Activities 2010 - Abstract

The Icelandic Human Rights Centre was founded on June 17 year 1994 by 9 organizations and institutions. Today, 14 organizations and institutions that all work in the field of human rights have representatives in the board of directors. Partners today are the Icelandic Section of Amnesty International, Save the Children Iceland, the Bishop Office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, University of Akureyri, University of Reykjavík, Icelandic Church Aid, Equality Centre of Iceland, Icelandic Women's Right Association, Icelandic Red Cross, the National Queer Organization, Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, Organization of Disabled in Iceland, UN Women in Iceland and the National Federation for the Aid of the Disabled.

The Centre is a non-governmental organization. It has no connection to political parties or policy and does not take a stand in individual cases unless they concern human rights. The purpose of the Centre is to inform about, educate and research on the subject of human rights. The Centre also reviews and supervises bills of law and makes reports for The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the European Council. The Centre represents Iceland in international collaborations, for example AHRI, COST, ESB projects and European and Nordic human rights organizations.

The Centre's main projects for the last years have been meetings on human rights issues, education for secondary school students, 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, European Week against Racism, answering questions and errands from individuals and institutions, making reports and reviews, publishing, improving our library and updating our webpage. The year 2011 will be the third year the Centre carries out projects supported by PROGRESS, the EU program about employment and social cooperation. The director of the Centre took a job as a consultant for immigrants in the beginning of August.

Guðrún D. Guðmundsdóttir left her job as the Centre's director in March 2010. Margrét Steinarsdóttir, lawyer, replaced her position. The lawyer Kolbrún Birna Árdal worked at the Centre until October, but Neil Kelleher, who had a 20% position at the Centre, left the workplace in the beginning of September. Steinunn Björk Bjarkardóttir Pieper MA held the position of a Project Manager this year and Jóna Aðalheiður Pálmadóttir lawyer has worked in various projects for the Centre. Kolbrún Sigríður Hilmarsdóttir is the bookkeeper of the Centre.


Domestic Work

Supporting and informing:

As usual, individuals, students and institutes came to the Centre seeking for information on human rights issues. The director and staff met the demand as well as possible but since, at the end of the year, only one employee was working at the Centre along with the director it has been hard for the staff to conduct these assignments as well as it would like to.

Comments on parliamentary bills:

The Icelandic Human Rights Centre frequently reviews bills of law presented at the Parliament (Althing), with the aim of ensuring that Icelandic law is in accordance with Iceland's international human rights obligations.

In the year 2011, the Centre made comments on bills of law concerning changes in laws of disabled people, marital rights (one marital law for all), the general penalty code (sexual assault), mass media, residence permit for victims of human trafficking, legal reforms for transsexuals, maternity- and paternity leave, domestic violence against women from countries outside the European Economic Area, child protection law and artificial insemination and use of embryos and gametes for stem cell research. The Centre also commented on a review of a proposal for parliamentary resolution on ratification of optional protocol for the Palermo Convention on Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.

European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion:

The director of the Centre was a member of the organizing group for events in Iceland in the occasion of the European Year for Combating Poverty. The group organized a seminar where among others, specialists in the field of poverty and social exclusion discussed their researches.

Conferences and courses:

AHRI Conference and meeting:
On the 13th and 14th of September, the Icelandic Human Rights Centre organized the yearly conference of AHRI in collaboration with the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights. The conference was held in the University of Reykjavík. The theme of the conference was Reforming Human Rights Institutions: Progress and Status.
Various specialists in the field of human rights talked about development and improvements in the field. Talkers were for example Nils A. Butenschøn, chief of AHRI and managing director of the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, Dr. Martin Scheinin, Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, Jan Helgesen from the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights  board of directors of EU's Venice Commission, Jan Wouters, Director of Institute for International Law in Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, University of Leuven, Philip Leach, Prof. in Human Rights and Director of the Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute at London Metropolitan University, Manfred Nowak, Prof. at University of Vienna and Director of Ludwig Boltzmann Institut für Menschenrechte. The Director of the Icelandic Human Rights Centre controlled a seminar on one of the days where representatives of the Icelandic academic society held talks.
            Human rights institutes are welcome to apply for membership in AHRI and their representatives will be invited to present their applications at the yearly meeting of the association.

Conference on Equality and Prohibition of discrimination

 An International conference with the theme Equality into Reality: Action for Diversity and Non-discrimination in Iceland was held in October, in collaboration with the Centre. The conference was held in the National Museum of Iceland and representatives of various interest groups took part in it. The department of law at the University of Iceland published the conclusions of their research in the protection that Icelandic law gives those groups of people that are most likely to be victims of discrimination. Various other lectures were held at the conference by both foreign and Icelandic lecturers.

