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In dialogue with Norway, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights questions the continued oil and gas exploitation in the context of its commitments to a healthy environment

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
CESCR/20/08

26 February 2020

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded today its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Norway on the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 

During the dialogue, Committee Experts recognized Norway’s important role in promoting economic, social and cultural rights around the world and raised concern that the continued oil and gas exploitation and exploration undermined the commitment to the constitutionally guaranteed right to a healthy environment and the fight against climate change.

The Experts also explored the nexus between businesses, human rights and responsible business conduct abroad.  The Norwegian Pension Fund Global, the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, had invested into companies with “problematic reputation”, such as those that supported the construction of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in violation of the norms of international law.

Other issues raised in the discussion included the rights and status of the Sámi people, exclusion of irregular migrants from access to health care, coercive practices in mental health institutions, and efforts to close the gender pay gap. 

The Norwegian delegation, led by Hans Brattskar, Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the country aimed to fulfil the 2030 emission reduction target together with the European Union.  It remained committed to reducing its non-ETS emissions [domestic greenhouse gas emissions not covered by the European Union Emission Trading Scheme] by 40 per cent. 

Norway had allocated NOK 1.68 billion to the Green Climate Fund during the 2015-2018 period and NOK 400 million in 2019.  Decreasing petroleum demand was more effective than decreasing petroleum production, said the delegation, stressing Norway’s leading role in promoting green industry and technologies.

The Government’s Pension Fund Global applied strict ethical procedures in its investment process; several companies that participated in the construction of settlements and the separation wall in the West Bank had already been excluded, the delegation said.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Brattskar underlined Norway’s commitment to the human rights outlined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leão, Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur for Norway, concluded the dialogue by thanking the delegation.

The delegation of Norway consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Children and Families, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Health and Care Services, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of Local Government and Modernization, Ministry of Education and Research, Ministry of Justice and the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The concluding observations on the report of Norway will be available at the end of the session on the session’s webpage, where all the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found.

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will resume at 3 p.m.  on Thursday, 27 February, to meet with States.

Report

The Committee has before it the sixth periodic report of Norway (E/C.12/NOR/6).

Presentation of the Report

HANS BRATTSKAR, Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in presenting the report, said that in the Norwegian legislation, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights took precedence and that this showed that human rights were at the heart of the Norwegian society.  Mr. Brattskar emphasized the productive role of the national human rights institution, the Sámi Parliament and the Norwegian civil society in ensuring the open and constructive character of the dialogue. 

Norway reduced the gender pay gap and was moving closer towards a gender-equal society as more women worked full-time and entered managerial positions, placing Norway at number two of 153 countries in the latest Global Gender Gap Report.  However, challenges persisted, particularly with regard to gender segregation in the labour and education market, which was why the Government was developing a new strategy for gender equality in those sectors for the 2021-2024 period.  An enforcement system for sexual harassment cases had been established to combat the existing challenges.

The report outlined Norway’s efforts to combat discrimination, such as the 2016 strategy against hate speech, an action plan against racism and discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity and religion of December 2019 and the 2016 action plan against anti-Semitism.  The Government was developing a plan of action to address discrimination, hatred and the rising negative attitudes towards Muslims and had launched “A society for all” strategy to strengthen equality and human rights of persons with disabilities. 

As for the rights of minorities, Mr. Brattskar said that the consultations with the Sámi Parliament (sámediggi) had been formalized since 2005 and that the Government was developing a new law to further clarify the rights of the Sámi people.  Public consultations had been launched and were expected to be completed by the end of this month.

Turning to the issue of irregular migrants, Norway’s Permanent Representative reaffirmed that anyone staying or living in Norway regardless of citizenship, residence or illegal stay had the right to access healthcare in emergencies and to be assessed by a specialised healthcare service to determine whether the healthcare was necessary.  Non-consensual measures in mental health care were subject to strict and detailed regulations and the Government aimed to present a bill to Parliament based on the 2019 report on the use of coercion in healthcare as soon as possible.  Public consultations on the report, drafted by a legislative committee, had been held in summer 2019.

