Norway : Good track record but concerns about the rights of the Sami people, violence against women and asylum related issues remain

Human Rights Committee's 122nd session - March 2018

Sami settlement in Nordkap, Norway. Photo credit: wikimedia

The seventh periodic report of Norway was reviewed by the Human Rights Committee on the 14th and 15th March 2018. Members of the Committee commended the State delegation for the detailed and comprehensive answers. Problematic themes were the rights of the Sami people and other minorities, violence against women and asylum related issues.

Other problems raised by the Committee were surveillance measures and their compatibility with the right to privacy, the lack of a proper legal basis for Electronic Convulsive Treatment to people with mental disabilities, free legal aid, right to counsel and access to courts and discrimination of persons with an immigrant background, in particular on the housing market and in employment. 

The Committee regretted that Norway still has several standing reservations to the Covenant, but the State pointed out that these reservations cannot be lifted.

The webcast of the review is available here: part 1 and part 2.

"We recognize that immigration has a positive impact on the Norwegian society, however, large-scale immigration poses challenges to our welfare model. "

- Sveinung Rotevatn, Head of the Norwegian delegation

Violence against women, including sexual and domestic violence

According to Norwegian NGOs, 1 in 10 women in Norway have been raped. However, many rape cases are not investigated (80% of the reported cases is closed by the police), and of those that are, many end up with no prosecution. Of those that are prosecuted, 30% end with an acquittal. NGOs put forward several causes for this problem: firstly, many cases fall outside of the scope of the definition of rape. Secondly, there is a lack of resources for investigations. Lastly, the attitudes of police officers, judges and lawyers have to change.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women recommended to Norway in October 2017 to amend the definition of rape in the penal code because many situations fall outside the scope. However, the delegation believed that the current penal code comprises rape, and the State does not have any plans to change it in the near future.

The Norwegian delegation stressed that the State is very concerned about the low number of cases of rape and domestic violence being reported to the police, which is estimated at 10% of the real number. It admitted the need to hold the perpetrators accountable and for more research on the reasons why victims do not report. Initiatives were taken to improve the visibility of this issue, including a campaign on the Internet targeted to young men and a new webportal on domestic violence and rape. The purpose is to have easy access to information about your rights and assistance.

Furthermore, Norway has now repealed the jury system in appeal courts, so that rape cases will no longer appear before a jury. It remains to be seen whether this measure will result in a decrease of the number of acquittals. Moreover, a study has been carried out about the quality of all stages of the investigation, which pointed to weaknesses in the system that can be improved.

Rights of the Sami people and other minorities

The Norwegian delegation stressed in its opening statement that Sami Rights are at the center of Norwegian decision-making. However, Committee members asked questions about free, prior and informed consent and the consultation process with Sami people in Norway, which should be regulated into a law to guarantee effective participation.

Moreover, the Sami languages are threatened because there is a lack of teachers and Sami children do not have a guaranteed place in Sami kindergarten schools, violating the right to be educated in their own language and culture. Moreover, Committe members stressed the need for Norwegian children to be taught the basics of Sami culture in schools. The delegation answered on this point that several subjects throughout the curriculum in Norwegian schools are about Sami culture. Lastly, the HR Committee stressed the importance of translation of official documents in Sami languages for the preservation of the identity of the people.

Lastly, the Committee expressed concern about other minorities, such as the Romani and Tatar people. It stressed that the State should ensure that the special measures taken to support these minorities, do not place them in an even more vulnerable position due to their increased visibility. This could provoke more harassment and discrimination. The dialogue with this group should be improved, and compensation schemes should be established for the assimilative policy that Norway endorsed in the past. The delegation explained that very few of these groups are organized in NGOs, and that there are great disagreements between those who are organized, and those who are not, which impedes the dialogue.

Asylum policies, including detention issues, unaccompanied minors and the principle of non-refoulement

The Committee members expressed concern about several aspects of the asylum policies of Norway : detention of migrants, the disappearance of high numbers of unaccompanied minors and the practice of returning persons whose ayslum status was rejected to places where they are tortured, including to Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Russia.

Concerning the detention of migrants, no statistics are published, even though there is an obligation to report. The delegation clarified that detention is only used if the migrants and the asylum seekers are rejected and do not return voluntarily, and only if it is necessary and proportionate. If less intrusive measures are possible, they will be applied.

The NHRI has assembled statistics which reveal alarmingly high numbers of unaccompanied minor migrants who have disappeared from the reception centers. Committee members were concerned about this issue in relation with human trafficking. The number has even been increasing, which is connected to the fact that Norway gives them temporary residence permits until they are 18, but after their 18th birthday, they run the risk of being sent back. The delegation stressed that minors stay in the centers voluntarily with full freedom of movement, and in many cases they leave at their own will. The centres are obliged to inform the police, immigration and the welfare authorities when there are supicions of trafficking. However, the police often stand without information about the missing person, which makes it difficult to launch a large investigation. The delegation explained the measures taken to decrease the number of disappearances : increased funding, increased number and quality of staff and earlier settlement of unaccompanied minors. 

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

Within two years, the State party should provide information on the following recommendations from the Committee´s Concluding Observations.

Violence against women

  • Proceed with plans to launch a new national plan of action to eliminate violence against women and girls, with a focus on eliminating rape and other forms of sexual violence in the State party, including in the Sami community, in consultation with Sami people and other stakeholders. 
  • Amend section 291 of the Penal Code to ensure that the lack of free consent is at the center of the definition of rape.
  • Facilitate the reporting of rape and gender-based violence cases, inter alia by systematically informing women and girls of their rights and of the existing legal avenues through which they can access resources, services, protection, and justice.
  • Strengthen its efforts to raise public awareness on the adverse impact of sexual and gender based violence. Continue to train judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials on addressing sexual and gender based violence and strengthen the investigative capacity of law enforcement for such cases. Ensure all reports are promptly and thoroughly investigated, that perpetrators are brought to justice and that victims have access to full reparations.
  • Investigate further the root causes of higher levels of violence against women in the Sami Community. Take effective measures to address these root causes, eliminate cultural and linguistic barriers and build trust between the Sami community and authorities.

Asylum seekers and non-refoulement

  • Amend the Immigration Act to ensure greater protection of asylum seekers from refoulement and chain-refoulement, in accordance with international standards. It should consider all asylum applications on the basis of their merits, and ensure an in country appeals system for rejected applications. It should respect the principle of non-refoulement by ensuring that asylum seekers are not extradited, deported or expelled to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing there is a real risk of irreparable harm, such as that set out in articles 6 and 7 of the Covenant

Rights of indigenous peoples

  •  Step up its efforts to combat stereotypical and discriminatory attitudes and discriminatory practices towards Sami individuals and the Sami people.
  • Ensure meaningful consultation with the Sami people in practice and adopt a law for consultations with a view to obtaining free prior and informed consent of the Sami people, in consultation with the Sami people.
  • Address any outstanding concerns and facilitate the speedy adoption of the Nordic Sami Convention.
  • Enhance the legal framework on Sami land, fishing and reindeer rights, ensuring in particular that fishing rights are recognized by law.
  • Ensure effective and speedy follow up to the proposals of the Sami Rights Committee of 2007 regarding land and resource rights in Sami areas outside of Finnmark.
  • Increase recruitment and training of Sami language teachers and increase the availability of Sami language instruction for Sami children in Kindergarten in all regions.

Norway´s next periodic report is due on 6th of April 2024

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