Freedom in the World
In July 2010, three men with alleged links to Al-Qaeda were arrested by Norwegian officials on suspicion of terrorist activity. The arrests were the culmination of a year-long international investigation. Also in July, two of Norway’s major asylum centers were rocked by vandalism and arson. The government subsequently announced that existing centers would be replaced by facilities focused on expediting the deportation process.
Norway’s constitution, the Eidsvoll Convention, was first adopted in 1814 during a brief period of independence after nearly four centuries of Danish rule. Subsequently, Norway became part of a Swedish-headed monarchy. The country gained independence in 1905 and has since functioned as a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty parliamentary structure. Norway became a founding member of NATO in 1949.
Norwegian citizens narrowly rejected membership in the European Union (EU) in 1972 and 1994, despite government support for joining. Norwegians wanted to preserve their sovereignty and feared that membership would threaten the country’s energy, agriculture, and fishing industries. As part of the European Economic Area (EEA), Norway has nearly full access to EU markets, and 71 percent of Norwegian exports go to EU countries. While Norway has adopted almost all EU directives, it has little power to influence EU decisions.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s center-left Red-Green coalition was reelected in the September 2009 parliamentary elections, making it the first government to win reelection in the last 16 years. The coalition—led by Stoltenberg’s Labor Party, which won 64 seats—includes the Socialist Left Party and the Center Party (Agrarians), which captured 11 seats each. The Progress Party secured 41 seats; the Christian Democrats, 10 seats; and the Liberal Left, 2 seats.In concurrent elections for the Sami Assembly, the Labor Party captured 14 seats, the Progress Party took 3 seats, and various other Sami parties won a total of 22 seats.
On July 6, 2010, residents of the asylum “waiting centers” near Nannestad and Drammen vandalized and set fire to the facilities.The following day, the Lier center near Drammen was burned to the ground; officials alleged that the fire was intentionally set by asylum seekers whose applications had been denied. Authorities subsequently arrested 23 residents on suspicion of arson; at year’s end, 13 of the accused had been deported, while the remaining 10 were still being held in Norway. Residents reported poor living conditions in the asylums, including a lack of food and mental healthcare, though the authorities have denied such claims. In an effort to prevent future disturbances, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration proposed solitary confinement for any asylum seekerwho had committed a crime; the proposal had not been passed by year’s end.In September, the justice minister announced that “return facilities” would be created for those denied asylum. While largely similar to the current facilities, “return facilities” will place greater emphasis on expediting deportation in an effort to reduce overcrowding.
Also in July, Norwegian officials arrested three men, two legal Norwegian residents and one naturalized citizen, with alleged ties to Al-Qaeda after a year-long international investigation. The suspects—originating from the Uighur region of China, Kurdish Iraq, and Uzbekistan—were suspected of planning attacks against Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad in 2005. At least one of the suspects also admitted to a separate plan to attack the Chinese embassy in Oslo. In September, two of the three suspects confessed to the terrorist plot and remained in custody at year’s end. The third, David Jakobsen, was released in October 2010, but would still face trial on terrorism charges.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Norway is an electoral democracy. The unicameral Parliament, called the Storting, currently has 169 members. Lawmakers are directly elected for four-year terms through a system of proportional representation. The leader of the majority party or coalition in the Storting is appointed prime minister by the constitutional monarch, currently King Harald V. While the monarch is officially the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces, his duties are largely ceremonial.
The indigenous Sami population, in addition to participating in the national political process, has its own Consultative Constituent Assembly, or Sameting, which has worked to protect the group’s language and cultural rights and to influence the national government’s decisions about Sami land and its resources. The government supports Sami-language instruction, broadcast programs, and subsidized newspapers in Sami regions. A deputy minister in the national government deals specifically with Sami issues.
Norway remains one of the least corrupt countries in the world. However, isolated incidents of bribery and misconduct have occurred, and Norway’s role in the international energy and mining industries has received particular scrutiny.Norway was ranked 10 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed. In an effort to promote political pluralism, the state subsidizes many newspapers, the majority of which are privately owned and openly partisan. In February 2010, the newspaper Dagbladet republished a series of cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad that had caused an uproar in 2005.In response, 3,000 demonstrators peacefully protested the cartoons’ suggestion that Muslims are terrorists.Internet access is not impeded by the government.
Freedom of religion is protected by the constitution and respected in practice.The monarch is the constitutional head of the official Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway, and at least half of the cabinet must belong to the church. Other denominations must register with the state to receive support, which is determined by size of membership. A course on religion and ethics focusing on Christianity is mandatory for students, but it is considered to be in violation of international human rights conventions, including the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights. Contrary to a decision reached in 2009, an administrative court in August 2010 issued a non-binding opinion that banning female police officers from wearing hijab (headscarves) violates Norway’s freedom of religion and antidiscrimination laws.
The constitution guarantees freedoms of assembly and association. Norwegians are very active in nongovernmental organizations. Labor unions play an important role in consulting with the government on social and economic issues, and approximately 53 percent of the workforce is unionized.
The judiciary is independent, and the court system, headed by the Supreme Court, operates fairly at the local and national levels. The king appoints judges on the advice of the Ministry of Justice. The police are under civilian control, and human rights abuses by domestic law enforcement authorities are rare. Prison conditions generally meet international standards, though problems with overcrowding continued in 2010.
Overcrowding in asylum centers has also become a concern in recent years, though the number of asylum seekers dropped by nearly 42 percent in 2010, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As of September 2009, asylum seekers who voluntarily return to their homeland will receive approximately $1,800 from the Norwegian government to assist in resettlement. While citizens within the EEA no longer need a residence permit to work in Norway, the agreement excludes Romanians and Bulgarians. An ombudsman for equality and antidiscrimination was established in 2006 to counter ethnic and sexual bias.
The Gender Equality Act provides equal rights for men and women. In 2009, nearly 40 percent of the seats in the Storting were won by women, a slight increase over the previous elections. Women currently head 10 of the 19 government ministries. Norway is a destination point for women trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The country, however, remains a leader in antitrafficking efforts, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report. A 2009 law makes the purchase of sex illegal; citizens caught paying for sex can receive up to six months in prison. By the end of 2009, authorities had arrested 23 men under the new law, though sex workers claim that the new legislation has caused conditions to worsen due to increased risks.