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Norway and Article 1
A Triangle of Partnership and Solidarity

The Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1:

'All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.'

This is a general article, that highlights challenges in most contries. I have chosen to consentrate on some of the laws in Norway, which deals with equality of status and discrimination. These are laws concerning the Sami people, racism, homosexuality, adoption, the rights of disabled people and the equality of status between the two sexes.

When Norway signed the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the authorities did not act according to all of the articles. A contravention on article 1, was the discrimination of the ethnic miniority, the Sami people.The Sami people were looked down upon, and supressed by the Norwegian authorities. But this has changed since 1948.
The 10th of October 1980, the "Sami rights commission" (samerettsuvalget) was appointed. In June1984, this commission came with a proposition of a new article in the Norwegian Constitution. The 27th of Mai 1988, the article was passed. This was article 110 a, stating that it is the responsibility of the authorities of the State to create conditions enabling the Sami people to preserve and develop its language, culture and way of life. This means that the authorities has an obligation to preserve and develop the Sami culture, language and way of life, through legislation and by initiating actions.
During the last ten years, there has been a considerable development of the Sami people's legal status. October the 9th 1989, the first Sami Parliament (Sametinget), was officially opened. The Sami Parliament deals with matters considered to be of special importance to the Sami people.

Other miniority groups, such as immigrants, are still discriminated against by some Norwegians today. The penal code, and other acts, has articles which protect people against racism. 10 in the penal code, of the 22th of mai1902, is the legal basis for protecting people against racism, racists acts and discrimination. Other sections which treats racism in the penal code is 135, 349, 232, 330 and 104a. Plans of action against racism, are worked out by the authorities.

Up to 1972 homosexuality in practice was illegal, according to 212 in the penal code. But the paragraph was deleted in 1972. In1981, 135 in the penal code got a supplement to protect the rights of the homosexual persons. In 1993, an act about registered partnership was passed . This gave the homosexuals the possibility to engage in a partnership with a person of the same sex. A registered partnership has, with the exeption of the right of wedding and adoption, the same rights as a marriage.
Homosexuals often experience defamation in Norway. The penal code has paragraphs which deals with defamation (246-254). The essence of these paragraphs is that it is illegal to defamate other people.

5 of the "adoption act" (adopsjonsloven) states that no other than married couples can be accepted as adoption parents. This means that neither singles, nor homosexuals will be accepted as such. In November 1998, the "Child and Family Office" (Barne- og Familiedepartementet) presented new instructions considering adoption. An important change is that single persons can now be considered as adoption parents. But the new instructions are restrictive, and it will be very difficult for singles to be accepted.

Norwegian law has several paragraphs to protect the rights of disabled people. It has been considered important to have a legal basis for for example adjustment of buildings, etc. to the needs of the disabled. Disabled persons are generally threated well in Norway. But in some cases, it seems like money is more important than human dignity. Lack of money in the local communities can undermine the rights of disabled people.

Norwegian law has a paragraph regarding equality of status between men and women (likestillingsloven). The basic idea of this act, is that everybody shall have the same possibilities. An act which deals with equality between men and women was passed 9th of june, 1978. This act is the legal basis for equal treatment of men and women in all areas, e.g. employment, wages, education and so on.

According to Norwegian law of today there does not seem to be any serious contraventions to article 1 of The Declaration of Human Rights. The Sami people's situation has improwed since the signing of the Declaration in 1948. Even though discrimination of ethnic minorities takes place, it is illegal.

One thing I can put my finger on in the Norwegian jurisdiction, is that homosexuals and heterosexuals at one point are treated differently. The homosexuals can neither get married nor adopt. Considering adoption, single persons are also treated unfair, since it is very difficult for them to adopt.

There are many laws in Norway attending to article 1 in The Declaration of Human Rights. The article is generally well implemented in Norway's legal system. The challenge is to comply with this article in everyday practice.

Written by Ingvild Nordnes Myrbakk

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