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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers report of Norway

21 November 2013

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today considered the fifth periodic report of Norway on how the country is implementing the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Presenting the report, Petter Wille, Ambassador at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, said that Norway was fully committed to cooperating with the Committee, whose previous concluding observations had played an important guiding role in the country’s efforts to improve its implementation of the Covenant. The Covenant had been incorporated on an equal footing with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and its provisions could be invoked directly in national courts. Norway had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in June 2013. The Child Welfare Act had recently been amended in order to strengthen children’s right to participation and to empower children to express their opinion during child welfare cases. The Government was going to soon start to work on a universal anti-discrimination bill, which would replace the current discrimination legislation.

Committee Members raised questions on the corporate social responsibility of Norway’s sovereign welfare fund, and asked for details on whether respect for human rights was taken into consideration when deciding on official development assistance. Questions were also asked on domestic violence, the integration of migrants and treatment of indigenous peoples, particularly of the Sami population, the provision of social housing, the problem of homelessness, and functioning of the national human rights institution.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Wille stated that the debate had been inspiring and thought-provoking. The following stage would include analysing and implementing the concluding observations.

Zdislaw Kedzia, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for Norway, said that the sincerity and exhaustive nature of responses by the delegation were appreciated. On some of the issues, the delegation and the Committee would probably continue to differ. The Committee appreciated the multiple achievements of Norway, including the increase of official development assistance during the global economic crisis. The Committee would now work on its concluding observations, which were seen as a continuation of the dialogue with the State party.

The delegation of Norway included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, Ministry of Justice and Public Security, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, Ministry of Labour and the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 29 November at 3 p.m. to adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Kuwait, Albania, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Djibouti, Belarus, Egypt, Gabon, Austria and Norway, which were considered during the session, before concluding the session.

Report

The fifth periodic report of Norway (E/C.12/NOR/5) can be seen here.

Presentation of the Report

PETTER WILLE, Ambassador at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, said that the United Nations treaty bodies played a crucial role in the international system for monitoring States’ implementation of their human rights obligations. Norway was fully committed to cooperating with the Committee, whose previous concluding observations had played an important guiding role in the country’s efforts to improve its implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In the national legal system of Norway, the Covenant had been incorporated on an equal footing with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and its provisions could be invoked directly in national courts. Its provisions took precedence over any other provisions of national legislation which might conflict with them.
Norway had an established practice of discussing follow-up of concluding observations with the relevant authorities as well as with representatives of civil society, with a view of further improving the follow-up procedures for concluding observations. Civil society had been actively involved in preparing supplementary reports to the current periodic report, which had been studied carefully. More than half of the Ministries had participated in drafting the periodic report.

The State party’s new Common Core Document, submitted to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as the written answers to the list of issues, would assist the Committee in the consideration of the report.

Several developments which had taken place during the reporting period ought to be highlighted. Norway had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in June 2013.

The Child Welfare Act had recently been amended in order to strengthen children’s right to participation and to empower children to express their opinion in all child welfare cases. Additionally, children could bring a person they trusted in all meetings with the child welfare service. Following amendments in the Children Act, young children now had the right to participate and be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial proceedings concerning parental responsibility, where the child should live permanently, and the child’s right of access to the parents.

In the near future, the Government was going to start to work on a universal anti-discrimination bill, which would replace the current discrimination legislation.

Questions by the Experts

ZDISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for Norway, said that the Committee appreciated the extensive report, submitted in time, as well as the responses to the list of issues. The State party had reported extensively on the implementation of the previous concluding observations.

Regarding official development assistance, Norway had the best result among developed countries, with one per cent of its gross national income dedicated to such assistance. Was that percentage affected by the recent global economic crisis?

In the preparation of the report, had civil society and non-governmental organizations been involved and consulted?

It was not entirely clear whether the Supreme Court and other courts had internalized the applicability of the Covenant yet, or was it recognized only partially. The Covenant had reportedly been invoked very rarely. A constitutional review initiated by the Parliament had found that economic, social and cultural rights seemed to be viewed as declarative and were treated differently from civil and political rights.

The Norwegian Centre for Human Rights was characterized by a lack of a legal framework in accordance with the Paris Principles, and its capacity was limited to five persons. What was the current situation of the Centre as the national human rights institution, and were there any plans to establish or reinforce such an institution in a completely independent manner?

An Expert asked if further information could be provided on what the State party was doing to combat corruption and embezzlement, especially among high level officials?

