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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities considers the report of Norway

GENEVA (26 March 2019) - The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its review of the initial report of Norway on the measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Presenting the report, Jan-Christian Kolstø, State Secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Culture, underlined that his Government would work for equality and equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.  Norway was working systematically to improve the statistics and documentation about the situation of persons with disabilities and had launched “A Society for All,” a strategy for the equality of persons with disabilities 2020-2030 and the third action plan in the field of universal design which focused on information and communication technology and welfare technology.  In 2015, user-controlled personal assistance had been made a statutory right for persons with long-term needs.  Mr. Kolstø noted that inclusion was the basic principle and goal of the Government’s educational policy, which meant that children from different backgrounds and with different needs came together in the same kindergartens and schools.  In 2018, Norway had launched a nationwide Inclusion Initiative to address the issue of persons with disabilities who remained outside the labour market.  Recalling that there were 800 million persons with disabilities in developing countries, Mr. Kolstø stressed that Norway was making sure that their interests were integral to its development programmes, and that the 2030 Agenda guided Norway’s efforts for persons with disabilities.  

Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, the national human rights institution, said that the recent initiative to amend the Act on Guardianship was a good opportunity to assess the use of substitute decision-making arrangements and stressed the duty of the State to move towards supported decision-making.  The mandates of guardians were broad and generic and not adapted to individual needs of the concerned person, which called for the issuing of national guidelines on guardianship and supervision of guardians.

Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud called on Norway to strengthen the Convention’s legal standing in domestic law as it had been given little weight in complex matters concerning liberty, security of person, and legal capacity.  The current legislation provided ample authority for extensive coercion in health and care services while establishing a system for supported decision-making was now possible within the current act on guardianship and the current system.

In the ensuing discussion, the Committee Experts wondered how the Convention could be implemented in Norway without incorporation in domestic law.  They reminded that certain countries that were much poorer than Norway had been working hard to incorporate the Convention into their domestic laws, and encouraged Norway to reconsider its position.  Norway had not incorporated the human rights-based concept of disability into its Human Rights Act and had not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention.  They further raised concern that Norway still kept its interpretative declarations of articles 12, 14 and 25 of the Convention, which was the root cause of the guardianship system and substituted decision-making regime.  The Experts inquired about a full transition towards inclusive education, disaggregated statistics on living conditions of persons with disabilities, especially ethnic minorities, disability-inclusive international cooperation programmes, involvement of women and girls with disabilities in gender-related policies, deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities, prejudiced portrayal of persons with disabilities in the media, training on the rights of persons with disabilities given to various professionals, monitoring of universal design and accessibility requirements, appointment of guardians, the rights of migrants and refugees with disabilities, forced medical treatment, gender-based and disability-based violence, and about efforts to raise awareness of the Convention, including in formats accessible to persons with disabilities.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Kolstø underscored that Norway was fully committed to the Convention’s provisions and emphasized that it formed the basis of a national policy to counter disability-based discrimination.

Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, in conclusion, noted that the Committee’s questions and comments about the guardianship system were a clear message to the Government of Norway to transform it into a genuine supported decision-making system. 

Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud asked the Committee to provide its expertise and express as clearly as possible in its concluding observations the elements crucial for passing a relevant law with respect to coercion in the mental health system.

Monthian Buntan, Committee Rapporteur for Norway, in his concluding remarks, noted that some services for persons with disabilities were still attached to the welfare rather than human-rights based approach and expressed hope that persons with disabilities in Norway would be able to enjoy first-class human rights and freedoms on an equal footing with other citizens.

Danlami Umaru Basharu, Committee Chairperson, expressed hope that the discussion would be useful for the Norwegian authorities in better implementing the Convention.  

The delegation of Norway consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Children and Equality, Ministry of Justice and Public Security, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health and Care, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of Education and Research, and the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Norway at the end of its twenty-first session on 5 April.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage
The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee would next meet in public today, 26 March at 3 p.m. to consider the initial report of Cuba (CRPD/C/CUB/1).

Report

The Committee has before it the initial report of Norway (CRPD/C/NOR/1) and its replies to the list of issues (CRPD/C/NOR/Q/1/Add.1).

