Freedom in the World
The July terrorist attacks in Oslo and Uttoya by Norwegian national Anders Breivik shook Norway in 2011. Breivik detonated a bomb in Oslo near government buildings and attacked participants of a political summer camp on the island of Uttoya with a machine gun, killing 77 people. Widespread criticism of the police’s handling of the crisis lead to the resignation of Minister of Justice Knut Storberget in November. Meanwhile, asylum seekers continued to be rejected and repatriated in the midst of calls and marches for increased tolerance and multiculturalism.
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.
In the September 2005 legislative elections, the center-left Red-Green coalition—led by the Labor Party and including the Socialist Left Party and the Center Party (Agrarians)—won 47.9 percent of the vote and 87 of 169 seats. The previous governing bloc—a center-right coalition consisting of the Conservative Party, the Christian People’s Party, and the Liberal Party—captured only 26.8 percent of the vote and 44 seats. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg reshuffled members of his coalition government in October 2007, resulting in a historic female-majority cabinet, with 10 female and 9 male ministers.
Stoltenberg’s coalition was reelected in the September 2009 parliamentary elections, making it the first government to win reelection in the last 16 years. The coalition’s Labor Party won 64 seats, while the Socialist Left Party and the Center Party 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 Norwegian Labor Party captured 14 seats, the Norwegian Sami Association (NSR) received 11, and various other Sami parties won a total of 14 seats.
On July 22, 2011, Norwegian national and right-wing fundamentalist Anders Breivik detonated a powerful bomb in the center of Oslo near several government buildings, killing eight people and inflicting widespread material damage. Breivik then proceeded to shoot and kill 69 people attending a Labor Party summer youth camp on the island of Uttoya. The attacks, which were the deadliest in Scandinavia since World War II, inspired a national and regional discussion of the origins of Breivik’s ideology, which seemed to be based in the extreme right. It included anti-immigrant sentiments, particularly against Muslim immigration, and a radical resistance and hostility to Norway’s multicultural agenda and its native Norwegian supporters. Breivik is scheduled to go to trial in April 2012.
Minister of Justice Knut Storberget resigned in November 2011, citing personal reasons, but tacitly acknowledging the intense critique he received over the poor police response to the July Breivik massacre as significant to his decision; it took police more than an hour and a half to reach the island of Uttoya and arrest Breivik after he opened fire.
Municipal and county elections in September 2011 saw a loss of votes for the anti-immigration Progress Party, but gains for the Conservatives, Liberals, and Labour parties.
Immigration to Norway has increased fivefold since the 1970s, including recent asylum seekers predominantly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Eritrea. More than 10 percent of Norway’s population was foreign-born in 2011. However, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there was a 42 percent drop in the number of people seeking asylum in Norway in 2010, but a dramatic increase in the number of rejected asylum claims and voluntary and forced repatriations. In July 2010, residents vandalized and set fire to asylum “waiting centers” near Nannestad and Drammen. Officials alleged that the fire was intentionally set by asylum seekers whose applications had been denied. Residents have reported poor living conditions in the centers, including a lack of food and mental healthcare, though the authorities have denied such claims. Plans proposed in 2010 to create “return facilities” for those denied asylum in order to expedite deportation and reduce overcrowding were rejected in September 2011 due to costs. However, the national debate on immigration was affected by the Breivik attacks in July, resulting in numerous marches and calls for strengthening Norway’s tolerance and multiculturalism.
The trial of three terrorist suspects arrested in 2010 commenced in September 2011. The three were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism based on their plans to attack the headquarters of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad in 2005. The trial was ongoing at year’s end.
Norway is an electoral democracy. The unicameral Parliament, called the Storting, currently has 169 members who 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 Sameting is comprised of 39 representatives who are elected for four-year periods. 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 6 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 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. 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 financial support, which is determined by size of membership. A course on religion and ethics focusing on Christianity is mandatory for students, but is considered to be in violation of international human rights conventions. 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 the hijab (headscarf) 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 right to strike is legally guaranteed, except for military and senior civil servants, and is practiced without restrictions. All workers also have the right to collective bargaining.
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 2011.
The mandate of the Office of the Ombudsman was expanded in 2006 to include all forms of discrimination, and is responsible for enforcing the country’s Gender Equality Act, the Discrimination Act, and the Worker Protection and Working Environment Act. While citizens within the EEA no longer need a residence permit to work in Norway, the agreement excludes Romanians and Bulgarians.
The Gender Equality Act provides equal rights for men and women. In 2009, nearly 40 percent of the seats in Parliament were won by women, a slight increase over the previous elections. Norway is a destination country for human trafficking for the purposes of labor and sexual exploitation. The country, however, remains a leader in anti-trafficking efforts, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report.