30 March 2006
Reviewing Norway's Report, Human Rights Committee Calls Country "Model" on Many Issues
But Experts Urge Government to Improve Overall Prison Conditions, Curtail Lengthy Pre-Trial Detention, Boost Protection for Refugees, Curb Racial Discrimination
NEW YORK, 14 March (UN Headquarters) -- While applauding Norway's global status as a "model" on many human rights issues, a panel of United Nations experts today stressed that along with such standing came a duty to safeguard all civil liberties, and urged the Norwegian Government to address a number of prison-related concerns. Among other things, the experts urged the Government to avoid detaining persons in holding cells at police stations, to curtail lengthy pre-trial detentions, to boost protections for refugees and ethnic minorities, and to curb incidents of racial discrimination.
The 18-member Human Rights Committee is meeting in New York through 31 March to examine compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The panel of independent experts, which also monitors implementation of the Covenant's two Optional Protocols -- the first allows individuals to submit complaints to the Geneva-based Committee, the second seeks to abolish the death penalty -- continued its eighty-sixth session today with a review of Norway's efforts to promote and guarantee respect for fundamental rights.
Chairperson Christine Chanet, expert from France, wrapped up consideration of Norway's fifth compliance report with praise for the country's "legislative innovations", including new rules by which students with written notification from their parents could be exempted from attending courses of study which, they, on the basis of their own religion or philosophy of life, considered to constitute the practice of another religion or expression of adherence to another philosophy of life or which they found offensive or objectionable.
The head of Norway's delegation, Petter Wille, Deputy Director, Department for Global Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had earlier spotlighted that initiative as an important new development. Amendments in the Education Act regarding the exemption scheme and syllabus of "Christian Knowledge and Religious and Ethical Education" (CKREE) -- a mandatory subject in the Norwegian school curriculum -- had been adopted by Parliament and had entered into force last June. Those amendments ensured that the various religions and outlooks on life were dealt with in the same qualitative manner when setting targets for competence. Christianity was only given quantitative preference, due to its influence on the historical and cultural background in Norway.
When the experts took the floor, they too noted Norway's leadership position in promoting fundamental rights. But they were equally frank about voicing their concerns on a range of issues, and, among other things expressed what one speaker suggested was a particular "unease" in the Committee about the prison conditions in Norway. The experts expressed concern about reports of detaining suspects in holding cells at police stations due to a lack of prison cells, unclear rules governing solitary confinement and ill-treatment of detainees by prison officials.
They were also troubled by the situation of women detainees -- particularly breastfeeding mothers -- as well as access to medical and psychiatric care. Nearly all the experts urged the Norway to address the possibility of unduly prolonged pre-trial detentions.
Among the experts' other concerns were the situations of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers in Norway. They also stressed the need to adhere to the globally recognized principle of non-refoulement -- the right not to be returned to a country where one faces threats to life or freedom.
Concerning the length of pre-trial detention, a member of the Norwegian delegation said the aim of the reformed criminal procedure was to ensure that nobody remained in police establishments for more than 48 hours after an arrest. That had not yet entered into force.
At the same time, it was not easy to understand why Norway had not built enough prison cells, and perhaps that question should be asked of the Minister of Finance. New prisons were being built, and new cells were being established, but the Minister of Justice wished that the process could be sped up. The goal was to have 20 per cent of prison cells available nationwide at all times so that people in pre-trial detention could be accommodated at any time and not have to stay in police cells, but it would be some years before that ambition was met.
The Committee will meet again tomorrow at 3 p.m. to take up the third compliance report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Human Rights Committee monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights met this morning to continue its eighty-sixth session and to begin consideration of Norway's fifth periodic report.
Consideration of Norway's Fifth Periodic Report
Updating the Committee on certain new developments, PETTER WILLE, Deputy Director, Department for Global Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, drew attention to the amended rules on the right to exemption from the mandatory subject in the Norwegian school curriculum entitled "Christian Knowledge and Religious and Ethical Education" (CKREE). Amendments to the Education Act had been adopted by the Norwegian Parliament and entered into force on 17 June 2005. The new exemption rules provided that, on the basis of written notification from parents, pupils could be exempted from attending teaching which, they, on the basis of their own religion or philosophy of life, considered to constitute the practice of another religion or expression of adherence to another philosophy of life or which they found offensive or objectionable. It was not necessary to provide reasons for giving a notification of exemptions. Pupils who were 15 years of age or older might themselves give written notification of exemption. The right to be excused from parts of the teaching applied to all subjects and multi-subject projects. Pupils could not, however, be exempted from the knowledge requirement of the syllabus.
