Revised constitution to boost equality

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Norway is in the process of revising its constitution (grunnlov) in advance of its bicentennial in 2014. The goal is to strengthen constitutional provisions for human rights, but at least one local politician sees the revision as an opportunity to tackle racism, anti-semitism and discrimination in Norwegian society.

Norway's parliament (Storting) has begun the process of strengthening human rights in the country's constitution, which will celebrate its bicentennial in 2014. PHOTO: Views and News

Heikki Holmås of the Socialist Left party (SV) told newspaper Dagsavisen that he wants to write some famous lines from the French constitution into the one signed in Norway on the 17th of May, 1814 — specifically, that people are born and should remain free with equal rights.

“This formulering must be inserted after the first paragraph,” Holmås told Dagsavisen, and the placement is not a coincidental choice. That’s where a racist and anti-semitic paragraph initially was included in the Norwegian constitution, claiming that Jesuits and munks wouldn’t be tolerated and that Jews would continue to be excluded from Norway.

That paragraph stood for 37 years until it was removed in 1851. “The French declaration on human rights was a great inspiration for the constitution written in 1814, but there’s an important difference between the two texts,” Holmås said. “One was universal, the other was racist.”

Even though the second paragraph was eventually removed, Holmås now wants to formally replace it with a formulation echoing the French declaration. “It’s important to fight the racism and anti-semitism that’s found in Norwegian society today,” he said. His initiative comes just a day after new studies revealed discrimination against people in Norway with non-Norwegian names and against women in the workplace, and six months after a right-wing Norwegian carried out terrorist attacks in what he called an effort to halt the emergence of a multi-cultural society in Norway.

Holmås also referred to studies last year that revealed racism and anti-semitism at Oslo schools, and racist cruelty and ferocity on public online debates. His initiative comes from a party that Israeli officials often have accused of being anti-semitic itself, on issues linked to SV’s support for the Palestinians.

A commission in charge of pending constitutional revision (Stortingets menneskerettighetsutvalg) was putting forth its first recommendations this week. The commission, appointed by the parliament (Storting), is led by veteran MP and former university dean Inge Lønning of the Conservative Party, and includes a range of judicial, political and academic experts including Professor Janne Haaland Matlary and Supreme Court justice Hilde Indreberg.

Their job is to formulate a new, separate paragraph on human rights, to ensure that the rights included in international treaties obtain the highest placement in Norwegian law. That in turn involves a long list of rights, and political debate is expected over which specific rights should be included. Newspaper Aftenposten, for example, noted that SV also wants to include the right to a home and to asylum, which is opposed by the Progress Party. The Labour Party is also concerned about turning over too much power to the courts.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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