The paramount objective of a constitutional government is to protect individuals against abuse of power and arbitrary treatment by public authorities and to ensure equal treatment, welfare and democracy. Both the government and the public administration at national, regional and local levels are bound by Norway’s human rights obligations in the exercise of their authority. The same applies to the Storting and the judiciary. The implementation of human rights instruments in Norwegian law and their status within the legal system is described above.
The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature, and has the power to review the constitutionality of acts passed by the Storting and whether legislation is compatible with Norway’s human rights obligations. It may also review administrative decisions.11 Administrative decisions may also be appealed to a higher administrative level and complaints concerning administrative decisions may be submitted to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.12
Responsibility for national implementation of human rights obligations is divided between the ministries, which are all responsible for following up the recommendations of various treaty bodies within their sectors. Human rights are integrated and mainstreamed into all sectors of government and administration. All ministries and administrative bodies have an obligation to take human rights into account when drafting legislation, drawing up guidelines for administrative practice and adopting decisions.
The Ministry of Justice nevertheless has a particular responsibility to ensure that Norwegian law and administrative practice are consistent with Norway’s human rights obligations. The Ministry of Justice revises draft legislation in order to assess its compatibility with the Constitution and international human rights obligations. The Ministry of Justice also provides advice to other ministries and government bodies on the interpretation of human rights standards in relation to sector legislation and administrative practice.
The Storting (the Norwegian parliament)
Under the Norwegian parliamentary system, the Government is accountable to the Storting, which exercises continuous control over the Government’s activities, including the protection and promotion of human rights.
In the Storting, as in all the government structures, human rights are mainstreamed and taken into account by each committee and by the plenary when passing legislation and adopting decisions. The Storting has no separate body such as a human rights committee.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman plays an important role in supervising, on behalf of the Storting, compliance with international human rights standards by the public administration.
County and municipal authorities
Norway has a two-tier system of local government, consisting of 19 counties and 428 municipalities (2013). The county and municipal authorities have the same administrative status, while central government has the overriding authority and supervision of county and municipal administration. The main representative of central government that supervises the local authorities is the county governor.
The Local Government Act of 25 September 1992 No. 10713 sets out the basic principles for the organisation of the county and municipal authorities, their work and their relations with supervisory government bodies. On the whole the rules are the same for counties and municipalities. The Act is currently being revised. One of the main aims of the revision is to strengthen local self-government.
The Local Government Act does not regulate which duties are to be carried out locally. Separate provisions cover these questions. The current division of responsibility for some of the main services is as follows.
Local planning (land use), agricultural issues, environmental issues, local roads,
Water supply, sanitation and sewer
In accordance with the principle of local autonomy, it is up to each local authority to organise its work as it deems best, but as on central government level, the promotion and protection of human rights must be taken into account by all local authorities in their areas of responsibility.
In order to ensure the rights of citizens and the legality of adopted decisions, county and municipal authorities are subject to state supervision and control.
The main representative of central government who supervises the local authorities is the county governor. According to section 59 of the Local Government Act, the county governor reviews the legality of county and municipal decisions, either upon the request of at least three of the members of the county or municipal council or ex officio. The county governor also deals with appeals from the public over certain county and municipal decisions on the basis of legislation in the sector concerned.
The county governor serves as a guardian of civic rights. He may review county or municipal decisions regarding the rights of any individual in the fields of health and social welfare, education, and building and planning, and may reverse the decision to the benefit of the individual.
In some areas, sector legislation confers central control of counties and municipalities to bodies with specific competence in the area in question. Examples are the Board of Health, which supervises the local authorities in the area of health services, and the County Social Welfare Board, which reviews certain administrative decisions under the Child Welfare Act.14
National human rights institutions
The Norwegian Centre for Human Rights
Since 2001, Norway’s national institution for human rights has been the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (NCHR). The NCHR is organised as a multi-disciplinary centre under the Faculty of Law at the University of Oslo. It is part of an international network of national institutions for human rights.