Presentation of the Report

JAN-CHRISTIAN KOLSTØ, State Secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Culture, regretted that too many persons with disabilities around the world were denied their freedoms, rights and dignity.  The Government of Norway would work for equality and equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.  In recent years, the framework for the protection of human rights in Norway had been strengthened through certain important developments.  In 2014, a new human rights chapter had been added to the Constitution, according to which human rights provisions had to be interpreted in light of their international models.  Furthermore, the promotion and protection of human rights had been strengthened by the establishment of a new national human rights institution in 2015.  In 2017, the Parliament had adopted a new comprehensive Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act, which was enforced by the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal and the courts.  The tribunal could impose fines and award compensation in cases concerning discrimination in employment matters.  Persons with disabilities still faced barriers that prevented them from having equal opportunities and participating actively along with others in society.  In order to assess the situation of persons with disabilities, valid and reliable data and documentation were crucial, therefore, the authorities were working systematically to improve statistics and documentation.  The Norwegian Research Council had granted funds to a large project that studied labour inclusion and labour exclusion for persons with disabilities. 

“A Society for All,” the strategy for the equality of persons with disabilities 2020-2030 had been launched, while the third action plan in the field of universal design focused on information and communication technology and welfare technology.  All persons with disabilities had the same general healthcare needs, but for some access to services could be challenging as they may need services from different providers.  Lack of coordination was especially challenging for persons with complex and chronic diseases.  In order to ensure interaction between services, municipalities and regional health authorities had established designated coordination units.  Everyone in need of any long-term coordinated health and care services was entitled to a coordinator.  Practical assistance to persons with disabilities was required for their realization of the right to independent living and participation in the community, thus in 2015, user-controlled personal assistance had been made a statutory right for persons with long-term needs.  Mr. Kolstø noted that inclusion was the basic principle and goal of the Government’s educational policy, which meant that children from different backgrounds and with different needs came together in the same kindergartens and schools.  A strategy for the recruitment of staff and for raising competence among teachers and other staff in kindergartens was in place and Norway planned on presenting a white paper on early intervention and inclusive communities in kindergartens and schools to Parliament later in the year.  Also, policies for strengthening high-quality inclusive education would be presented. 

In 2018, the Government had launched a nationwide Inclusion Initiative to address the issue of persons with disabilities who remained outside the labour market.  The Government wanted the State sector to be at the forefront of the Inclusion Initiative and it had set a target that five per cent of new Government employees should be persons with disabilities.  Recalling that there were 800 million persons with disabilities in developing countries, Mr. Kolstø stressed that many were vulnerable and neglected.  Norway was making sure that their interests were integral to its development programmes.  The 2030 Agenda guided Norway’s efforts for persons with disabilities, as well.  In 2019, the existing development funds would be increased by approximately €10 million.  Finally, Mr. Kolstø informed that in 2016 the Government had launched a strategy against hate speech on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, and sexual orientation.

Statements by independent human rights institutions of Norway 

Norwegian National Human Rights Institution welcomed the recent initiative by the Government to amend the Act on Guardianship as a good opportunity to assess the use of substitute decision-making arrangements and recalled that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities represented a paradigm shift from viewing persons with disabilities as objects in need of help to seeing them as subjects with legal rights.  Thus, there was a clear duty to move away from substitute decision-making to supported decision-making.  The State party should be requested to provide information on how it would strengthen the legal safeguards to prevent abuse related to the exercise of legal capacity.  A study that had evaluated the guardianship practice concerning persons with intellectual impairments had found that in almost 50 per cent of the cases, the persons had been declared incompetent to make decisions because of their disability status.  Other studies indicated that in many cases the mandates of guardians were broad and generic, and not adapted to individual needs of the concerned person.  The Institution thus recommended that the State party issue national guidelines on guardianship and supervision of guardians.  The Institution also drew attention to the use of coercion on elderly persons with dementia in institutions such as nursing homes.  According to the Patient’s Rights Act, healthcare could only be given with the consent of the patient, unless the use of coercion was based on specific legal grounds.  An audit by the Norwegian Board of Health in the period 2011-2012 had revealed extensive use of coercion contrary to the provisions in the law. 

Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombudsperson called on Norway to strengthen the Convention’s legal standing in domestic law as it had been given little weight in complex matters concerning liberty, security of person, and legal capacity.  The Ombudsperson further noted that the current legislation provided ample authority for extensive coercion in health and care services, with both the Mental Health Care Act and the Health and Care Services Act authorizing coercion of persons with either psychosocial or intellectual disabilities.  Turning to guardianship, the Ombudsperson noted that voluntary guardianship for adults needed to be replaced with a law and a system for supported decision-making.  In 2018, investigations had revealed major shortcomings in the guardianship system and in the legal safeguards of persons under guardianship.  It was clearly not possible to establish a system for supported decision-making in compliance with the Convention within the current act on guardianship and the current system.  Finally, turning to accessibility and the right to access and participation on equal terms in all areas of society, the Ombudsperson noted that the current Action Plan for Universal Design 2015-2019 was not sufficiently binding. 

Questions by the Committee Experts  

MONTHIAN BUNTAN, Committee Rapporteur for Norway, praised Norway’s promotion of peace and security, and human rights globally, and its contribution in the field of international development cooperation and assistance.  Nevertheless, when it came to disability, Mr. Buntan observed that Norway had not yet fully harmonized provisions of the Convention with its domestic laws and policies, especially with regard to the human rights-based concept of disability, treating persons with disabilities as rights holders, and not just welfare recipients.  Such human right-based concept of disability had not been incorporated into the Human Rights Act, he said.

Norway had not yet ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention, preventing persons with disabilities from having direct communication with the Committee.  Guardianship system still prevailed, with the legal capacity of persons with disabilities, particularly those with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, fully or partially restricted.  The Rapporteur further raised concern that Norway still kept its interpretative declaration of articles 12, 14 and 25, which was the root cause of the guardianship system and substituted decision-making regime.

The law on policy on inclusive education had not transformed into practice and mainstream schools were short of inclusive – they lacked quality support services, qualified teachers and educational support staff, accessible learning materials, and accessible complaint and sanction mechanisms for non-compliance.

The was little or no research and disaggregated statistics on living conditions of persons with disabilities belonging to the Saami communities, other ethnic minorities, such as Roma, Tater Romani, and others.  International cooperation programmes and initiatives were not fully disability-inclusive while disability-specific development assistance had been significantly reduced.

The Country Rapporteur asked the delegation to provide data on complaints by persons with disabilities with respect to direct and indirect discrimination, inform on steps taken to strengthen representative organizations of persons with disabilities and involve them in the planning and awareness-raising on the Convention, and outline efforts to include women and girls with disabilities in gender-related policies.  Had the Abortion Act been amended to change the provision that required that a guardian give consent for abortion by women and girls with psychosocial disabilities? 

Other Experts asked about forced treatment and institutionalization including the application of intrusive irreversible measures such as electroshocks, the number of children with disabilities placed in institutions, and the services in place to ensure that persons with disabilities could live independently.

They inquired about steps taken to change the prejudiced portrayal of persons with disabilities in the media; training on the rights of persons with disabilities given to professionals, judges, lawyers, law enforcement officers, medical practitioners, and teachers; as well as awareness-raising in the society on the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act.

Other questions asked related to the practice of denial of healthcare to new-born babies with complex medical problems, legal mechanisms to ensure compliance with international human rights treaties at the municipal level, the mechanism in place to ensure the rights of migrants and refugees with disabilities, and the consideration of the opinion of a child with disabilities with respect to the appointment of a guardian.

Who was responsible for the universal design and accessibility requirements?  What steps had been taken to monitor them?  Was the denial of access considered as discrimination?  What were sanctions against those who did not comply? 

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions raised on Norway’s interpretative declarations on articles 12, 14 and 25 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the delegation remarked that many other countries had entered such declarations and recalled that the Convention allowed for the withdrawal of the right to exercise legal capacity when necessary and as the measure of last resort.  The interpretative declarations were not reservations to the Convention but reflected a correct understanding of the Convention when it came to guardianship and forced treatment, the delegation clarified. 

