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Title:  Iceland Human Rights Practices, 1995  
Author:  U.S. Department of State   
Date:  March 1996   
 
 
 
 
                              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 citizens have the right to 
hold private property.  It provides residents with a high standard of 
living.  The leading export, marine products, accounts for almost 80 
percent of export revenues. 
 
The Government fully respects the human rights of its citizens, and the 
law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with instances of 
individual abuse.  There is some societal discrimination against women. 
 
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 other extrajudicial killings. 
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated 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 a construction program to alleviate these difficulties.  
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and 
the Government observes this prohibition. 
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The Constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the 
Government respects this provision in practice.  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. 
 
The judiciary provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial 
process.  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 attorneys' 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. 
 
There were no reports of political prisoners. 
 
   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
The Constitution prohibits such practices, government authorities 
generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to 
effective legal sanction. 
 
Section 2    Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and 
the Government respects these rights in practice.  An independent press, 
an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system 
combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic 
freedom. 
 
   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects 
them in practice. 
 
   c.   Freedom of Religion 
 
Although the official state religion is Lutheran, the Constitution 
provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right 
in practice. 
 
   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects 
them in practice.  The Government cooperates with the U.N. High 
Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in 
assisting refugees.  There were no reports of forced expulsion of those 
having a valid claim to refugee status. 
 
Section 3   Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their 
government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice 
through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of 
universal suffrage.  The most recent elections to the Althing 
(unicameral Parliament) were held on April 8. 
 
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 
feminist political party, the Women's List, which won 3 of 63 seats in 
the 1995 parliamentary elections.   
 
Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
A number of human rights groups operate without government restriction, 
investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.  
Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their 
views. 
 
Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The culture of the 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 
 
Violence against women received increasing public attention, due largely 
to the efforts of the Women's List political movement, which continued 
to raise it in political debate.  A public women's shelter offers 
protection to approximately 350 women and 180 children per year; these 
figures are virtually the same as in 1994, 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 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 (the typical prison term for a convicted rapist is 1 
or 2 years).  The police have introduced a program to train officers in 
correct interrogation procedures, and other government agencies are 
paying closer attention to the problem of violence against women.  In 
September an all-male committee, working under the auspices of the 
Social Affairs Ministry, launched a 2-week campaign, "Men against 
Violence," highlighting men's responsibility for the majority of 
domestic and sexual violence, and sponsoring seminars on the problem and 
ways to eliminate it. 
 
Major economic and political institutions remain male-dominated.  
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 
 
Great 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 been brought into 
force.  The Foreign Minister opined that Iceland's practices in this 
area lay it open to criticism for possible violations of human rights.  
In 1994 the Foreign Minister submitted a bill in the Parliament to bring 
the Convention into force, but it was not voted on before the end of the 
session.  The bill was reintroduced early in the new parliamentary term, 
which began in October. 
 
   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 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.  Some 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 June 1993, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the 
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 new  
 
Parliament is continuing 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 age 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 period 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]

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