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TITLE:  ICELAND HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993                            
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994


Iceland is a constitutional republic and a multiparty 
parliamentary democracy.  Its people participate in high 
percentages in regular, fair, and free elections which 
determine the distribution of power among political parties and 

The civil and criminal justice systems offer equal protection 
to all.  The nation has no indigenous military forces or 
political security apparatus.

Iceland has a mixed, open economy, in which all of its citizens 
have the right to hold private property.

Icelanders have long been strong defenders of human rights.


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Political and extrajudicial killings did not occur.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no instances of abductions or disappearances.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or 
punishment are prohibited by law and do not occur.  Prison 
conditions are good but many prisons are antiquated, and 
controls on prisoners are lax.  An increased frequency of 
escapes in 1993, some involving violent offenders, led to a 
public outcry for prison reform.  In response, the Justice 
Minister appointed a panel to recommend changes to existing 
regulations.  At year's end, the panel had not yet reported its 
findings.  There were no reports of physical mistreatment of 
prison inmates by prison officials or other inmates in 1993.  
Nutrition was adequate and medical care was available to 
prisoners at all times, as was access by family members.  
Prison facilities were sanitary, and recreation was provided.  
Most of the few prisons were relatively full.  Consequently, 
prisoners sometimes were put into temporary quarters, for a 
maximum of 2 months, before being relocated to permanent prison 
quarters.  Conditions in temporary quarters generally were 
equivalent to those in permanent quarters.  The Government 
permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by a 
local monitoring group, Vernd (Protection).

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Due process is provided by law and observed in practice.  The 
Constitution states that any person arrested by the authorities 
must be brought before a judge without undue delay.  The judge 
must rule within 24 hours whether the person is to be 
detained.  Although the Constitution allows for bail, it is 
usually not imposed as a condition for release.  A judge's 
ruling may be appealed immediately to a higher court.

There is no specific legal limit on the maximum length of 
pretrial (investigative) detention, but it usually ranges from 
a few days up to as much as 6 months, the latter in cases in 
which the detainee has appealed the sentence to the Supreme 
Court.  Before July 1992, pretrial detention sentences were 
generally served in isolation.  Subsequently, according to the 
new law, judges must rule specifically on the question of 
isolation.  Court orders to hold prisoners incommunicado must 
be justified by the need to preserve the integrity of a 
continuing investigation.  All pretrial detention sentences may 
be appealed to the Supreme Court, which must return a ruling 
"as soon as possible."  In practice, this generally means a few 
days.  Preventive detention is not practiced.

There were no allegations of arbitrary detention.

There is no exile.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

Defendants have a right to be present at their own trials and  
are guaranteed the right to competent legal counsel of their 
own choosing.  In cases in which defendants are unable to pay 
attorney's fees, the State assumes the cost.  Defendants have 
the right to access to an attorney sufficiently in advance of 
the trial to prepare a defense.  Defendants may confront 
witnesses and otherwise participate in public trials, which are 
fair and free from intimidation.  Defendants and their 
attorneys have access to government-held evidence relevant to 
their cases and enjoy a presumption of innocence.  All 
defendants have the right to appeal.  No groups are barred from 
testifying, and within reason all testimony is given the same 
weight.  The courts are free of political control.  Although 
the Ministry of Justice administers the lower court system, the 
Supreme Court guards its independence and fairness.  Juries are 
not used, but multijudge panels are common, especially in the 
appeals process.

A major reform of the Icelandic judicial system, separating 
judicial and executive power in regional jurisdictions, was 
fully implemented in July 1992.  The measure transfers all 
judicial authority for criminal and civil cases from local 
officials, who also served as chiefs of police, to newly 
established district courts.  The reform was the direct result 
of an Icelander's complaint to the European Commission of Human 
Rights in which the complainant, charged with a traffic 
violation, argued that it was unjust for an official of the 
same agency which accused him to try him.

There are no political prisoners.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

Under the Constitution and in practice, there is deep respect 
for the autonomy and rights of individuals.  A warrant from a 
court is required to enter a private house except in cases of 
hot pursuit.  Arbitrary intrusions by official entities, 
political organizations, or any other organized group into the 
private beliefs or personal liberties of individuals do not 

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution expressly forbids censorship and other 
restrictions on the freedom of the press and freedom of 
individual expression.  Citizens and the media exercise these 
freedoms extensively.  Iceland has a public broadcasting 
system, state television and radio, as well as private 
television and radio which broadcast a wide spectrum of views.  
All newspapers are privately owned.