Norway would not incorporate the Convention into domestic law, a delegate said, explaining that national courts operated under the presumption principle, which meant that they applied international conventions as closely as possible.  In 2013, the Government had commissioned an independent review on the possibility of ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention and had decided in 2016 not to accede to the instrument due to considerable uncertainty about the consequences as several interpretative questions remained unresolved.  Persons with disabilities could resort to several instances to protect their rights, such as the European Court of Human Rights, said the delegation. 

In Norway, there were two types of guardianship.  There was ordinary guardianship, which was voluntary and in which a guardian supported decision-making.  The other was substitute guardianship, which was only used in 0.05 per cent of cases.  Restrictions of legal capacity could only be decided by courts and only as a measure of last resort.  Substitute guardianship was based on the preferences of the person under guardianship as much as possible.     

Turning to coercive health and care services, the delegation clarified that under Norwegian law coercion was defined as any decision that was not based on valid consent.  Non-consensual measures were subject to strict and detailed regulations.  Health and care services providers had to ensure that they provided adapted information to patients or users, in line with their right to self-determination and in line with the principle of proportionality. 

Norway had inclusive education that granted the priority of admission and assistance to children with disabilities.  An expert group had recently presented a report on inclusive education at all levels of schools, suggesting relevant changes.  Some 43 per cent of students with disabilities received their education in regular classrooms. 

With respect to the inclusion of persons with disabilities and their organizations, the Government had made changes in 2016 in order to secure more involvement of those affected by the measures adopted, including persons with disabilities.  The authorities allocated considerable resources to their organizations to promote their interests and to provide services to their members, amounting to €20 million in 2018.  There was extensive contact between ministries and organizations representing persons with disabilities.  Municipalities had to ensure that their representatives were heard when services were designed; active user involvement was facilitated at various levels.  

As for women and girls with disabilities, the delegation noted that intersectional perspective was applied when gender policies were designed.  For Norway, prioritizing women’s reproductive and health and rights was key to leaving no one behind.  Abortion and sterilization were medical interventions and as such required free and informed consent.  A woman suffering from a serious mental or intellectual disability may not be able to understand the consequences of pregnancy and, accordingly, termination of pregnancy might be in her best interest.  The final decision had to be made by a medical board and county governor, based on the views of the affected woman.  In the case of breaches, the concerned woman could ask for compensation.  The number of coercive admissions in mental healthcare stood at 1.9 per 1,000 inhabitants in 2016 and 2017.

On stereotypes of persons with disabilities in media, the delegation stressed that members of the Norwegian Press Association abided with due editorial diligence.  Anyone could file a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.  There was no clear concept of disability in Norwegian law because the Government wanted a broad basis for protection, and to avoid focusing on diagnosis and medical approach to disability. 

The Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act explicitly banned multiple forms of discrimination.  Denial of access was regarded as discrimination and could be handled by the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal and ordinary courts.  Training and awareness-raising about the rights of persons with disabilities were carried out at the municipal level.  In 2019, the main goal was to raise awareness about the Convention through a national campaign, in which the civil society organizations had been invited to participate.

As for the training on the Convention and rights of persons with disabilities, the delegation explained that new judges went through a comprehensive induction programme, including on the rights of persons with disabilities, whereas county governors organized such training for personnel working with persons with disabilities.  Police investigators were offered ethical guidelines and a course on interviewing persons with intellectual disabilities.  Health professionals were required to learn about diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity in order to be able to provide equal services to all social groups.  Teacher education programmes ensured that students acquired the required knowledge and skills.  

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, the Experts remarked that a number of countries were removing their interpretative declarations on article 25 of the Convention and emphasized that no person with disabilities should have her or his rights violated.  They asked when would Norway replace all legal provisions that allowed for forced treatment of persons with disabilities, remove the discriminatory use of restraints, and the application of the best interest of the child in medical treatment decisions.

The Experts further asked about deinstitutionalization of persons with disabilities and the functioning of joint committees, the reasons behind the reduction of social support for persons with disabilities and the rise in institutionalization, and measures taken to minimize the gap between municipalities in terms of the scope and quality of services provided to persons with disabilities.  

The delegation was asked whether Norway was considering replacement of discriminatory substitute decision-making with supported decision-making, whether the views of persons with disabilities were being taken into account in the amendment of the Act on Guardianship, and how persons with intellectual disabilities could request compensation when guardians exceeded their mandates.

