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DENMARK: New security package risks restricting the right to peaceful assembly and discriminating against minorities

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On 8 October 2020, the Danish Minister of Justice, the Minister of Housing, the Tax Minister and Minister for Immigration and Integration launched a draft package called “Security for all Danes”. It includes four new initiatives, which will give increased powers to the police to take action against “insecurity-creating behaviour”. The draft is currently under consultation, and the Government hopes to pass it by July 2021. A coalition of Danish organisation is concerned that the law will restrict the right to peaceful assembly and disproportionally affect ethnic minorities. The coalition calls the Government to drop the law.

  • The law will restrict the right to free assembly and diminish the civic space

The draft includes a provision allowing the police to issue a general ban on staying in a geographically defined area for 30 days, extendable for 30 additional days, if a group of people exhibit “insecurity-creating behaviour” in the area. The ban would apply to everyone in the area, regardless of whether they displayed criminal behaviours, except for regular traffic. The draft bill does not make an exception for public demonstrations. The measure is feared to limit the freedom of peaceful assembly disproportionately and arbitrarily.

According to an analysis of the bill by ECNL, the law does not meet the three-prong test of legality, necessity and proportionality. Due to the “vague formulation” and “lack of precision” of the conditions to impose the ban, the law leaves discretion to the police on its application, thus allowing arbitrary decisions to be taken.

The law, which is criminal in nature, foresees a pecuniary sanction of DKK 10,000 (over 1300 Euro) for a first offence and a prison sentence of up to 1 year for a second offence. Additionally, if individuals cannot pay fines, and have tax debts, authorities can confiscate their valuable, such as watches or expensive jackets. Given the severity of the sanctions and the wording’s vagueness, it could create a chilling effect on anybody wishing to exercise their right to peaceful assembly.

ECNL also highlights that the law is unclear in respect of the right of effective remedy to breaches of fundamental rights as, for example, it is not stated whether the legality of the decision would be subject to judicial review.

  • The law will disproportionally target ethnic minorities

In a speech announcing the law to the Parliament on 6 October 2020, the Prime Minister established a link between the above mentioned “insecurity-creating behaviours” and minorities. She stated, “Every fifth young man with a non-Western background, born in 1997, had violated criminal law before the age of 21”. The package “Security for all Danes” also follows a number of other measures targeting “non-Western” neighbourhoods, such as the 2018 Ghetto Package that was condemned by UN experts for its discriminatory nature. As a result, NGOs warn that the law will particularly target ethnic minorities and contribute to stigmatising them in the public’s eyes.

  • The law is not in line with the Danish constitutions, international human rights law and EU obligations

As it stands, the law violates Section 79 of the Danish Constitution and Article 20 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which gives precisely the right to peaceful assembly – regardless of number. It also risks breaching the EU Race Equality Directive and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.