Norway was currently under the scrutiny of the European Court of Human Rights in 35 child welfare cases.  So far, there had been seven judgements in which the Court had ruled no violations in two cases.  Norwegian Government took this criticism very seriously, Mr. Brattskar said.  The protection of the child was highly prioritised and the Court’s judgements had provided important input to improve the Norwegian child welfare system.  The principle of the best interest of the child was a fundamental consideration which was enshrined in the Constitution and the Child Welfare Act.  Norway remained committed to Convention on the Rights of the Child which also obliged the Government to consider the best interest of the child, Mr. Brattskar concluded. 

Questions by the Committee Experts

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Norway, opened the dialogue with the questions on the new catalogue of human rights added to the Constitution in 2014 and asked whether the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had been considered during the 2018 amendment.  The Co-Rapporteur noted that the Covenant had been mentioned in six cases before the courts of appeal and five cases in district courts and asked whether it was included in the judicial training.

The 2018 Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act and the Law on Accountability imposed duties on large businesses and companies to report on measures taken to promote equality and prevent discrimination.  In their declarations on corporate social responsibility and annual reports, they must report on actions taken to integrate human rights in their business activities.  Norway had created an inter-ministerial working group to evaluate responsible business conduct, specifically risk-based due diligence of Norwegian companies.  How efficient were those measures and how Norway guaranteed that its corporations abroad acted in line with international law and international human rights law? 

The Norwegian Institute for Human Rights had an extensive mandate, including on economic, social and cultural rights, but it did not have the mandate to address individual complaints.  What was the approach to implementing the recommendations from the treaty bodies and would Norway ratify the Optional Protocol?  The Law on Legal Assistance mentioned that legal aid could be granted regardless of the financial conditions of the applicant, therefore more information was sought regarding how these cases were processed. 

The delegation was asked about the decision-making criteria and the allocations for official development assistance.  

The Co-Rapporteur enquired about the status and timeline for the adoption of the amendments to the Sámi law on consultation.  Following the consultations in 2013, an agreement had been reached on fishing in Finnmark and Northern Troms, he remarked and asked about the conditions for the recognition of fishing rights in the northern parts of Norway.

What was Norway doing to combat climate change within its territory and to monitor the activities of Norwegian companies abroad?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the new human rights catalogue provided a more visible position for human rights in the Constitution.  Parliament did not wish to include the entire Covenant, but only the most central human rights. 

The first year training for judges had a special focus on the European Court of Human Rights, but no training directly aimed at the Covenant.  However, national training covered elements of rights situated in the Covenant.  The particular needs of Norway’s multicultural society were also taken into account in judicial training.  In 2016, Norway concluded that it would not ratify the Optional Protocol due to the difficulty of considering certain economic, social and cultural rights in individual cases.  In 2017 a broad majority in Parliament supported this decision.

The Government was unable to influence the budget of the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights, which it received directly from Parliament. 

The Government routinely followed up on international treaty bodies recommendations in an integrated way, as part of broader work by the ministries, rather than isolating them, thus a separate mechanism was not previewed.  Norway provided 35 billion Norwegian kroner (NOK) in official development assistance and was one of the few countries that allocated more than one per cent of gross domestic product for the purpose.  The official development assistance allocations were based on needs and areas where Norway was able to be an effective partner; a small percentage was used on refugees in Norway. 

Regarding extra-territorial obligations, Norway’s view was that the Covenant was territorial in nature and did not apply outside of the national territory. 

Norway had published a national plan on business and human rights in 2015.  All relevant ministries participated in the inter-ministerial working group promoting responsible business conduct.  Risk-based due diligence and the linkages with the Sustainable Development were important elements of that process.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was being incorporated in many revised action plans.  A bill on transparency and the right of information recently drafted by the Ethics Information Committee was under consultation; it aimed to advance the respect of business towards human rights. 