He said that a new syllabus for CKREE had been adopted and had entered into force in August 2005. It implemented the changes made to section 2-4 of the Education Act, ensuring that the various religions and outlooks on life were dealt with in the same qualitative manner when setting targets for pupil competence. Christianity was only given quantitative preference, due to its influence on the historical and cultural background in Norway. Several measures had been introduced to ensure compliance with the new syllabus. A new CKREE textbook for teachers had been sent to all schools in August 2005. In addition to the syllabus, it contained guidance on how to teach the subject. It also contained information for parents in 20 different languages. Implementation of the new syllabus had also been discussed in regional seminars for teachers in all parts of the country in September 2005, and a new website ( www.krlnett.no ) had been developed to provide information and help to everyone working with CKREE.
The second development concerned the entry into force of legislation on gender representation on boards of public limited companies, he said. As stated in the report before the Committee, the boards of all State-owned companies had been obliged to have a minimum representation of 40 per cent of each gender since 1 January 2004. From 1 January 2006, the same rules applied to public limited companies, of which there were approximately 500 in Norway. There was a transitional period of two years for public limited companies registered before 1 January 2006 to implement the rules. For companies registered in 1 January 2006 or later, the rules were immediately binding.
He explained that the aim of the gender representation was to secure greater gender equality and democracy in Norwegian society. The Government regarded the legislation as an important step towards equality between the sexes, a fairer society and more even distribution of power. It was also an important factor in the creation of wealth in society. The legislation would secure women's influence in decision-making processes of great importance for the economy. It was also hoped that more balanced gender representation would strengthen management in the business sector and boost companies' competitive ability.
No gender representation rules had been proposed for private limited liability companies, however, he said. Most private limited liability companies in Norway were small family companies where the owners constituted the board. Companies of that type were not well-suited to gender representation legislation. By contrast, in public limited companies, the shares were generally more widely held, and the company's management was not necessarily personally connected to the shareholders. A third development had been the establishment of a new Directorate of Integration and Diversity on 1 January 2006. It would be a competence centre and driving force for integration and diversity. Its goal was to promote equality in living conditions and encourage diversity through employment, integration and participation in society. Important priorities were the settlement of refugees, new programmes for immigrants, Norwegian language and social studies classes, and efforts to promote diversity, dialogue and equality in public services.
Delegation's Response to Written Questions
Mr. WILLE assured the experts that his country did not deny basic rights to refugees or asylum-seekers, and that it adhered to the basic tenets of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
On Norway's reservation to article 20, paragraph 1, on the prohibition of propaganda for war, MORTEN RUUD, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Justice and Police of Norway, said that before Parliament had adopted a new Constitutional provision on the freedom of speech, there had been thorough discussions on how to balance freedom of expression with the duty to protect against certain forms of hate speech, or the need to prohibit certain forms of pornography, among others. However, an introduction of a prohibition of propaganda for war had never entered the discussion. He, therefore, felt it was very unlikely that Norway would withdraw its reservations to that article.
On measures adopted to deal with terrorism in line with Security Council resolution 1373 (2001), he said that in 2002, the Parliament had passed a bill aimed at battling the scourge, as well as its financing. The country's Criminal Code was also amended to cover the freezing of finances of terrorists and terrorist networks. Last year, a law had been passed by which the courts could allow the police to set up audio and video surveillance. That law was expanded to cover "intrusive intervention" such as bugging if the surveillance revealed that a terrorist act was being planned.
Regarding the Committee's concerns about proper reaction from law enforcement officials in cases of racial discrimination, he said that efforts were under way to ensure that information and training compendiums in that area had been distributed to all local police precincts. He added that specially trained lawyers had been charged with monitoring the treatment of ethnic minorities and placed in each prosecutor's office to coordinate between police and the public prosecuting authority.
Police and prosecutors had been instructed to give special priority to cases involving racist speech or other crimes motivated by racism. Turning to the conditions that would trigger solitary confinement, he said that the courts set the time for isolation. As a main rule, that time limit should not exceed two weeks, which could be extended -- by court order -- for not more than two more weeks. A person remanded to custody could not be kept in isolation for a period that exceeded six weeks. But in various serious cases, the maximum was, however, 12 weeks, and if "strong considerations" made it necessary, that period could be extended for another 12 weeks.
On prison suicides, Mr. Ruud said that over the past five years, there had been, on average, four to five suicides in prisons each year. When prison staff were aware that a detainee might have suicidal tendencies, frequent checks were made of that prisoner's cell. Among other things, he stressed that extensive research was under way on the subject of prison suicides, and a new report on the issue would be ready within the year, which would hopefully provide knowledge on ways to reduce the number of suicides.
