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Committee against Torture begins examination of report of Norway

1 November 2012

The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the combined sixth and seventh periodic report submitted by Norway on how it implements the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Introducing the report, Tonje Meinich, Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security of Norway, said Parliament had appointed a commission in 2009 to strengthen statutory national human rights by enshrining central human rights in the constitution. The commission had proposed to give constitutional status to prohibitions on the death sentence, slavery, unfair discrimination and torture by enshrining them in the constitution. Ms. Meinich further indicated that, following the terrorist attacks committed on 22 July 2011 by Anders Behring Breivik, deficits in the authorities’ ability to prevent such attacks and in the police response had been revealed, leading to a number of measures which were currently being implemented.

Claudio Grossman, the Rapporteur for the report of Norway, commended that torture was punished with up to 15 years imprisonment or with up to 21 years if it resulted in the death of the victim. However, Norway was using the Convention as an interpretative tool – did the State party consider incorporating the Convention into domestic law and making it directly applicable? The consequences of the non-applicability of the Convention had been seen in several instances.

Xuexian Wang, the Co-Rapporteur for the report of Norway, noted that the Commission tasked with revising the constitution had proposed to prohibit unfair discrimination. Did this mean that there were forms of just discrimination and that these could be tolerated, Mr. Wang asked. He further underscored that rape was a serious issue in Norway, wondering why this problem seemed to have become chronic and incurable, with most victims not logging complaints and the number of sentences being very low.

Committee Experts asked in-depth questions about long-term detention by police, saying this occurred for periods beyond 48 hours and up to eight or nine days. While attempts to avoid prison overcrowding were understandable, Norway should step up its efforts to avoid holding people in custody for such prolonged periods of time. An Expert was also concerned about the excessive use of force by police and discrimination based on ethnic origin.

The delegation of Norway consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health and Care Services and the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will hear the replies of Mexico, which presented its report on Wednesday, 31 October. The Committee will hear the replies of Norway on Friday, 2 November at 3 p.m.

Report of Norway

The combined sixth and seventh periodic report of Norway can be read via the following link: CAT/C/NOR/6-7.

Presentation of the Report of Norway


TONJE MEINICH, Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security of Norway, introducing the report, said she would like to address recent developments since the report had been submitted. In June 2011, an inter-ministerial working group had been appointed to assess the consequences of the ratification of the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture, and to make proposals for such ratification. The report of the working group, submitted in April this year, recommended that the parliamentary ombudsman be designated as the national preventive mechanism in the event of ratification. The report had been circulated for general consultation and the Government was now considering these comments. In May this year, the Government had also requested the Parliament’s consent for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Parliament was currently considering the proposal.

Turning to the restructuring of the National Institution for Human Rights, Ms. Meinich said that the International Criminal Court’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation had in 2011 concluded that the institution did not fully comply with the Paris Principles. The Sub-Committee recommended that the institution be accredited with B status unless evidence indicating the continued conformity with the Paris Principles was provided within one year. The Government had thus established an inter-ministerial working group to consider changes, including the possibility of establishing a new national institution with a different model. The working group was to submit its report in December this year.

As Parliament prepared for the bicentenary of the Norwegian constitution in 2014, it had appointed a commission in 2009 to propose how to strengthen statutory national human rights by enshrining central human rights in the constitution. The commission proposed that several human rights be enshrined in the constitution such as the right to life, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of thought and the right to privacy, as well as prohibitions on the death sentence, slavery, unfair discrimination and torture. These rights were already part of Norwegian law through the incorporation of international conventions in the Human Rights Act of 1999. The constitutional amendments would thus not result in more rights in the statutory framework, but would give the protection of these rights constitutional status. Several amendments suggested by the commission had already been formally proposed by members of parliament, including the provision on the prohibition of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. With general elections to be held in 2013, the proposed constitutional amendments could take place between October 2013 and September 2016.

There were also legislative amendments concerning juveniles in conflict with the law. The new juvenile sentence aimed at reducing the number of imprisoned young offenders between the ages of 15 and 18 and to give them a better understanding of the consequences of their acts. The juvenile units would also be organized according to the needs of young people, being serviced by inter-departmental teams preparing inmates for release. A number of other legislative amendments relating to offenders between 15 and 18 years had also been adopted, especially those aimed at strengthening their rights following an arrest. These amendments had entered into force on 20 January.

Ms. Meinich noted that on 22 July 2011 Norway had been exposed to a terrorist attack by Norwegian citizen Anders Behring Breivik. Mr. Breivik had bombed Government buildings in Oslo before proceeding to a massive shoot-out at Utoya, killing a total of 77 people and injuring many. An independent commission appointed by the Government in the aftermath had delivered its report earlier this year, revealing deficits in the ability of authorities to prevent such attacks, and in the response of the police. A number of measures had thus been proposed to improve the situation, and these were currently being implemented. The attacks also put the Norwegian health services to perhaps their heaviest test ever, but it had been concluded that there was no need to change the basic structure of the current emergency organization. Nevertheless, several learning objectives had been identified such as the follow-up of survivors, their families and carers, and the alert system.
The criminal case against Mr. Breivik raised a discussion on the rules on mental incapacity and criminal liability in the Penal Code, and on the use of forensic psychiatric expert witnesses in criminal cases. The Ministry of Justice was working on a mandate and on establishing a committee to look into criminal law rules on mental incapacity. The committee would consider rules and practices concerning the experts used in criminal cases where there were doubts about the criminal responsibility of the perpetrator on account of mental issues. It was planned that the committee would be appointed before Christmas for it to start its work early next year.

