Human Rights Challenges in Norway

Despite Norway’s relatively strong human rights record, there are still several human rights challenges that need to be addressed by the Norwegian authorities.

Many of these relate to the inadequate implementation of existing legislation or policies, but in some cases require legislative reform or the adoption of new measures.

There are concerning levels of discrimination against vulnerable groups in Norway and a lack of research and data in this area. NIM has recommended that the State increase the capacity of relevant authorities to investigate and combat hate speech, particularly on social media and other digital platforms. In 2016, the Norwegian Government adopted a Strategy Against Hate Speech, which contains several important commitments. However, more needs to be done to ensure that each police district has sufficient resources and capacity to combat hate speech and to collect detailed statistics to inform more effective measures. In 2019, the Norwegian Government adopted an Action Plan Against Racism and Discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity and religion.

Violence and abuse is a serious human rights challenge in Norway, and the problem is particularly acute in Indigenous Sámi communities. States have a positive obligation to prevent, combat and investigate violence and abuse, but research indicates that police and support services do not have sufficient expertise in Sámi language and culture to provide practical and effective protection. NIM has prepared a thematic report on the issue, which recommends the development of an evidence-based national action plan on violence and abuse in Sámi communities. NIM also recommends that the State review cases where an effective remedy has not been provided to Sámi victims of violence. The Norwegian Government is currently developing an Action Plan on Violence in Close Relationships, which will include a separate section on violence and abuse in Sámi communities.

Meaningful and effective consultation with the Indigenous Sámi people remains a human rights challenge in Norway. In 2005, consultation procedures were established between the Norwegian Government and the Sámi Parliament. However, NIM has found that the consultative practices of different ministries and authorities are inconsistent and rarely achieve consensus. This is particularly the case where consultations involve the management of land and natural resources in Sámi areas. NIM supports the recent proposal for legislated consultation procedures. We recommend that State authorities ensure the proposed consultation legislation is consistent with their human rights obligations regarding Indigenous Peoples.

There are several human rights challenges affecting Norway’s five national minorities, including issues related to culture and languages, living standards, participation and discrimination. NIM has written a thematic report aimed at strengthening the human rights protection of Norway’s national minorities by contributing to increased knowledge, both of the relevant international legal frameworks and of research and literature.

The UN Committee Against Torture, the Council of Europe Anti-Torture Committee and NIM have all raised concerns over the excessive use of solitary confinement and isolation in Norwegian prison and detention facilities. NIM recommends that correctional services ensure that isolation is only used in exceptional circumstances, where strictly necessary, and is not used to alleviate resources and staffing problems. The State must also ensure that nobody remains in isolated police cells for more than 48 hours after an arrest. The State has additional human rights obligations to mentally-ill detainees and must adopt effective measures to ensure their health and safety, including through staff capacity building and the design of prison and detention facilities.

NIM and the Civil Ombudsman have also raised concerns over the use of coercive measures in mental health, child welfare and aged care institutions, including the use of electroconvulsive therapy without consent. NIM has recommended that the State initiate a study to understand the scope of the problem, provide human rights training for all relevant staff and develop uniform practice guidelines with clear human rights guarantees.

In 2018, NIM submitted a thematic report to the recently established Courts Commission on the organisation and independence of the Norwegian judicial system. NIM has expressed concern over the insufficient resourcing of Norwegian courts and the significant impact this may have on the right to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time. We recommend that the Norwegian judicial system is sufficiently funded and organised in a manner that allows for the independent and effective administration of justice.

NIM, the Children’s Ombudsman and several UN treaty bodies have expressed concern over the differential treatment of unaccompanied asylum-­seeking minors aged 15 to 18. While other children in a similar situation are in the care of Child Welfare Services, asylum seeker children in this age bracket only receive support from asylum reception centres. Research indicates that these centres do not provide the same quality of care and there are higher rates of disappearance, poor mental health and self-harm. NIM recommends that the Norwegian authorities provide unaccompanied asylum-­seeking minors over the age of 15 with care facilities that are equal to those provided to all other children.

NIM has released a  thematic report on the human rights challenges for elderly people in Norway. The Report identifies several areas that require attention from the Norwegian Government, including the processes for approving legal guardianship of elderly people with disabilities or cognitive impairments and the prevention of violence and abuse against the elderly. Other issues that require more research and consideration include the use of coercive measures on elderly people by health care professionals, discrimination in the workplace, digital literacy and universal design, and the accessibility of health care for LGBTI elderly people.

NIM has played an active role in the ongoing public debate regarding privacy, data and State surveillance. In 2016, NIM produced a thematic report on the human rights issues related to covert searches, surveillance and data hacking by the Norwegian Police and Police Security Service. In 2019, NIM made a submission on proposed legislative changes regarding the mass monitoring of international metadata by the Norwegian Intelligence Service. In both instances, the Norwegian authorities have a human rights obligation to ensure that all surveillance activities are legally authorised and have sufficient safeguards and adequate oversight mechanisms in place. While States have a wide margin of discretion in matters of national security, they must ensure adequate protection against the inherent risk of misuse in mass surveillance systems.