Danish Court to Consider “Ghetto Package” Eviction Plan While Government Forges Ahead with Expansion of Racially Discriminatory Laws
COPENHAGEN—Today, Denmark’s Eastern High Court will begin deliberations on a case filed by Copenhagen residents against the Danish Ministry of Interior and Housing. The complainants are challenging the Ministry’s approval of a development plan under the country’s nationwide so-called Ghetto Package—a term that has been used by the government to refer to these laws. Through this legislative package, the government seeks to “eradicate” areas, officially designated as “ghettos,” because they are mostly occupied by people classed by the State as being of “non-Western” background.
The complainants are from Mjølnerparken, where over 80% of the community is categorised as “non-Western”. Around 95% of these individuals are of Middle Eastern or North African background.
Over 200 homes have been earmarked for sale under the development plan. At today’s hearing, the Ministry is seeking to have the case dismissed on preliminary grounds. Its arguments include that the complainants—who face imminent eviction—are not directly impacted by its approval of the plan to sell their homes, many of which they have lived in for decades.
“Just last month, the magazine Time Out declared that Nørrebro, where Mjølnerparken is situated, is ‘the world’s coolest neighborhood.’ The irony of these types of accolades cannot be overstated,” said Susheela Math, a senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative. “On the one hand, we have Time Out announcing that ‘the real draw of Nørrebro is its wide-ranging diversity, bolstered by a generous dose of community spirit.’ On the other, we have the Danish government busy in Court defending its approval of a plan to evict its residents, fueled by an ongoing determination to ‘eradicate’ such neighborhoods on the basis that that they are too ‘non-Western.’ It is high time for the world to wake up to the shameful reality of present-day Denmark and for domestic, regional and international institutions to take meaningful action to hold the government to account on its legal obligations.”
The development plan was passed and approved pursuant to a legal requirement introduced by the “Ghetto Package” for the reduction of a form of not-for-profit housing known as “common family housing” to no more than 40% in all “tough ghettos” (“tough ghettos” are those which have already met the criteria for four or more years). Other laws introduced as part of the “Ghetto Package” include powers for the police to define geographical zones in which punishments for particular crimes can be doubled; provisions criminalizing parents whose children make certain trips abroad and/or restricting passports for their children; and a mandatory daycare “offer” requiring that parents in certain areas send their children from the age of one, for 25 hours a week, to daycare for instruction on matters such as “Danish values” or else risk losing child benefit payments.
The residents claim that the Ministry’s approval of the development plan for Mjølnerparken breaches their fundamental rights in violation of domestic law, which is in accordance with the EU’s Race Equality Directive and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Danish Institute of Human Rights, which is responsible for protecting, monitoring, and promoting human rights in the country, has joined the case, supporting the complainants’ claim that the approval “constitutes direct discrimination of ethnic origin.” In addition, three UN special rapporteurs—independent experts appointed to investigate human rights problems—have lodged an urgent appeal before the government for the sale of the homes to be put on hold until the Court reaches a decision.
In 2019, the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights found that the manner in which the government has categorized neighborhoods such as Mjølnerparken as “ghettos” results not only in discrimination based on ethnic origin and nationality, but also in further marginalization. Denmark distinguishes “ghettos” from other areas with the same socio-economic factors on the explicit basis that the majority of its residents are of “non-Western” background. This state-made, artificial categorisation can cover generations of individuals, including those born in Denmark. Australia and New Zealand are included in the concept of “Western,” demonstrating that the definition formulated by Denmark is not based on geography.
In addition, the laws run counter to the purported justifications for the “Ghetto Package,” including better social integration. As noted by the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Denmark’s inclusion of ‘descendants’ “sends a message that may have a counter-effect on their feeling of belonging and forming an integral part of Danish society.” The UN Special Rapporteurs have expressed concern that the laws reinforce a racially discriminatory concept of who is and who is not “truly” Danish and discriminate against minority communities including Muslims in a number of different contexts. This month, Denmark is being reviewed by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Earlier this year, over 50,000 Danes signed a parliamentary petition urging the Danish government to repeal the laws. Rather than heeding this call and the warnings of international monitoring bodies, however, the Danish government has now tabled a new bill expanding the “Ghetto Package” laws with the aim of limiting those of “non-Western” background to a maximum of 30% in any housing estate within the next ten years.