In March 2013 the University's board decided that NCHR would, no later than 30 June 2014, cease to function as Norway’s national institution for human rights.
In November 2012, the ICC Sub-Committee recommended that the accreditation of the Norwegian national institution should be downgraded from A to B status.
On this basis, the Government established an inter-ministerial working group to consider changes to Norway's national institution for human rights, including the creation of a new national institution with another organisation and structure. The working group started its activities in 2012 and has held broad consultation both nationally and internationally. Based on the working group’s evaluations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prepared a consultative paper that was circulated for review to a wide range of stakeholders in June 2013. The decision on the structure and mandate of the new national institution will be based on this process.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman
The ombudsman institutions play a key role in monitoring the Norwegian authorities’ fulfilment of their human rights obligations. The Parliamentary Ombudsman for the Public Administration was established in 1962, and the terms of reference for this office are to deal with complaints from citizens concerning an injustice perpetrated by the public administration at any of the three levels: government, county or municipal. The Ombudsman may also raise an issue on his own initiative.
The functions of the Parliamentary Ombudsman are set out in the Constitution, in section 75, litra l, of the Act of 22 June 1962 No. 8 relating to the Parliamentary Ombudsman for the Public Administration15 and in the Instructions of 19 February 1980 No. 9862 to the Parliamentary Ombudsman for the Public Administration. The Ombudsman is appointed by and administratively subordinate to the Storting, but acts as an independent body in the exercise of his functions.
In 2007 the Parliamentary Ombudsman Act was amended in order to strengthen the human rights mandate of the Parliamentary Ombudsman. According to the amended Section 3 of the Act, the Ombudsman shall: “seek to ensure that individual citizens are not unjustly treated by public authorities and help to ensure that public authorities respect and protect human rights.”
In 2013, the Ombudsman was also appointed as the national preventive mechanism for the prevention of torture at the domestic level, in compliance with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture.
The Ombudsman’s opinions are not legally binding on the public authorities, but they are widely respected and followed. The opinions are published on the website and in the Yearbook of the Parliamentary Ombudsman for the Public Administration.
The Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud and the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Tribunal
Concerning the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud, reference is made to §212–215. Concerning the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Tribunal reference is made to §216–221.
The Ombudsman for Children
In 1981 Norway established the world’s first Ombudsman for Children.16 The Ombudsman’s main tasks are to promote the rights of children in the public and private sectors and to monitor the development of children’s living conditions. The Ombudsman also monitors the compliance of Norwegian legislation and practice with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and submits its own supplementary reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The Ombudsman for Children is independent of the Storting, the Government and other public authorities, and may freely raise issues and criticise government policy. The Ombudsman has the power to investigate, criticise and publicise issues that will improve the welfare of children and youth, and may demand access to case files and official documents in order to fulfil this function. However, the Ombudsman cannot reverse an administrative action or decision. There is no formal complaints mechanism such as those for complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman or the Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombud, but the Ombudsman for Children may raise issues on his own initiative, and address his opinions and recommendations to any public authority.
The terms of reference of the patientombudsmen are to safeguard patients` needs, interests and legal rights in the health services, and to improve the quality of such services. There is one patient ombudsman in each of the 19 counties, and their powers and terms of reference are set out in Chapter 8 of the Act of 2 July 1999 No. 63 relating to patients’ rights.
Any individual who claims that his or her rights or interests have been violated by the county/regional specialist care service or by the municipal primary health care service, may address a complaint to the Patient Ombudsman. The ombudsman may give his views on the matter and propose actions and improvements, but his views are not legally binding.
The Ombudsman for the Armed Forces deals with a number of cases involving human rights, such as the right to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
Other ombudsman institutions have been established in some counties and municipalities, such as an ombudsman for the elderly and for social services. These ombudsmen may also play an important role in monitoring the authorities’ observance of human rights and in raising awareness among government employees and the general public.
