Human rights are protected under the Constitution, the Human Rights Act and specific legislation in certain areas.
Norway is a dualist country. In order to be directly applicable in Norwegian law, international human rights conventions must therefore – in principle – be incorporated or transformed into Norwegian law. Incorporation means that the convention as such is incorporated into Norwegian law through specific provisions, for instance in the Human Rights Act. Transformation means that national legislation is worded so as to be in accordance with the convention. Transformation may be either active or passive. In active transformation the Storting implements new legislation or amends existing legislation in order to comply with the convention concerned, whereas in passive transformation the Storting considers that existing Norwegian legislation is already in accordance with the convention.
It is also a principle of general Norwegian law that Norwegian law should be interpreted in accordance with obligations in public international law that are binding on Norway. The principle is particularly strong with respect to international human rights obligations. The principle has been cited a number of times by the Norwegian Supreme Court.
In some areas of law sector monism applies, i.e. it is explicitly stated that provisions in a particular Act apply with the limitations that follow from public international law, including human rights. The Norwegian Civil Procedure Act and the General Civil Penal Code are examples of such legislation.
The Norwegian Constitution
The Norwegian Constitution, which was drawn up in 1814, is founded on the principles of the sovereignty of the people, the separation of powers and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Constitution of 1814 did not, however, contain a complete bill of rights, but specified those human rights and fundamental freedoms that were agreed on at the time. Articles relating to human rights have been added in recent years. The Constitution also establishes a general duty for all public authorities to respect and safeguard human rights, including human rights that are not written into the Constitution.
Human Rights Committee appointed by the Storting
On 19 December 2011 the Human Rights Committee appointed by the Storting presented its report with proposals on strengthening human rights in the Constitution. The report included several proposed amendments to the Constitution, relating to civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as securing children’s rights in the Constitution.
All of the proposals from the report were put forward in the Storting by different groups of elected representatives consisting of members of all parties represented in the Storting. The proposals are to be discussed and decisions taken during the first three sessions of the Storting after the parliamentary election in 2013.
The Human Rights Act of 21 May 1999
Under the Human Rights Act of 21 May 1999, the following conventions have been incorporated into Norwegian law:
The Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 4 November 1950 with later amendments, including the following additional protocols:
Protocol No. 1, 20 March 1952
Protocol No. 4, 16 September 1963, securing certain rights and freedoms other than those already included in the Convention and in the First Protocol thereto
Protocol No. 6, 28 April 1983, Concerning the Abolition of the Death Penalty
The United Nations International Convention, 18 December 1979, on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 6 October 1999.
A number of other conventions relating to human rights have also been incorporated or transformed into Norwegian law. For instance, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination has been incorporated into Norwegian law through Section 2 of the Discrimination Act of 3 June 2005 and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has been transformed into Norwegian law through the Penal Code.
Competencies of judicial, administrative and other public authorities concerning human rights
All public authorities are obliged to respect and secure human rights obligations whether they stem from the Constitution, Norwegian law or international conventions that are binding on Norway, cf. Article 110 c of the Norwegian Constitution. Some public authorities have a more general responsibility; for example, the Norwegian Minister of Justice is responsible for the Human Rights Act and the Parliamentary Ombudsman has a duty to help ensure that all public authorities respect and secure human rights.
There are many ways in which a question of human rights may be brought before a Norwegian court or administrative authority, for example in connection with a civil claim or civil or penal proceedings such as a claim for compensation, as a ground for declaring an administrative or a court decision null and void, or as a question of procedure (for example a fair trial) in civil or penal proceedings. Furthermore an individual who considers that his human rights have been violated may, subject to the ordinary limitations in the Civil Procedure Act, demand that any court pass a judgment on the case.
Several public authorities and complaint mechanisms address human rights issues more specifically. On a more general level an individual has the right to submit a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman concerning an alleged injustice – including human rights violations – committed by any public authority. The Ombudsman may point out that an error or negligence has been committed by the public authority. He may also point out that the decision is clearly unreasonable or contrary to good administrative practice. If he finds sufficient grounds, he may recommend that compensation should be awarded. The opinion of the Ombudsman is not legally binding, but in practice it is normally followed.
The European Court of Human Rights and other international individual complaint mechanisms
At the regional level, Norway has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and accepted the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. Within the framework of the United Nations, Norway has also accepted the jurisdiction of several other complaint mechanisms.10