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Thank you, Mr. Chair,
Members of the Committee,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank you for giving my delegation and myself the opportunity to present additional information to Norway’s eight periodic report here today. The Norwegian delegation consists of members from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, the Ministry of Health and Care Services, and the Directorate of Health, as well as from the Permanent Mission of Norway in Geneva.
The Committee Against Torture is a key actor in making the prohibition against torture more effective, and we are grateful for your continued efforts and achievements. We have noted the Chair’s statement at the UN General Assembly last year, in which he emphasised the need to focus even more on the core elements of the Convention, which are paramount for the prevention of torture. We believe that this is a constructive measure in multiple ways, including in terms of avoiding excessive overlap between the different UN bodies.
In ensuring compliance with the Convention, we have a close and fruitful cooperation with civil society. In that respect, I gratefully acknowledge the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s National Preventive Mechanism, the National Institution for Human Rights, NGO Forum and We Shall Overcome, who have prepared supplementary reports to the committee. Together with our state report, the supplementary reports form an important basis for our dialogue here today, as well as for our continuous work at home.
The aim of the Norwegian Government is to ensure that people can live free and independent lives. However, a free society does not come about on its own. We are dependent on well-functioning communities, and common values and institutions such as the rule of law, protection of privacy, and freedom of speech. The Government will defend these values and protect the institutions on which our society is based.
The promotion and protection of human rights in Norway is further strengthened by the work of the National Human Rights Institution. The national institution has already become an important actor in the public debate on human rights issues. It has already submitted two annual reports to Parliament and a number of advisory opinions to national authorities. We are very pleased that the institution is now considered to be in full compliance with the Paris Principles, and has been granted A-status accreditation.
Following Norway’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the Parliamentary Ombudsman rapidly established a national preventive mechanism – NPM – which carries out visits to institutions relevant to the Convention Against Torture.
The NPM has raised well-founded questions of common concern and has also put forward recommendations to the institutions visited.
The NPM has proved to be an active and positive tool for improving the conditions of persons deprived of their liberty. They have managed to develop a strong dialogue not only with police establishments, but also with prisons and health care.
The concrete results have been the introduction of new routines and procedures, for the benefit of persons deprived of their liberty.
I am pleased to report that progress has been made in several areas in response to the committee’s concluding observations in 2012, and also since Norway submitted its periodic report in 2016. I would like to draw your attention to five areas where progress have been made.
- Significant reduction in detention in police custody beyond the 48-hour limit.
- New procedures regarding children in police custody.
- Notable reduction in the number of children in prison.
- Enhanced focus on combatting gender-based violence.
- Strengthened the patients' rights to self-determination in relation to mental health care, and decreased involuntary hospitalizations.
Under the regulations for the use of police custody cells, detained persons shall be transferred to a prison facility within 48 hours, unless this is not possible for practical reasons. This is an important time limit, as conditions in a police custody cell are not suitable for any prolonged stay, as has been underlined in several of the supplementary reports.
Unfortunately, it has proven difficult to avoid major breaches of this time limit. The reason has been both a lack of prison capacity and weaknesses in the existing procedures. In recent years, however, we have seen significant improvements.
The prison capacity has increased, and new guidelines and procedures have been introduced within the police and prosecution service, as well as in the correctional services. The result is a significant reduction in breaches of the 48-hour rule, and of the length of the breaches.
In 2016, 945 breaches were recorded, and last year the number was down to only 639. In comparison, the number was 4250 in 2013. While the breaches could previously have a duration of several days, they are now mainly of minor length.
There is now an increased focus on young offenders, which has resulted in new guidelines. One key element is that police custody should only be used for children when no other means are available. This has resulted in fewer children in police custody.
In 2014, 632 children were in police custody, while in 2017, the number was reduced to 365. Where available, children are not placed in police cells, but rather supervised in an office or a reception area. If the use of a cell is needed, the door is kept open. The children are given frequent access to refreshments and fresh air outside.
For young offenders, it is important to find good alternatives to prison. Therefore, two new non-custodial sanctions – the Juvenile Sentence and Juvenile Follow-up – entered into force in July 2014.
In line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, prison is now only used as a last resort for children. For those few who do become incarcerated, two permanent units for young offenders have been established. The use of imprisonment for young offenders have been significantly reduced. In 2010, the number was 64, while in 2017, the number was reduced to 25.
When it comes to post-sentence solitary confinement, there are notable improvements. At the last hearing, the Committee regretted that detailed statistics on the use and the length of solitary confinement were not available. It is, thus, with pleasure we can inform the Committee that we now do have numbers and statistics to refer to. This is an important improvement. There are, however, also some remaining challenges within this area; for instance regarding isolation of prisoners who are mentally ill.