A 2019 study had concluded that reporting duties on corporate and social responsibility had a small effect.  Several legal provisions ensured that human rights were integrated into public procurement, while every Government’s measure had to be systematically reviewed against its human rights obligations.  A survey on the implementation of the human rights assessment would be published in March 2020.

In terms of climate change policies, Norway aimed to fulfil the 2030 emission reduction target together with the European Union and was committed to reducing its non-ETS emissions [domestic greenhouse gas emissions not covered by the European Union Emission Trading Scheme] by 40 per cent.  Norway had allocated NOK 1.68 billion to the Green Climate Fund during the 2015-2018 period and NOK 400 million in 2019.

The delegation stressed that everyone should have had access to public services and said that Norway was reviewing legislation to improve the quality of interpretation services.  Professional interpretation services in the legal sector were necessary and were generally freely provided by the Government.  Court records and proceedings could also be provided in Sámi in certain cases.

Norway funded several special legal services that provided free legal aid to very vulnerable groups and in criminal cases, everyone received a lawyer.  Free legal aid was provided in prioritized cases, such as those related to coercion in the health sector, marriage or parental disputes, while in non-prioritized cases, legal aid could be exceptionally provided depending on the financial situation. 

Public consultations on the changes to Sámi legislation had been launched in 2019 and would close at the end of February 2020.  As for the Sámi fishing rights, Norway, in an agreement with the Sámi Parliament, had introduced an annual fishing quota for the Finnmark and Troms areas in 2011, set at seven tonnes of cod.  Guidelines for consultations with the Sámi Parliament on fisheries had been set, although no evaluation had been conducted yet.

Questions by the Committee Experts


HEISOO SHIN, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Norway, noted that with the January 2018 changes to non-discrimination legislation, only businesses that employed over 50 people were covered.  What was being dome to combat discrimination in small businesses and to ensure the broader functions of the anti-discrimination law?  She enquired about universal design for persons with disabilities at the workplace and about the efforts to support persons with disabilities and others to cope with new technologies at work.

Turning to labour issues, Ms.  Shin noted that women lodged only one in five of work-related complaints and asked how fast the gender pay gap was decreasing.  Highlighting the high unemployment among immigrants, the Co-rapporteur requested information on the effectiveness of measures in addressing this situation.  In 2014, 55 per cent of female workers and 22 per cent of male workers had reported having experienced discrimination related to pregnancy and parental leave – had the situation improved following the implementation of measures in 2018 and 2019?

The delegation was asked about the efforts to provide male and female prisoners with same training opportunities, prevent occupational accidents in the construction, transportation, agriculture and manufacturing sectors, and improve the reporting on occupational diseases.  Why had the Government intervened too quickly in labour disputes in the oil industry and what was the number of women in leadership roles in trade unions? 

Ms.  Shin asked about the impact of the 2011 pension reform on women expressed concern that it had created a disparity between pensioners with and without disabilities.  She highlighted the difficulties faced by minority groups in accessing social services and asked how Norway facilitated access to social security benefits for disadvantaged and marginalized individuals. 

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions concerning anti-discrimination legislation, the delegation said that the January 2020 amendments to the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act clarified the duty of businesses to report not only on human rights but on equality and non-discrimination as well.  All employers, regardless of their size, had an obligation to take targeted, active and systematic efforts to combat anti-discrimination and to document their efforts to promote equality and prevent discrimination.  Private businesses with more than 50 employees had more responsibilities such as reviewing involuntary part-time work and had to report on the status of gender equality in their business annually.

The discrimination complaints system had been re-organized in 2018 and the competence of reviewing complaints had been transferred from the Ombudsman to the anti-discrimination tribunal.  This had strengthened the complaint system, the delegation said, noting that tribunals had examined 288 discrimination cases in 2019.  In January 2020, the anti-discrimination tribunal had been given the competence over complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. 

In terms of universal design at the workplace, both public and private companies had to ensure their workplace was friendly to persons with disabilities.  In the workplace, persons with disabilities had the right for individual accommodation and new legislation was being worked on to cover the information and communication technologies, with further regulations to be considered in relation to the European Union law.

In terms of the gender pay gap, in 2019 women earned 87.6 per cent of men’s wages, a small improvement from 2018 at 87.1 per cent.  There were certain gaps in data on pay, such as the lack of statistics by ethnicity and, while pay statistics were available for immigrants, they were not disaggregated by gender.  In 2020, a strategy for more equal access to education and labour market would be instituted.  The number of women aged 25 to 54 who worked part-time had been reduced from 37.4 per cent in 2006 to 28.7 per cent in 2016.  The Government had set up a commission on gender equality challenges faced by children and youth and after a public hearing, would follow up on the measures it proposed in its 2019 report. 

While the unemployment rate for immigrants had decreased since 2016, it remained three times that of native Norwegians, which was explained by the influx of immigrants in recent years.  According to data, 423,000 immigrants were employed in the first quarter of 2018; the employment rate for those coming from the European Union was the highest, while the employment rate for Asians and Africans stand at 58 and 51 per cent, respectively.  Immigrants had an equal right to capability assessments, and youth, immigrants from non-European Union countries and the long-term unemployed had priority in participating in labour market measures, with more immigrant women participating in these measures than men.  A project on anonymous job applications had been launched recently and early data confirmed that foreign-sounding names negatively affected immigrants’ chances to obtain employment. 

Regarding strikes in the oil and gas industry, the last Government interventions in the oil sector had occurred in 2004 and 2012, the latter based on the finding that short interruptions in oil production would have had serious impacts on the Norwegian economy.  After the criticism from the International Labour Organization in the aftermath of the 2012 intervention, no further interventions in the oil and gas sector took place.  Regarding female leaders of trade unions, the situation was self-regulated and numbers were not available immediately, but these organizations had a duty to counter discrimination within their ranks. 

Working parents were entitled to paid parental leave, with the period divided into three equal parts, a third to the mother, a third to the father and another third that could be shared between the parents.  Recent statistics showed that fathers increased their parental leave to 25.6 per cent of the total period in 2019, 5.6 per cent higher than in 2018.  Twelve of the 288 complaint cases heard by the anti-discrimination tribunal in 2019 were related to parental leave.

According to the official statistics published regularly by the Government, some 24,000 occupational accidents were reported annually; the number of fatalities in 2018 had been the lowest since 2000.  Official statistics for occupational diseases were not being collected, but several ministries had projects underway to remedy this situation.  The National Environment Health System had been established in 2006 to disseminate and register data on the workplace, with a specific focus on chemical exposures and asbestos in the work environment.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs was currently researching the pension reform.  Mandatory retirement ages were mainly between 60 and 65 years, but certain occupational groups, state police, for example, had specific retirement ages.  With the changing nature of work in many professions, there was no reason to force early retirement, said the delegation.

Responding to concerns about the difficulties minority groups had in accessing social services, the delegation said that because social security measures were universal, mainstream and covered the entire population, Norway did not institute special service programmes for migrant or ethnic groups.  Norway did not register ethnicity, thus data on ethnic minorities, including Roma, were not available.

Questions by the Committee Experts

LYDIA CARMELITA RAVENBERG, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Norway, expressed concern about the differentiation in protection and services for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children based on age.  Children under the age of 15 were cared for by the child welfare services, while those between the ages of 15 and 18 remained in the reception under the immigration regime.  There were also major differences in the level of care provided in different reception centres and how they were organized; only 30 per cent of children in need of mental health services had access to such care. 

