Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In October 2006, Oslo mediated peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Tamil Tigers. Separately, reparations were approved for past human rights violations against the Romany minority. In business developments, the state-controlled oil giant, Statoil, agreed to pay $21 million in U.S. penalties for bribing an Iranian government official. Also that year, a new law went into effect requiring about 500 large companies traded on Norway’s stock exchange to give 40 percent of the seats on their boards to women or risk closure.
Norway’s current constitution, the Eisvold Convention, was adopted in 1814 during a brief spell of independence after nearly four centuries of Danish rule. Subsequently, Norway became part of a Swedish-headed monarchy. The country gained independence in 1905 and has since functioned as a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty parliamentary structure.
Norwegian citizens narrowly rejected membership in the European Union (EU) in 1972 and 1994, despite government support for joining. In addition to wanting to preserve their sovereignty, Norwegians feared that membership would threaten the country’s energy, agriculture, and fishing industries. As part of the European Economic Area, Norway has nearly full access to European markets, and 75 percent of Norwegian exports go to EU countries. However, while Norway has adopted almost all EU directives, it has little power to influence EU decisions.
During September 2005 legislative elections, the center-left Red-Green coalition—led by the Labor Party and including the Socialist Left Party and the “green” Center Party—won 47.9 percent of the vote and 87 seats. The elections marked the first time that Labor had entered into a coalition since the end of World War II. The previous governing bloc—a three-party center-right coalition consisting of the Conservatives, the Christian People’s Party, and the Liberals—captured only 26.8 percent of the vote and 44 seats. The other major winner in the elections was the anti-immigrant Progress Party, which took 22.1 percent of the vote and 38 seats, making it the largest single opposition party in Parliament. The 2005 elections were the first in Norway to be observed by an international monitoring team. The election monitoring was part of a “Network for election observation and exchange” hosted by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
In 2006, Norway was ranked first in the UN Human Development Index for the sixth year running. Its high standard of living is due in large part to the exploitation of oil deposits discovered in the 1960s; Norway is currently the world’s third-largest oil exporter. The government has put 80 percent of oil revenues into a petroleum fund that is invested overseas, thus helping to ensure that the benefits are enjoyed for many years.
A founding member of NATO, Norway has an active foreign policy. In November, talks began between Norway and Iceland concerning a potential defense agreement following the end of U.S. military defense of Iceland, which does not have its own military. Norway would provide surveillance and military defense of Icelandic air space if an agreement is settled.
In addition, in its role as mediator, in June 2006, Oslo set up a fresh round of talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) rebel group, but the effort broke down amid renewed violence in Sri Lanka, and the two sides refused to meet. Another attempt at negotiations was postponed in December as violence continued.
Also in 2006, the Norwegian government proposed a 7 million NOK (US$1.1 million) grant to support the preservation of the native Sami culture. Sami land ownership remained a controversial topic. Additionally, the government proposed a 2 million NOK (US$300,000) grant for Romany education
In October, Norway’s state-controlled oil company, Statoil, agreed to a total of $21 million in U.S. penalties for bribes paid to an Iranian government official in 2002 and 2003. The official was paid to help obtain additional oil projects for the company in Iran.
Norway is an electoral democracy. The national Parliament, called the Storting, currently has 169 members, an increase of four over the number elected in 2001. The lawmakers are directly elected for four-year terms through a system of proportional representation. A quarter of the members are then selected to serve as the upper chamber, or Lagting, while the remaining members make up the lower chamber, or Odelsting. Neither body is subject to dissolution. The leader of the majority party or coalition in the Storting is appointed prime minister by the constitutional monarch, currently King Harald V. Although officially the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces, the monarch performs largely ceremonial duties.
The indigenous Sami population, in addition to participating in the national political process, have their own Consultative Constituent Assembly, or Sameting, which has worked to protect the group’s language and cultural rights and to influence the national government’s decisions about Sami land and its resources. The government helps protect the heritage of the Sami population through Sami-language instruction, broadcast programs, and subsidized newspapers in their regions. A deputy minister in the national government deals specifically with Sami issues. Separately, in 2006, Norway set up a system of reparations for the Romany minority for past human rights violations including forced sterilization and family separation.
