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UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW: NORWAY

NORWEGIAN CONSTITUTION DAY & FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
Norwegians on May 17th each year celebrate the Norwegian Constitution signed on May 17, 1814. This is a review of the Norway Universal Periodic Review before the United Nations Human Rights Council on December 2, 2009. There is a PROPOSAL by The Tandem Project for an Exchange of Information with the Norwegian government, non-governmental organizations, religions and other beliefs and members of civil society as a follow-up to the Norway Universal Periodic Review on human rights and freedom of religion or belief.


Preface – The First Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

Surely one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.

There is an increase in dialogue today between religions and other beliefs to embrace diversity, but few persons, less than one percent of any population, ever participate. This is a challenge. The value of such dialogues is proportionate to the level of participation. For civil society increased participation would create opportunities for education on inclusive and genuine approaches to human rights and freedom of religion or belief. 

 In 1968 the United Nations deferred passage of a legally-binding convention on religious intolerance saying it was too complicated and sensitive. Instead, they adopted a non-binding declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief. While very worthwhile, the declaration does not carry the force and commitment of a legally-binding international human rights convention on freedom of religion or belief.

Religions and other beliefs historically have been used to justify wars and settle disputes. This is more dangerous today as the possible misuse of nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction increases. Governments need to revisit whether religions and other beliefs trump human rights or human rights trump religions and other beliefs or neither trumps the other; whether culture trumps the universal or universal rights sensitively and with respect trumps culture in the face of this historical truth.



THE TANDEM PROJECT

UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
 FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations

Separation of Religion or Belief and State

NORWAY

Sixth Session U.N. Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (30 Nov. – 11 Dec. 2009)

UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW

The Norway Universal Periodic Review was held by the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday 2 December 2009 from 9.00-12.00.  Open this link to access reports for the Norway Universal Periodic Review: National Report; Compilation prepared by OHCHR; Summary prepared by OHCHR; Interactive Dialogue; Comments & Answers; Final Remarks. 
HRC Web Cast: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/PAGES/NOSession6.aspx

RECOMMENDATIONS

Ambassador Bente Angell-Hansen, Permanent Representative of Norway to the UN Office in Geneva, thanked the Council for constructive suggestions after the Inter-active Dialogue and reported that Norway could accept 66 recommendations, 5 in part and could not agree to 18 recommendations. Open the link below and click on Working Group Report Conclusions and Recommendations to the Norway Universal Periodic Review.

HRC Web Cast: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/PAGES/NOSession6.aspx

The Tandem Project follow-up recommendations are based on these two excerpts from the Norway National Report and Norwegian Center for Human Rights.

Excerpt from National Report: 3.15 Freedom of thought, religion and belief. “Norway has a constitutional state church system that has been the subject of criticism as a matter of principle from several quarters, including the UN Human Rights Committee. Article 2 of the Constitution protects certain aspects of freedom of religion or belief, but does not go as far as the protection provided by international human rights principles.” “A White Paper has been discussed in Parliament, and formal proposals to amend all seven articles in the Constitution establishing the state church system has been submitted. The proposals will be voted on in the next parliamentary session.” “In connection with continuous focus on dialogue, cooperation between religious and life stance communities, the authorities and the general population, grants are provided for three councils for religion and belief: the Council of Religious and Life Stance Communities, the Islamic Council of Norway and the Christian Council of Norway.” “Religious and belief communities outside the Church of Norway have a statutory right to claim an annual financial grant from the State and municipal authorities. This grant scheme is unique internationally.” 

In 1814 article 2 of the adopted Constitution of Norway did not allow Jews or Jesuits to become citizens of Norway. Georg Sverdrup, President of the Eidsvold Assembly, after the new Constitution was adopted spoke, “It is then raised once more inside the ancient boundaries of Norway, the throne which was used by Hakon and Sverre, from where they ruled old Norway with wisdom. God save old Norway.” The delegates repeated “God save old Norway.” They were   referring to the ancient kings that had introduced Christianity to Norway.  Article 2 removing intolerance against non-Christians has long since been removed from the Constitution, but  as the National Report says, there are aspects of the Constitution that still do not go as far as international human rights protection for freedom of religion or belief. Norway is moving toward Separation of Religion or Belief and State and the “White Paper” when passed by parliament should be used for dialogue and discussion in this regard. Norway has a record of interfaith dialogue and Norwegian humanists, with over 68,000 members is the largest such organization in the world. Norway should examine if and how they using international human rights instruments on freedom of religion or belief, and how close they come they to inclusive and genuine approaches to freedom of religion or belief at national and local levels.

Norwegian Center for Human Rights: the Government has purposed a new formulation of the Constitution § 2 articulating basic values. It mentions humanity and Christianity specifically, with no reference to other religions or beliefs. This may not be in conflict with any human rights conventions; it might however exclude groups of the population. The same problem arises in the statements of objectives in the law on both schools and kindergartens. NCHR finds the principle of inclusion to be highly relevant in this debate. NCHR recommends that Norwegian authorities reconsider whether there is a need for explicitly highlighting the Christian belief in the constitutional values and in the statement of objectives in the laws on schools and kindergartens.

The 1814 Norwegian Constitution is celebrated each year on May 17th not with a display of military might but with their famous “children’s parades”. Norway however has a public school curriculum that seems to go back to Sverdrup’s “old Norway” celebrating Christian tradition. Norway was taken to the European Court of Human Rights in 2006 by a group of Norwegian humanists that claimed the public school curriculum mandating Christian history for all Norwegian school children in public school is discriminatory. They won the court case when the European court described Norway’s public school education curriculum as not in compliance with basic values of international human rights principles. The Tandem Project recommends Norway begin a campaign of human rights education (HRE) to build a foundation for tolerance of the beliefs of others in childhood at the earliest possible age.

EXCHANGE OF INFORMATION

PROPOSAL: The Tandem Project requests an Exchange of Information with the following Norwegian organizations on what they consider to be inclusive and genuine approaches to human rights international law on freedom of religion or belief, and how close Norway can come to this goal, as a follow-up to the Norway Universal Periodic Review; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs, Norwegian Center for Human Rights, University of Oslo, Church of Norway, Council for Religious and Life Stance Societies, Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Islamic Council of Norway, Norwegian Humanist Association, Forum 18 and other Norwegian organizations and members of civil society. For a description of these organizations open the attached Norway- Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief.
The Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Treaty Review Conference is being held from 3-28 May 2010. Consideration of a treaty on Freedom of Religion or Belief in the Preface should be considered to counter these weapons of mass destruction: http://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2010/

FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF

U.S. State Department 2009 International Religious Freedom Report; Norway
http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127329.htm