Academic freedom of expression is vigorously exercised.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right to unarmed assembly, 
except when the police fear that such gatherings may cause 
riots.  Plans for public meetings are virtually never rejected, 
and the authorities rarely modify them.  The Constitution 
provides citizens the right to join together formally or 
informally in associations without governmental authorization.  
A varied and wide spectrum of voluntary organizations plays a 
vital role in Icelandic politics and society.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

Although the Lutheran Church is the established church and most 
citizens are nominally members, there is complete freedom for 
other faiths.  Both Christian and non-Christian faiths are 
allowed to proselytize freely.  They may maintain ties with, 
and receive support from, coreligionists abroad.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Icelanders have freedom to travel at home and abroad, to 
emigrate, and to return at will.  Iceland observes the 
provisions of the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status 
of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.  "Spontaneous" asylum 
seekers are usually required to return to the country of first 
asylum pending a Justice Ministry ruling on their application.  
Refugees are never compelled to return to a country in which 
they would face persecution.  The Icelandic Red Cross 
facilitates the social and economic integration of refugees and 
those granted residence permits on "humanitarian grounds."

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

The political system is an open, fully functioning, 
parliamentary democracy in which voters freely choose the 
members of the Althing (Parliament) who, in turn, enact the 
laws of the land and determine the composition of the Cabinet.  
Parliamentary elections are held at 4-year intervals unless the 
Althing dissolves, on request of the Prime Minister to the 
President or in the event of a no-confidence vote, before the 
end of its full term.  Voting in elections and membership in 
political parties are open to all citizens 18 years of age or 
older.  Althing candidates are selected in primary elections 
and caucuses.  Multimember districts and proportional 
representation increase the chances for minority points of view 
to be represented.  In addition, there is a strong cultural 
insistence on having the views of all significant groups 
represented in the Althing.

However, Iceland's theoretically proportional system of 
representation is heavily weighted to favor sparsely populated 
rural districts over urban areas.  Redistricting to reflect 
population shifts to the cities would require parliamentary 
action, which, though proposed by some Members of Parliament 
(MP's) in 1993, was not taken.

The center/right coalition Government was formed following 
national elections in April 1991.  It consists of the 
Independence Party and the Social Democratic Party, with David 
Oddsson of the Independence Party as Prime Minister.

Three of the four top governmental positions--the Chief Justice 
of the Supreme Court, President, and Speaker of the 
Althing--are occupied by women.  The latter two positions are 
largely ceremonial.  There is an active and influential 
feminist political party, the Women's List, which elected 5 
M.P.'s to Parliament in 1991 and received 8.3 percent of the 

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

Human rights associations, including groups working in the 
interest of women, children, the disabled, and prisoners, are 
active in Iceland.  Human rights issues are sometimes 
considered in the court system, generating amendments to 
existing law.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

Iceland's ethnically homogeneous population is strongly 
egalitarian and opposed to discrimination, regardless of 
whether it is based on race, sex, religion, disability, or 
other factors.  Government legislation and practice reflect 
this attitude.


Violence against women, both physical and mental, continued to 
occur at a comparatively low rate.  The issue gradually 
received increased public attention, in great part through the 
efforts of the Women's List political movement, which raised it 
periodically in political debate.  A public women's shelter in 
Rekjavik offers protection to approximately 370 women and 180 
children per year, an increase of 20 and 30 respectively from 
1991.  There is also a rape trauma center sponsored and 
operated by women's organizations.  Both are financially 
supported by national and municipal governments and private 
contributions.  Approximately 400 women and children (aged 3 to 
70) annually seek assistance at the rape trauma center.

Spokeswomen attributed most of the increase to enhanced public 
knowledge of the services provided at the centers. 
Approximately 50 percent of those who made use of the women's 
shelter cited alcohol abuse by their male partners as a factor 
contributing to the violence they suffered.  Counseling is 
available from social workers and lawyers at the shelter, and 
children can continue their schooling during their stay there.

Studies indicate that only a small percentage of cases 
involving domestic violence or sexual abuse (rape or attempted 
rape, sexual harassment) are reported to the police.  Women's 
organizations assert that both the state investigative police 
and the court system are hostile or indifferent to victims of 
domestic and sexual violence.  Only two Icelandic citizens, 
both men, have been sentenced in cases involving spouse or 
child abuse in 1992 and 1993.  Spokesmen for the state 
investigative police also have asserted that investigation of 
domestic violence is a waste of time for the police, who should 
concentrate their efforts on "more serious" crime.  Women's 
organizations claim that female victims, after having accused 
men of domestic violence or sexual abuse, are often subjected 
to humiliating and degrading police interrogations  The 
Reykjavik City Hospital emergency ward now has an all-female 
staff to care for rape victims, and the police have implemented 
a program to educate officers in correct interrogation 
procedures.  Women's action groups still complain that judges 
do not hand out severe enough sentences for sexually related 
crimes.  They cite as an example that convicted rapists 
receive, on the average, from 1 to 2 years in prison.

Major economic and political institutions in Iceland remain 
male-dominated.  On the basis of credible research, the Women's 
List asserts that, despite legislation requiring equal pay for 
equal work, Icelandic women do not receive pay equal to that of 
men.  The party and other active women's organizations have 
given this issue top priority.  Studies of comparative wage 
scales consistently revealed an average difference of 
40 percent in the earnings of men and women in comparable 
jobs.  Although approximately half of the difference might be 
explained by longer average working hours among men and their 
tendency to work more overtime, there was still a 20-percent 
unexplained differential in the wages of men and women.