Norway remains one of the least corrupt countries in the world. However, isolated incidents of bribery have occurred, and a 2003 Gallup survey found that nearly half of all Norwegians believed that bribery in the business world would be an increasing problem in the coming years. In 2006, Oslo hosted an international conference on fighting corruption in the oil and mining industries. Norway was ranked 8 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
In 2003, a police probe into the Iranian operations of the state-controlled oil company Statoil led to the resignations of the chairman, the chief executive, and the head of the company’s international division amid allegations of bribery. In June 2004, Statoil was found guilty of corruption charges. In 2006, it agreed to pay $10.5 million to the U.S. Justice Department, as well as $10.5 million to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with the case. The company is subject to U.S. laws because its stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed. The state subsidizes many newspapers, the majority of which are privately owned and openly partisan, in order to promote political pluralism. A government ban on political commercials, designed to ensure equal access to the media for all candidates regardless of varying resources, violates the European Convention on Human Rights, which Norway has signed. In 2006, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) expressed concerns over the acquisition of the Norwegian media company Orkla Media by Metcom, an investment fund. The EFJ warned that journalistic integrity could be compromised by commercial interests. Separately, hackles were raised in July over the publication of a cartoon in Dadbladet , an Oslo-based newspaper. The cartoon depicted the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, as a Nazi camp overseer, but was determined to have been published within the parameters of freedom of expression. Also that year, a Christian newspaper, Magazinet , in January published controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, which led to the burning of Norway’s embassy in Syria the following month. After receiving numerous death threats, the editor of Magazinet apologized for offense caused to the Muslim community.
The monarch is the constitutional head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway, the state church, and half of the cabinet must belong to the church. Other denominations must register with the state to receive support, which is determined by size of membership. A course on religion and ethics focusing on Christianity is mandatory for students. In November 2004, the European Court of Human Rights determined that the course requirement contravened human rights principles. However, after a two-year review, Norwegian officials in 2006 determined that Christianity would remain the primary religion taught in the course and exemptions would not be granted. Meanwhile, in January 2006, the State-Church Commission assessed that most members of the church favored abolishing the current relationship between the church and the state and establishing separate systems. A final decision about the relationship will be announced in 2008. In March, the U.N. Human Rights Committee announced that the section of Norway’s constitution requiring Evangelical Lutherans to raise their children in the faith breaches the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Also in 2006, Oslo sent the Ministry of Knowledge a request to implement a ban on burqas and nikabs—garments worn by some Muslim women that cover the entire body and the face, respectively—in schools. Attacks on Jewish citizens increased during the year, including vandalism of synagogues and grave sites, as well as verbal abuse. A more severe incident occurred in September when a synagogue in Oslo was fired on with an automatic weapon, sparking a nation-wide debate over the rise in anti-Semitism. Four suspects were detained and remained in custody at year’s end. Academic freedom is ensured for all.
The constitution guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Norwegians are very active in different nongovernmental and volunteer organizations. Labor unions play an important role in consulting with the government on social and economic issues, and about 60 percent of the workforce is unionized.
The judiciary is independent, and the court system, headed by the Supreme Court, operates fairly at the local and national levels. The king appoints judges under advisement from the Ministry of Justice. The police are under civilian control, and there were no reports of human rights abuses committed by any domestic law enforcement authorities in 2006. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2005 human rights report, prison conditions generally meet international standards.
In December 2003, the government announced that asylum seekers denied residence in Norway would no longer be able to remain at immigration reception centers; an earlier report had found that a record number of asylum seekers had registered at these centers. Polls suggest that discrimination in housing and employment against ethnic minorities is widespread. In 2006, an ombudsman for equality and antidiscrimination was established to counter ethnic and sexual bias; the new post replaced the Center against Ethnic Discrimination, which had previously dealt with these issues. In March, a scandal emerged over 182 Iraqis that were granted temporary residence permits by Utlendingsdirektoratet (UDI), Norway’s Directorate of Immigration, during the change of control over immigration issues from former Secretary of State for Local and Regional Affairs, Erna Solberg, and the new Minister of Labor and Social Inclusion, Bjarne Håkon Hanssen. An investigation was launched, but no conclusions were drawn by year’s end.
The Gender Equality Act provides equal rights for men and women. During the last elections, 37 percent of the seats in the Storting were won by women, a slight increase over the previous elections. A new law went into effect in 2006 requiring at least 40 percent of the boards of directors of about 500 large companies traded on Norway’s stock exchange to be women; the figure currently stands at about 16 percent. Domestic violence against women continues to be an area of concern.
Norway is a destination point for the trafficking of women for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The country, however, remains a leader in antitrafficking efforts, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report.