Responding to a prior question about foreign prisoners who were breastfeeding, HILDE INDREBERG, Deputy Director, Legislation Department, Ministry of Justice and the Police of Norway, said that, to the extent that those prisoners were treated differently from Norwegian citizens, that was due to evaluation of flight risk and not to discrimination per se. The decisions were always made on the facts of the individual case since the degree of any ties to Norway would differ among foreign citizens. A custodial sentence might, in exceptional circumstances, be served in an institution other than a prison. Accordingly, mothers were sometimes allowed to serve a short part of their sentence with their baby or infant in a special institution for mothers. In 2005, two foreign mothers served the remaining part of their sentence with their children in a home for mothers and children after they had given birth. In those cases, they were not considered a flight risk.
In addition, she noted, the serving of a sentence was postponed when the convicted person was pregnant or when she had given birth less than six weeks before she was due to begin serving her sentence. Exceptions were made when she wanted to commence serving her sentence and the prison governor and any guardian of the child so approved. The same applied to mothers who were breastfeeding, but only until the child was nine months old.
In response to a question quoting a study on domestic violence in Oslo in 2004, which stated that one out of six women had been subjected to domestic violence at least once after reaching the age of 16, she said that several measures had been taken to eliminate domestic violence against women and to sensitize public officials to the issue. The first action plan to combat violence against women (2000 to 2002) focused on improving existing measures and enhancing the competence of all those involved, including the police, social welfare services, childcare services and staff from shelters. Other measures had included: equipping threatened women with security alarms; establishing family violence coordinators in every police district throughout the country; and setting up a Commission on Violence against Women, which submitted its first report in December 2003.
She said that the second action plan (2004-2007) emphasized strengthening treatment offered to women who had been exposed to violence and sexual abuse. It focused on immigrant women and children in families in which violence was practiced. Its purpose also was to break down the cycle of violence by improving treatment available to perpetrators of violence. Among measures already implemented or currently under development were: establishment in January 2004 of a National Centre of Competence on Violence and Traumatic Stress; a pilot project under which questions were asked about violence during maternity check-ups; strengthening the work of police on domestic violence, including personal violence alarms, restraining orders and temporary accommodation.
To further strengthen the protection of women and children, a revised penal provision relating to domestic violence was adopted in 2005 and entered into force in January 2006, she said. By its terms, a person who repeatedly maltreated his or her former or present spouse or specified close person was liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years. If the maltreatment was gross or the victim died or sustained considerable harm as a result, the penalty for the perpetrator was imprisonment for a term not exceeding six years. In addition, assaulted and sexually abused women could be protected against repeated violence by banning the abuser from entering a specific area or visiting or contacting the person. On 4 July 2003, the Norwegian Penal Code was amended to include a provision to prohibit forced marriage, which now carried a penalty of a prison term of not more than six years. Since domestic violence was not specifically covered by Norwegian legislation until 1 January 2006, Norway had no statistical information on the number of cases filed, the number of prosecutions initiated or the number of convictions, she said.
Responding to a series of written questions concerning human trafficking, she said that Norway was a country of destination, and the problem was increasing. The actual extent of the trafficking in human beings in Norway was not known, but according to police statistics, 32 women had been identified as possible victims in 2005, although that number might be higher. A revised National Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings (2005-2008) had been launched in June 2005. The purpose was to enhance multidisciplinary cooperation and to facilitate a concerted effort to prevent trafficking in human beings, protect the victims, and detect and prosecute the traffickers. At the global level, priority was given to initiatives aimed at developing and implementing effective normative frameworks, curbing recruitment, and promoting bilateral and multilateral police cooperation and judicial reform. Nationally, assisting and protecting victims had the highest priority. Measures taken include the establishment of a national victim identification and protection system, improving assistance to victims, ensuring safe return, and enhancing efforts to detect, investigate and prosecute abusers.
She noted that two very serious trafficking cases -- the so-called Trondheim and Oslo cases -- had been adjudicated in Norway, and she provided details on each.
Regarding the excessive length of pre-trial detention, she said that the Criminal Procedure Act had been amended in 2002 and now obliged the courts to be more proactive in deciding whether to prolong the detention period. The revised provision stated that the prosecution must inform the court what investigation steps remained. The relevant authorities would closely monitor developments in that regard to check whether the amendments had the intended effect.
As to what steps the State party had taken to address the Committee's concern about the review and reform laws relating to criminal defamation and whether there was adequate protection against racist expressions, she said that the Ministry of Justice was in the process of drafting a new Penal Code, and the provisions on defamation were being reviewed as part of that process. The Parliament had completed revised section 100 of the Constitution on 30 September 2004, with immediate effect, which strengthened constitutional protection of free speech in a number of fields, but that weakened constitutional protection for racist and hate speech. Before the amendments of 3 June 2005, a racist utterance had to be made publicly or otherwise be disseminated among the public to be punishable. Now, it was sufficient that the expression was made in a way that it was suited to reach a large number of people.
