Saturday, March 12, 2011

Denmark: Points and Palestinians

Denmark's ousted Immigration Minister
For the last few weeks Denmark has been rocked by a political scandal featuring leaked documents, intrepid reporting, a shady minister and... stateless Palestinians?

That's right. Denmark, being a signatory to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, is required to offer citizenship to children born in the country who would otherwise be stateless. On the contrary, it was recently revealed that a number (36, to be exact) of youngsters of Palestinian heritage had been rejected when they applied for citizenship- and that far more had never been informed about their right to become Danish.

Worse, it turns out that this human rights violation was more than just an oversight. The Immigration Minister, Birthe Hornbech, when questioned earlier in the month about her possible involvement, denied any prior knowledge of the mistake and claimed the rejections occurred under earlier administrations.  However, leaks soon made their way out that confirmed that Hornbech knew about the error- as far back as 2008- and failed to inform anyone. She even asked for and recieved legal advice that directly contradicted Denmark's procedure. Now, being forced to file a report at the prompting of a media investigation, Hornbech has been fired as the government tries to distance itself from her actions. But so long as its just an isolated incident, alls well that ends well, right?

Or, one could see this in the context of further worrying anti-immigrant developments that have been occurring in the country in the last year. For instance, in January the government announced a new point system that would make the country's already strict requirements for foreign spouses even tougher. It requires, among other things, that the Danish spouse put up a large sum of money, that both spouses be 24 years old, and that the foreign-born spouse pass a language and knowledge test. In other words, they are trying to make it extremely difficult for Danes to marry foreigners, and possibly violating the ECHR by interfering in the right to private and family life.

These developments are worrying, and are significant of a larger swing to the right throughout Europe. The question is, to what extent can countries' prior generous human rights commitments restrain them from making the temporarily popular decisions that violate them? Denmark would be a good case to watch.