The Human Rights Framework in Norway

Human rights recognise the inherent dignity and worth of every person, regardless of their of race, nationality, ethnicity, sex, language, religion, or any other status.

They are universal because everyone is born with the same rights by virtue of being human, inalienable because human rights can never be taken away, and indivisible because all rights are interconnected and of equal importance. Human rights are based on the principles of freedom, equality, participation, accountability and the rule of law.

States are the primary duty-bearers under international human rights law and have specific obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of individuals and groups.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, sets out the basic rights and freedoms that apply to all people. It also lays the foundation for other international human rights treaties, many of which have been ratified by Norway, including the:

Norway has also ratified a number of the optional protocols to these treaties, including those regarding the abolition of the death penalty, UN visits to places of detention, children in armed conflict and the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Norway is a member of the Council of Europe, which has a well-established regional system for the protection and promotion of human rights. Norway is a party to several Council of Europe Treaties, including the:

International human rights treaties do not have full effect in Norwegian law unless they are incorporated into the domestic legal system by an act of Parliament. On 21 May 1999, the Norwegian Parliament passed the Human Rights Act, which elevates five key human rights conventions to a special status in Norwegian law. These are the ECHR, ICCPR, ICESCR, CEDAW and CRC. Under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act, these conventions prevail in the event of a conflict with regular domestic legislation.

The Norwegian Constitution was also amended as part of its bicentennial anniversary in May 2014 to add several human rights and to strengthen existing constitutionally enshrined rights. The human rights chapter of the Constitution includes the rights to life, liberty, equality, privacy, a fair trial, freedom of expression, assembly and movement, as well as rights related to children, work, the environment and the Sámi people. Under Article 92, all public bodies must respect and safeguard the rights enshrined in the Constitution and in the human right treaties to which Norway is a party. The Supreme Court of Norway held in the Holship Case that while Article 92 strengthens the position of constitutional rights, it still leaves the domestic incorporation of international human rights treaties to the discretion of Parliament.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), has been implemented in Norwegian law by the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act (2018).In addition, key legislation such as the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Act and the Civil Procedure Act have separate provisions stating that they must be interpreted in line with international law, including human rights. Specific legislative provisions have also been added or amended to implement treaty obligations, such as Section 174 of the Criminal Code, which was added in 2008 to introduce a criminal offence for torture.

The Supreme Court of Norway is the highest court in the country and has jurisdiction to hear cases involving constitutional issues and Norway’s international human rights obligations. Most cases are heard by a panel of five judges, but cases involving human rights are often heard by a grand chamber of eleven judges or in a plenary session by all twenty judges. Decisions of the Supreme Court cannot be appealed within the Norwegian judicial system, but are sometimes appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Other public bodies that work with human rights in Norway include the Civil Ombudsman, the Ombudsman for Children and the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombudsman.

Norway has accepted the competence of four treaty bodies to receive and examine individual complaints under the ICCPR, CERD, CEDAW and CAT. Individuals are required to exhaust all domestic remedies before lodging a complaint with these committees.