Experts' Comments and Questions
Opening the Committee's first round of comments, ROMAN WIERUSZEWSKI, expert from Poland, said that Norway's case had proved difficult if only because it had undertaken such solid efforts to implement the Covenant. He added that the Secretariat had informed the experts that Norway's report was considered a model for submission by State parties. He was, nevertheless, concerned about freedom of religion in the country, as well as cases of racial discrimination. He stressed that Norway's status as a model on human rights practices made it very important to address those and other matters in a comprehensive and timely manner.
He urged the delegation to ensure that the Finmark Act, dealing with the Sami people, was properly implemented. The expert was also concerned about the provision of legal aid to refugees. How were the non-governmental organizations providing such aid financed? He also wondered about the country's principles regarding non-refoulement. Was Norway monitoring the situation of refugees that had been returned to their home countries?
Turning to other matters, he wondered why it was so difficult for Norway to discuss prohibition of propaganda for war. And while freedom of speech would be discussed later, he wondered if there was any way the country could reconsider its position on the matter. On the effort to address the treatment of racial minorities by law enforcement officers, he asked if Norway's proposed plan to increase the number of minority policy officers had been implemented. He also asked for further clarification on the relevant sensitivity training programmes, namely, were they obligatory or voluntary? On other matters, the experts also asked what kind of measures were being discussed to increase the percentage of women in jobs that were traditionally held by men? Were any measures under way to ensure that women were equally remunerated for their work?
AHMED TAWFIK KHALIL, expert from Egypt, said that while all were concerned with complying with the Security Council's relevant anti-terrorism resolutions, such compliance must not be incompatible with a State party's obligations under the Covenant. He had been pleased to see that Norway was seeking to ensure that it followed that principle. But nevertheless, he referred to a report by the European Commission which noted that Norway subjected minorities with "too frequent" police checks that could amount to harassment. Was this the case? And if so, what was the status of any cases of harassment that might be pending in the courts? He was also concerned about the situations that would trigger covert surveillance by the authorities.
On Norway's law enforcement and justice system, he stressed his belief that even one suicide in police custody was too many. In Norway's case, he was concerned that the prolonged period of solitary confinement might have a relationship to suicide cases. On a related matter, he noted that a training programme was under way to ensure better methods for interrogation, but he urged the delegation to ensure that the traditional three-year course of study for police work would place a real emphasis on international human rights norms and obligations.
NISUKE ANDO, expert from Japan, expressed concern that Norway could not provide sufficient data on psychiatric care for women in prison. On solitary confinement, he asked what was the maximum limit a person could be held in isolation. And could the delegation clarify whether the police authorities could hold a person without court order for up to six days? Which authorities determined when psychological assistance would be provided to prisoners? When such care or counselling was agreed, was it administered in a timely manner?
EDWIN JOHNSON LOPEZ, expert from Ecuador, asked for further details about what specific measures had been taken to prevent discrimination against non-Norwegian female prisoners and what possibilities the delegates saw for changing that situation. He also asked how Norwegians had been made aware of their rights with respect to improved legislation on domestic violence, and whether there had been any positive results with respect to those improvements.
ABDELFATTAH AMOR, expert from Tunisia, sought clarification on whether the Covenant's provisions always prevailed over Constitutional ones. The report had indicated that only legislative provisions must yield to the Covenant, but must Constitutional provisions also do so? Was there a sensitivity to the right to die with dignity? He also asked about the reference to genital mutilation in Norway's report, and whether the Government was "energetically confronting that phenomenon"? How did Norway receive the findings or decisions of the Human Rights Committee? Specifically, were the decisions fully effective or was there only a "conditional" appreciation and not an "automatic" acceptance?
Expert from Switzerland, WALTER KÄLIN, asked about the extraterritorial applicability of the Covenant. Regarding the possibility to detain minors together with adults, he asked about the places of detention. Were most of the young persons detained in Oslo or spread out around the country? What about pre-trial detention? He imagined that many of those cases took place in the capital or many urban areas. Regarding counter-terrorism measures, he noted that Norway was following a kind of standard definition for terrorists, meaning that the language was not very precise. The problem was that the model had only a very narrow definition of torture, namely that torture applied to an intention that was limited to only very serious acts. What acts were covered by the list in the first part of the definition and how did those relate to the very open clauses in the second part of the definition? He also wanted to know more about the freezing of assets, and whether assets were frozen for persons on the list of the United Nations counter-terrorism committees or only those drawn up by Norway's courts.