Dissemination of human rights instruments
The core UN human rights conventions ratified by Norway have all been translated into Norwegian. The conventions that are incorporated into Norwegian law in the form of the Human Rights Act and other acts are published in Norwegian and English on the legal information database Lovdata: www.lovdata.no. The conventions are also published on the government website: www.regjeringen.no, and on the websites of the individual ombudsman institutions. Hard copies may be obtained from all these agencies and institutions on request.
Some of the core human rights instruments have also been published in brochures and widely distributed. For example, a short version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, translated into Norwegian and Sami, has been distributed to all primary schools in Norway. In addition, Norwegian translations of the Council of Europe’s Charter on Human Rights Education and Democratic Citizenship and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training were provided in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Both documents are available on the Internet.
Summaries in Norwegian of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights, which are categorised as judgments of high importance by the Court, and decisions in cases where Norway is party are published on Lovdata. Lovdata also publishes Norwegian summaries of the decisions and opinions of the monitoring bodies under the UN human rights system in individual cases where Norway is a party and in certain cases concerning other states.
Raising human rights awareness among public officials and other professionals
National curriculum regulations have been drawn up for teacher training and for professional training in the health and social services sector, and human rights have been included as an obligatory component in these training programmes. Knowledge about human rights is also included in the curricula for other professions, such as lawyers, police and prison wardens. Universities and university colleges are by law autonomous institutions. This is to ensure academic freedom. In principle the government is therefore not in a position to impose specific requirements on these institutions regarding the content of teaching or research, but it may and does lay down a national curriculum for certain types of training and certain subjects, as mentioned above.
Further education programmes for public officials are organised by the government and other public authorities, and by professional and other civil society organisations.
Promotion of human rights awareness through educational programmes and government-sponsored public information
Including human rights education in all levels of the education system has high priority in Norway. In 2008 the Storting decided to amend the purpose clauses for day-care institutions and primary and secondary schools, and the amendments to the Education Act, which regulates primary and secondary education, entered into force in January 2009.
According to the purpose clause, kindergartens should, in cooperation with the parents, ensure that children’s need for care and play is met, and promote their holistic development. Kindergartens must base their activities on the fundamental values of the Christian and humanist heritage, which are also those inherent in human rights, such as respect for human dignity, intellectual freedom, charity, forgiveness, equality and solidarity.
The curriculum for the content and tasks of kindergartens laid down by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research in 2006 has similar objectives. Thus kindergartens should base their activities on a common set of values such as human worth, equality, honesty and fairness, and these values should be taught in accordance with the human rights conventions to which Norway is a party. International conventions and Norwegian law both emphasise the right of parents to bring up their children in accordance with their religion and ideological beliefs and the right of children to learn about the society in which they are growing up.
Primary and secondary education
The amended purpose clause for education and training entered into force in January 2009. Ever since the first objectives for state schools were decided in 1848 and until 2008, the purpose clauses have been amended primarily by adding new objectives and without changing the core principle of Christian and moral upbringing. The objectives in the present Education Act are a clear break with this tradition, as they are based on fundamental human rights, and take account of the fact that while Norwegian society has its own cultural tradition it is also marked by cultural diversity.
The purpose clause states that “Education and training shall be based on fundamental values in Christian and humanist heritage and traditions, such as respect for human dignity and nature, on intellectual freedom, charity, forgiveness, equality and solidarity, values that also appear in different religions and beliefs and are rooted in human rights.” It also states that education and training should provide insight into cultural diversity, respect the individual’s convictions, and promote democracy, equality and scientific thinking. Pupils and apprentices are to learn to think critically and act ethically and to have joint responsibility and the right to participate. Furthermore all forms of discrimination are to be combated.
Human rights are also integrated in the compulsory subject curricula for primary and secondary education. In social studies subjects, the children are expected to have acquired various competencies concerning human rights by the end of grades 4, 7, 10 and 11/12. This is also included in the teaching of the subject religion, philosophies of life and ethics. A special subject (140 lessons), entitled human rights and politics, is offered as an elective for pupils in grade 12 of the general studies programme, and human rights are also incorporated in the optional subjects of sociology and law.
