Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989

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. Freedom of the press and
freedom of association are sacrosanct.
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
enjoy 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 in
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Due process is provided by law and observed in practice. The
Icelandic Constitution states that any person arrested by the
authorities must be brought before a judge without undue delay.
The judge must, within 24 hours, rule whether the person is to
be detained. Although the Constitution allows for the
imposition of bail, no such condition is usually applied. Any
judicial ruling by the judge may be appealed immediately to a
higher court. Preventive detention is not practiced. There
were no allegations of arbitrary arrest.
There is no exile. With regard to forced or compulsory labor,
see Section 6.c.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Defendants may confront witnesses and otherwise participate in
public trials, which are fair and free from intimidation. In
addition, defendants are guaranteed the right to competent
legal counsel of their own choice. In cases where 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 multijudge panels are common,
especially in the appeals process. Due process is rigorously
observed. There are no political prisoners.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
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 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
forbidden, 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. Icelanders are free to maintain
international contacts.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Although the Lutheran Church is the established church of
Iceland and most citizens are nominally members, there is
complete freedom for other faiths. A variety of both Christian
and non-Christian faiths are allowed to proselytize freely.
They may maintain ties with and receive support from
coreligionists abroad. Religious affiliation is not a factor
in political or economic life.
      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 to Iceland 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 are used to select most
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. Because no party gained a
majority of seats in the April 1987 election, a three-party
coalition government was formed in July 1987. This coalition
broke up in September 1988 and was succeeded by a center-left
Government comprising the Progressive Party, the Social
Democratic Party, and the People's Alliance with Steingrimur
Hermannsson of the Progressive Party as Prime Minister. The
Citizen's Party joined the coalition on September 17, 1989.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
No serious human rights violations have been alleged. In 1987,
however, one Icelander complained to the European Commission
of Human Rights that it was a violation of his rights to have
an official of the same agency which accused him of violating
a traffic law also pass judgment on and sentence him (i.e.,
impose a monetary fine for speeding) . The Commission
determined that the case was admissible, but no further action
took place in that forum pending discussions between the
complainant and the Icelandic Ministry of Justice.
Furthermore, a law will come into effect in 1992 that will
transfer all judicial authority from local officials, who also
serve concurrently as chiefs of police, to a new system of
eight district courts.
Several human rights organizations are active in Iceland. 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.
Violence against women, both physical and mental, occurs. The
problem is not widely publicized, but the Women's List raises
it periodically in political debate. A public women's shelter
operates in Reykjavik and offers protection to approximately
200 women per year. Fifty percent of those who make use of
the shelter cite alcohol abuse by their male partners as a
contributing factor to the violence they suffer.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Workers and employers in Iceland make extensive use of the
rights to (a) establish organizations, (b) draw up their own
constitutions and rules, (c) choose their own leaders and
policies, and (d) publicize their views. The resulting
organizations are not controlled by the Government or any
single political party but instead reflect the views of their
members. Icelandic unions participate actively in European
and international trade union organizations.
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 possessed
and used the right to strike under the law in Iceland for many
years. However, the right to strike was abridged through
February 15, 1989, after the Government promulgated a
provisional law on May 20, 1988, intended to cool down the
overheated economy (also see Section 6.b.).
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Over 90 percent of all eligible workers in Iceland 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. Labor courts adjudicate disputes over labor contracts
and over the rights and provisions guaranteed under the 1938
Act on Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes.
Under the provisional law of May 20, 1988, those unions which
had not yet concluded labor contracts were prohibited from
making agreements giving workers larger increases in wages and
benefits than was provided under the contracts concluded prior
to May 20. The provisional law, later amended, also set aside
through February 15, 1989, any provisions of labor contracts
which would have permitted workers to cancel or renegotiate
these contracts in the event that the consumer price index
exceeded the predicted levels (called red lines) on specified,
quarterly dates. (Red line provisions are common in Icelandic
labor contracts.) The Icelandic Federation of Labor (IFL)
protested this law publicly and sent a complaint to the
Committee on Freedom of Association of the International Labor
Organization (ILO) citing all three provisions as
infringements of workers rights. After receiving the
Government's position and views, the ILO found the
Government's measures to be violations of bargaining rights,
but nevertheless found them justifiable in view of the
condition of the Icelandic economy.
On August 26, 1988, the Government promulgated another
provisional law affecting many labor contracts. This law
froze wages and prices through September 30, 1988. A third
provisional law, promulgated on September 28, extended this
freeze through February 15, 1989, thereby depriving most
workers of two or more wage increases scheduled under existing
labor contracts. The IFL publicly protested these laws.
There are no export processing zones.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law and does not
exist in Iceland.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The employment of children below the age of 16 in factories,
on ships, and in other places which are hazardous or require
hard labor is prohibited by law, and this prohibition is
observed in practice.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Icelandic workers are protected by laws which effectively
ensure their health and safety as well as guarantee them
unemployment insurance, paid vacations, pensions, and
reasonable working conditions and hours. Although there is no minimum wage law, union membership is so pervasive and
effective that labor contracts, in effect, guarantee even the
lowest paid workers a sufficient income to give them and their
families decent living conditions. Food, shelter, health
care, and education are all guaranteed without discrimination
to those lacking adequate income because they are too old, too
young, sick, or otherwise disadvantaged