He asked several questions about refugees and asylum-seekers, specifically seeking more information about the approach taken to the flight alternative.
Associating himself with his colleagues' generally positive evaluation of the report, NIGEL RODLEY, expert from United Kingdom, said, however, that it was disturbing that there seemed to be no limit to the length of solitary prison confinement. And, it was not just solitary confinement, or isolation from the rest of the prison population, but also detention, or denial of access to the outside world. He had identified 402 cases of full isolation, and 202 cases of denial of visits. That was 236 of both full isolation and full denial of visits. He asked about the extent to which such conditions of detention fulfilled the Covenant. At first blush, it was extremely surprising that a court could order those conditions for unlimited periods of time.
Turning to a figure of three suicides in police detention, or one every three years, in past years, and the absence of more recent statistics, he said that, either there had been a spate of suicides in police detention between 2003 and 2004, or someone had been looking the other way. He sought an explanation for the absence of any figures for 2003-2004.
Along with Deputy Director General Wille, Mr. Ruud and Ms. Indreberg, the Norwegian Delegation included: Clair Hurbert, Adviser, Department of Global Affairs in the Foreign Affairs Ministry; Anita Vardoy and Geir Elias Karlsen, Advisers for the Department of Migration in the Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion; Hildegunn Heinum, Adviser in the Department of Sami and Minority Affairs in the Labour Ministry; and Wenche Dahl Elde, Senior Adviser for the Department of Mental Health in the Directorate for Health and Social Affairs.
Responding to the Committee's concerns and questions on equal pay for women, a delegate assured the experts that legislation and concrete initiatives were under way to address the matter. He acknowledged that it was difficult to collect data on psychiatric patients in prisons, but assured the Committee that relevant efforts were under way to step up information-gathering mechanisms. Replying to another comment, he said that while Norway had never had a human rights ministry, as such, from 1997-2001, the country's Minister for National Development had been in charge of human rights issues. Subsequent Governments had placed those responsibilities in the office of the Foreign Minister.
To questions on refugees, another member of the delegation said that Norway's current Immigration Act did not send back refugees if they would be persecuted in their homelands, and the Government intended to uphold the principle of non-refoulement in all cases. She added that generally, Norway did not independently monitor the situation of returnees unless the Government received information that might trigger such monitoring.
Another Norwegian delegate said that his Government's reservation to Covenant article 20 on war propaganda would probably stand for the time being, chiefly because the prohibition was vague, and the introduction of such a measure would not appear in step with Norwegian law. He added that a new Penal Code was under review, so there was a small chance that the issue might be addressed in the near future.
He went on to assure the experts that no specific group was targeted by electronic, audio or video surveillance, but, in any case, when such surveillance was set up, it was generally "open sourced" and ordered by the courts. On solitary confinement, the maximum was 12 weeks, but in "extreme cases", the court could extend that time by 12 more weeks or even until the time the case went to trial. Now while that should generally happen as soon as possible, it could often extend beyond 12 weeks. He said that some detainees were denied correspondents and visits with the outside world but did have interaction with other prisoners.
On the relationship between the Covenant and Norway's Constitution, he said that while the issue had never come up in practice, in theory, if there was a conflict between the two, the State Constitution would take precedence. But at the same time Norway would always examine its decisions in light of its international obligations.
Continuing to respond to experts' questions this afternoon, a member of the delegation said that, regretfully, the number of foreign students admitted to the police academy was still "far too low". Between 2000 and 2005, between 7 and
13 students with minority backgrounds had been admitted to the police academy, out of 240 to 360. Everyone agreed that was far too few, and efforts had been taken to remedy that situation. Supplementary funds had been allocated to encourage minority students, and a study had been undertaken to consider what more could be done to motivate those students' enrolment.
Regarding harassment by the police, the Parliament had adopted certain measures, including a research project on the relationship between police and persons with minority backgrounds. That was still ongoing. But every police officer had an identifiable number on their uniforms. Regrettably, however, he could provide no further data at present.
At least 24 hours after a court decision of detention, a person should be transferred to ordinary prison cells, but it was not always possible to immediately fulfil that decision. Every cell was equipped with furniture, mattresses and a bed, and medical services were available to persons in detention. Thus, it was incorrect to say that no furniture or medical services were available. There were plans to build new prisons by 2008-2009, and hopefully, the situation would be improved by then. There were general practitioners in some of the remotest parts of Norway, but in some parts of the country, a sick person in detention had to be transported by air.
A mapping out of domestic violence had been carried out in 2003 and 2005, in order to provide a "snapshot" of the problem. Although that was not a scientific survey, the results had been significant, indicating the seriousness of the phenomenon, and the Government understood it must develop appropriate measures.
