Norway | Freedom House

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Violent clashes that broke out in Oslo at the end of 2008 between police and Palestinians demonstrating against Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip spilled over into January 2009. In September elections, the Red-Green coalition became the first ruling party to be reelected in 16 years, and Jens Stoltenberg was reappointed prime minister in October.

Norway’s constitution, the Eidsvoll Convention, was first adopted in 1814 during a brief period 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. Norway became a founding member of NATO in 1949.
Norwegian citizens narrowly rejected membership in the European Union (EU) in 1972 and 1994, despite government support for joining. Norwegians wanted to preserve their sovereignty and 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 EU markets, and 71 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.
In December 2008, a group of Palestinians assembled outside the Israeli embassy in Oslo to protest against the Israeli Defense Forces’ incursion into the Gaza Strip. The demonstration turned violent after protestors began throwing Molotov cocktails, resulting in the arrest of four protestors. The protests sparked widespread clashes between demonstrators and police during the first two weeks of 2009, leading to rioting in other parts of Oslo. Several instances of police force were reported, including the use of tear gas to disperse crowds. By mid-January, nearly 200 protestors had been arrested, most of whom were immigrants.
Norway was elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council in May, and the President of the Norwegian Storting, Thorbjoern Jagland, was elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe in September. Also in 2009, the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report found Norway to have the best quality of life.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s center-left Red-Green coalition was reelected in the September 2009 parliamentary elections, making it the first government to win reelection in the last 16 years. The coalition—led by Stoltenberg’s Labor Party, which won 64 seats—includes the Socialist Left Party and the Center Party (Agrarians), which captured 11 seats each. The Progress Party secured 41 seats; the Christian Democrats, 10 seats; and the Liberal Left, 2 seats.While the Norwegian Police Security Branch expressed fears of possible attacks against politicians leading up to the elections, no incidences of violence were reported; a revised national budget provided for an extra $4.5 million to strengthen protection for politicians.
In the Sami Assembly elections in September, the Labor Party captured 14 seats, the Progress Party took 3 seats, and various other Sami parties won a total of 22 seats.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Norway is an electoral democracy. The national Parliament, called the Storting, currently has 169 members. Lawmakers are directly elected for four-year terms through a system of proportional representation. The parliament had been divided into two chambers, the Lagting and the Odelsting, until 2009 when it became unicameral. 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, has its 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 supports Sami-language instruction, broadcast programs, and subsidized newspapers in Sami regions. A deputy minister in the national government deals specifically with Sami issues.
Norway remains one of the least corrupt countries in the world. However, isolated incidents of bribery and misconduct have occurred, and Norway’s role in the international energy and mining industries has received particular scrutiny. In 2004, the Oslo Tax Office began investigating taxi drivers suspected of tax fraud. The investigation uncovered nearly 500 suspects who had failed to declare some $84 million in taxes. In April 2009, approximately 300 taxi owners and drivers confessed to fraud totaling nearly $100,000; several of the convicted individuals were sentenced to prison terms of up to two years. Norway was ranked 11 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
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. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in December 2008 that the government ban on political advertisements had interfered with the Pensioner’s Party’s right to expression. As a consequence, the government changed the statutes of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) to allow airtime for smaller political parties. Internet access is not impeded by the government.
The monarch is the constitutional head of the official Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway, and at least 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, but it is considered to be in violation of international human rights conventions, including the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights. While the Norwegian government has implemented some curriculum reforms, the UN Human Rights Committee in 2006 warned that the section of Norway’s constitution requiring Evangelical Lutherans to raise their children in the faith could be a breach of the ICCPR. An April 2008 agreement gave the church the power to select bishops and deans, once the power of the government. Under political pressure, Justice Minister Knut Storberget in February 2009 was forced to withdraw a proposal which would have permitted Muslim police officers to wear a hijab. There was an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2009, particularly during the Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip. Clashes between Israeli and Palestinian protestors led to the detention of nearly 200 people in January. In May, a Jewish cemetery in Oslo was vandalized with Nazi symbols, and the government launched a celebration in August for Nobel Laureate Knut Hamsun, a Nazi sympathizer.
The constitution guarantees freedoms of assembly and association. However, in January 2009, police used tear gas to suppress protests in Oslo against the Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip. Tear gas was used again in April to disperse a group of Tamil demonstrators in the capital; the protesters demanded that Norway perform its role as mediator and order a ceasefire in Sri Lanka. Norwegians are very active in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Labor unions play an important role in consulting with the government on social and economic issues, and approximately 53 percent of the workforce is unionized. In January and March, several thousand police gathered to protest government-proposed changes to the Health and Safety at Work Act that would interfere with rest periods and curtail negotiation rights. An agreement was reached in July adding an hour to each work week for policemen, while protecting their rest time and negotiation rights.
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 on the advice of 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 2009.Prison conditions generally meet international standards, though problems with overcrowding arose in 2009.
Overcrowding in Norwegian asylum centers has become a concern and may have contributed to the 2008 attacks on an asylum center near Oslo. As of September 2009, asylum seekers who voluntarily return to their homeland will receive approximately $1,800 from the Norwegian government to assist in resettlement. The number of asylum seekers in Norway increased by 20 percent in 2009. As of October 2009, citizens within the EEA no longer need a residence permit to work in Norway, though the agreement excludes Romanians and Bulgarians. An ombudsman for equality and antidiscrimination was established in 2006 to counter ethnic and sexual bias. However, NGOs reported in 2009 that police used discriminatory racial profiling practices against ethnic minorities.
The Gender Equality Act provides equal rights for men and women. In 2009, nearly 40 percent of the seats in the Storting were won by women, a slight increase over the previous elections. Of the 19 government ministries, 10 are headed by women. A law that took effect in 2006 requires that at least 40 percent of board members at about 500 large companies traded on Norway’s stock exchange be women. In December 2009, the same law was applied to municipal-owned company boards. 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 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report. A law went into effect in 2009 making the purchase of sex illegal; citizens caught paying for sex can receive up to six months in prison.