What prevented Norway from ensuring that all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were protected under the child welfare services?  What would happen to children currently cared for by the child welfare services when they turn 15, would they be moved into the reception centres; and what happened to children in reception centres upon reaching the age of 18?

The Co-Rapporteur took positive note of the recent amendments to the Child Welfare Act which sought, inter alia, to strengthen the participation of children and families in child protection cases and to improve the legal protection of children.  She also noted that children from families of low socioeconomic status and social risks such as unemployment and drug abuse were over-represented in the child protection system.

The Co-Rapporteur noted a worrying situation in relation to the right to housing, as estimated 150,000 people were disadvantaged in the housing market, more than half of whom were immigrant families and 25 per cent were families with children.  In 2012, 679 children had been homeless with their families, up from 402 in 2008; domestic violence, family breakup and evictions were the most prevalent causes of homelessness among families of children.  Rent had increased substantially in some parts of the country and there were indications of discrimination in the rental market, with individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds often rejected by property owners.

The Committee had already urged Norway to improve access to all necessary health and medical services for irregular migrants, but it seemed that no steps had been taken to address this issue and to eliminate discrimination in access to health care between regular and irregular migrants.

ASLAN ABASHIDZE, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Norway, took note of the ongoing process of administrative restructuring and decentralization, which would reduce the number of municipalities to 72 and reorganize the territory in 11 governorates instead of the current 19, and which would delegate the responsibility for culture and education to local authorities. 

The Committee wondered how Norway would overcome geographic differences and regional disparities and ensure that the financial burden of the provision of services and infrastructures was evenly distributed, especially when it came to education.  How would a decentralized Norway ensure the implementation of comprehensive education policy and school curricula, including the teaching of the Sámi language?

Regarding the education of migrant children, including pre-school education, it seemed that gaps existed in the legislation, which municipalities should address.  Taking positive note of good dialogue with Roma, the Co-Rapporteur noted that, as in many other countries, social integration of Roma was a serious issue and asked the delegation to inform on good practices, achievements and successes in this regard.

Replies by the Delegation

In response to questions raised about the care of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, the delegation explained that the system was set up based on the higher care needs of younger children.  The standards of care were satisfactory, especially in light of recent increases in funding, stressed the delegation.  Children under the age of 15 who lived in reception centres could stay there even after turning 15 until they were transferred to municipalities.  Upon turning 18, children would be moved to an adult department, preferably in the same reception centre.  All children had the right to health services, said the delegation.

Norway was reviewing the Child Welfare Act and developing new foster home strategy.  was being developed.  Of the 39, 000 children who had received child welfare and protection services, 61 per cent consisted of assistive measures in the home, 26 per cent consisted of a care order and the rest were voluntarily placements in foster homes.  Municipalities were responsible for the supervision of children in foster homes and alternative care was available based on religious or ethnic backgrounds.

Turning to the right to housing, the delegation stated that a 2014-2020 strategy aimed to secure housing for all in need of support.  During the 2012-2016 period, the number of homeless persons had dropped by 40 per cent and stand at 3,900 and the number of homeless children had been reduced from 679 to 229.  The number of social housing applicants in 2018 had stood at 38,260.  The anti-discrimination tribunal handled eight cases related to discrimination in the area of housing in 2019.

Everyone in Norway, regardless of residence and legal status, was entitled to emergency aid and medical care that could not be postponed; all children and pregnant women were entitled to necessary medical care.  As a result, the delegation did not see a reason to enact further legislation.  Irregular migrants generally had to pay for healthcare, however, payment could not be required in advance for care that could not be postponed.  The law granting access to general practitioners was created to maintain long-term continuity, which was assumed to not be the case for children staying in Norway illegally.  The European Union citizens residing legally in Norway had the same access to healthcare as Norwegian citizens. 