In terms of the circumstances leading to reopening court cases, if it was clear that there had been a violation by the State of its international obligations that would have led to a different result, then cases would be reopened.
When youths were to serve time in prison, the intention was for them to serve as close to possible as their homes, but that was not always possible.
Referring to questions about the terrorist portion of the Penal Code, he shared some of the experts' views that it was indeed difficult to prove intent, but rather serious crimes were included in that list. Concerning the freezing of assets and whether that applied to persons on the United Nations list, he said that fact would have some "evidential" value for Norway's courts.
Regarding suicides in police detention cells, he said he had just received those figures from Oslo, and they were as follows: four deaths, including one suicide (2002); two deaths, including one suicide (2003); one death, which was not a suicide (2004); and one death, also not a suicide (2005). This last figure was out of 48,000 persons detained in police cells in 2005.
Another member of the delegation stressed that several ministries and directorates were currently considering the introduction of a measure to make sure that persons being returned from Norway because of rejection of application for asylum might continue to get follow-up treatment in their home countries, particularly in the area of health care.
On legal protection against discrimination in the housing market, a Norwegian delegate said that a relevant monitoring system had been put in place early in 2005, and while there was no data currently available, he hoped that before the end of the year, sufficient data could be collected on matters such as discrimination and illegal evictions. On female genital mutilation, he said that the Government had presented a 33-point action plan in 2002, and awareness-raising efforts were continuing to reach affected groups, as well as health professionals, child welfare workers and religious and community leaders.
ELISABETH PALM, expert from Sweden, applauded the delegation on its thorough report and answers provided to questions. She said she had also noted with satisfaction that the Government intended to widely disseminate the Committee's concluding observations and comments, and particularly that those comments would be translated into Norwegian. Still, she joined others expressing concern about the country's law enforcement procedures, chiefly regarding solitary confinement. She also joined others who had raised the issue of incidents of racial discrimination, namely reports that Africans, among other minorities, were frequently stopped by police and questioned about their destinations. She noted that a programme had been put in place to document such occurrences, but wondered if there was information on whether the plan was working.
RAJSOOMER LALLAH, expert from Mauritius, asked if Norway understood the extraterritorial obligations triggered by accession to the Covenant. On global anti-terrorism efforts -- one of the United Nations "adventures" which had perhaps triggered widespread violations of human rights and fundamental liberties -- he was pleased to see that Norway's legislation was limiting to some degree. But he still asked for further clarification on the country's anti-terror efforts in practice, particularly safeguards against aggressive policing activities such as video surveillance or wiretapping.
Mr. KÄLIN, expert from Switzerland, asked for further clarification on the country's definition of terrorism and whether it included acts such as violent demonstrations, for instance, against the Government, which might lead to the burning or overturning of cars, or other violent acts.
Mr. JOHNSON LOPEZ, expert from Ecuador, reiterated his concerns expressed earlier about the treatment of women in prison, particularly breastfeeding mothers.
Turning again to the issue of solitary confinement in response to questions, a member of the delegation said the Justice Ministry required weekly reporting on how detention was followed up in the country and generally, the new regulation was not followed by just one extra day or so. When there was no space in an ordinary prison, the person in question would ordinarily be released except in the case of a very, very grave crime, such as murder. There was a line of persons waiting to serve their sentences, and Norway was using 98 per cent of its available capacity daily to reduce that backlog, but persons in detention had a priority. New prisons were being built, and others were being reopened, but the final solution had not yet been found. That was "priority number one" for the Ministry at the moment.
Concerning racial discrimination, he said it was true that a proposal had been rejected by the Parliament, and new measures had been adopted, for which he had no new statistics. He had no new complaints of police harassment of minorities, but that did not mean that the practice did not take place. Police training and attempts to change attitudes would continue, however.
On the question of intent in the realm of anti-terrorism, he said he could report no direct convictions under the relevant provisions in the Penal Code. Concerning police patrol, telephone and electronic surveillance, there were the traditional safeguards. The dilemma was to provide safeguards while keeping the need for secrecy. He was not sure Norway had found the very best solution. The question of intent was a general problem in criminal law.
On the problem of breastfeeding among female prisoners, he took note of the experts' comments and assured them that special measures and alternative measures were constantly being sought in those cases.
Turning to the series of questions about human trafficking, another member of the delegation said that in 18 cases an asylum-seeker had claimed to be subjected to trafficking, and in five cases, asylum had been granted. In six cases, permits had been granted on humanitarian grounds, and six cases had been rejected. The Government was planning to further improve the situation for victims of trafficking. A new immigration act was also being prepared, but since the proposal for the new act had not yet been submitted to Parliament, it was too early to tell whether that would regulate residence permits. The criteria for granting refugee status, however, would be further clarified.
