Court halts July 22 memorial project

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Construction of a national memorial to the victims of a Norwegian right-wing extremist’s massacre on the island of Utøya nine years ago has been distrupted once again. A local court ordered a halt in all work on the memorial project, until its neighbours’ complaints are heard.

Here’s what the latest version of a national memorial to victims of the Utøya massacre will look like. Neighbours have complained once again, and construction was stopped on Friday, at least temporarily. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: MANTHAY KULA / STATSBYGG

The project finally got underway on the Utøya pier at Utvika just last month, after years of previous delays and earlier lawsuits filed by Utvika residents. They don’t want the memorial in their midst as a constant reminder of the massacre on July 22, 2011 that left 69 dead on the island and scores of others wounded. They also fear a rise in traffic year-round, both from bereaved families, officials and tourists.

Their latest lawsuit won a temporary injunction from the local Ringerike Court that orders the state and the Labour Party’s youth group AUF, which owns Utøya and held the summer camp where its young members were killed, “to stop work on raising the memorial after the Utøya tragedy,” along with all infrastructure and facilities tied directly to the memorial. Work on improving the road down to the pier area and on the pier itself was allowed to continue.

The state and AUF were also ordered to pay the neighbours’ legal costs, which state broadcaster NRK reported amount to more that NOK 1 million (USD 105,000).

“I’ve spoken with some of my clients and they are extremely relieved,” lawyer Ole Hauge Bendiksen, who represents the Utvika residents, told NRK.  He acknowledged that their legal battle is far from over, however, after their own local government voted that a national July 22 memorial will be located at the Utøya pier.

Neighbours want it to instead be built on the hillside behind the pier, where there’s a view over to the island. In addition to their concerns over traffic and constant reminders of the tragedy, during which many of them helped rescue young AUF campers desperately trying to swim away from the island, several claim a memorial in their neighbourhood will harm their mental health.

It’s all been a highly emotional and awkward legal conflict, that has turned ugly at times. AUF and state officials see a need for a national memorial. Statsbygg, the state property agency charged with building the memorial, has claimed it will be “a worthy and handsome place to remember the terrorist attack on July 22.”

The latest court case battle means that no memorial may be finished in time for next year’s 10th anniversary memorial ceremonies after the attack, which also included the bombing of government headquarters in Oslo that killed eight people.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund