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Denmark ‘expressed concern’ over rights abuses before agreeing Rwanda asylum deal

Denmark expressed concern over human rights abuses in Rwanda at a UN meeting in early 2021, months before agreeing a partnership with the African country on asylum issues.

File photo showing a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva
File photo showing a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo: Denis Balibouse/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

During a virtual UN meeting hosted in Geneva in January 2021, Denmark expressed official concern over whether Rwanda had breached basic human rights, newspaper Jyllands-Posten reports.

The meeting was a few months before Danish ministers met Rwandan counterparts to begin discussions over placing an offshore Danish asylum centre in the African country.

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Denmark’s ambassador in Geneva Morten Jespersen submitted the Danish concerns at a UN Universal Periodic Review on January 25th last year according to Jyllands-Posten, which has reviewed video material provided by the UN.

The annual UN reviews are held with purposes of monitoring compliance with human rights conventions.

“We remain concerned over accusations of arbitrary arrests and torture and mistreatment in detention centres and military facilities,” Jespersen said at the meeting.

Denmark’s plans to work with Rwanda on asylum were not officially known at the time of the meeting.

Two Danish ministers travelled to Rwanda three months after the UN meeting for the first talks over a potential asylum centre in Rwanda where Denmark would place refugees offshore while processing their cases.

A non-binding agreement between the two countries was subsequently signed but a concrete proposal for the centre has yet to be presented.

The expression of concern table by Denmark at the meeting was based on a report by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Danish foreign ministry told Jyllands-Posten.

The OHCHR report accused Rwanda of unofficial imprisonments and for torturing prisoners to extract confessions in “prison-like facilities”.

Rwanda has denied the accusations.

A spokesperson from the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR said last month that the agency “does not view the idea of outsourcing asylum, whether to Rwanda or another country, as a responsible or sustainable solution.”

In comments to Jyllands-Posten, Minister for Immigration and Integration Kaare Dybvad Bek insisted that an offshore asylum centre in Rwanda would improve the existing asylum system in Denmark, which he said was “full of human tragedies”.

A deal with Rwanda would be on condition of compliance with international obligations, he added.

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REFERENDUMS

Poll suggests Danes ready to scrap EU opt-out in referendum

A new poll indicates a majority of Danes is in favour of scrapping the country’s EU defence opt-out in an upcoming referendum.

Poll suggests Danes ready to scrap EU opt-out in referendum

The poll, conducted by Epinion on behalf of broadcaster DR, shows 38 percent of voters in favour of revoking the opt-out, compared with 27 percent who want to retain it.

28 percent said they do not know how they will vote, meaning there is still plenty of potential for both a “yes” and “no” outcome in the June 1st vote.

An earlier poll, conducted in March, put the two sides closer, with 38 percent of eligible voters then saying they would vote ‘yes’ to scrapping the opt-out, with 31 percent saying they would vote ‘no’ and 31 percent saying they didn’t know.

The government announced in March a June 1st referendum in which citizens will decide whether to overturn Denmark’s opt-out from EU defence policy. The referendum was called following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Denmark’s opt-out – retsforbehold in Danish – is one of four EU special arrangements negotiated by the Scandinavian country, and has seen it abstain from participation in EU military operations and from providing support or supplies to EU-led defence efforts.

READ ALSO: Why does Denmark have four EU ‘opt-outs’ and what do they mean?

In April, the wording of the question on voting ballots for the referendum was changed, following objections from politicians opposed to scrapping the opt-out.

According to a breakdown of the new poll, younger voters and women are the most undecided groups. 20 percent of men said they were unsure how to vote compared to 38 percent of women.

Among 18-34 year-olds, 39 percent were unsure how they would vote compared to 22 percent of voters over the age of 56 who have yet to decide how to cast their votes.

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