Denmark criticized by UN torture committee

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Denmark criticized by UN torture committee
The Iraq Commission's closure was critcized. Photo: Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum/Flickr"

Denmark's ruling Venstre government has come under serious criticism from the UN committee against torture, particularly for the decision to close the Iraq Commission earlier this year.


A new report from the UN Committee against Torture has highlighted a number of areas in which the UN believes Denmark is failing to respect the international conventions on torture.

The report took particular aim at Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen's decision to shut down a government commission investigating Denmark's role in the Iraq War for financial reasons. 

The UN said that the closure of the so-called Iraq Commission was premature as the commission had been terminated before the investigation had come to a sound conclusion on whether Denmark had handed prisoners over to the Iraqi government who were at risk of being tortured.

See also: Denmark's involvement in Iraq War faces new questions

The commission was established by the Helle Thorning-Schmidt government in 2012 to investigate the basis for entering the war as well as Danish policies related to the treatment and transfer of prisoners of war. The commission was due to complete its investigation by December 2017. When Rasmussen ended the commission’s work in July, his government said that Denmark’s involvement in the war has already been thoroughly investigated and he characterized the commission as a waste of money.

But the commission’s inadequate investigation into possible violations of the Geneva Convention was brought into question by a report by the Politiken newspaper earlier this year that revealed that the Danish military had handed over at least 12 Iraqi prisoners of war to local authorities even after receiving orders not to do so in 2004 due to fears that POWs would be sentenced to death in accordance with the new Iraqi government’s policies.

The findings prompted the Military Prosecution Service (Forsvarets Auditørkorps) to launch an internal enquiry into any violations, but the UN Committee report recommends that Denmark “studies the transfer of prisoners to the custody of other states forces during military operations abroad and are carried out by an independent body and published.”

Furthermore, the committee suggested Denmark should pursue the prosecution of perpetrators and that victims should receive compensation if it transpires that there has been a violation of Article Three of the UN convention against torture, which states that it is prohibited to extradite at the risk of torture to the individual.

The Danish Institute for Human Rights, one of the bodies that raised initial concerns with the UN Committee, was glad to see the UN body went above and beyond the recommendations it had previously made, as Senior Researcher Peter Vedel Kessing told Danish newspaper Information.>

“The committee actually goes further than our recommendations and recommended the reopening of the commission," Kessing said. "We had just recommended that the Defence Command complete its investigation of prisoner handling which was interrupted by the halting of the Iraq Commission”

The Torture Committee also highlighted concerns about the publication of Denmark's much-discussed adverts in Lebanese newspapers meant to deter refugees. Although the committee didn't criticize the ad campaign directly, it said that the Denmark "should ensure that measures aimed at preventing smuggling and discouraging immigration should not deflect it from its obligations under Article 3." 

The report also "noted" that a review of the advertisements was underway

The decision in the case of the two Afghan brothers that were refused asylum and sent back to Afghanistan, were one was reportedly murdered upon his return, also garnered criticism within the report and prompted the committee to suggest that Denmark, “put into place mechanisms to monitor the situation of vulnerable individuals and groups in receiving countries after their deportation".

See also: Teen expelled from Denmark killed by Taliban

The UN Committee has implored Denmark to adopt the recommendations proposed within the next 12 months in order to uphold the values of the UN convention against terrorism, but Denmark is under no legal obligation to comply with the requests.

Jørgen Albæk Jensen, a former member of the Iraq Commission, said that despite the UN criticism the investigation into the Iraq War will likely remain closed.

“You would think that it was an argument in favour for the reopening of the commission, but I think that the political decision has been made, and it should not be altered because of this report,” Jensen told Information.


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