I am, as well as you, worried about the level of gender-based violence in my country. And I am worried that many victims do not report these crimes and do not seek help.
The Norwegian government’s view is clear: gender based violence, sexual violence, and sexual harassment is unacceptable and punishable. It must be prevented through measures to help and protect the victims, and through treatment and prosecution of the perpetrators.
To underline our intentions in this field we last year ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – the Istanbul Convention. We are now implementing our obligations under this landmark treaty.
We are constantly seeking ways to improve police investigations in rape cases. In 2016, the Director of Public Prosecutions presented a new report on the quality of investigations, having researched several hundred cases of rape. The advanced methodology and scope of this Quality Survey is ground-breaking for us in this field, giving specific information about quality at all stages of investigations. A major finding is that police interviews now meet a high standard. This is extremely encouraging, but also an expected development, since efforts to improve police interviews have been ongoing for a long time.
Mr. Chair, Compliance with the Convention is of high importance for The Norwegian Government. An area of concern both for the committee and for the government is the use of coercive measures in the mental health care sector. Norway puts great effort to promote voluntariness in the mental health services. The issue has been highly prioritized for several years. In order to reduce and safeguard the use of coercive measures, we work hard to improve legislation, reporting, leadership, competence, values and attitudes.
In September 2017, the Health Care Act was amended in order to extend the patient’s right to make decisions concerning their own health. Under the amended act, patients who have the capacity to consent, cannot be hospitalised or treated against their will. Exceptions to this can only be made if there is a serious risk of suicide or a serious danger to the life or health of others. This represents a change from a focus on diagnosis to a focus on the patient’s level of functioning.
A recent report from the National Patient Register, shows a decrease in involuntary hospitalizations from 2016 to 2017 (a 14 % decrease when comparing the last quarter of those two years). This is very good news, and we will monitor the development closely.
The amended act also establishes that patients are entitled to up to five hours of legal counsel free of charge in connection with complaints concerning treatment carried out without their consent.
Another amendment ensures that the use of coercion is assessed in consultation with the patient as soon as possible after the measure has been completed.
We have also appointed a legislation committee to review the legislation on use of coercion in the health and care services. As part of the mandate, the committee will assess the conformity of the legislation with Norway’s international human rights obligations.
The legislation committee is specifically asked to assess whether to allow for ECT without the patient's consent. Presently, Norway has no specific regulation on ECT. However, the use of ECT without the patients consent is accepted in cases of an emergency where the life or health of the patient is in immediate danger.
In order to strengthen the control of this measure, the Supervisory Commissions are recently instructed to control all decisions on ECT without the patient's consent. This ensures that an external body independent of the hospital considers the legality of the measure.
In addition, measures have been taken to ensure National statistics on use of ECT without the patient's consent from May 2018 onward.
In order to reduce involuntary measures, the health services need knowledge about how this can be done. The Research Council of Norway has awarded a research grant of 15 million kroner in order to improve this knowledge. The research will focus on geographical differences in the use of involuntary measures. It will also include an intervention study on how the municipality health care services can work to improve their services in order to reduce referrals to involuntary measures in the specialised health care.
To make sure that involuntary measures are used in a correct way, health personnel and appeal bodies need knowledge about relevant legislation and ethics. In order to strengthen this knowledge, we will develop an e-training programme in 2018.
Disappearance of unaccompanied minors from care and asylum reception centres is another complex and challenging issue.
Staying at a reception centre is voluntary, also for minors. In many cases we have reason to believe that minors who disappear from reception centres leave at their own will.
However, we cannot exclude that some become victims to trafficking, or are recruited to criminal or extremist groups.
There was an increase in disappearances of unaccompanied minors from Norwegian reception centres in 2016 and especially in 2017. As a response, the Norwegian government took several measures to improve the situation, including:
- increased funding to enhance both the quality and quantity for staff in reception centres for minors, and
- earlier settlement of unaccompanied minors who have a limited resident permit due to doubt about their identity.
The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration and the Police have guidelines on how to deal with disappearances of unaccompanied or separated children, and on how the reception centre staff should pursue in possible cases of human trafficking.
We believe that these measures have resulted in a better situation for this group, and in turn will have an impact on reducing disappearances.
Although much progress has been made in recent years, we acknowledge that we still face challenges, which we must continue to address.
I am looking forward to discuss Norway’s commitments under the Convention against Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and our 2016 report to the committee.
I look forward to hear your questions.