Prison inspector continues fight for Greenlanders’ rights

A lack of appropriate facilities in Greenland means that many convicts have to serve their sentences in Denmark, far from their families

March 16th, 2012 3:53 pm| by admin

A prison inspector has continued to speak out about the violation of rights of Greenlandic prisoners in Danish jails, despite being reprimanded by senior members of the Danish prison and probation service, Kriminalforsorgen.

Because Greenland has no permanent jails, about twenty Greenlanders are currently serving sentences in Herstedvester prison, where prison inspector Hans Jørgen Elbo works.

Earlier this month, Elbo came out against the practice of flying Greenlanders to Danish jails to serve their sentences and argued that Denmark would likely lose a case at the European Court of Human Rights if one were raised.

“I see it as a clear violation of human rights that we have not created the opportunity for Greenlanders to serve their sentences in their own prisons and instead have forced them to spend year after year in Danish jails,” he told Politiken newspaper.

Elbo argued that it is impossible for the Greenlanders to maintain close connections to their families while serving time in Denmark, a right they are entitled to under Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Being forcibly removed thousands of miles from your family is undeniably an aggressive measure that conflicts with the right to a family life that is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights,” Peter Scharff Smith from the human rights organization Institut for Menneskerettigheder told Poltiken.

Not everyone was happy with Elbo’s statements, and at a public meeting last week, the deputy CEO of Kriminalforsorgen, Annette Esdorf, publicly reprimanded Elbo for saying Denmark would probably lose a case at the European Court of Human Rights.

Elbo is unrepentant, however, and in an editorial for Politiken today wrote that no-one has so far managed to demonstrate the arrangement does not violate the human rights of the prisoners.

Greenland has been sending prisoners to Denmark since 1954 and it was only in 2007 that the then justice minister, Lene Espersen, approved the construction of a prison in Greenland.

The project has suffered numerous setbacks, however, due to wrangling between the Greenlandic government and the Danish Ministry of Justice over development costs.

Elbo told Politiken that the prison was commissioned partially out of concern that sending Greenlanders to serve in Denmark may be violating their rights.

He added that while Denmark has little choice but to continue the practice until the prison is built, it is important to remember the circumstances under which the Greenlanders in Denmark are living.

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