He said his Government considered the mental health-care act to be in accordance with article 9 of the Covenant. Norway's legislation contained safeguards in the form of legal reviews of mental health-care decisions. The details were described in the fifth periodic report, but he explained the operation of the supervisory mental health-care system.
Norway was a country of destination for human trafficking, and there was evidence that such trafficking was increasing, another delegate said. According to police statistics, 32 women had been identified as possible victims in 2005. The number might be higher. The majority of cases uncovered in Norway to date had involved females for the purpose of sexual exploitation. A large number involved in prostitution were of foreign origin. When it came to measures to respond to that problem, some were mentioned in the report, and much more could be added. She referred experts to the written answers submitted to the Committee, which had included Norway's revised plan of action (2005-2008) launched in June 2005. That had been aimed at, among other things, facilitating concerted efforts to prevent human trafficking, protect the victims, and detect and prevent traffickers.
In order to prevent pre-trial detention for excessive periods, she said that the criminal prosecution act had been amended in 2002. Courts were now obliged to be more proactive in that regard. Prosecutors must inform the court when the investigation would be finished and what investigatory steps remained. The relevant authorities were closely monitoring developments in that area to determine whether the revised act was having the intended effect.
Mr. ANDO, expert from Japan, said that in order to eradicate trafficking and trafficking networks, it would be necessary to receive the cooperation of the victims. That would require keeping the identity of victims secret and guaranteeing their safety. Were any measures under way to take those factors into account?
Mr. KAHLIL, expert from Egypt, said that while he did not want to make it seem like the Committee was belabouring the point, he still needed clarification on Norway's procedures regarding detention, the conditions of its police holding cells and solitary confinement. The Committee's interest in those related matters reflected "some uneasiness".
Mr. WIERUSZEWSKI, expert from Poland, said that every country had a right to make its own assessment on the matter, but Norway's position on internal flight contravened the guidelines recommended by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He hoped Norway would take into consideration the position of United Nations treaty bodies when it made its decisions in that area. Among other issues, he questioned whether some of Norway's legislation might interfere with the fundamental rights of the Sami population in the country, particularly their rights to obtain access to land.
MICHAEL O'FLAHERTY, expert from Ireland joined those experts who had paid tribute to Norway's leadership role in the area of international human rights. He asked for more information on the country's anti-trafficking initiatives. He asked for any information the delegation could provide about the situation of Roma people in the country. He had heard reference to reports that the Roma were the least integrated minority group in Norwegian society and the most open to discrimination. What was the Government doing to address the very serious problem of the marginalization of this group? Finally, he asked if Norway had set up a national mechanism which could hear individual complaints of rights violations.
Mr. AMOR, expert from Tunisia, said that he knew that Norway firmly supported freedom of expression and religion. But he had been surprised at the reluctance with which many Governments had moved to address matters related to the publication of the much-discussed caricatures of Prophet Mohammed. And while freedom of expression was a fundamental right, incitement to hate -- hate speech -- or extremism was not protected. He noted that many Norwegian newspapers had printed the notorious cartoons and wondered about the delegation's position in the matter.
PRAFULLACHANDRA NATWARLAL BHAGWATI, expert from India, asked about human rights education in Norwegian schools. He also joined others expressing concern about the country's efforts to curb trafficking, and about the situation of the Roma populations living in Norway.
A delegate said that a report on the relationship between State and church had just been issued, and the committee that had prepared it had recommended some amendments to Norway's Constitution, including to article 2, concerning the right to exercise religion. The concerns previously expressed by the Human Rights Committee had been reason itself to repeal section 2 of the Constitution. Article 12, whereby the Council, consisting of a Prime Minister and at least seven other members, should profess the official religion of the State, would also be changed.
Regarding the concern that the Roma had not been given much prominence in the current report, he said that the size of the Roma population in Norway was 350 to 400 persons, mostly living in Oslo. To address their situation, Norway had ratified the European Framework Protection Convention for National Minorities, under which the Roma were recognized as a minority. New measures to address their situation had also been taken, including opening a dialogue with Roma organizations and the municipality of Oslo. Those, first and foremost, concentrated on schooling as that was seen as the major problem for the Roma.
On the integration of immigrants, a system was now in place to assess the impact of the new legislation on the housing market, but the new immigration policy also covered such elements as labour, child care, education, health, justice, and elections, he said. The Norwegian Government condemned any action that expressed contempt for persons on the basis of religious or ethnic background. It had been clear on the issue of freedom of expression, which was a pillar of society, but it had also made it clear that utterances or depictions in the media, such as the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, had not been the expressed views of the Government. It would intensify dialogue with youth organizations on that and similar topics.
