Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1985

Iceland is a modern democratic social welfare state with a
parliamentary institution — the Althing — which is the oldest
elected parliament in the world. Iceland's highly literate
and educated people take an active interest in politics and
participate in high percentages in the country's regular
multiparty elections. Iceland has no military forces or
political security apparatus. There is a small, professional
police force. Icelanders enjoy a fair and efficient civil and
criminal justice system and are strong defenders of individual
human rights.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
Politically motivated killings have not occurred in Iceland.
b. Disappearance
There have been no known cases of abductions or hostage-taking
in Iceland in 1985.
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or
punishment are prohibited by law and do not occur in
practice. Prison conditions are excellent by international
standards. The number of prisoners confined in Iceland is
numbered in the tens, most of whom are held under light
security conditions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile ,
Due process of law is guaranteed in Icelandic legal codes and
observed in practice. The Constitution guarantees that any
person detained by the authorities must be brought before a
judge within 24 hours and charged, bound over, or released.
There is no preventive detention or forced labor. There have
been no allegations of arbitrary arrest.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
A fair and public trial is standard practice. Icelandic
courts are free of political control, though the lower court
system is administered by the Ministry of Justice. The
Supreme Court carefully guards its complete independence.
There are no special or military courts. Right to counsel is
guaranteed, and the state pays attorneys' fees when defendants
cannot. Juries are not normally used, but multiple-judge
courts are common, particularly on appeal. The small
population allows a relatively informal administration of
justice, but due process is rigorously observed. There are no
political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Icelandic law and practice are based on longstanding regard
for the autonomy of the individual and the impropriety of
government interference with the personal rights of citizens.
Judicial warrants are required for entry into homes, except in
cases of hot pursuit. Arbitrary intrusions by official
entities, political organizations, or any other organized
group into the personal liberties of Icelanders have not
Section 2 Respect for Civil Rights, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
In Iceland, a vigorous and independent press, a legal system
which includes safeguards for individual rights, and a
functioning democratic political system combine to ensure
freedom of speech and press. Censorship is applied to print
and film materials to control public display of pornography
and violence, but there is no government censorship of any
news media.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Individuals in Iceland are free to join together formally or
informally to promote nonviolent causes or to protest
government policies or actions. An active web of voluntary
organizations plays a large part in the social and political
life of the country. All such organizations are free to
maintain international contacts.
Workers and employers in Iceland have and make extensive use
of the right to establish organizations, to draw up their own
constitutions and rules, to choose their own policies and
representatives, and to be represented in negotiations on
wages, working conditions, and the settlement of labor
disputes. The labor movement is highly organized and
democratic. It permeates the entire work force and spans the
political spectrum. Labor unions are active and influential
in national economic and political life and in the development
and administration of a comprehensive social welfare system.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Lutheran Church is the established church of Iceland, and
the vast majority of Icelanders are nominally Lutheran. There
is complete freedom for other faiths. Religious affiliation
is not a factor in political or social life.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Icelanders have complete freedom to travel at home and abroad,
emigrate, and return to Iceland at will.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
The political system is a fully functioning parliamentary
democracy with a high level of individual participation in
politics. A wide range of voluntary organizations and
interest groups represent diverse political interests and
interact with the formal parliamentary structure. The last
national election, in April 1983, resulted in the orderly
transfer of power to a new coalition government composed of
two political parties in May 1983. There are four political
parties in the parliamentary opposition. Voter turnout is
high for all elections. The use of party primaries,
proportional representation in multimember districts, and a
cultural insistence on representation of the views of all
parties in public affairs contribute to an active formal and
informal political life.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
There are no known allegations of human rights violations in
Iceland. Iceland, which has an active interest in human
rights matters, is represented on the European Human Rights
Commission of the Council of Europe and has provided a judge
to the European Human Rights Court. Several human rights
organizations in Iceland, including Amnesty International,
take an active interest in international human rights
questions. Amnesty International did not comment on Iceland
in its 1985 Report, and Freedom House rated Iceland "free."
Iceland has an ethnically homogeneous population of 241,000
which enjoys a high standard of living and the benefits of a
social welfare state on the Scandinavian model. The World
Bank estimates that in 1985 Iceland's population growth was
1 percent and its gross national product per capita in 1983
was $10,260.
Food, shelter, health care, and education are available to all
Icelanders without discrimination. Medical care and education
through the university level are free or available at a very
nominal cost. Consequently, the Icelandic people have a high
rate of school enrollment (99.7 percent of children of school
age in 1982), a low infant mortality rate (5.8 per 1,000 live
births in 1985), and a long life expectancy (77 years at birth
in 1985) .
In addition to the right to organize unions, Icelandic workers
benefit from numerous laws protecting their health and safety
and guaranteeing health and unemployment insurance, paid
vacations, and minimum wages (currently $2.31 per hour). The
employment of children below the age of 16 in factories, on
ships, and in other places where hazardous conditions prevail
or hard labor is required, is prohibited by law.
Icelanders are fiercely egalitarian. Women participate freely
in social and political life. Nevertheless, women are
underrepresented in the professions, management, and politics
and are continuing efforts to expand their roles and rights.
In the 1983 parliamentary election, a national women's list
slate resulted in the election of 3 more women to the Althing,
which now has 9 women out of a total membership of 60.
Iceland's Chief of State is a woman.