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222. The Government’s policy on ethnic discrimination is based on the principle that Norway is a multicultural society, and that cultural plurality enriches our lives and benefits society as a whole. Everyone living in Norway, regardless of their background, shall have genuinely equal opportunities, equal rights and equal obligations to participate in society and make use of their resources. The fight against racism and discrimination requires a persistent, focused and long-term effort.
223. The Centre for Combating Ethnic Discrimination (SMED) was established on 11 September 1998 and officially opened in February 1999. The Centre is an independent State agency that provides legal assistance to individuals who are victims of discrimination on grounds of religion, belief, race, colour, or national or ethnic origin. It also monitors the types and extent of racial discrimination in Norway. The Centre publishes reports regarding the nature and extent of ethnic discrimination in Norway.
224. As regards the incidence of racial discrimination in Norway, no lawsuits have been brought claiming that an administrative decision is invalid on grounds of racial discrimination. However, the Centre for Combating Ethnic Discrimination has received several complaints from immigrants (particularly from Africa, Asia and Latin America) on public services, especially the police, the immigration authorities and health and social services, see chapter 2 (pages 14-25) of the report “Moving towards a better protection 2002”, which is enclosed at Appendix 16. The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration and the Antiracist Centre (an NGO that receives public funding) also monitor discrimination and write periodic reports about the types and extent of racism and discrimination in Norway. All three reports conclude that there is a high level of awareness among central and local authorities of the existence of racism and discrimination in Norway, and of the need to address these issues.
225. Racial discrimination and harassment by private parties occur in Norway, mostly directed against immigrants from developing countries, see chapter 2 of the report “Moving towards a better protection 2002”. The report, along with other studies, shows that the problem is not primarily racist groups spreading terror in the streets, but more subtle forms of everyday discrimination, especially in the labour and housing markets.
226. In August 1999 the Supreme Court ruled on a case regarding section 349a of the Civil Penal Code (published in Norwegian Supreme Court Reports 1999, p. 1192). Section 349a states that any person who in an occupational or similar activity refuses any person goods or services on the same conditions as apply to others because of his religion, race, skin colour or national or ethnic origin shall be liable to fines or imprisonment. The owner of a housing agency was charged with discriminating against customers. The housing agency kept files of flats to let with some entries stating that only Norwegians with a steady income would be considered. The Supreme Court acquitted the owner of the agency, stating that the agency was simply presenting offers of a discriminatory nature for which the owners of the flats were responsible. According to the Supreme Court, the penal provision in question did not apply to private individuals. Thus, the provision was not applicable in the present case.
227. After this, the legal protection against discrimination in the housing market was strengthened in Norwegian law. Amendments to the housing acts (Acts No 1 and 2 of 4 February 1960 relating to housing co-operatives, Act of 26 March 1999 No 17 relating to tenancy agreements and Act of 23 May 1997 No 31 relating to owner-occupied units), enacted by the Storting in May 2003, include prohibition against discrimination on grounds of faith, colour, language skills, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, or lifestyle.
228. Two cases regarding racist motivated crimes have received considerable public attention and prompted much public debate: The so-called Sogndal case and the Holmlia case. The Sogndal case regards the death of 17-year-old Arve Beheim Karlsen. Beheim Karlsen, was an Indian-born boy adopted by Norwegian parents when he was a baby, was subject to long-term racist harassment and violence. He lived in the small town of Sogndal in the western part of Norway, and was found dead in Sogndal River in April 1999. On the night of his death, he had been chased through the streets of Sogndal, close to the river, by two teenagers. Witnesses claim that the two teenagers were yelling “kill him, kill him” along with racial slurs as they chased him. The circumstances around Beheim Karlsen’s death are not clear. On 11 June 2001, two 19-year-old men were sentenced to one and three years’ imprisonment for racist harassment and violence. The court stated that it had no grounds for concluding that there was a direct connection between the death of Beheim Karlsen and the racist threats he was subjected to. Even though the court concluded that the harassment, violence and threats against Beheim Karlsen were racist, the defendants were not found guilty of violating section 135 a of the Penal Code Section, which prohibits public dissemination of racist speech. According to the court, it was never proved that the racist speech was disseminated publicly. Therefore, section 135 a was not violated.
229. The Holmlia case regards the death of Benjamin Hermansen and is the first clear case of homicide on purely racist grounds in Norway. On 26 January 2001 Benjamin Hermansen, a 15-year-old Norwegian boy whose father was of African origin and mother of Norwegian origin, was stabbed to death in a parking lot near Holmlia centre in Oslo. Although he was known in the local community as an active spokesperson against racism, there is no indication that he was killed because of his anti-racist activity. In December 2002, two members of a neo-Nazi group were sentenced to 17 and 18 years for the crime.
