Activities 2004 - Abstract

The Icelandic Human Rights Center was founded on 17 June 1994 by nine organizations and institutions working in various fields of human rights. Partners today are the Icelandic Red Cross Society, the Icelandic Section of Amnesty International, the Bishop’s Office of the Lutheran Church (the national church of Iceland), the Icelandic Church Aid, the National Federation for the Aid of the Disabled, the Office for Gender Equality, the Organisation of Disabled in Iceland, Save the Children, UNIFEM, the Women’s Rights Association, the Association of ‘78 (Association of homosexuals) and the University of Akureyri.

The purpose and aim of the Center is to promote human rights by collecting information on and raising awareness of human rights issues in Iceland and abroad. The Center works to make human rights information accessible to the public by organising conferences and seminars on human rights issues and by providing human rights education. The Center also promotes legal reform and research on human rights issues and has established the only specialised human rights library in Iceland. Furthermore, the Center is a member of the AHRI network and the Nordic School of Human Rights Research. In addition, the Center serves a monitoring role and has, since its inception, commented on dozens of bills of law and provided information to the treaty bodies on the state of human rights in Iceland, most recently to the Human Rights Committee where many of the points raised were reflected in the List of Issues before the Committee on Iceland’s Report.

The Imperilled Existence of the Icelandic Human Rights Center

Since its founding in 1994 the Althing has supported the activities of the Center through earmarked allotments in the National Budget from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the Budget for 2005, however, on the proposal of the Ministers of Justice and Foreign Affairs, the support earmarked for the Center was eliminated, and instead provision was made for the amount previously dedicated to the Center to be open to any party upon application to the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs. For the Center to have to apply, on an ad hoc basis, for funding directly to the Ministries has gravely undermined its ability to plan its activities. Equally importantly, this new procedure raises serious questions regarding the Center’s ability to function independently since it is now in the hands of the executive whether and what activities are funded. The bizarre situation can arise that the Center has to apply directly for funds to a Minister to comment on a Bill he or she is presenting to the Althing.

During the course of the consideration of the Budget for 2005 a number of organizations concerned with human rights in Iceland appealed to the Althing to guarantee continued direct allotments to the Center, but to no avail, with the Government parties supporting the Ministers’ proposals. Those writing to appeal to the Althing included the Icelandic Red Cross Society, the Icelandic Section of Amnesty International, the Bishop’s Office of the Lutheran Church, the Office of the Foreigners’ Priest, the Multicultural Council, the National Federation for the Aid of the Disabled, the Organisation of Disabled in Iceland, Save the Children - Iceland, UNIFEM - Iceland, the Women’s Rights Association and the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association.

A number of international human rights institutes also expressed their support for the Center, including the Abo Akademi University Institute for Human Rights, the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, the Belfast Human Rights Centre, the Danish Institute for Human Rights, the German Institute for Human Rights, the Human Rights Centre of Essex University, the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights, the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.

When considering the new arrangement for funding human rights work, the authorities implied that the Center’s existence was not being undermined. The result, however, has been catastrophic. Instead of receiving ISK 8,000,000 from the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs, the Center received a little under ISK 2.5 million in earmarked funds for specific projects from the Ministry of Justice (none having anything to do with monitoring human rights in Iceland). The Center received a negative response to its application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (after waiting for a reply for nearly five months), where it is stated that the Ministry plans to use the 4 million ISK to fund a temporary position at the OSCE. Thus, if the Center is not able to secure additional funding, it will have to close.

Fortunately, the City of Reykjavik, several NGO’s, as well as Iceland’s main labour unions have recently expressed willingness to aid the Center financially, temporarily, whilst calling on the Althing to reinstate the system of direct allotments to the Center.

Hopefully, we will be able to continue our activities.

1. Conferences, seminars and lectures

Conferences, seminars and lectures are organized by the Center on a regular basis. In 2004 the Center held conferences, seminars and lectures on the following topics:

-        Multiculturalism and Icelandic society

-        The work of the United Nations Committee on the Status of Women

-        Women migrant workers

-        The dissolution of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia

-        The Geneva Conventions in the past and present

-        Coercion and disability – limitations in services for disabled individuals

-        Violence against women, the law and the right to privacy

-        The 1951 Refugee Convention, asylum and gender based persecution

-        Human rights and business; towards accountability

-        Discrimination in Iceland

The Center participated in a conference on ‘Disability in development co-operation’ and on ‘Legal reform to combat gender based violence’. The Center held a special meeting to celebrate its 10-year anniversary, where its partners provided their insights and commentaries on the development of the ‘human rights project’ in Iceland and internationally.

2. Campaigns - Human Rights Education

To celebrate its tenth anniversary the Center campaigned to raise human rights awareness with Icelandic youth. The Center provided human rights education in the majority of secondary schools in the country. The Center also gave human rights training sessions in several work places.

The Center participated actively in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign. The Center held a seminar on gender based persecution and asylum and took the lead on drafting a plan of action, in co-operation with other participants in the campaign, to guide authorities in their efforts to combat violence against women in Iceland. This plan forms the basis of work now taking place in the Ministries of Justice, Social Affairs and Education on this issue.

The Center also participated in the European-wide Action Week Against Racism by organising a seminar on racism and discrimination against foreigners in Iceland and distributing materials from the UNITED campaign.

3. Comments on bills of law

The Icelandic Human Rights Center comments on 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 2004 the Center commented on a bill on foreigners, a bill on prisoners, a bill proposing amendments to the Radio Broadcasting Act, No. 53/2000 and the Competition Act, No. 8/1998, on two bills proposing changes to the Code of Criminal Procedure and a bill on witness and victims protection for victims of trafficking in persons.

4. Reporting

The Center files additional reports with United Nations treaty monitoring bodies and reports to the Council of Europe.

Additional report to the Human Rights Committee on Iceland’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Center provided the Human Rights Committee with insights regarding Iceland’s Fourth Periodic Report on the implementation of the Covenant in co-operation with Icelandic NGOs and human rights experts. 

National correspondence to the CoE Directorate General of Human Rights.

The Center services the Council of Europe Information Office on Human Rights with regular information about developments in the use and influence of the European Convention on Human Rights on legislation and judicial practices in Iceland.  

5. Publications

The Icelandic Human Rights Center publishes a human rights reports series on various topics. In 2004 work commenced on a forthcoming report on the participation of the Icelandic Government in International Co-operation on Human Rights, a report on Human Rights in Icelandic Development Co-operation and a compilation of Decisions of International Human Rights Bodies on Human Rights. The Center also published Réttarstaða fatalaðra, a book on the legal status of disabled individuals in Iceland.

Furthermore, the Center contributed to the Human Rights Education Project, published by the UN University for Peace with support from the Government of the Netherlands. The Project consists of three books and a CD-ROM: The Human Rights Reference Handbook, Universal and Regional Human Rights Protection: Cases and Commentaries, Human Rights Instruments and Human Rights Ideas, Concepts and Fora.  The materials have been distributed world-wide.

The Icelandic Human Rights Center is party to the publication of the Nordic Journal of Human Rights in co-operation with the Nordic Human Rights Institutes and the Yearbook of Human Rights in Development, which is a co-operation project of several European human rights institutions.

6. International co-operation

The Center works in co-operation with various organizations and institutions in other countries. It is a sister organization to the Danish Center for Human Rights, the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Lund, Sweden and the Abo Akademi University Institute for Human Rights in Finland. The Center is also a member of the Association of Human Rights Institutes – AHRI – that was founded in Iceland in September 2000. The Director of the Icelandic Human Rights Center was elected its first chairperson. In 2004 the Icelandic Human Rights Center participated in the work of AHRI and the Nordic co-operation by, inter alia, taking part in the Nordic School of Human Rights Research and its development towards a Nordic Center of Excellence and the Nordic Roundtable on Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Icelandic Human Rights Centre

Túngata 14 | 101 Reykjavík | Sími 552 2720 | info[at]humanrights.is

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