Government to Establish Independent Human Rights Office Skip to content

Government to Establish Independent Human Rights Office

By Larissa Kyzer

Photo: Golli. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

The Icelandic government hopes to soon establish an independent Human Rights Agency, a watchdog organization that will have the broad mandate of monitoring, promoting, and protecting human rights in Iceland, RÚV reports. It will also develop a national plan on human rights issues, which will be used as the basis for future policymaking. This was announced in the newly published draft of the so-called Green Book on Human Rights.

Once the purview of the Ministry of Justice, human rights issues were transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister last year. It was then that Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir decided that a Green Book on human rights should be prepared. As it notes in its introduction, the Green Book “deals with the status and development of human rights in Iceland and gives an overview of key issues ahead and the best solutions for […] resolving them.” An independent agency was one such proffered solution.

New agency will operate alongside existing Human Rights Centre

The new agency will be separate from the existing Icelandic Human Rights Centre, which was founded in 1995, receives ISK 41.1 million [$289,000; €266,427] in government funding each year, and includes sixteen different member organizations, each of which “deals with human rights in one way or another.” These members include Samtökin ’78, the national LGBTQIA+ organization of Iceland, the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, Red Cross Iceland, the Icelandic chapters of Amnesty International and Save the Children, among others.

The Centre’s goal is to “work towards the advancement of human rights by collecting information on domestic human rights issues, providing information to the public, supporting research and education, and promoting discussion and raising awareness about human rights in Iceland,” and in this way, it already “operates to a large extent like a national human rights office.” However, as it does not have a legal basis, the office doesn’t meet the Paris-aligned benchmarks, thereby necessitating the establishment of a new agency. The existing Human Rights Centre will continue its work alongside the new agency.

Building on solid ground

As part of the Green Book drafting process, the government conducted a survey in which it asked Icelanders if they believe that human rights are effectively monitored in Iceland. Just under half of respondents, or 45.2%, said that current human rights’ oversight in Iceland is average, while 26.1% said that the current oversight is handled “pretty well,” 19% responded “pretty poorly.” Four percent of respondents said current oversight is handled “very well,” 4.6% said “very poorly,” and 1% responded “not at all.”

“We’re building on really good and solid ground,” said Katrín, remarking on the results of the survey. “In recent years, which I want to include in this, a lot has been done, for instance, in regards to the rights of LGBTQIA+ people. We’ve also made extensive legislative changes to ensure equal treatment and prevent discrimination. So there’s been a lot going on, but what we’ve been trying to do is map the overall situation, which hadn’t been done before.”

Katrín also said that she believed the establishment of an independent human rights agency was “definitely a prerequisite if we’re ever going to legislate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been in the works for a long time. So we look at this work as a solid foundation for everything that is to come.”

Asked when Icelanders could expect the new Human Rights Office to start its work, Katrín said that she would probably present a bill about it in parliament’s upcoming winter session. “So I hope that it would be able to get started shortly after, probably in 2024.”

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