White paper on UN complaints procedures

The Norwegian Government today presented a white paper assessing whether Norway should ratify the optional protocols on procedures for individual complaints under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The conclusion is that Norway will not accede to these protocols at present.

‘Human rights are well protected in Norway. The main reason why the Government is not proposing that Norway should accede to the optional protocols on the complaints procedures at this stage is that there is considerable uncertainty about the consequences this might have for Norwegian policy and whether it would result in political issues being transferred to the legal domain. The new complaints procedures differ from those under other conventions to which Norway is a party. This is because they include broad objectives that are difficult to define in concrete terms and are therefore not as suited for international individual complaints procedures,’ said Mr Brende.   

One example of a broad objective is that people should enjoy ‘the highest attainable standard of health’. Another example is the ‘principle of the best interests of the child’. There is a risk that the Committee on the Rights of the Child will focus less than Norwegian courts on finding a balance between the best interests of the child and other important public interests, for example the need to regulate immigration. As regards persons with disabilities, the relevant UN committee currently interprets the scope of the convention more widely than most states parties. Based on the committee’s understanding, key provisions of Norwegian law would be incompatible with the convention. Examples include the provisions on the withdrawal of legal capacity in the Guardianship Act and the provisions on compulsory treatment in the Mental Health Act and the Act relating to municipal health and care services. To bring Norwegian law fully into compliance with the committee’s recommendations would have unforeseeable consequences and involve major amendments to the legislation.  

‘The white paper describes how the relevant UN treaty bodies deal with individual complaints. Unlike the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN human rights conventions do not require members of treaty bodies to have legal expertise. The composition, working methods and resources available to the treaty bodies indicate that their handling of individual complaints is likely to be less satisfactory than that of Norwegian courts or the European Court of Human Rights. Before we entrust the interpretation of important political issues to international bodies, we must be sure that cases will be handled satisfactorily,’ said the Foreign Minister.  

‘Norway fulfils its international human rights obligations, and several of the UN conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, have been incorporated into Norwegian law with precedence over other Norwegian legislation. The Storting (Norwegian parliament) and the Government are responsible for the whole breadth of Norwegian policy, and can find a balance between different social considerations when implementing Norway’s human rights obligations. It is important to retain room for weighing up different political considerations,’ said Mr Brende.  

Norway is a party to most of the UN human rights conventions, and the Government is actively working to strengthen the implementation of human rights both nationally and internationally. Norway is a key supporter of human rights work in the UN in both political and economic terms. In 2014, the Government presented the white paper Opportunities for All: Human Rights in Norway’s Foreign Policy and Development Cooperation.