The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001.  Please see www.state.gov for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date.  This site is not updated so external links may no longer function.  Contact us with any questions about finding information.

NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

Department Seal

flag
bar

TITLE:  ICELAND HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995








                            ICELAND


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

Elected officials control the police force which scrupulously 
observes and enforces the laws that ensure protection of human 
rights.

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

There were no reports of human rights abuses during the year.
The Parliament enacted into Icelandic law the European Charter 
of Human Rights.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killings.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no known 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 most prisons are full, and many are 
antiquated.  The Government has begun implementing a 
construction program to alleviate these difficulties.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Due process is provided by law and observed in practice.  The 
Constitution states that arrested persons 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 limit on the maximum length of pretrial 
(investigative) detention, but it usually ranges from a few 
days to a few weeks.  Pretrial detentions were generally served 
in isolation prior to July 1992.  A law that took effect then 
requires judges to rule specifically on whether a particular 
detainee should be held in isolation, and an affirmative 
decision must be justified on the grounds that it will help 
prevent tampering with 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 is done in 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 are presumed innocent.  They are guaranteed the 
right of access to legal counsel of their own choosing, in time 
to prepare their defense.  For defendants unable to pay 
attorney's fees, the State assumes the cost.  Defendants have 
the right to be present at their trial, to confront witnesses, 
and to participate otherwise in the proceedings.  No groups are 
barred from testifying, and all testimony is treated alike.  
Trials are public and are conducted fairly, with no official 
intimidation.  Defendants have the right to appeal.

The Ministry of Justice administers the lower court system, 
while the Supreme Court guards its independence and fairness.  
Juries are not used, but multijudge panels are common, 
especially in the appeals process.  All judges, at all levels, 
serve for life.

There are no political prisoners.

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

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.  There have been no known arbitrary intrusions by 
official entities, political organizations, or any other 
organized group into the private beliefs or personal liberties 
of individuals.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution forbids censorship and other restrictions on 
the freedom of the press or freedom of individual expression, 
and the Government fully respects these.  Iceland has both 
state-owned and private television and radio, and both 
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 have cause to believe a gathering may 
cause rioting.  The authorities virtually never reject or 
modify plans for public meetings.  In law and practice, 
citizens have the right to join together formally or informally 
in associations, without governmental authorization.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

Practitioners of all faiths worship freely, without government 
restriction.

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

Icelanders are free to travel at home and abroad, to emigrate, 
and to return at will.  Iceland abides by provisions of the 
1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and 
its 1967 Protocol.  The Government usually requires 
"spontaneous" asylum seekers to return to the country of first 
asylum pending a Justice Ministry ruling on their application.  
It never compels refugees to return to a country in which they 
presumably would face persecution.

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

Iceland is an open, fully functioning, parliamentary democracy 
in which voters freely choose the members of the Althing 
(Parliament) who, in turn, determine the composition of the 
Cabinet.  Parliamentary elections are held every 4 years, or 
sooner if the Althing dissolves itself or there is a 
no-confidence vote.  Voting in elections and membership in 
political parties are open to all citizens 18 years of age or 
older.

There are no legal or practical impediments to women's 
participation in government and politics.  Two of the four top 
governmental positions--the President and the Speaker of the 
Althing--are occupied by women (both positions are largely 
ceremonial, however).  There is an active and influential 
feminist political party, the Women's List, which won five 
seats in Parliament in 1991, with 8.3 percent of the vote.  
Nearly one-fourth of the members of Parliament are women.

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

Human rights associations operate with no government 
interference.

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

The culture of Iceland's ethnically homogeneous population is 
strongly egalitarian and opposed to discrimination based on any 
of these factors.  Government legislation and practice 
generally reflect this attitude, but credible reports indicate 
that both the police and the court system are hostile or 
indifferent to rape victims (see below).

     Women

There are no indications of a pattern of violence against 
women, but reliable data are lacking.  Such violence received 
increasing public attention in 1994, due largely to the efforts 
of the Women's List political movement, which continued to 
raise it in political debate.  A public shelter offers 
protection to approximately 370 women and 180 children per 
year; these 1994 figures are virtually the same as in 1993, 
indicating a leveling off of an initial surge in demand for 
services of the shelter.  There is also a rape trauma center 
sponsored and operated by women's organizations; some 400 women 
and children annually seek assistance there.  Both facilities 
are funded by national and municipal governments and private 
contributions.  The Reykjavik City Hospital emergency ward now 
has an all-female staff to care for rape victims.