What effective monitoring mechanism could be put place to curtail the exploitation and abuse of persons with disabilities?  What support services were in place for victims of abuse?  Were persons with disabilities provided adequate information on their access to justice?  What efforts had been made to ensure reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities in places of detention? 

Did Norway have a comprehensive plan for full and effective participation of representative organizations of persons with disabilities in emergency situations, especially those in the Saami communities and remote areas?  How did the State party resolve the problem of elderly deaf persons who suffered from a lack of information?  Was information available in easy read?  What was the state of affairs of indigenous and Roma persons with disabilities with regard to freedom of movement and transfer of citizenship?   

Finally, Experts asked for data on gender-based and disability-based violence and the use of corporal punishment on students with disabilities in mainstream and specialized schools. 

Replies by the Delegation

JAN-CHRISTIAN KOLSTØ, State Secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Culture, underlined Norway’s commitment to the rights of persons with disabilities, adding that policies designed for them were questions of rights and equality. 

Responding to the Experts’ questions about the legal status of the Convention in Norwegian law, the delegation noted that Norway was bound by all articles of the Convention, which it took very seriously, and was continuously reviewing its laws and policies to ensure that they were in line with the Convention.  The interpretative declarations had no legal bearing on the status of the Convention in domestic law, the delegation confirmed, adding that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was often used more in domestic law than the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women even though the latter was incorporated in the Human Rights Act. 

Universal design was a mandatory requirement in more than 60 laws and regulations, which covered important sectors in society, including transport, roads, buildings, information technologies, and web sites.  The Government and local and regional authorities had to take into account universal design and environmental consequences in all their construction activities.  The new plan for universal design would be established in 2022 when the current one expired. 

As for the monitoring of universal design and accessibility, it was challenging to collect relevant data, the delegation acknowledged; the authorities used various documentation, including registration systems at the municipal level.  Surveys had shown that persons with disabilities experienced greater difficulties when accessing public transport, which was why the Government was working to make all railway stations accessible. 

Responding to the questions related to Norway’s official development assistance, the delegation explained that the proportion of its international aid benefitting persons with disabilities had been slightly reduced because the state budget had increased quite a lot due to the rise in oil prices.  However, the level of aid for persons with disabilities had not been reduced in absolute terms and would in fact increase by €10 million in 2019 to address the rights and needs of persons with disabilities.  The funding would be part targeted and part mainstreamed into larger programmes for education, global health, and civil society.  Furthermore, in its international development assistance, Norway would use the new markers developed by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to measure exactly the level and objectives of development expenditure. 

The promotion of gender equality, women’s rights, and children’s rights, including women and children with disabilities, would cut across all of Norway’s international development efforts.  This year, 120 to 130 million Kroner (€12.4 million to €13.4 million) went to activities where persons with disabilities were the main objective, and more than half of this amount had been allocated to support representative organizations of persons with disabilities in the global South, in partnership with the Norwegian representative organizations of persons with disabilities.

All persons with disabilities were entitled to decide where to live and where to receive assistance and care and no one could be subjected to involuntary intervention on the basis of their disability.  However, persons with severe conditions, such as catatonia, could be subjected to electroconvulsive therapy as a measure of last resort.  All health professionals were obliged to alert the Norwegian Health Board about severe events.  New-borns with trisomy 13 and 18 did receive individual assessment and family had to agree to treatment.  The Government had appointed a multidisciplinary committee to examine the practice of non-consensual care services, which would submit its report by 15 June 2019. 

As for the monitoring mechanisms in mental healthcare, currently, there were 55 local commissions comprised of healthcare professionals, representatives of local authorities, and laypersons.  If the commissions decided in favour of patients, they could bring forth their cases to courts.  The local commissions were supervised by the Government.  On the use of coercive measures in mental healthcare, the delegation explained that all regional health authorities had to ensure that the use of coercive measures was in line with the law.  Hospitals had to take greater efforts to reduce coercion and in 2017, regional health authorities had set up drug-free treatment services in several hospitals.