230. In response to Benjamin Hermansen’s death, there was a broad based mobilisation by civic organisations. Demonstrations and appeals by anti-racist organisations made the headlines of the national media in the days following the murder. The Norwegian authorities, led by the Prime Minister, took an active part in the mobilisation, and launched new measures to combat racism.
231. In this context, reference should also be made to the case on section 135 a of the Penal Code that is described above under Article 19 (“Sjøliesaken”). The case illustrates that law enforcement authorities do not take allegations of racial discrimination lightly (cf. the Committee’s concluding observations of 1 November 1999 paragraph 15). Further measures to ensure that law enforcement authorities take cases of racial discrimination seriously are described below in the context of the plan of action to combat racism.
232. In the summer of 2002, the Norwegian Government presented a new plan of action to combat racism and discrimination for the period 2002-2006 (a copy is enclosed at Appendix 17). This action plan is a part of a long-term effort, and is based on the Government’s previous plan of action against racism and discrimination (1998-2001). It is also part of the Norwegian Government’s follow up of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in South Africa in September 2001. The plan of action applies to indigenous peoples, national minorities and the immigrant population in Norway. The measures set out in the plan are mainly focused on eight target areas: working life, public services, schools/education, the judicial system, documentation/monitoring, the Internet, the local community, and the strengthening of legal protection against ethnic discrimination and racist harassment. The following is a brief description of some of the measures set out in the plan, many of which have already been implemented:
- All central government agencies shall be required to encourage persons with an immigrant background to apply when they advertise job vacancies. Agencies are also required, for the duration of a two-year pilot project, to call in at least one applicant with an immigrant background for a job interview, provided the applicant is qualified for the position in question.
- Improvements shall be made to the accreditation system for learning and skills acquired other than through formal education, in order to make it easier for immigrants to obtain accreditation for qualifications acquired in their home country.
- The Government shall encourage more educational institutions to focus on multicultural understanding.
- Measures shall be implemented to increase the recruitment of people with immigrant background to secondary and higher education, such as improving skills among teachers and advisers and providing financial support to universities and colleges that have given special emphasis to measures for people with an immigrant background.
- New teaching aids shall be prepared for use in schools as part of their general effort to raise awareness, with a special focus on racism and discrimination.
- The police shall increase their awareness and knowledge of minorities. A central forum for dialogue shall be established, consisting of representatives of the Directorate of the Police and representatives of relevant non-governmental organisations. Local forums for dialogue shall also be established in each police district. In addition, training in this field shall be provided for all police employees. Recruitment and career development in the police force and the prison service for people with immigrant background is also one of the aims.
- The Government shall establish special units under the public prosecuting authority that will provide specialist expertise in this field. A person shall be appointed at each public prosecutor’s office to be responsible for co-ordination between the police and the public prosecuting authority in cases involving ethnic discrimination and racially motivated harassment or violence.
- The Government will consider establishing a system of registration in connection with police checks so that people can document how frequently they are checked.
- Efforts to combat racism on the Internet will be intensified, including greater involvement by the police.
- The Government will put forward a legislative proposal to the effect that discrimination in nightclubs, restaurants, etc., may result in withdrawal of licences to serve alcohol.
233. A follow-up mechanism for the plan of action has been established consisting of representatives from the relevant ministries, the Directorate of Immigration, the Centre for Combating Ethnic Discrimination, the Contact Committee for Immigrants and Authorities and NGOs working in the field of racism and discrimination.
234. A white paper on immigration and multicultural Norway was submitted to the Storting in October 2004 (Report No 49 (2003-2004) to the Storting: Pluralism through Inclusion and Participation). The white paper focuses on how we should relate to people being different, in light of the fact that the Norwegian population is composed of people with various backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages and ways of life. A multicultural society must balance both the development of a sense of fellowship and peaceful coexistence, and the acknowledgement that people are different and have the right their own way of life.
235. In March 2004, chapter 10 of Act of 4 February 1977 No 4 relating to Worker Protection and the Working Environment, etc., was amended with the aim to establish equal opportunities in working life. Direct or indirect discrimination on grounds of gender, religion, philosophy of life, colour, national or ethnic origin, political view, membership of a labour organisation, sexual orientation, disability or age is prohibited. The prohibition applies to all aspects of employment, including advancement and pay. For instance, working conditions must be modified to accommodate disabled employees. Both public and private employers must comply with these provisions.
236. In December 2004, the Government will put forward a bill on the prohibition of ethnic discrimination in all areas of society. The bill will be based on the report submitted in 2002 by a committee appointed by the Government for this purpose in March 2000, Official Norwegian Report, NOU 2002:12, and will comply with the requirements of Council Directive 2000/43/EC implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.
People with disabilities
237. In December 2002, the Norwegian Government appointed a committee to draft legislation to protect people with disabilities against discrimination, either by proposing a new Act or amendments to existing legislation. The object is to promote equality and full participation in society. The committee will complete its work by April 2005.