Press release

Danish Court Upholds Right To Challenge Government’s Racially Discriminatory “Ghetto” Package Eviction Plan

December 15, 2021
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COPENHAGEN—Today, Denmark’s Eastern High Court handed down a ruling that allows a case challenging a development plan under the government’s controversial “Ghetto Package” to proceed. The case was brought forward by residents in Mjølnerparken, Copenhagen, an officially-designated “ghetto”, against the Danish Ministry of Interior and Housing, which argued for the case to be dismissed. The complaint disputes a housing development plan in Mjølnerparken to be carried out under the country’s nationwide “Ghetto Package,” would turn 200 not-for-profit homes into private properties. The “Ghetto Package,” a set of controversial Danish laws announced in 2018, puts thousands of individuals living in non-profit housing, disproportionately ethnic minorities, at risk of forced eviction. Residents in Mjølnerparken and elsewhere in Denmark argue that the “Ghetto Package” policies target Muslims and other racialized groups of migrant descent for discrimination.

“I welcome the High Court’s rejection of the Ministry’s untenable argument that residents in Mjølnerparken are not directly impacted by its approval of a plan to sell homes in which they have lived for decades,” said Susheela Math, a senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative. “The case will now proceed to a full hearing before the Eastern High Court, unless the Ministry appeals.”

The government’s stated goal under the so-called Ghetto Package is to “eradicate” neighborhoods which are designated as “ghettos” or “parallel society” zones. The determining factor in such designations is whether the majority of residents are classed by the State as being of “non-Western background.” In “tough ghettos”—designated as such for having met the criteria to be designated as a “ghetto” for four or more years—it requires a reduction of a form of not-for-profit housing known as “common family housing” to no more than 40%.

In Mjølnerparken, over 80% of residents are categorized as having “non-Western background”. Among these “non-Western” individuals, around 95% are of Middle Eastern or North African background, reflecting claims of anti-Muslim, racial discrimination. All residents behind the legal challenge against the Danish government are Danish citizens.

The Eastern High Court found that the residents are all individually and concretely affected by the Ministry’s approval of the development plan and therefore have legal standing. It further noted that the loss of a home is such an intrusion of fundamental rights that the plaintiffs must be given the opportunity to challenge the approval of the development plan before it is implemented.

This month, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged the government to repeal discriminatory provisions of the "Ghetto Package,” and to “refrain from using the percentage of immigrants and their descendants from “non-Western” countries in a certain area as a basis for applying stricter laws and measures. In particular, the Committee expressed concern that the use of the terms “Western” and “non-Western” adds a discriminatory ethnic and racial element to these laws, which can result in stigmatization.

“The UN Committee’s report on Denmark is the latest in a long list of international condemnations of these laws—and measures taken under them—as racially discriminatory and stigmatizing,” added Math. “The Court’s decision to allow this case to move forward assists Danish citizens in putting their rights into practice to hold the government to account for its actions and save their homes.”

The residents, who face imminent eviction, 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 final decision.

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