Course for doctoral students on validating Human Rights Conventions

About 20 doctoral students attended a course held by the Icelandic Human Rights Centre and the Norwegian Centre for Human rights in September. The course was held in collaboration with Nordic School in Human Rights Research and the Institute of Human Rights at the University of Iceland. Various lecturers discussed the newest researches on human rights issues, gave the students a chance to present their own work and get comments from the lecturers.

The Human Rights Centre took part in other projects on the following topics:

  • Course for lawyers and judges on The European Union's framework directive on equality in workplaces and decree of racial equality
  • Course on Universal Periodic Review in Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • Final conference of the project Stop trafficking and stand for health in Riga
  • Intensive Course on the Role of Human Rights in Development: Impact and Responsibility – Institue for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi, Finland

Meetings and Events

Open meeting on International Women's Day for Peace and Equality

The Centre takes part in organizing the International Women's day in Iceland each year, but the main organizer is the Icelandic peace association MFÍK. An open meeting was held on this day, March 8, bearing the title We Can Do Better. Various talkers held presentations.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – Open meeting

On June 16, Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited Iceland and talked at an open meeting. The meeting was organized by the Human Rights Centre, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Institute of Human Rights at the University of Iceland. Navanethem Pillay talked for example about protection of Human Rights and the role of the United Nations in that area.

European Week against Racism

In 2010, 47 European nations took part in the European Week against Racism, which is held around March 21, International Day against Racism. The goal of the week in Iceland is to work against discrimination and prejudices against people of foreign origin that live in Iceland. The Human Rights Centre is responsible for the events but various youth-associations organize the week along with the Centre. The young people is informed and educated about the theme, and then public events are planned where the young educate the general public about what they've learned and distribute leaflets about the subject.

World Refugee Day

The Centre, along with the Icelandic Red Cross and UNCHR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), held an outside celebration in Reykjavík on World Refugee Day, June 20. The celebration was organized along with refugees and asylum seekers, and guests were invited to join a feast of international food, music, dance and coffee.   By this act, the organizers wanted to show how refugees and asylum seekers are not only to be seen as victims in need of help, but as active participants in enriching Icelandic culture and lifestyle.

16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence

The 16 Days of Activism Campaign is an annual event and Iceland has participated in it for the last eight years. The Human Rights Centre is the main organizer of the campaign in Iceland which starts on the 25th of November and ends on the 10th of December.  Other organizers were UNIFEM in Iceland, The Equality Centre and KRFÍ (Iceland's Women's Right Movement). Events were for example book reading and parades.

Allar heimsins konur (All Women of the World)

Allar heimsins konur is a group of women from various associations and institutions that shares information on the situation of foreign women in Icelandic society. The Human Rights Centre participates in the groups actions throughout the year.

Contribution to meetings and seminars

The director served as chairwoman in following meetings and seminars:

  • Closed meeting on the situation of immigrants that live in in poor conditions.
  • Candidacy meeting on immigrant issues.  Theme: What is your party going to do for immigrants?
  • Candidacy meeting of the Organization of Disabled in Iceland.
  • Meeting in the University of Iceland. Topic: sexual assaults committed by peacekeepers against women and children who they are supposed to be protecting.
  • Closed meeting in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where NGO's met the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Media campaign
In the end of the year, the Human Rights Centre launched their advertisement-campaign. Seven different advertisements were made and played in all the main radio stations in Iceland from November 25 to December 5. The campaign was made to make people think about discrimination. Reaction from the general public was good and the Centre plans to launch the campaign again next year.

Teaching Human Rights

The Human Rights Centre had presentations for students of the Universtity of Hvanneyri, University of Iceland, Endurmenntun HÍ (Continuing Education – University of Iceland) and Flensborg, a secondary school in Hafnarfjörður. The Centre also held presentations on immigrant issues for staff of the University of Iceland and the staff of the Ministry of Social Affairs got a presentation on EU's discrimination directives.

Human Rights Reference Handbook
The office got a grant to translate and localize a part of the book Human Rights Reference Handbook. The government of Holland and the University of Peace published the book which has been used for teaching in the University of Utrecht.

Against All Odds: a computer game
The Centre, along with the Icelandic Red Cross, got the game Against All Odds translated in the year 2007. The game is made for youth from age 13 to 16 and gives the player an insight into the world of refugees.


The Centre and The Icelandic Literature Society along with the University of Akureyri and the University of Reykjavík, published Ragnarsbók – a scholarly work made to honor Ragnar Aðalsteinsson, an Icelandic advocate of the Supreme Court. The book contains articles in areas related to national rights, human rights and rule of law.