Questions from Rapporteurs on Norway

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur for the report of Norway, noted that Norway was using the Convention as an interpretative tool, but wondered whether the State party was considering incorporating the text into domestic law and making it directly applicable. The consequences of the non-applicability of the Convention had been seen in several cases. Making it directly applicable might be a means of reducing the number of human rights violations. This did not mean that victims had the final word; the final word would remain with the judicial order, the Rapporteur reassured.

The Committee had followed the discussions on expanding the list of categories of discrimination – on disability, political views and sexual orientation, for instance. While Norway did not want a broad category such as “for other categories”, but for the Convention the matter of discrimination was essential. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had in 2006 mentioned that the anti-discrimination act of 2006 did not specifically carry discrimination in terms of race. Had there been any change in that regard? Also, the Human Rights Committee had noted issues with discrimination on the basis of apparent ethnic origin – had Norway followed the recommendation that such incidents be monitored? And the Committee on the Rights of the Child, for its part, had referred to factors which could lead to discrimination against children. What measures had the State party taken? Likewise, non-governmental organizations reported that Norwegian law facilitated ill-treatment and discrimination of people with disabilities. While these questions were raised by other bodies, the answers were also important to the Committee against Torture as the issues were relevant to the Convention it monitored.

Mr. Grossman commended the fact that under the Penal Code torture was punished with up to 15 years of imprisonment, or with up to 21 years if it resulted in the death of the victim. This was a real penalty which was commensurate with the type of crime.

The Rapporteur said he would like to know more about the impact of the police directory programme regarding police action with ethnic minorities. Had civil society been involved in training, was the allotted budget sufficient, and could the delegation share its evaluation with the Committee?

It had been established that rape was a form of torture and that it had a discriminatory basis as women were part of a vulnerable group. The Committee would therefore be interested in knowing how the recommendations of the rape committee were being implemented and which ministries were responsible for this. An update on measures to electronically monitor restraining orders would also be appreciated.

Preventive detention required strict scrutiny, Mr. Grossman said. Could the delegation provide paradigmatic judicial decisions which interpreted the two words of “extreme cases”, which were used in this context, so that the Committee could better understand this concept?

XUEXIAN WANG, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the report of Norway, noted that, according to the delegation, the Commission tasked with revising the constitution had proposed that the constitution prohibit unfair discrimination. Did this mean that there were forms of just discrimination and that these could be tolerated?

How could the delegation explain that Norway still had not established a method for evaluating the impact and the efficiency of the training programmes aimed at preventing torture, the Co-Rapporteur further asked. He also wondered whether Norway was considering withdrawing its reservation regarding paragraphs 2 and 3 of article 10 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Mr. Wang underscored that rape was a serious issue in Norway, wondering why this problem seemed to have become chronic and incurable, with most victims not logging complaints and the number of sentences being very low. It was high time that the Norwegian authorities displayed a political will to fight this problem and that they take drastic measures, underlined the Co-Rapporteur.

The Co-Rapporteur noted that there were only a few cases of discriminatory practices by law enforcement officials, so why were there no complete records in this regard?

Unnecessary use of force was not a widespread problem, Mr. Wang noted, underscoring, however, that this was nonetheless an issue. What measures had Norway taken in this regard, and could the delegation elaborate on the unlawful use of force?

Turning to the cases of disappeared children, the Co-Rapporteur asked whether authorities had undertaken serious investigations into these cases and whether they had tried to apprehend the perpetrators. How did Norway attempt to make sure that every missing child was being traced?

It was an issue of concern that a man had been put in solitary confinement for 110 days and that this had only been interrupted due to his needing to be hospitalized. Could the delegation comment on this specific case and could it clarify the legal basis for such practices?

Questions by Committee Members

A Committee Expert worried about the practice of long-term detention by police, saying this occurred for periods beyond 48 hours and up to eight or nine days. While attempts to avoid prison overcrowding were understandable, Norway should step up its efforts to avoid holding people in custody for such prolonged periods of time. The decision on whether a detainee was in need of medical assistance or not should furthermore be taken by medical staff, and not by the police.

Discrimination in access to services, of which child asylum-seekers were victims, was also a source of concern to Committee Experts, as were the measures taken by Norwegian authorities to prevent trafficking in children.

An Expert was concerned about the use of excessive force by Norwegian police, as well as discriminatory practices based on ethnic origin. Discrimination must always be seen as discrimination – there could be no fair and unfair discrimination.

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For use of the information media; not an official record