Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1991

Iceland is a constitutional republic and a multiparty
parliamentary democracy. Its literate and educated people
participate in high percentages in regular fair and free
elections which determine the distribution of power among
political parties and leaders.
The civil and criminal justice systems offer equal protection
to all. The nation has no indigenous military forces or
political security apparatus.
Iceland has a mixed, open economy in which all of its citizens
have the right to hold private property.
Icelanders have long been strong defenders of human rights both
at home and internationally, and the country has an exemplary
human rights record.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Political killings do not occur.
      b. Disappearance
There were no instances of abductions or disappearances.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or
punishment are all prohibited by law and do not occur.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Due process is provided by law and observed in practice. The
Constitution states that any person arrested by the authorities
must be brought before a judge without undue delay. The judge
must rule within 24 hours whether the person is to be further
detained. Although the Constitution allows for bail, it is not
usually imposed as a condition for release. A judge's ruling
may be appealed immediately to a higher court. Preventive
detention is not practiced. There were no allegations of
arbitrary detention. There is no exile.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Defendants may confront witnesses and otherwise participate in
public trials, which are fair and free from intimidation. They
are guaranteed the right to competent legal counsel of their
own choice. In cases in which defendants are unable to pay
attorney's fees, the State does so. The courts are free of
political control. Although the Ministry of Justice administers
the lower court system, the Supreme Court carefully guards its
independence and fairness. Juries are not normally used, but
multi judge panels are common, especially in the appeals
process. There are no political prisoners.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Under the Constitution and in practice, there is deep respect
for the autonomy and rights of individuals. A warrant from a
court is required for entry into a home, except in cases of hot
pursuit. Arbitrary intrusions by official entities, political
organizations, or any other organized group into the private
beliefs or personal liberties of individuals do not occur.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution expressly forbids censorship and other
restrictions on the freedom of the press and on a person's
right to express his thoughts. Citizens and the media exercise
this freedom extensively. Academic freedom of expression is
vigorously exercised.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the right to assemble unarmed,
except when it is feared that such gatherings may cause riots.
In practice, plans for public meetings are virtually never
rejected, and the authorities only rarely modify them.
In addition, the Constitution provides citizens the right to
join together formally or informally to form associations
without governmental authorization. A varied and wide spectrum
of voluntary organizations plays a vital role in Icelandic
politics and society.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Although the Lutheran Church is the established church, and
most citizens are nominally members, there is complete freedom
for other faiths. Both Christian and non-Christian faiths are
allowed to proselytize freely. They may maintain ties with and
receive support from coreligionists abroad.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Icelanders have freedom to travel at home and abroad, to
emigrate, and to return at will. Refugees are never compelled
to return to a country in which they would face persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
To Change Their Government
The political system is an open, fully functioning,
parliamentary democracy in which voters freely choose the
members of the Althing (parliament) who, in turn, make the laws
of the land and determine the composition of the Cabinet.
Parliamentary elections are held at 4-year intervals unless the
Althing dissolves itself before the end of its full term.
Voting in elections and membership in the various political
parties are open to all citizens who are 18 years of age or
older. Primary elections and party caucuses are used to select
Althing candidates. Multimember districts and proportional
representation increase the chances for minority points of view
to be represented. In addition, there is a strong cultural
insistence on having the views of all significant groups
represented in the Althing. A center-right coalitionICELANP
government was formed following national elections in April
1991. The Government consists of the Independence Party and
the Social Democratic Party, with David Oddsson of the
Independence Party as Prime Minister.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Hximan Rights
Hxunan rights organizations are active in Iceland. No serious
human rights violations have been alleged. The Government and
populace support international efforts to improve human rights.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Iceland's ethnically homogeneous population is fiercely
egalitarian and opposed to discrimination regardless of whether
it is based on sex, religion, or other factors. Government
legislation and practice reflect this attitude.
Violence against women, both physical and mental, occurs. The
problem is not widely publicized, but the Women's List
political party raises it periodically in political debate. A
public women's shelter, financially supported by national and
municipal government and private contributions, operates in
Reykjavik and offers protection to approximately 180 women per
year. About 50 percent of those who make use of the shelter
cite alcohol abuse by their male partners as a factor
contributing to the violence they suffer. Counseling is
available from social workers and lawyers at the shelter. The
Women's List, on the basis of credible research, asserts that,
despite legislation requiring equal pay for equal work,
Icelandic women do not receive pay equal to that of men. The
party and other active women's organizations have given this
issue top priority.
 Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Workers in Iceland 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 (e.g., air traffic controllers), unions have had and
have used the right to strike. In 1991, for example, merchant
seamen struck for 2 days in November for higher wages.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
About 76 percent of all eligible workers belong to unions.
There are no impediments to union membership in law or in
practice. Virtually all unions utilize the right to bargain
collectively on wages, working conditions, and related issues.
In February 1990, with the assistance of government mediation,
a 20-month agreement was reached between the central labor and
management organizations covering a majority of workers. The
agreement formally expired in September 1991 but continued to
be observed in practice pending the conclusion of negotiations
between the parties to the 1990 agreement. Labor courts
effectively adjudicate disputes over labor contracts and over
the rights and provisions guaranteed under the 1938 Act on
trade unions and industrial disputes, which prohibits antiunion
discrimination. There are no export processing zones.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law and does not
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The employment of children below the age of 16 in factories, on
ships, and in other places that are hazardous or require hard
labor is prohibited by law, and this prohibition is observed in
practice. Children of 14 and 15 may be employed in light,
nonhazardous work, but their work hours may not exceed the
ordinary working hours 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
pervasive and effective that labor contracts, in effect, assure
even the lowest paid workers a sufficient income for a decent
standard of living. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours.
Icelandic workers are protected by laws which effectively
ensure their health and safety as well as provide for
unemployment insurance, paid vacations, pensions, and
reasonable working conditions and hours. Health and safety
standards are set by the Althing and effectively administered
and enforced by the Ministry of Social Affairs through its
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Food, shelter,
health care, and education are all guaranteed without
discrimination to those lacking adequate income because of
their age, youth, illness, or other reasons.