Concerning the length of pre-trial detention, another delegate said the reformed criminal procedure had not yet entered into force because regulations to ensure that nobody remained in police establishments for more than 48 hours after an arrest had not yet been adopted. It was not easy to understand why Norway had not built enough prison cells, however, and perhaps that question should be asked of the Minister of Finance. New prisons were being built, and new cells were being established, but the Minister of Justice wished that process could be sped up. The goal was to have 20 per cent of prison cells available nationwide at all times so that people in pre-trial detention could be accommodated at any time and not have to stay in police cells, but it would be some years before that ambition was met.
To a question about respect for time limits for cases to be brought to trial, he acknowledged the overburdened court system and defence lawyers and the fact that a number of appeals and decisions were pending, but felt that, in general, the time limits were largely respected.
He had not known of any incidents where Supreme Court decisions had been reopened because the decisions had violated international law provisions, but in principle, that could happen.
There was nothing new in terms of withdrawing Norway's reservation to article 14 of the Covenant, especially to paragraph 5, he said.
Another delegate explained in detail the meaning of the so-called "reflection period" for victims of trafficking. It had been introduced in May 2004, and it had been invoked by fewer than five people. It was not a substitute for applying for asylum, but rather an offer for persons not interested in doing it. It was meant to be an interim measure, a way for victims to cut all ties with traffickers and to seek help outside the situation of trafficking. The reflection period was not a permit, as such, but a way of helping assumed victims avoid traffickers and trafficking situations. The 45-day reflection period might be prolonged under two circumstances: if the police needed more time to investigate the trafficking case; or if the victim needed more time to decide whether to report the trafficker to the police.
Mr RODLEY, expert from the United Kingdom, said he did not want a country to think it could "build itself out of a prison overcrowding problem". What was the prison population as a percentage, as against every 100,000 residents? he asked. He also wanted to know whether that rate was going up or down, and what the explanation was for that change, either way?
A member of the delegation said he did not have the exact figures in front of him, but the prison population against every 100,000 was quite low compared to many other parts of the world. He would send the Committee the exact figures in writing. As far as he knew, the rate was quite stable. Norway was seeking to find alternatives to prison sentences, such as community service, and it was trying to reduce the number of crimes and, thus, the number of cases.
CHRISTINE CHANET, expert from France, thanked the delegation for its fifth periodic report, which was particularly well crafted, both the written and verbal replies. Norway had a long-standing dialogue with the Committee; the country had taken experts' past comments into account with new legislative innovations. That had emphasized the seriousness of the delegation's attitude to the communications, particularly those on religious education.
Touching on a number of points, she said that, on domestic violence, Norway was "very aware" of the problem and had considered measures similar to what was being done in other countries, namely to separate the violent husband by making him leave the household rather than the wife. Regarding the Sami people, the Convention being considered jointly with other Scandinavian countries was particularly positive. The country had also taken other measures to combat discrimination under its Second Chance plan. Of course, that was still a nascent measure and, as such, it was not yet possible to assess its impact. Perhaps that could be discussed in connection with the presentation of the sixth periodic report.
Regarding Norway's reservations, there had not been much progress. Another question often raised by Committee members concerned prisoner isolation, and it was hard to see how those measures could be justified. A look at the tables in the report indicated that those measures seemed to be more punitive than anything else -- depriving a person of a radio or television, and certain types of visits or mail. She could understand certain restrictions, but not such wide-ranging ones lasting weeks, at times. She also did not see how it was possible for a judge to intervene.
In terms of defining terrorism, while that might be new for Norway, it was not a new issue for the Committee, she said. When States tried to use definitions to repress terrorism, they always came up against subjective elements, such as conditionality. Nevertheless, she did not understand how banking, for instance, in Norway's case, tied in to terrorism, but that kind of thing emerged with all countries when they sought to define terrorism.
She was concerned that the 48-hour rule in detention was a target rather than a strict rule, which contravened article 9 of the Covenant. The possibility of the maltreatment in police facilities grew over time. She encouraged Norway to bring its new provisions into force.
Concerning the caricature issue, she said it was up to the country to choose persuasion or repression, and it had chosen persuasion. But, it must be aware that a caricature that mocked and equated a religious icon with terrorism was in contravention with articles 19 and 20 of the Covenant. It was incumbent upon a State not to allow that type of hate speech or incitement to occur on its territory, and it was up to the Government to decide how to repress it.
She agreed that prisons were no panacea and that Norway had the potential to develop alternative measures, such as community service or electronic surveillance.
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* Revised to reflect additional information.