Norway was a wealthy country with mineral resources and with the highest rate of official development assistance in the world, providing assistance to more than 100 countries worldwide. Did the State party consider the assistance to be financially significant, was it achieving the desired results, and was the bilateral aid tied to certain conditions?

Another Expert encouraged the Government of Norway to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol. Had there been a public, democratic debate on its ratification?
Did Norway’s international cooperation projects take into consideration human rights when deciding on how to distribute aid? Was attention paid to possible violations of human rights in third countries, due to the investment of Norway’s public funds? Was it affecting the State party’s extraterritorial obligations?

With regard to the relations between the Covenant and the legal order of the State party, did the Covenant also have precedence over the Constitution? To what extent were various Ministries aware of the Covenant and did they take it into consideration when defining policies?

Had the State party’s mixed economy been helpful in the application of economic, social and cultural rights?

Given a sizeable influx of migrants, an Expert asked for more details on the country’s integration processes, and whether they could be deemed successful.

Another Expert inquired whether there were plans to establish a national human rights institution with a broad, comprehensive mandate.

Regarding the rights of persons with disabilities, was Norway planning to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? How were the employment opportunities for such persons?

While Norway was a global leader in women’s rights, it was not obligatory for all Ministries to have a gender budget with the view of further mainstreaming gender equality in all aspects of work. Were there any plans to make such a budget available.

What was the status of the Sami population in Norway, and could more information be provided on possible discrimination against them?

An Expert commented that fragmented anti-discrimination measures usually did not produce results, as people would frequently fall through the cracks, and encouraged the State party to make the planned anti-discrimination bill truly comprehensive.

One of the persistent issues had been the lack of protection for immigrants. What were the good practices and obstacles in that respect, and where did the bottlenecks lie?

A question was asked on whether there had been any increases in funds dedicated to social housing, in line with the growth of the country’s gross domestic product.
Norway’s sovereign wealth fund was expected to take human rights on board while choosing where and how to make investments around the world. To what extent was the fund moving toward the adoption of a human rights impact assessment before investing in companies and joining projects? A lot could be achieved with putting more emphasis on social responsibility of such a major financial player.

What was the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities, and were there quotas for them in civil service and the public sector?

More information was requested about the salary gap between men and women and efforts to narrow it. Was Norway considering the introduction of equal pay for work of equal value? More details should also be provided about the provision of day care.

Could more be said about guarantees to include those in search of work for a long time in special training programmes?

Was the amount provided for child allowance sufficient to ensure that such families lived in dignity?

There was a concern about the growth of unemployment among youth and women, especially those from minority groups. Had the measures taken yielded results? Were there any changes regarding the percentage of those long unemployed?

An Expert asked if general negotiations on minimum wages between the employers and the employees produced satisfactory results which provided for a decent standard of living.

Social corporal responsibility should cover all aspects related to human rights, not only children rights, another Expert noted.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation clarified that the new Core Document had been submitted to the Committee, but had not yet been translated to all official United Nations languages.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had coordinated the drafting process, and the draft report had been shared with civil society for its input.

The board of the University of Oslo, which was running the national Centre for Human Rights, had decided to discontinue its functions. Discussions were currently underway on which institution should be in charge of the national human rights institution – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Parliament or the Ombudsman. The Government had to decide on the formal organization and the budget, in line with the Paris Principles, and propose a bill to the Parliament.

Regarding the Optional Protocol to the Covenant, the new Government had not yet decided whether to ratify it. The Optional Protocols to the conventions on the rights of the child and persons with disabilities had not yet been considered either.

On indigenous populations, the Sami people enjoyed special protection, and a plan of action was in place to protect the Sami languages. The principal goal was to increase the number of people actively using the three languages. Stronger efforts would be made to recruit people to Sami-speaking educational programmes.

Answering numerous questions on official development assistance, the delegation said that the volume of official development assistance had not been affected by the global financial crisis. Estimated development aid in 2013 amounted to USD 5.13 billion, and was actually showing an increase compared to previous years. Some 110 countries around the world were beneficiaries of Norwegian aid.

Within weeks, guidelines for the Norwegian Foreign Service would be published on how to mainstream human rights in development. Best practices were being looked at, and in that respect the Universal Periodic Review mechanism was very useful. Democracy criteria were also considered for possible conditionality.

Norway had also been at the forefront of debt relief, cancelling more than USD 1.1 billion of both bilateral and multilateral debt in recent years.

