On September 1st 2022, Erik Brøgger Rasmussen was appointed the new Permanent Representative of Denmark to the United Nations Office at Geneva. He speaks candidly about his work in foreign service and how Denmark has become globally renowned for its humanitarian spirit.
What can you tell us about your background in international diplomacy?
I have spent almost 30 years in international work, a few years with the UN and now 24 years with the Danish Foreign Service. I never woke up one morning and decided to be a diplomat. I just knew I wanted to see more than just Denmark. I have enjoyed a broad diplomatic background and becoming an ambassador in the Danish Foreign Service came after a culmination of experiences. Including a bit of luck, and being in the right place at the right moment. A typical day for me now involves a lot of internal and external meetings- so the role I am in now requires a lot more managerial tasks.
How have your priorities changed as an ambassador since your first posting in 2015?
Two things have really differed in that time. One side is the management side of things- making sure you have the leadership skills that ensures your colleagues thrive and deliver results. Another side is the diplomatic and functional skills side of being an ambassador, how countries need to relate to each other, maintaining an outward way of looking whilst representing your country. You need to be able to master both aspects of the job.
Denmark is renowned for its generous humanitarian spirit- how was this gained in your opinion?
This humanitarian spirit developed from the Second World War when the UN system was being built as a model for cooperation. When the world became united based on advancements in international human rights, we took that seriously. There is a genuine feeling that our forefathers built a rich society and believe other parts of the world should have the same. In both deeds and words, we spend time on international cooperation because we believe it is important that all people are given opportunities to succeed. We are willing to contribute to ensure others have the same opportunities. It stems from the welfare society of Denmark. The Nordic countries are important globally as we have a strong legacy in being able to build robust and equal societies over the past 100 years. The distribution of taxes in the Nordic welfare model is mirrored to the world and not just our own people. This is how we interact on an international level.
What do you believe that Denmark brings to the Human Rights Council (HRC)?
Whilst we are not a member of the Council, we still participate actively and engage in the dialogues and debates at the HRC. What we bring is a strong belief in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights- all people should enjoy universal rights. We don’t care whether it’s a citizen living in Copenhagen or China. Everyone has fundamental rights that we believe should be exercised in practice.
How do you think the Human Rights Council could change for the better?
There is a tendency that Denmark and other countries perceive to have the right interpretation of the Universal Declaration. Sometimes we forget to listen to other ways of interpreting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The challenge of the HRC is that there are echo chambers and we are not sufficiently investing in making bridges across the echo chambers and getting a genuine global understanding of human rights. It is fair to say that the HRC only makes sense if the resolutions and debates have an impact on real people’s lives. We must look inwards. Are we having conversations in Geneva because we believe it will have an impact on people’s lives or because we are diplomats sitting in Geneva? We should always ensure that what we do makes a difference for the better.
What are the key issues you are tackling at the moment?
Right now, the major concern for Denmark and other countries are the ramifications of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. On top of an illegal invasion and horrendous atrocities, soaring food and energy prices, coupled with instability, have a great impact globally. That is a real concern. Russia must stop the senseless war so that we can have a more stable global situation. There is no doubt that for many diplomats, Russia’s presence in Ukraine has to stop. That is the utmost concern we have currently.
How has Denmark directly helped to combat the crisis in Ukraine?
As a country, Denmark is involved in many different ways. We supply weapons so that Ukraine can fight back. We have contributed substantial funds to humanitarian organizations working in Ukraine, and we have opened our borders to almost 40,000 Ukrainians, granting them access to schooling and the labor market. We are also playing a role in managing and relieving the global impact of the invasion. We understand the challenges other countries are facing and are dedicating resources also towards this effort.