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OPINION: Constitution Day is a celebration of political rights for all. Is Denmark neglecting them?

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OPINION: Constitution Day is a celebration of political rights for all. Is Denmark neglecting them?
Photo: Linda Kastrup/Ritzau Scanpix
08:16 CEST+02:00
The establishment of Denmark’s first constitution on June 5th 1849 is an occasion worth celebrating. But the Scandinavian country must not forget to honour the spirit of democratic and human rights in its constitutional text, writes guest columnist Naqeeb Khan.

In the 1830s and 1840s, a complex series of political and diplomatic crises between Denmark and the German Confederation over the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein resulted in King Christian VIII’s realisation that, to ensure the confidence of his people, he must write a constitution for the country over which he reigned.

Following the death of Christian VIII on January 20th 1848, his son, Frederik VII became king. Frederik VII adopted the idea of making Denmark a constitutional monarchy and became known for his motto “the people's love, my strength”.

On June 5th 1849, the King signed Denmark’s Constitution (Grundlov) to replace the King's Law (Kongeloven) and, in doing so, became the last King of Denmark to rule as an absolute monarch.

Since then, June 5th has been celebrated as Constitution Day in the Scandinavian country. The occasion is commonly commemorated by political rallies, seminars and outdoor parties.

The uniqueness of Denmark's constitution lies in the fact that it has never been amended, but rather rewritten every time any amendment has been brought to the constitution.

New constitutions were written in 1866, 1915, 1920 and finally in 1953. Changes made by the introduction of the new constitutions include the elimination the upper chamber of parliament, thus creating a unicameral parliament; allowing women to inherit the throne; and provision of voting rights for women.


The original Constitution on display at the Danish parliament. Photo: Nils Meilvang/Ritzau Scanpix

In his book “Controlling the State: Constitutionalism from Ancient Athens to Today”, author Scott Gordon states the fundamental aim of the constitution is to divide power into various organisations or institutional entities in a way that ensures the protection of the interests and liberties of the citizens, including those that may be part of a minority.

Denmark’s constitution provides for just this: the interests of each citizen are sheltered by dividing power in a balanced way and providing freedom of speech, expression, association and religion. 

But recent political developments, including last week’s approval of the bill banning the Islamic burqa and niqab in public, have been criticised by various national and international organisation like Amnesty International for not being in accord with Human rights conventions.

Amnesty International Europe Director Gauri Van Gulik said that if the intention of this law was to protect women's rights, it fails abjectly. Instead, the law criminalises women for their choice of clothing.

Similarly, the government has been criticised for not insuring the protection of one's family life, with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights cited. Strict Danish rules on family reunification risk violating the rights of immigrants, but immigration minister Inger Støjberg said going to the "limits of conventions" was "a risk I'm willing to take".


Residents at an asylum centre during a visit by Queen Margrethe in 2016. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Denmark is a signatory to various European, United Nations and other international treaties including the European Convention on Human Rights treaty of 1953, the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN's 1966 International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

This not only means that Danish laws will guarantee human and political rights domestically but that Denmark will also work along other nations to ensure these rights around the world.

Denmark, a founding and essential member of the UN, is bound to seek that the right of life, freedom and fair trial is provided to people around the world. Meanwhile, Danish law should not discriminate against people of a specific ethnicity, culture, language, religion and identity.

We may celebrate Constitution Day with rallies, seminars and outdoor parties, but celebration will truly be due will be when every single law is in accord with constitutional and human rights conventions.

READ ALSO: Denmark marks 100 years of women's rights

Naqeeb Khan is a graduate of University of Glasgow and Strathclyde University, Scotland and currently resides in Denmark, where he is president of the Green Human Resources organisation. He can be contacted here.

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