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Human rights of special interest

Human rights and Norway. Legal development, legalization and democracy
The People's Government is weakened by premissive supranational courts, the Power Commission already stated in 2003. What about the human rights in this picture?


Over the course of six decades, the Norwegian authorities have gradually committed themselves to realizing an increasing number of rights for the country's inhabitants. Human rights and Norway. Legal development, legalization and democracy does not give an overview of all these rights, which was not the intention either. According to the book cover, the authors chart the importance of human rights for Norway, and whether this international legalization has limited the power of the Storting. Thus, the book will create the basis for a more enlightened debate, it says. Of the book's 15 chapter authors, 12 is very well qualified lawyers in central legal professional environments and Norwegian social life. The thirteenth is a former employee of Dagbladet, and the last two law sociologists at the University of Oslo. The three book editors work for Pluricourt, a center for outstanding research at the Faculty of Law at the University of Oslo.

Grab before the anniversary. Human rights in Norway gives an overall picture of the human rights situation in today's Norway – seen from central Norwegian institutions – after the Storting in spring 2014 decided to constitutionalise four important rights and that the Norwegian authorities are also obliged to enforce rights contained in human rights declarations and conventions ratified by Norway . The four rights are about fair trial; respect for privacy, family life and communication; to form, join and unsubscribe from associations as well as children's demands for integrity and human dignity. The constitutional provision does not mean that new rights were introduced, but that the existing ones become more difficult to change politically and ensure their enforcement. This move fit well just before the Constitutional Anniversary in May 2014.

How good have the media really been to question the legitimacy of human rights in the population? 

Fine juice. The legal authors address human rights based on the European Court of Human Rights (EMD), the Norwegian Supreme Court, the Storting and the Civil Ombudsman. The chapters contain important and basic material on the importance of human rights for the activities of these legally important institutions. However, since the texts are extensive and characterized by legal detailed discussions, one must be willing to spend a good deal of time acquiring the substance. This is especially true of the chapters with a strong emphasis on legal methodological issues, a fundamental subject matter of law, such as the importance of international sources of law in Norwegian constitutional law. This is of course important legal subject matter, but in my opinion not required as a basis for an informed discussion on the importance of human rights in Norway. The "fine boy" with detailed legal interpretations and boundaries drawn by highly qualified experts in his professional work, rather acts as a barrier to the discussion of more general issues.

Media failure. The chapter on the importance of human rights for the media, written by a long-time employee of Dagbladet, is a very unequal one-sided tribute to human rights as a "global gold standard for journalists". Here, too, the author has chosen an internal position in his account of how human rights have served journalists and the media well in various ways. There is no reason to doubt this – but how good has the media really been to question the legitimacy of these rights in the population? Do they sometimes create disruptive conflicts between people, groups and authorities? Does the European Court of Human Rights unduly restrict the power of the legislature? Or are the ideals on which human rights rest so self-evident and widely accepted that the only task of the media is to make them further known, and thus universally realized? China left Norway in the freezer for six years after the Nobel Laureate award to Liu Xiaobo in 2009, and Norwegian heads of state's toe-to-toe walk during the China visits in May sharply illustrate how contentious even the classic human rights are.

Democratic legitimacy. Three chapters that deal with more limited and down-to-earth aspects of ordinary people's lives – and not institutionalized occupation – are probably the ones that will most easily engage readers outside the ranks of professional lawyers. These address issues such as the importance of human rights in criminal cases and human rights as frameworks in the new diversity society, where immigration and refugee flows have created many new interpersonal and legal problems. The same applies to indigenous rights: the situation of the Sami in Norway, and the relationship between the Sami and other inhabitants, businesses and authorities.

Norwegian heads of state's toe-to-toe walk during the China visits in May sharply illustrate how contentious even the classic human rights are.

The book does not convey the importance of human rights for Norway, when "Norway" is understood as more than the media and central legal institutions: We "have not conducted empirical studies of respect for human rights, how the limitation of management options is perceived by the Storting and the administration, or which the importance of human rights for people's everyday lives, ”the editors also write.

It may be added that the book also does not refer to other studies on Norwegians' perceptions of human rights or their consequences for Norway. There are thus no answers in this book – nor any questions.

In my opinion, the possibility of the publication creating the basis for a more enlightened debate is limited by the authors' internal positions; it seems that Norway consists solely of legal institutions and experts. The fact that many trade-offs between different rights are far more than just and that the legitimacy of different rights touches important public policy issues is not thematized. That lawyers in their professional work find it democratically problematic that the Storting has adopted rules and ratified human rights conventions, is fine. But the Storting's endorsement of human rights is not in itself a good argument that this is democratically problematic.

The people left out. democracy is a key aspect of democracy: Rules of law set by the people's representatives should be enforceable by the election of other representatives with legislative authority. But such a governance perspective does not exist among the authors, although one of the lawyers points out that "a continual reinforcement and expansion of rights inherent in the Convention can easily conflict with other values ​​and goals of social development, and in a it is then up to the democratic rule of law for the elected bodies to decide the development of the law at national level and for treaty amendments with new protocols to develop new international bonds on national law ”.

By the way, "democracy" seems to be synonymous with "rights", as court lawyers have touted and weighed them. Therefore, neither the absence of an international legislative assembly is discussed with elected representatives who can change human rights provisions, nor the fact that change is almost impossible because this can only happen by agreement between ratifying states. In practice, the possibility of change lies in the fact that judges in the European Court of Human Rights change the interpretation / weighting of the rights. This means that personal values ​​and hierarchies within the EMD system are of decisive importance for what national authorities should regard as applicable law and therefore also enforce. This was also pointed out in the power investigators' final report in 2003: that the national government is weakened by more active and pre-eminent supranational and national courts, so that power is shifted from elected bodies to the courts. No material in Human rights and Norway. Legal development, legalization and democracy is apt to weaken this conclusion – on the contrary.
Olaussen is professor emeritus in law.

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