In cooperation with the Council of Europe, Norway has established a resource centre on education for intercultural understanding, human rights and democratic citizenship. The European Wergeland Centre (EWC), named after the Norwegian poet, Henrik Wergeland (1808–1845), has been operative since 2009. The centre aims to be a resource for all member states of the Council of Europe. It will build on and promote the values and goals shared by the Council of Europe and Norway.
Education is seen as a key factor to creating living democracies in Europe. The main task of the EWC is to promote democratic culture and social belonging through education. The centre shall contribute through relevant projects and activities in cooperation with the Council of Europe. An important element in the work of the centre is to maintain an accessible and informative web site, which can serve as an online hub and through this create a network for actors in the field. The target groups are teachers, teacher-training professionals, scientists, practitioners, policy-makers and other relevant actors.
Gáldu – Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The Gáldu Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was established in 2002 with the aim of increasing general knowledge about and understanding of Sami and indigenous rights. The principal activity consists of collecting, adapting and distributing relevant information and documentation regarding indigenous rights in Norway and abroad. The centre is targeted towards seekers of knowledge about indigenous rights, including schools, voluntary organisations, public institutions and authorities. The Centre is independent, governed by its own board, and funded by the Ministry of Government Administration, Reform and Church Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Promotion of human rights awareness through the media
Freedom of expression and of the press is guaranteed both through international human rights instruments and in the Norwegian Constitution. The press and other mass media regularly highlight important human rights issues in Norway and play a vital role in facilitating public debate on these questions. Civil society organisations also make use of the media to put human rights issues on the public agenda.
Role of civil society, including non-governmental organisations
Civil society, including human rights defenders, plays a key role in the realisation of human rights in Norway and has laid much of the foundation for democracy and welfare in Norwegian society. NGOs promote diversity, disseminate knowledge, stimulate debate on policies and priorities, contribute proposals to public consultations, engage in voluntary work and promote social cohesion. In many cases matters have been placed on the agenda as a result of initiatives taken by civil society stakeholders.
Norway has always had a strong civil society. More than half of the adult population of Norway is active in one or more organisations, in fields such as nature conservation, sport, religion, human rights, development cooperation, culture, the trade unions and trade and industry organisations. In Norway a high rate of participation in NGOs is perceived as an indicator of a good society characterised by diversity, community and civic engagement. The Government wishes to involve a broad cross-section of society in the efforts to promote human rights and support and facilitate voluntary engagement and the development of a vibrant civil society. The state’s provision of public funding for NGOs without imposing guidelines for their activities is an important means of achieving this objective. The Government also organises regular meetings with human rights organisations, and all draft legislation is subject to a broad consultation process that includes human rights organisations, which often provide valuable input and are able to influence government policy.
A number of Norwegian civil society organisations that focus on human rights have created a network, the NGO Forum for Human Rights, through which they share information and coordinate their efforts. A similar network has been established specifically for children’s rights, the Forum for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has a membership of more than 50 institutions and NGOs.
Budget allocations and trends
As discussed in the introduction, human rights are mainstreamed in all areas of national public administration. Funding for human rights is therefore not specifically allocated in the national budget, but appears under a wide range of items, such as education, health and care, social welfare and courts administration.
Development cooperation and assistance
Norway has an established target of assigning 1% of GNI (gross national income) to development assistance. The ratio was 0.93% for 2012, a slight reduction from previous years. Human rights is one of the priority areas for Norwegian development cooperation, together with the environment and sustainable development, peace-building, humanitarian assistance, oil and clean energy, women and gender equality, good governance, the fight against corruption, and the efforts to reach the health-related Millennium Development Goals.
Out of the total budget of NOK 30.2 billion for international development assistance in 2013, NOK 337.1 million has been allocated under the item “human rights”.