The Covenant was considered as Norwegian law and could be directly invoked in courts. There had been only three cases when the Covenant had been invoked before the Supreme Court. The Committee’s General Comments had not been discussed in those cases. Courts often based their decisions on other conventions for which there existed more significant caseload. Both the Covenant and the Constitution took precedence over ordinary laws.

All Ministries had the duty to ensure that proposed obligations were in line with the country’s international human rights obligations, including the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. A lot had been done in universities to promote the understanding of various human rights instruments.

A comprehensive catalogue of all human rights, without any distinction between economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, was being prepared, and should be voted in the Parliament soon.

The incidence of corruption in Norway was very low.

Regarding the investments by the State party’s pension fund, Norway was taking its responsibilities as an investor seriously. There was a transparent broad framework on including governance and human rights issues in the management of the fund. Investments made in foreign companies did not entail responsibilities for Norway, and the Government did not consider that the Covenant had an extraterritorial reach.

The system for responsible investment was in place, and efforts were continuously made to further improve it. All human rights were taken into consideration, and not only children’s rights, and a database for an overview of human rights issues was used when deciding on making investments.

Since 2005, all the Ministries had been required to conduct gender-based analysis, and to pay particular attention to the effect of their respective policies on men and women, boys and girls. The Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion was the driving force in that process.

A comprehensive action plan containing 66 measures to combat discrimination against people of minority backgrounds was being implemented, which was a process involving 10 different Ministries.

The unemployment rate among immigrants stood at around 6 per cent for men, and at 7.8 per cent for women. The rates were lower for people of immigrant background born in Norway. Women staying at home and not receiving other benefits were given a priority under a scheme to promote their empowerment and employment.

An action plan for integration and social inclusion had existed between 2007 and 2010, and most measures were now integral parts of regular policies. Parental guidance programmes and language programmes for both children and parents were in place to enhance integration and mastering the Norwegian language.
Norway had had a dedicated strategy for persons with disabilities since 2010. The goal was to reduce the number of people with benefits and increase the number of persons with disabilities with jobs. Discrimination, cost, productivity and informational/attitudinal barriers had been identified and were being currently addressed. Employers had to report annually on measures taken to promote their rights; that was applicable to all Government bodies and private companies with more than 50 employees.

Questions by the Experts

The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as adopted by the Human Rights Council, recommended that States should promote respect for human rights by business enterprises with which they conducted commercial transactions. The Government of Norway was encouraged to think of such actions when the pension fund performed its role.

An Expert noted that, in spite of the increase of the GDP, there had been a slight decrease in expenditures on social services, housing and education. The Expert praised the commitment of Norway to remaining a welfare State.

Regarding persons with disabilities, another Expert inquired on the status of the employment of persons with disabilities, and whether all the actions taken were making an effective difference.

Norway was praised for maintaining the official development assistance at one per cent in spite of the crisis. Nonetheless, an Expert expressed his concern over Norway’s rejection of the Maastricht Principles on the Extraterritorial Obligation of States in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Another Expert noted that the concept of extraterritorial obligations was increasingly accepted in international law.

What measures had been implemented in the State party with regard to combatting domestic violence? Perpetrators seemed not to be sufficiently punished. Was counselling provided for victims and perpetrators of domestic violence? Were statistics available on cases of domestic violence?

Another Expert expressed his concern that the Government had reported that it was not considering a comprehensive law to deal with the issue of violence against women. Was there a policy explicitly prohibiting female genital mutilation?

The percentage of homeless people had reportedly stayed at the same level over the years, while there were as many as 650 homeless children. What was being done to improve the construction and allocation of social housing?

There were reports that immigrant children living in reception centres were not receiving adequate psychological and psychiatric services. Could the delegation provide more details on that?

An Expert wondered about the access of immigrants to the justice system.

Which policies were in place to keep drug and cigarette usage under control?

Norway had a high suicide rate, an Expert noted, and asked what the State party was doing in that respect.

Was there abuse in treating psychiatric patients? Shock treatments were reportedly used sometimes.

An Expert noted that the number of children living in poverty had not decreased, even while the society as a whole was becoming more prosperous. Were free health care and education offered to children living in poverty?

Could statistics be provided to show progress in meeting the demand for child care, especially for children under three years of age?

Social assistance benefits were reported to come on the top of other incomes for 60 per cent of recipients. That meant that for 40 per cent social assistance was the only means of subsistence. What were the Government’s views in that regard?

