COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE HEARS REPLIES OF NORWAY
2 November 2012
The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the replies of Norway to questions raised by Committee members on the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Responding to questions raised by Experts on Thursday, 1 November, the delegation of Norway, led by Tonje Meinich, Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security of Norway, said it was a matter of concern that the Committee drew the conclusion that rape was a chronic and incurable condition in Norway. The Government did not believe that rape was more of an issue in Norway than it was in other countries. The Government had taken a number of measures to combat this ill, including harsher penalties, better care for victims, and improved police investigations. The Committee had also reacted to the term “unfair discrimination”, which the delegation had referred to in the context of the constitutional revision. Perhaps a better translation would be “unfair differential treatment” – the idea was that negative discrimination should be prohibited, while positive discrimination should still be allowed. The delegation further clarified that Norway had decided not to ratify the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families as the wording made it difficult to assess the consequences of an accession to this text. However, Norway attached high priority to efforts ensuring high labour standards, which were crucial in protecting the rights of migrant workers.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Meinich said that the delegation was content with the interesting dialogue. Norway would try to follow the recommendations the Committee would make.
Claudio Grossman, the Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur for the report of Norway, said he appreciated the delegation’s answers and would take into account its observations.
The delegation of Norway consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health and Care Services, and the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Norway will be issued towards the end of the session, which concludes on 23 November.
The Committee’s next public meeting will be at 10 p.m. on Monday, 5 November, when it will consider the second periodic report of Qatar (CAT/C/QAT/2/Rev.1).
Response of the Delegation of Norway
The delegation said it regarded the questions asked by the Committee on Thursday, 1 November as important guidelines. In its view, however, the focus should be on issues and questions related to the Convention. When such links were not obvious, it would be helpful if the Committee could refer to the specific provisions of the Convention.
The Norwegian Government was of the view that a penal provision containing a comprehensive enumeration of the motives of discrimination was more informative than a provision not doing so. In addition, any forms of discrimination which were not included in the listing were covered by offences in criminal law. When finalising the new Penal Code, the Government would however consider enumerating other relevant types of discrimination. It had taken some time for this code to enter into force – in 2005 action had been taken regarding the first part, while other amendments had been adopted in 2009, and some were still outstanding. The section on torture would be part of this last review, slated to start next year, the delegation reassured.
The Committee had reacted to the term “unfair discrimination”, which the delegation had referred to in the context of the constitutional revision. Perhaps a better translation would be “unfair differential treatment” – the idea was that negative discrimination should be prohibited, while positive discrimination should still be allowed. The term “unfair discrimination” had not yet been set in stone and other alternative wordings had also been proposed. The Committee would be informed of the exact wording used when a Norwegian delegation would come before the Committee the next time.
Norway had decided not to ratify the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families as its wording seemed so unclear that it was difficult to assess the consequences of an accession to this text. However, Norway had acceded to the relevant core conventions of the International Labour Organization. It also attached high priority to efforts ensuring high labour standards, which were crucial in protecting the rights of migrant workers.
There was an absolute protection against refoulement, the delegation further clarified. This applied to persons who were recognized as refugees, but also to foreign nationals who faced a real risk of being subjected to the death penalty, torture, or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment upon return their country of origin.
The delegation said it had taken note of the Committee’s comment that legal aid was important in the beginning, when a lot was being established, and its question on why the right to free legal aid was excluded in the first phase. In this context it should be noted that unaccompanied minor asylum seekers were entitled to free legal aid before a decision was made in the first instance, while adult asylum seekers had this right when appealing a negative decision. The Government acknowledged the importance of free legal aid in the first phase, but believed that information was the most important remedy at this stage. The Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers therefore operated an information and counselling programme for all asylum seekers, providing information on the asylum process, protection criteria, and other rights and obligations. In addition, police must give guidance on the right to legal assistance in all cases regarding claims for protection and expulsion.
While foreigners expelled due to a breach of the Immigration Act were entitled to free legal aid, this did not apply to foreigners expelled based on a penal sanction, the delegation went on to say. The vast majority of those being expelled due to a lack of identity documentation or illegal stay in Norway was being expelled without penal sanctions. Foreigners in need of protection were not sanctioned for lacking a valid travel document.
In response to the question on whether police was conducting thorough investigations into cases of children disappearing from reception centres, the delegation said authorities were constantly endeavouring to prevent this from happening. Several guidelines were in place, including on disappearances of unaccompanied or separated children and on follow-up by reception centre staff on possible cases of trafficking. The guidelines of the General Attorney on investigations of reports of missing persons were also relevant. At a practical level, when unaccompanied children left reception centres without providing a new address, the standard procedure was to report them missing to the police and to notify their legal guardian and the child welfare service. While the police received relevant information about disappearances, including suspicions of possible trafficking or other crimes, one could not rule out that some disappeared children were subjected to crime.
Norway acknowledged that unaccompanied minors between the ages of 16 and 18 needed particularly good care during their stay in reception centres. Authorities aimed to ensure that all unaccompanied minors received services meeting their individual needs. In some cases, unaccompanied asylum seekers above 16 years of age were granted a limited permit, entitling them to legal guardianship until they were 18. Seventy-five per cent of unaccompanied minors had been granted protection in Norway in the year 2011, while 12 per cent had been given residence permits on humanitarian grounds. When turning 18, however, foreigners holding such limited permits must voluntarily return to their countries of origin.