Bann við Mismunun
The Human Rights Centre published the booklet Bann við Mismunun (Prohibition of discrimination) with support from the PROGRESS programme of the European Commission. The main purpose of the booklet is to introduce the EU directives that deal with equal rights regarding race, ethnic origin, religion or philosophy, disability, sexual orientation and the ideology that lies behind them.

Réttur þinn – mikilvægar upplýsingar fyrir erlendar konur á Íslandi
The leaflet, Your Right – important Information for Foreign Women in Iceland¸ was published by the Centre for Gender Equality in Icelandic, English, Polish, Spanish, Thai, Russian and Arabic. The leaflet contains information on Icelandic society and the legal system in Iceland, for example on gender equality, marriage, residence permits, divorce and domestic violence. The leaflet also contains information on how to get help. The publication was sponsored by the PROGRESS programme of the European Union and the Development Fund on Immigration Issues. The leaflet was made in collaboration with the Human Rights Centre, Stígamót and other NGO's and institutions.

Media and public discussion

As usual, Icelandic media was in contact with the Centre to get comments on issues regarding human rights. The director was interviewed about the situation of foreign women in Iceland, European Action Week against Racism, immigrant issues, slave trade and more.


International cooperation

Due to finances, the Centre has reduced its international work. The Centre is in cooperation with Nordic Human Rights institutes, Association of Human Rights Institutes (AHRI), UNITED against racism, ESCR-Net; a collaborative initiative of groups working on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Federación Internacional de Derechos Humanos (FIDH). The Centre also takes part in a Nordic campaign which job is to improve the status of asylum seekers in Nordic countries.

Human Rights Education Project (HREP)

The Centre leads work in the international Human Rights Education Project (HREP), a project of UN University for Peace and the government of Holland. The project is divided into three parts. The first concerns the Human Rights Reference Handbook, an overview of human rights concepts, sentences and international systems that work to protect human rights. The second part includes Human Rights Instruments, compilation of contracts, conventions and various documents that concern human rights. The third part, Universal and Regional Human Rights Protection; Cases and Commentaries, includes summaries of sentences and discussion about proceedings of the European Commission, European Court of Human Rights, Inter-American Court of Human Rights and African Commission on Human and People's Rights. This year, the ninth edition of the Human Rights Instruments was published along with the fifth edition of Human Rights Reference Handbook.  

The Centre is also responsible for a website in English based on contents from Human Rights Education Project.  The website contains information about various human rights issues.

The Association of Human Rights Institutes (AHRI)

The yearly conference of AHRI was held in Iceland in October 2010. AHRI resides at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights in Oslo. The director is Nils A. Butenchøn, manager of the Norwegian Centre.

The United Nations

The Centre, Save the Children Iceland and UNICEF in Iceland wrote a report in addition to the Icelandic governments report for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The additional report was made to be a collective assessment on the status of children in Iceland and to make comments and proposals for the government.

The European Council

The Centre sends reports to the European Council about jurisprudence and legislation in Iceland that are linked to the UN Convention on Human Rights every year. The content is published in the yearbook of the Information Centre.

The European Union

The Human Rights Centre has a representative in the COST-Project and EU's project on Non-discrimination and diversity training here in Iceland, in collaboration with Migration Policy Group and European Human Consultancy. The project involves training for associations to increase their knowledge on the requests that the European Union sets on the field of multiculturalism, equality and the Icelandic legislation against discrimination.

Nordic Cooperation

Nordic School in Human Rights Research
The Nordic School in Human Rights Research was founded in 2002 and the Human Rights Centre, along with 9 other institutes, is a partner of the school. The school will offer students a four year doctoral degree with emphasis on Nordic viewpoints and –projects, but also international projects.

Nordic Journal of Human Rights

The Nordic Journal of Human Rights is a Norwegian magazine published in Norway in by the Nordic Institutes of Human Rights. The magazine, which was founded by Torkel Opsahl year 1982, is an inter-disciplinary work of educational information. It contains high-quality scholarly articles in English and the Nordic languages and the subject is human rights on a wide scale. Oddný Mjöll Arnardóttir, Chairwoman of Icelandic Human Right Centre's board of directors, is a member of the paper's editorial board and publication committee.

Nordic consultation meetings on human rights issues

The Centre took part in a yearly consultation meeting of Nordic authorities and human rights institutes. The purpose of the meeting is to prepare for meetings with United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The human rights institutes use these meetings to emphasize on their most important matters and to try to affect governmental policies in various human rights matters.

Icelandic Human Rights Centre

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