Migrant workers were among the most marginalized groups in the country. Why had the State party not ratified the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families?

Another Expert raised the issue of scientific research, and asked for more details on the scientific index. How could the benefits of scientific development be implemented in practical terms?

The proportion of women in engineering was less than 20 per cent, and female academic staff in scientific and technical fields accounted for around 15 per cent. What was the Government doing to foster the participation of women in studies in such fields?

How was the constitutional parity between ethnic Norwegians and the Sami people dealt with in practical terms? What types of consultations were being carried out in that respect?

Temporary, transitional Roma persons seemed not to have access to housing, and appeared to be criminalized. Could the State party provide information on that matter? An Expert encouraged the State party to step up efforts to address the needs of such particularly vulnerable individuals.

Regarding the right to education, another Expert asked whether children of undocumented migrants had access to schools.

What had the Government done with regard to rape prevention? Were punishments for domestic violence and rape light?

Violent medical practices against a patient’s will were reportedly still in use in Norway, which an Expert found hard to believe and asked for an explanation.

Did Norway have in place a system to promote integration in the school system, as that was the best incubator for ethnic co-existence?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that 14 years earlier the State party had presented a plan of action for human rights when providing official development assistance. Norway was obliged by judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, and discussions were under way on how to apply the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The GDP had grown quite fast over recent years thanks to oil revenues. At the same time, the GDP of the mainland economy had remained stable, which should be taken into consideration when discussing taxation and social giving. The tax system in Norway was progressive, which was an effective measure of income redistribution.

Norway had a pay-as-you-go pension system, while the pension fund was meant to support general public expenditures. The longevity adjustments were the same for women and men, which meant that, on the average, women would benefit from it more. Pension benefits were also in place for women who were taking care of children. It was thus difficult to argue that a discriminatory pension system was in place.

The majority of immigrants in Norway were employed, and they were prioritized for participation in labour market measures, along with youth and persons with disabilities. Immigrants accounted for more than 40 per cent of all persons included in various labour market schemes. Priority was given to those who were in Norway for more than just a short time.

Norway was encouraging persons with disabilities to apply to vacancies, and a special training programme was in place for such persons. Employment rates for persons with disabilities (43 per cent) were still significantly lower than the general population (78 per cent).

Answering the query on why one fifth of the country’s population was on social benefits, the delegation explained that generous giving was probably among key drivers. Disability benefits from 2015 would provide incentives to combine work with social giving. Reduction of absence due to sickness was also being dealt with.

There were no special measures for long-term unemployment, but measures were instead individually geared. Youth aged 20 to 24 were provided with strong assistance to find employment, and the emphasis was on creating concrete, individualized activity plans.

The collective bargain system was a multi-layered system, and Norwegian collective agreements had a strictly hierarchical order. While white-collar workers generally had individually decided wages, minimum wages were usually decided through bargaining at the local level. That system was seen as sufficient to secure acceptable minimum wages.

On gender budgeting in the Government, a recent report showed a positive trend. A gender equality act provided for the same pay for women and men for the same work in the same organization. The Ombudsman could be appealed to when there were breaches of such provisions. There was still a pay gap, with women overall earning 86.5 per cent of what their male counterparts made.

Child allowances were provided for all children under 18, but those were not meant to serve as the primary sources of income. Single parents without income could get economic support for up to three years to provide them with subsistence and help them find employment.

The Government was planning to combat female genital mutilation, which was prohibited under law in all its forms. The penalty for that crime was three years, and would soon increase to five years, and to 15 years for severe cases. As no known cases had been recorded in courts, the lack of proof could be a problem.
The suicide rate in Norway was 11/100,000, with the trend comparable to other Nordic countries. The Government was looking seriously into ways of decreasing the number.

Regarding young people smoking, there had been a significant decline over recent decades, according to World Health Organization figures. Border control was strengthened to prevent drug smuggling, in addition to a series of public policy measures to fight drug abuse.

Different incentives were in place to encourage doctors to go to more remote areas.

The Government’s decision not to ratify the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers still stood.

A patient’s own free will was a prerequisite for any medical treatment, but coercion, when necessary, was carried out in gentle way. More than 84 per cent of all admissions to mental hospitals were voluntary admissions, and that number was increasing. Norwegian law did not allow for electroconvulsive therapy without the patient’s consent; the only exception was in cases of life-saving treatments.