All persons with disabilities had the right to housing, access to technical assistance, and user-controlled personal assistance.  The Norwegian State Housing Bank managed the delivery of housing for persons with disabilities, which should not have an institutional character.  Municipalities must offer user-controlled personal assistance, an issue that had received increased attention in the new Government platform.  User organizations were invited to make an input in the development of new policies, and municipalities had to ensure that they were heard.

With respect to research and statistics on the living conditions of minority and indigenous persons with disabilities, the delegation explained that recording ethnicity had to be voluntary and based on the principle of self-determination.  The Government had come up with a white paper on physical, social, and cultural activities to meet the individual needs of elderly deaf persons in nursing homes.  Municipality staff received training and guidelines for deaf persons.   

The national preventive mechanism followed Norway’s obligation under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, but it was not its mandate to follow individual complaints, which were dealt with by the Ombudsperson.  To ensure that asylum-seeking children with disabilities received necessary treatment and care, reception centres were required to cooperate closely with local health authorities.  Reception centres received settlement grants for refugees and asylum seekers.  In 2019, the Government had dedicated 60 million kroner to enhance teaching for refugee and asylum-seeking children with disabilities.    

The Ministry of Justice had passed draft legislation on the substitute decision-making regime in order to bring it into line with the Convention and to ensure that the guardian never acted contrary to the will of the person under guardianship.  Guardians would be trained to understand, support, and strengthen the will of the concerned person.  The method was being developed by scientists and civil society.  The guardian’s mandate would be tailored to the person’s needs and preferences.  Surveillance and supervision were important to ensure that the mandates were followed and respected by guardians.  The guardianship budget had increased by 28 per cent compared with 2018.  It seemed that representative organizations of persons with disabilities viewed the draft legislation on substitute decision-making a step in the right direction.  The guardians for children with disabilities were usually their parents or a close relative and the child’s opinion was taken into account by judges and given weight according to the child’s age and maturity. 

With respect to the differences between municipalities in offering services and technical aid to persons with disabilities, the delegation clarified that through the good cooperation between service providers and municipalities those differences should be kept narrow. 

On gender-based and disability-based violence, effective registration contributed to the higher quality of registration and prosecution of such crimes.  An offence motivated by disability constituted an aggravating circumstance under the Penal Code.  Persons with disabilities were accorded special protection under various provisions of the Penal Code.  Women and girls who were victims of violence could seek protection in shelters and family counselling at the municipal level, usually from social workers and psychologists.  Victims of hate crimes could be entitled to criminal injury compensation.   

The latest figures showed that persons with disabilities were more exposed to violence and abuse.  In 2015, nine per cent of women with disabilities had stated that they had been exposed to violence, whereas that figure for men stood at seven per cent.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the final cluster of questions, the Experts inquired about the measures taken to achieve a full transition from segregated to inclusive education, to make higher education accessible and inclusive, and assistance available to persons with disabilities with reduced mobility to attend schools and offices.  How did Norway provide integrated in-house services for children with disabilities in order to avoid separation from families?  

The Experts raised concern about the impact of the non-domestication of the Convention on its implementation in Norway and, recalling the efforts of other countries - much poorer that Norway - to incorporate the Convention, encouraged the State party to reconsider and to set an example for all others. 

MONTHIAN BUNTAN, Committee Rapporteur for Norway, observed that it was interesting that the State party took a different approach to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities compared with other human rights conventions it was a party to.  He raised concern about the implementation of the Universal Design Action Plan in the absence of a sufficient budget and sanctions for non-compliance, and then asked the delegation to inform of the situation and number of persons with disabilities in sheltered labour environment, steps taken to promote the participation of persons with disabilities in political life, and explain the notion of “welfare refugees”.  Finally, Mr. Buntan inquired about the participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in the independent monitoring mechanisms. 

An Expert underlined the importance of raising awareness about the Convention and the rights of persons with disabilities in accessible formats adapted to individual needs and backgrounds.  What exact concerns had led the Government to decide not to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention? 

How did Norway deal with the problem of shortage of sign language interpreters and what percentage of television programmes were subtitled?  In what way were the rights of deaf children to sign language interpretation safeguarded?  How would Norway set out the requirement of universal design for employers?  

