A NOTE ON THE ABOVE PHOTO: A homeless foreign migrant living under the Sinsen bridge on the east side of Norway’s capital, Oslo. The man claimed that living under the bridge was his only option after facing continual removal from other area’s by the Oslo Police. Credit: Christian Vassdal. Taken November 2013
The Norwegian Centre of Human Rights, an advisory body appointed by the Norwegian Parliament released in August 2015 the highly critical report, “Criminalisation of Homelessness in Oslo: An Investigation”. Findings detailed in the report focus on violations of basic human rights laws of which Norway is a signatory to under international conventions.
The report statistically details a now fully operationalized prohibition on sleeping in public spaces in Norway’s capital city, Oslo. In doing so, it outlines how, in some cases the prohibition has been implemented in a manner suggestive of “cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment”. Further, it finds that under the test of proportionality, concerns of public law and order have not been balanced appropriately against rights to individual privacy and respect for family life and home. Most disturbingly is that the report indicates that these laws have been implemented in a manner that heavily discriminates against peoples of foreign ethnic backgrounds.
Peoples of foreign ethnicity were found to be more than twice as likely to be evicted than were ethnic Norwegians (83% compared to 40%). Peoples of Roma and African ethnicity were found to be most affected by the laws with double the rate of property confiscation than any other ethnic group. The report summarised the discriminatory findings as “decisions by the police over whether to evict a homeless individual, afford them due process, and respect their other human rights such as property seem to be heavily dependent on an individual’s nationality and ethnicity rather than the circumstances.”
A background analysis of the political context in which the law was adopted describes both a police leadership that “formally proposed” and “championed” the creation of the laws and incumbent political leaders that never shied from speaking publicly on who the exact targets were to be. The incumbent Norwegian Progress Party, that is categorised by many as one of Europe’s various right-wing populist parties was the most open on this. The report sights statements from the leader Siv Jensen who has publicly pronounced that the “proposal concerns foreign beggars, not drug users or other groups”.
Dumping In The Forests – A Short History
The report states that “most foreign interviewees reported being dumped by the police in forests outside Oslo (and even outside Norway) before the introduction of the Oslo prohibition.” This continued practice of taking individuals into confinement without formal arrest, and forceful relocation and isolation into obscure locations outside metropolitan areas has gained very little media attention within Norway. Possibly in part due to the inability of the nation’s police watchdog to prosecute individual officers for such acts. After numerous and thoroughly documented cases in which African and Romanian people with qualified legal representation brought complaints against the Oslo Police district, no such formal charges have yet become a reality. The report also indicates that this practice may have been even more systematic than assumed by the watchdog.
A precedent from 1995 in which the Norwegian supreme court found two police officers to be not guilty of improper conduct has been routinely invoked as a justification for the failure to prosecute. This supreme court decision occurred after a 2-year legal battle in which Police picked up a sleeping and intoxicated man in the winter of 1993 and drove him 10km from the centre of Oslo. In sub-zero temperatures and in a rural environment the individual was forced to break into a local farmhouse to seek warmth. Although the judge was critical of the Police action he stated that “a certain removal may be accepted; the question is how far and to what kind of place driving away can happen, and the fault lies in the discretion the police officers have exercised.” Critical of the practice in general he further commented that in “the present case is not an isolated case. If this is the situation, I see a strong need for policies in this area from police management”.
The above promo clip from the soon to be released documentary film, “The Serpent in Paradise” that details the experience on one African migrant who was driven to an obscure and isolated area in 2013.
In 2013, an African man who was suspected of concealing narcotics in his mouth was handcuffed and held down on a public street and batons forced into his mouth by two police. They performed a brutal forensic search for three minutes, in which no narcotics were ever found. A second patrol was then called and the individual was taken far beyond the city’s peripheral highway to an unknown location. The victim claims — to the denials of police — that he was “dumped in a forest, called an animal and left without shoes.“
After a long and drawn out legal circus involving three investigations, a complaint from Oslo Police Districts leadership plus an appeal to the Director of Public Prosecutions, no charges were laid on the individual officers. Charges of gross misconduct were instead laid at the organizational level of Oslo Police District for the use of the baton. The rationale being one of organizational failure in which the practice of using the batons was allowed to develop to a level that the individual officers were deemed ignorant of the illegality of their actions.
These charges for the routine use of the baton were laid independent of the individuals proven experience of being driven out, isolated and left far beyond the peripheral highway. The officers involved in the dumping who escaped prosecution based on the before mentioned precedent testified to the investigation. During their testimony, they stated that they had difficulty recalling the location in which the individual was left due to the “vast number of similar assignments”. No credence was ever given to the individuals claims that his shoes were removed nor that he was subjected to racial taunts such as being called an “animal that should stay in the forest”.
“Suspend The Regulation Immediately” – Further Investigations Warranted
In the concluding remarks of the report, the Norwegian Centre of Human Rights recommends that the municipality of Oslo should “suspend the regulation immediately and investigate its effects” and “require that evictions of homeless persons be carried out in accordance with human rights law”. Further, it was recommended that it “develop a clear policy for the confiscation of property that is in conformity with human rights law”.
The report recommended investigations be conducted into claims of “inhuman and degrading” treatment and “the nature of police treatment and why it varies between individual police officers”. With particular reference to the practice of so-called dumping individuals outside of Oslo in forests, the report specifically suggests that a full “investigation by the Oslo police, Oslo municipality, and the Gender Equality and Discrimination Ombud (LDO) should be conducted”.