Since 1991, complaints based on the equal rights law have been 
referred to a special committee established under the equal 
rights affairs office of the Ministry of Social Affairs.  The 
committee has only advisory powers and can only make 
recommendations to the employer that do not have the force of 
law.  Only a few complaints have been made to the committee.  
Nonetheless, women's groups speculate that the numbers are much 
higher, but that women are reluctant to come forward with 
complaints in the small, intimate, and traditionally stoic 
Icelandic society.  Another factor is that the largely male-led 
Icelandic labor unions have not actively supported individual 
women who wish to exercise their right to sue.


High respect for children's rights is reflected in Icelandic 
legislation and government policy as well as in social 
practices.  Icelandic law guarantees adequate public day-care 
as part of the extensive "law of the child" passed by the 
Althing in 1992.  Children's play corners are to be found in 
every public building or waiting room.  There are also high 
quality public playgrounds available throughout the country.

     People with Disabilities

Disabled individuals are not subject to discrimination in 
employment, education, or provision of other state services.  
The Government has legislated accessibility to public buildings 
for the disabled.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Workers in Iceland make extensive use of the right to establish 
organizations, draw up their own constitutions and rules, 
choose their own leaders and policies, and publicize their 
views.  The resulting organizations are not controlled by the 
Government or any single political party.  Unions take active 
part in Nordic, European, and international trade union 
bodies.  With the exception of limited categories of workers in 
the public sector whose services are essential to public health 
or safety (e.g., air traffic controllers), unions have had and 
used the right to strike for many years, including in 1993.  
According to Organization for Economic Cooperation and 
Development (OECD) figures, 76 percent of all eligible workers 
belong to unions.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There are no impediments to union membership in law or in 
practice.  Virtually all unions exercise their right to bargain 
collectively on wages, working conditions, and related issues. 
While union membership is theoretically no longer obligatory, 
wage earners are required to pay union fees.  The closed shop 
exists in some industries, established in contracts between 
unions and employers.  Frequently, the obligation is mutual; 
employers agree to hire only union members and, in return, wage 
earners agree not to work for employers who are not members of 
employer organizations.

A 12-month agreement between the central labor and management 
organizations that was reached with the assistance of 
government mediation in April 1992 formally expired on March 1, 
1993.  It continued to be observed in practice throughout 
negotiations in the spring of 1993 which resulted in a new 
comprehensive labor agreement signed on May 21.  Wage earners 
did not receive any wage increases, but low-income benefits, 
vacation, and December bonuses are to be paid.  In conjunction 
with the agreement, the Government made a number of political 
and economic commitments, including keeping the value of the 
currency (krona) stable and lowering value-added taxes (VAT).  
The agreement expires on December 1, 1994.  Labor courts 
effectively adjudicate disputes over labor contracts and over 
the rights and provisions guaranteed under the 1938 Act on 
Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes, which prohibits antiunion 

By law, employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are 
required to reinstate workers fired for union activities,  In 
practice, the charges are difficult to prove.  In a recent case 
of a union activist working for the Steelwright Corporation in 
Reykjavik, the union was unable to prove in court its suspicion 
that the employee had been fired for union activities, rather 
than as part of a series of recession-related layoffs.

In June 1993, the European Court of Human Rights issued a 
ruling stating that the Icelandic Government had violated the 
11th article of the European Human Rights Charter (concerning 
the right of free association) by obliging taxi drivers to be 
members of a union.  The Althing is to consider amendments to 
Icelandic law to comply with this judgment.

There are no export processing or other special economic zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law and does not 

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Compulsory education legislation stipulates that children must 
attend school until the age of 16.  The employment of children 
below the age of 16 in factories, on ships, and in other places 
that are hazardous or require hard labor is prohibited by law, 
and this prohibition is observed in practice.  Children of 14 
and 15 years of age may, however, be employed part-time or 
during school vacations in light, nonhazardous work; their work 
hours may not exceed the ordinary working hours of adults in 
the same occupation.  The Occupational Safety and Health 
Administration enforces child labor regulations.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

Icelandic workers are protected by laws that effectively ensure 
their health and safety as well as provide for unemployment 
insurance, paid vacations, pensions, and reasonable working 
conditions and hours.  The standard legal workweek is 40 
hours.  Work time exceeding the standard 8-hour workday is 
defined as overtime and compensated accordingly.  Workers are 
entitled to 10 hours of rest within each 24-hour period and 1 
day off every week.  Under special circumstances the 10-hour 
rest provision can be reduced to 8, and the 1 day off can be 
postponed by a week.  In case of the latter, the worker has a 
right to 2 additional hours off in the following week.

Although there is no minimum wage law, union membership is so 
pervasive and effective that labor contracts, in effect, assure 
even the lowest paid workers a sufficient income for a decent 
standard of living.  Health and safety standards are set by the 
Althing and administered and enforced by the Ministry of Social 
Affairs through its Occupational Safety and Health 
Administration.  Food, shelter, health care, and education are 
guaranteed without discrimination to those lacking adequate 
income because they are too old, too young, sick, or otherwise 

[end of document]


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