Commenting on the high numbers of rejected asylum requests and the many expulsions which the Committee had pointed out, the delegation indicated that the figure provided in the report included cases over a four-year period. In this period, 340,000 foreigners had been given a first-time permit, including first-time registrations of European Union nationals in 2009 and 2010. Over the same course of time, 48,200 asylum requests had been received and against this backdrop 29,500 rejections were not many. In 2011, Norway had granted 51 per cent of all asylum claims examined based on their merits, that is, excluding Dublin cases. This was a high percentage in a European context, the delegation argued.
The Committee had raised several questions about conditions in police cells, noting that people were staying in such cells for far too long, the delegation said. According to normal procedure, an arrested person was placed in a police cell. Admittedly, these cells were not suitable for longer-term detention since they allowed no contact with other inmates, resulting in a de facto solitary confinement. It should be noted, however, that arrested persons must be transferred to a prison within 48 hours, except in special situations, which had unfortunately been used in some cases. But human rights considerations were fully taken into consideration, the delegation insisted, saying in some cases judges had even refused to order pre-trial detention if prison places were not available. There were also positive developments: reports attested to an improved situation, particularly in the Oslo area, and prison capacities had increased. This was not yet proportionate to the needs, however, as action against organized criminal groups for instance generated a strong demand for pre-trial detention capacities.
As far as isolation in remand was concerned, this could only be imposed on the basis of legislation adopted in 2002. A survey conducted in 2009 by the police academy concluded that the 2002 amendments had the desired effect, with restrictions being used much less than before. Solitary confinement in prisons had also been analysed in a report by the national human rights institution. That report had revealed shortcomings in informing prisoners of the grounds for their solitary confinement, as well as highlighting cases where solitary confinement had not been reported to higher instances as required.
Turning to the issue of rape, the delegation said it was looking for constructive advice and best practices. However, it was a matter of concern for it that the Committee drew the conclusion that rape was a chronic and incurable condition in Norway. The Government did not believe that rape was more of an issue in Norway than it was in other countries. In any case, authorities recently drew up a plan of action which led to harsher penalties and better care for victims. The Penal Code also had a specific wording on rape, allowing courts to conclude that rape had occurred even when little force had been employed. Simultaneously, constant efforts were being made to improve police investigations. One concern was that rape investigations were too lengthy, and it had thus been decided that time limits be set for each individual rape case. The number of reported cases of rapes had increased dramatically between 2010 and 2011 in Oslo, the delegation pointed out. However, analysts concurred that that could not be attributed to an increase in cases, but to greater levels of reporting, and this must be seen in the light of the Government’s efforts.
Follow-Up Questions from Experts
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur for the report of Norway, said it would be helpful to know which questions the delegation felt did not relate to the Convention.
According to non-governmental organizations, the percentage of detainees transferred from police cells to prison within a period of 48 hours had increased in 2012. Was this indeed the case? However, civil society organizations also said that, once in prison, people were at times placed in solitary confinement. Could the delegation comment on this?
The Committee had requested statistics of racist acts committed by members of the police. Why were these numbers not available? Were there issues of privacy? Why could such information, which was important for the formulation of public policies, not be collected?
XUEXIAN WANG, Committee Member and Co-Rapporteur for the report of Norway, was pleased to hear that the Government took child disappearances seriously and that it had conducted serious investigations into this issue. In its report the State party revealed that 97 children had disappeared in 2010, of which 10 may have been victims of trafficking. How many victims had been traced in other years and what had happened to these children?
As far as violence against women and especially rape was concerned, the Committee would be more than happy to see that the problem was not only curable but would indeed be cured as soon as possible. According to information available to the Committee, almost 90 per cent of all rapes, or attempted rapes, had not been reported. Also, police had received 1,077 complaints for rapes or reported rapes in 2011, averaging almost 3 rapes a day. Could the delegation comment on this?
Other Committee members also asked a number of in-depth questions pertaining to, inter alia, the use of the Istanbul Protocol in the asylum seeking process.
Response by the Delegation
Responding, the delegation said there were several questions where the link to the Convention on Torture was unclear. For instance, why was the Committee enquiring about Roma people and why had it asked questions about the ratification of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families?
When cases were being registered in Norway, the racial background was not recorded, which explained the lack of statistics on racially motivated incidents committed by police officers. However, the competent authority had affirmed that such cases were almost non-existent.
Unaccompanied minors disappearing from centres were a major challenge for police, the delegation acknowledged. Parliament had recently changed the law so that unaccompanied minors could be held in institutions without consent to prevent them from running away. This decision had been motivated by fear that children were at risk of leaving centres and making contact with traffickers afterwards. It remained to be seen whether this new regulation was successful or not. Investigations should be opened in more cases than today and police should be more active in certain cases, the delegation concurred.
Figures of rape must be understood in the Norwegian context, it added, saying the tendency to report rape varied from society to society. In Norway, rape was a crime which carried with it shame for the victim. In many cases, people refrained from reporting rape by fear that their community could become aware of this. It should also be noted that only 18 per cent of reported cases of rape involved attacks by total strangers; in all other cases women had been raped by people they knew at least to some extent. Nonetheless, Norway sought to improve the work done at every stage of the process, recognizing that it could still be much improved.
The delegation outlined a number of measures taken by authorities in implementing the Istanbul Protocol when dealing with requests for asylum. This included establishing a working group to consider implementation of the Istanbul Protocol, developing educational programmes for reception centre staff and vulnerable migrants, continuing the updating and implementation of the revised guidelines, as well as developing documentation on torture and providing relevant information to health staff.
TONJE MEINICH, Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security of Norway, in her concluding remarks, said the delegation was content with the interesting dialogue. Norway would try to follow the recommendations the Committee would make.
CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson and Rapporteur for the report of Norway, said he valued the preparation by delegation and appreciated the answers it had given. Its observations would be taken into account.
For use of the information media; not an official record