Regarding local government reform and its impact on education, the delegation explained that in 2020, the number of municipalities would be reduced from 428 to 356 and that the funding would be decided on after a public hearing.  The regional reform specifically did not have any major effects on the financing for education; kindergartens, primary and lower secondary schools were financed by municipalities, while regions financed upper secondary schools.  There were indeed disparities among municipalities in terms of financial resources, which the State was addressing by providing resources.  The curriculum and education policies were decided by the national Government and county governors performed regular checks on the curricula applied in schools.

As for the rights of the Sámi people, public services were available in the Sámi language and the Sámi Parliament was consulted on all new laws on Sámi education.  If at least ten pupils sought Sámi language instruction in a particular municipality, it would be provided, and Sámi parallel curricula also existed.  Sámi culture was also taught in all national curricula.  A block grant had been allocated to the Sámi Parliament for the preservation of cultural heritage; a museum dedicated to the East Sámi had opened in 2017, and the South Sámi museum would be finished in 2021.  The Government and the Sámi Parliament were discussing the opening if an art museum.

A programme in Oslo that funded school guides with Roma background was an example of good practice in the social integration of Roma, and it had increased the number of families who contacted the guides.  A Roma culture and research centre that had opened in Oslo in 2018 provided a space for Roma children to play and learn.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the final round of questions, Committee Experts expressed concern about the investments into companies with “problematic reputation” made by the Norwegian pension fund, the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world which controlled 1.4 per cent of the global stock.  Those included investments in Caterpillar that sold bulldozers used to demolish houses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, investments in the Heidelberg Cement whose quarrying activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory violated the rights of the Palestinian people and the investments five Israeli banks which contributed to financing the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

This was problematic, the Experts said, quoting the 2004 decision of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which had clearly stated the duty of all States to contribute to putting an end to the serious violation of the norms of international law and the exercise of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.  In the light of the requirements of international law, would Norway re-examine the investment policies of the Government’s Pension Fund Global?

Turning to the court case by Greenpeace Nordic and the Association of Nature and Youth vs.  Ministry of Petroleum and Energy of Norway which challenged the licenses for deep sea extraction of oil and gas in the Bering sea, the Experts noted that at its heart was the right to a healthy environment, which was guaranteed by the Norwegian Constitution.  The Bogarting Court of Appeal had recently confirmed the judgement of the district court and had stated that the impacts of combustion of fuel exported from Norway might be taken into account in examining whether article 112 of the Constitution on the right to a healthy environment was violated or not.

The export of oil and gas, with the impact it had had and was having on global warming, constituted a major threat to human rights.  With this in mind, would Norway examine its export policies in the light of its human rights obligations and also examine its position in the Greenpeace case?

LYDIA CARMELITA RAVENBERG, Committee Co-Rapporteur for Norway, noted that the Committee received reports regarding regular use of coercive health and psychiatric treatments, often in combination with solitary confinement, and sought information on the legislative framework that supported these practices. 

Replies by the Delegation

In response to questions about climate change and oil and gas exploitation, the delegation said that Norway believed that decreasing petroleum demand was more effective than decreasing petroleum production.  Norway was a leading promoter of green industry and technologies, which would replace oil production in the long term.

The Government’s Pension Fund Global had in place a variety of ethical procedures inherent to the investment process.  Several companies that constructed settlements and the separation barrier in the West Bank had already been excluded.  For this to occur, there must be a close link between companies and human rights violations. 

Norway had eliminated unqualified and unnecessary coercion in mental health and had strengthened the patients’ rights, including the right to give consent, by the amendments to the Mental Health Care Act in 2017.  The health trust was obliged to conduct meetings with patients about coercion experiences and new recommendations would be released soon.  Drug-free treatment services had been created in 14 departments.

Concluding Remarks

HANS BRATTSKAR, Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in his concluding remarks thanked the Committee Experts for their questions and underlined Norway’s commitment to the human rights outlined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for Norway, concluded the dialogue by thanking the delegation and emphasized the importance of Norway in affirming economic, social and cultural rights across the world. 

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