All persons residing in Norway had a right to health care in accordance to individual needs; that right was applicable to prisoners. Persons who were ordered to leave the country were entitled only to emergency health care services until their departure.

A review was underway on how the police registered domestic violence cases. The focus had been on changing attitudes among the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary. Victims were not turned away at police stations when they wanted to report transgressions. There was an understanding that punishments had to be increased. Domestic violence was also recognized as a serious health issue. Health personnel had to improve ways of identifying victims of domestic violence as well as methods of treating them. The special project “Alternative to Violence” had been in place since 1987 across the country.

The last survey on homelessness, conducted in 2012, had found that there were some 6,200 homeless people in Norway, 77 per cent of whom had been born in the country. Some 680 children were among the homeless, but none of them were so-called “rough sleepers” and were staying in collective shelters.

The delegation explained that municipal authorities were in charge of social housing units, and there existed an average of 20 units per 1,000 inhabitants. Part of the stock was in bad condition, for which a new national strategy with a broad, long-term scope would be adopted. More knowledge on discrimination in the housing and rental sector was needed.

In 2005, a white paper had been proposed on free legal aid. The Ministry of Justice was now examining potential welfare impacts and possible changes to those provisions.

While women were underrepresented among science researchers across Europe, Norway was among the leaders in that respect and above the European Union average. There was still a long way to go, especially when it came to female science professors. There was a growing number of women completing PhD programmes, and their number had now for the first time exceeded that of men.

There were very few private schools in Norway, and the overwhelming majority of children attended public schools. Children with immigrant backgrounds attended the same schools with all other children.

Children had the right to attend primary education, which was applicable to all children who were likely to reside in Norway, or had resided in Norway, for more than three months.

Education in development assistance was one of the priorities of the new Government.

Government measures over the decades had actually increased the number of Sami languages speakers. There had also been an increase in the number of registered voters for the Sami Parliament. An ongoing dialogue was in place between the central Government and the Sami Parliament.

In 2006, begging had again become allowed in Norway, but now discussions were underway to ban begging, which was a municipal decision. That was not seen as being directed against any particular ethnic group.

Rape in Norway was a diverse crime, with 40 per cent of cases taking place in situations of inebriation. A campaign was in place to raise awareness, particularly among young men.

Questions by the Experts

An Expert asked for a clarification on free court time in kindergartens being tied to mothers working.

Was there a specialized coordinator for domestic violence in every police district?

An Expert commented that there was a real need to repel an old medical act which authorized the detention of mentally disabled persons without their consent.
Paying for sex was prohibited in the State party. Were Norwegian citizens also punished if they paid for sexual services in other countries, the Expert inquired.
The Norwegian system of parental leave was praised by several Experts.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said it was too early to say how exactly education would be implemented in official development assistance.

The Mental Health Act dated back to 1999, and had provisions which clearly prioritized voluntary care. Involuntary admissions and treatments were strictly regulated.
All 27 police districts in Norway had coordinators for domestic violence. The largest police districts had special teams dedicated to that issue.

Paying for sex inside and outside of Norway was punishable by fines. There had been no cases of Norwegian police investigating any such acts committed abroad. A white paper on prostitution would be published soon.

Parents of children receiving complimentary day care were not currently obliged to participate in Norwegian language training, but a new political platform would require that of parents to a much larger degree.

Full kindergarten coverage was in place for children over the age of one, with children being provided places until the age of six, when they started to attend school.
The delegation reiterated there was a broad consensus in Norway on the need to continue having a welfare State.

Additional measures were planned to help women with immigrant background, including language and other training. Newly arrived immigrants of both sexes received complimentary classes of the Norwegian language, Norwegian culture, women’s and children’s rights. Interpretation services to help migrants were widely available in the public sector.

The combined parental leave was 49 weeks at 100 per cent pay, and the father’s quota of 14 weeks could not be transferred to the mother. Approximately 90 per cent of fathers made use of some or the entire quota.

Concluding Remarks

PETTER WILLE, Ambassador at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, stated that the debate had been inspiring and thought-provoking. The following stage would include analysing and implementing the concluding observations.

ZDISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for Norway, said that the sincerity and exhaustive nature of the responses by the delegation were appreciated. On some of the issues, the delegation and the Committee would probably continue to differ. The Committee appreciated the multiple achievements of Norway, including the increase of official development aid during the global economic crisis. The Committee would now work on its concluding observations, which would be adopted on 29 November, and which were seen as a continuation of the dialogue with the State party.

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