Studies indicate that only a small percentage of cases 
involving domestic violence to women or sexual abuse (rape, 
attempted rape, or 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 violence or sexual abuse; that female 
victims who lodge charges of such offenses are often subjected 
to humiliating police interrogation; and that judges are unduly 
lenient with sex offenders, e.g., the typical prison term for a 
convicted rapist is 1 or 2 years.  Police spokesmen have indeed 
asserted publicly that investigation of domestic violence is a 
waste of time for the police, who should concentrate their 
efforts on "more serious" crime.  On the other hand, the police 
have launched a program to train officers in correct 
interrogation procedures; and data published in December 1993 
showed that over the period 1988-93, the number of prisoners 
serving sentences for sexual offenses rose from 12 to 28, while 
the average sentence for rape rose from 14 to 20 months.

Major economic and political institutions in Iceland remain 
male-dominated.  Iceland's legislation requiring equal pay for 
equal work is evidently not being adequately implemented.  
Studies have consistently revealed an average difference of 40 
percent in the earnings of men and women in comparable jobs; 
when allowance is made for the longer average working hours 
(and overtime) among men, there remains a 20-percent gap.

Since 1991, complaints regarding the equal rights law have been 
referred to a special committee under the Equal Rights Affairs 
Office of the Ministry of Social Affairs.  The committee has 
only advisory powers, and its recommendations to any employer 
do not have the force of law.  Only a few complaints have been 
made to the committee.  Women's groups speculate that many 
women are reluctant to come forward with complaints in 
Iceland's small, intimate communities and traditionally stoic 
culture.  Also, Iceland's largely male-led labor unions have 
not actively supported individual women who wish to exercise 
their right to take action on such matters.

     Children

High respect for children's rights is evident in the law and in 
government policy.  In 1994 the Government created the Office 
of the Children's Ombudsman in the Prime Ministry, with a 
mandate to protect children's rights, interests, and welfare 
by, among other things, exerting influence on legislation, 
government decisions, and public attitudes.  Some international 
custody cases involving Icelanders have been complicated by the 
fact that, although Iceland is a signatory to the Hague 
Convention on Child Abduction, it has not brought this into 
force.  The Foreign Minister opined that Iceland's practices in 
this area lay it open to criticism for possible violations of 
human rights.  He submitted a bill in the Althing to bring the 
Convention into force.

     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, unions have had and used the right to strike for 
many years.  According to Organization for Economic Cooperation 
and Development 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.  The central labor and management organizations 
periodically negotiate collective bargaining agreements that 
set nationwide standards and specific terms for workers' pay, 
workhours, and other conditions.  The Government often plays a 
role in the negotiations, and sometimes undertakes commitments 
in order to bring the two sides together.  Labor courts 
effectively adjudicate disputes over contracts and over the 
rights provided for in the 1938 Act on Trade Unions and 
Industrial Disputes, which prohibits antiunion discrimination.

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 
the union was unable to prove in court its suspicion that an 
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 ruled 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 legislation 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 
occur.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law requires children to attend school until the age of 16, 
and prohibits employment of children under that age in 
factories, on ships, or in other places that are hazardous or 
require hard labor.  This prohibition is observed in practice.  
Children aged 14 or 15 may be employed part-time or during 
school vacations in light, nonhazardous work; their workhours 
must not exceed the ordinary workhours of adults in the same 
occupation.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration 
enforces child labor regulations.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

Although there is no minimum wage law, union membership is so 
extensive and effective as to ensure that labor contracts 
afford even the lowest-paid workers a sufficient income for a 
decent standard of living for themselves and their families.

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.  Worktime exceeding 8 hours in a workday must be 
compensated as overtime.  Workers are entitled to 10 hours of 
rest within each 24-hour period, and to a day off every week.  
Under defined special circumstances the 10-hour rest can be 
reduced to 8, and the day off can be postponed by a week, in 
which case the worker has a right to 2 additional hours off in 
the following week.

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.


(###)

[end of document]

flag
bar

Department Seal

Return to 1994 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.