Replies by the Delegation

The Norwegian Government had developed a strategy entitled “A Society for All,” which aimed to achieve equality, self-determination and better cooperation at all levels of public service in the field of education, employment, healthcare, and leisure time.  The priority for 2019 was to raise awareness about the Convention and to promote equality for persons with disabilities at the national, regional and municipal level.  Through a pilot project, training and guidelines on the implementation of the Convention would be provided at the municipal level.

As for the access to labour, the delegation informed that the employment rate among persons with disabilities stood at 44 per cent, compared with 74 per cent for the general population.  Active labour market measures were important to increase the employment rate, and they were tailored to meet the needs of individuals.  Norway did not have a quota system for employment, but the civil service had decided to have at least five per cent of posts occupied by persons with disabilities.  Managers were obliged to carry out the recruitment process in line with the principles of equality, non-discrimination, inclusion and diversity. 

On sheltered employment, the delegation said that the Government had in place a programme called “Permanently Adapted Work,” in which 10,500 persons with disabilities participated in 2018.  Of those, 40 per cent were persons with intellectual and 30 per cent persons with mental disabilities.

With respect to inclusive education, the delegation informed that curricula were adapted to the needs and aptitudes of each student and all education should be provided within the pupil’s classroom.  There were regulations on early intervention, especially for students getting behind in reading, writing, and numerical literacy.  All pupils were entitled to a good physical and psychosocial environment, suitable to learning.  The number of qualified teachers had increased in schools in recent years.  Deaf children were entitled to school instruction in sign language.  In higher education, study provisions should be reasonably adapted to the needs of students with disabilities.  The substantial redesign was often applied to adapt the housing needs to students with disabilities.

In 2015, the authorities had launched an online database on the living conditions of persons with disabilities in several areas.  A relevant study on the collection of statistics on the living conditions of persons with disabilities had concluded that it was important to gather data that measured outcomes and actual experiences of persons with disabilities.

Responding to Experts’ questions about the participation of persons with disabilities in development assistance, the delegation noted that the Convention and the Sustainable Development Goals informed Norway’s international development programmes.  The Government was closely cooperating with representatives of persons with disabilities in the design of new programmes, which focused mostly on health and education.  Norway channelled funds through multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

On integrated in-house services for children with disabilities in order to avoid separation from families, the delegation noted that the best interest of the child was always taken into account.  Enhanced home services might avoid patients’ institutionalization, which was why early intervention was given priority.  There were municipal programmes aimed at improving the situation of parents with children with disabilities, and to strengthen users’ perspectives. 

The delegation clarified that incorporation of the Convention meant taking it word by word and transposing it in domestic law.  The Government had gone through domestic law to check that it was in line with the Convention and the content of the Convention was secured by Norwegian acts. 

Concluding Remarks

JAN-CHRISTIAN KOLSTØ, State Secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Culture, in his concluding remarks, underscored that Norway was fully committed to the Convention’s provisions and emphasized that it formed the basis of a national policy to counter disability-based discrimination.  The State Secretary thanked Norwegian non-governmental organizations and the national human rights institution

Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, noted that the Committee’s questions and comments about the guardianship system were a clear message to the Government to transform it into a genuine supported decision-making system.  The national human rights institution also appreciated the Committee’s comments concerning the need to review the use of terminology. 

Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud agreed in closing that Norway needed a new system, act, and culture on guardianship.  As for coercion in the mental health system, it asked the Committee to provide its expertise and express as clearly as possible in its concluding observations the elements crucial for passing a relevant law in that area. 

MONTHIAN BUNTAN, Committee Rapporteur for Norway, in his conclusion thanked the delegation for straightforward and honest answers and encouraged it to continue to provide human-rights based services to persons with disabilities.  Nevertheless, some services were still attached to the welfare approach to persons with disabilities, he remarked and expressed hope that persons with disabilities would be able to enjoy first-class human rights and freedoms on an equal footing with other citizens.

DANLAMI UMARU BASHARU, Committee Chairperson, concluded by thanking the delegation for their responses and also thanking civil society organizations for their contributions.  The Chair hoped that the discussion would be useful for the Norwegian authorities in better implementing the Convention.

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