters in foreign conflicts consular assistance. As of the end of 2021, 11 individuals considered to be “foreign fighters” had been stripped of their Danish citizenship. Five of these “foreign fighters” have appealed the government’s decision; court proceedings in one such case began in November.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
People in Denmark are generally free from violent crime and physical abuse by state authorities.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
Discrimination, including based on gender identity or sexual orientation, is prohibited by law.
Danish immigration laws have long been some of the harshest in Europe, and immigration laws and asylum policies were tightened in response to large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers entering Europe beginning in 2015. While Denmark recorded 21,000 asylum applications that year, the figure stood at just 2,095 in 2021. Denmark loosened some restrictions for refugees and asylum seekers in 2019.
In recent years, controversy has arisen over the disproportionate number of people with non-Danish ethnic ancestry in the justice system: though members of ethnic minority groups comprise less than 10 percent of the population, the percentage of incarcerated young men from "non-Western" backgrounds is up to four times that of their ethnic Danish counterparts, according to government statistics. This disparity has been partly attributed to a higher rate of policing in areas with a significant “non-Western” population. However, others have used these figures to promote the government’s “antighetto” initiatives, which seek to shift the demographics of areas identified as having high unemployment and crime rates, and a high percentage of foreign-born residents.
In 2018, the High Court convicted Mohamed Abdi—who had lived in Denmark for over 20 years after being brought there as a child—of illegally possessing a firearm, and ordered that he be permanently expelled from the country. In September 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that the ruling ordering Abdi’s expulsion had violated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The Greenlandic Inuit community faces social marginalization in Denmark, though the government has implemented programs to address this issue.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of movement is protected by law and generally respected by the government. However, in 2018, the previous government of Lars Løkke Rasmussen proposed an “antighetto” initiative, applicable to neighborhoods identified as having high unemployment and crime rates, and a high percentage of foreign-born residents. It aims to shift the areas’ demographics, institute day care requirements for foreign children that would integrate them into Danish society through language and culture lessons, and enact stricter punishments for crimes committed there. Legislation to demolish certain housing structures to meet demographic quotas passed that November, and the daycare provision was approved that December. Since the introduction of these initiatives, several public housing areas have found themselves on the “hard ghetto” list, a consequence of which will be that public housing in the area will have to be demolished or transformed into cooperative or privately owned housing. This would have a strongly detrimental effect on the freedom of residence of affected individuals, with a further discriminatory effect. By December 2020, more than 52,000 citizens had signed a motion to bring the “ghetto law” before Parliament, with a view to halting further implementation including demolitions and other significant measures; Parliament rejected the petition in May 2021. The government has also rejected calls from the OHCHR to eliminate or amend parts of the “antighetto” initiative, which the OHCHR has called discriminatory. As of the end of 2021, no actual demolitions have taken place.
Since 2015, Denmark has enacted measures that restrict the movement of people who seek to join, or have joined, extremist groups abroad—notably the IS. Some of the measures have been criticized for having a low evidentiary threshold or for lacking appropriate oversight mechanisms.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
Private business activity is free from undue influence by government officials or nonstate actors.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
Refugees and other newcomers face lengthy waiting times for family reunification, including in cases involving small children, and restrictions on family reunification were tightened in the wake of the 2015 refugee crisis. The SDP, under pressure from partners in the Red Bloc, committed to loosening some restrictions in return for their support in forming the government in June 2019, and specifically committed to reviewing strict requirements for children seeking permanent residence in Denmark.
Restrictive amendments to the Epidemic Act were passed by Parliament in March 2020, during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. A measure authorizing forced vaccinations and other limitations of individual freedoms was reversed by the government later in the year, and in December 2020, a much-revised form of the bill ensuring transparency and democratic control was presented, with the support of most lawmakers and the health-care sector. The revised Epidemic Act came into force in March 2021, creating legal procedures for combatting “socially critical diseases.” The legislation is intended to ensure a transparent government response for future public health crises. All COVID-19-related restrictions were lifted in September after the government announced that the virus no longer posed a major health threat; however, some restrictions were reintroduced in December following a spike in case numbers.
In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the world to adopt same-sex civil unions, and in 2012, Parliament overwhelmingly passed same-sex marriage legislation enabling couples to wed in the Lutheran state church of their choosing. Priests are not obligated to officiate but, when requested to do so, must find a colleague who will.
In December 2020, lawmakers passed a measure that criminalized sex without explicit consent. Previously, proof of violence or serious threat had been required to bring rape charges.
In September 2021, former immigration minister Inger Støjberg was convicted of unlawfully separating several couples seeking asylum in Denmark in 2016—including couples with children and those with one partner below the age of 18—and was sentenced to two months in prison. A majority of legislators voted to remove Støjberg from Parliament in December.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||4.004 4.004|
Public- and private-sector workers are generally free from exploitation by employers. However, migrants engaged in forced labor can be found in some sectors, including the agricultural and service industries. Women and children, also primarily migrants, can be found engaged in forced sex work. The government and NGOs work, frequently in conjunction, to identify and prevent human trafficking and to provide aid to survivors.
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