Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Far-right, anti-immigrant militant Anders Breivik was found guilty in July 2012 and sentenced to 21 years in prison for deadly attacks in 2011 that killed more than 70 people, many of them children. Immigration continued to be a sensitive topic throughout the year, as authorities conducted raids on asylum centers and forcibly repatriated rejected asylum applicants. Meanwhile, the country experienced some of the largest public-sector strikes in nearly three decades.
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. Since gaining independence in 1905, it has 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 (EEA), Norway has nearly full access to EU markets and exports approximately 75 percent of its goods to EU countries. While Norway has adopted almost all EU directives, it has little power to influence EU decisions.
In the September 2005 legislative elections, the center-left Red-Green coalition—led by the Labor Party and including the Socialist Left Party and the Center Party (Agrarians)—won 48 percent of the vote and 87 of 169 seats. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg reshuffled members of his coalition government in October 2007, resulting in a historic female-majority cabinet, with 10 female and 9 male ministers.
Stoltenberg’s coalition was reelected in the September 2009 parliamentary elections, making it the first government to win reelection in 16 years. In concurrent elections for the Sami Assembly, the Norwegian Labor Party captured 14 seats, the Norwegian Sami Association received 11, and various other Sami parties won a total of 14. Municipal and county elections in September 2011 saw a loss of votes for the anti-immigration Progress Party, but gains for the Conservatives, Liberals, and Labour parties.
On July 22, 2011, Norwegian national and right-wing fundamentalist Anders Breivik detonated a powerful bomb in the center of Oslo near several government buildings, killing eight people and inflicting widespread material damage. Breivik then proceeded to shoot and kill 69 people attending a Labor Party summer youth camp on the island of Uttoya. The attacks—the deadliest in Scandinavia since World War II—prompted a national and regional discussion of Breivik’s extreme-right, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim ideology, which included a radical resistance and hostility to Norway’s multicultural agenda and its native Norwegian supporters. Minister of Justice Knut Storberget resigned in November 2011, citing personal reasons, but tacitly acknowledged the intense criticism he received over the poor police response to the Breivik massacre as significant to his decision.
Breivik’s trial began in April 2012. He was initially declared legally insane and thus likely to be detained in a psychiatric institution, provoking a public outcry. The court, however, found Breivik legally competent, and he was sentenced to 21 years in prison with the possibility of “preventative detention,” extending his sentence if he is deemed to be a continued threat to society. The independent 22 July Commission, which was appointed by the government, published its report in August 2012. The report found serious shortcomings in Norway’s police force, including inadequate response times regarding its arrival at Uttoya and arrest of Breivik. The government subsequently announced that it would strengthen emergency preparedness measures.
Immigration to Norway has increased fivefold since the 1970s, including recent asylum-seekers predominantly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Eritrea. More than 10 percent of Norway’s population was foreign-born in 2012, and more than 7,000 asylum seekers from some 100 countries arrived in Norway in 2012. In 2012, Norwegian police executed a series of raids on asylum centers and arranged forced repatriation of the more than 10,000 rejected asylum-seekers still living illegally in Norway. The national debate on immigration was affected by the attacks by Breivik, resulting in numerous public demonstrations and calls for strengthening Norway’s tolerance and multiculturalism.
Norway is an electoral democracy. The unicameral Parliament, called the Storting, has 169 members who are directly elected for four-year terms through a system of proportional representation. The constitutional monarch, currently King Harald V, appoints the prime minister, who is the leader of the majority party or coalition in the Storting. While the monarch is officially the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces, his duties are largely ceremonial.
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 influence the national government’s decisions about Sami land and its resources. The Sameting is comprised of 39 representatives who are elected for four-year terms. 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 2012, opposition parties strongly criticized Trade and Industry minister Trond Giske for appointing friends and family to state bodies and state-owned firms. Parliament started an inquiry into the matter in November 2012, which was ongoing at year’s end. Norway was ranked 7 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed. In an effort to promote political pluralism, the state subsidizes many newspapers, the majority of which are privately owned and openly partisan. Internet access is not impeded by the government.
Freedom of religion is protected by the constitution and respected in practice. 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 financial support, which is determined by size of membership. Students must take a course on religion and ethics focusing on Christianity, though it is thought to violate international human rights conventions. Contrary to a decision reached in 2009 by the National Courts Administration, the Equality Tribunal in August 2010 issued a non-binding opinion that banning female police officers from wearing the hijab (headscarf) violates Norway’s freedom of religion and antidiscrimination laws. A 2012 poll showed a rise in anti-Semitic attitudes, which prompted the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to criticize Norwegian officials for inadequately addressing the issue. Ubaydullah Hussain, leader of the Norwegian Muslim extremist group “Prophet’s Ummah,” was arrested in November and held in custody for several weeks for posting threatening messages on social media sites against “certain individuals” in the Jewish community, as well as two journalists. Investigations were continuing at year’s end.
The constitution guarantees freedoms of assembly and association. Norwegians are very active in nongovernmental organizations. 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. The right to strike is legally guaranteed, except for members of the military and senior civil servants, and is practiced without restrictions. All workers have the right to bargain collectively. The summer of 2012 saw the largest public-sector strikes since 1984 over wages, affecting schools and prisons, as well as strikes in the private sector, including the crucial oil industry. The government imposed forced arbitration in September, but also formed a commission to evaluate the collective bargaining process.
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 human rights abuses by law enforcement authorities are rare. Prison conditions generally meet international standards. Three suspects were arrested in 2010 and charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism for their plan to attack the headquarters of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that had published cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad in 2005; they were found guilty of terrorism in January 2012, and sentenced to between 4 months and 7 years in prison.
The mandate of the Office of the Ombudsman was expanded in 2006 to include all forms of discrimination, and it is responsible for enforcing the country’s Gender Equality Act, the Discrimination Act, and the Worker Protection and Working Environment Act. While citizens within the EEA no longer need a residence permit to work in Norway, the agreement excludes Romanians and Bulgarians.
The Gender Equality Act provides equal rights for men and women. In 2009, women won nearly 40 percent of the seats in Parliament, a slight increase over previous elections. Norway is a destination country for human trafficking for the purposes of labor and sexual exploitation. The country, however, remains a leader in antitrafficking efforts, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report.