NORWAY: Rejection letter in hand, Nobuhle Enyam sits on her sofa with a look of exhaustion and dejection. An original refugee of the South African apartheid regime who came to Norway through Israel in the late eighties, she is a mid-50’s mother of two with a very sad story to tell. A story of racial discrimination that, from her perspective never stopped when she left South Africa and continues to this very day inside the country that she once felt saved her. A feeling that has once again been exacerbated in past days by Norway’s anti-discrimination Ombud’s office, who have very bluntly refused to investigate her claims regarding mistreatment by Oslo’s Central Police District.
In July 2014, Nobuhle Enyam and her ex-husband Jean were outside their family home preparing a trip to IKEA when they were approached by two plain-clothed female Police officers. Having committed no crime at all, they found themselves being released from Oslo Police District’s holding cell’s hours later. Inexplicably, Mrs Enyam was pushed out of the facility into the public sphere in a wheelchair, wearing only underwear and a singlet. In what she describes as a horrific experience, she claims that whilst being held in the cells, she was forcebley stripped and searched for drugs of which none were ever found.
A short lived media storm brought about in-part by the fact that her oldest son filmed the event, quickly faded and a 14-month wait for Norway’s police watchdog to investigate any misconduct resulted in Mrs Enyam being left officially said to have inspired the events by her own behaviour. Norway’s Special Unit for Police Investigation, who are responsible for investigating allegations of criminal misconduct had concluded such on the basis of police testimony and security footage from within the cells that they claim showed this to be the case.
But Mr’s Enyam, fiercely contends that she, as an innocent women, was racially profiled and questioned about prostitution and drugs and that this resulted in extreme personal humiliation. As a women that had fled a nation in which the civil liberties of the darker skinned ethnicity’s were a contradiction in terms, she believed the situation to be a throw back to an environment in which she left. She absolutely rejects the notion that a negative reaction to such an unjustified approach, control and questioning on such publicly defaming issues is any defence for the treatment in which she received.
Inspired by a recent supreme court decision in which the Norwegian State broadcaster won a high profile case against the Police watchdog, Mrs Enyam decided to take her case to the anti-discrimination Ombud. This supreme court decision was significant as it resulted in the release of CCTV footage of the death of a caucasian man (deemed mentally ill) via choke hold at the hands of two police and an ambulance driver. As in Mrs Enyam’s case the public servants involved were acquitted of wrong doing and as such it was argued that the release of film material was of significant public importants for purposes of trust in civil society.
With her belief that this case represented a precedent for her own situation, she was eager to expose what she deemed as her own mistreatment and seek justice. She perceived that Norway’s anti-discrimination Ombud was the natural institution to help her achieve this. With the police watchdogs reputation for independence only as strong as their ability to succesfully prosecute, she was led to believe that by raising her case with a bureaucratic counter balance that specialised in discrimination, a different outcome would result. The anti-discrimination ombud also hold the legislative power to request security material from the police, therefore she hoped to force the release of film material that paradoxically, had been used to support counter conclusions.
But in what has come as an extreme shock to several people within the anti-discrimination community, Nobuhle Enyam’s case has been refused to be handled by the Ombud. This has been done via concurring, without independent investigation and assessment the views and findings of both the Oslo Police District and the watchdog. This is a point not lost on many observers of the case due to the fact that as Norway’s police watchdog remains a place of criminal investigation, it does not look specifically at issues of discrimination. Also, due to the nature of criminal procsecutions, it operates on a basis that requires far less doubt than does discrimination law. Therefor, using its conclusions as a basis in which to reject such a case is seen as problematic on a intuitional level.
Articulated in a letter that she received in the past days from the Ombud’s office it mirrors the same language used by both the police and the watchdogs conclusions. “It was her performance that led to her being arrested and taken to the police station and put under arrest.” Further, it follows with, “the Ombudsman has therefore decided not to treat Ms Enyams complaint.” The document suggests that neither the original lawyer/case worker from within the Ombud’s office, nor Nobuhle Enyam herself were questioned over the case before its rejection.
The letter also refers to the two years that have past since the event and an inability to interview witnesses as a rationale for such an decision. But the Ombud as an institution is often seen as a secondary step to the police watchdog, who did not conclude for 14-months after the event. This is problematic in the sense that investigations such as these within Norway’s slow moving beurocracy can take many months if not years to conclude, with one well known case on its third year. Pre-existing norms within the Ombud had also previously been at 3-years and with the significant level of film documentation available, many have struggled to make sense of such a position.
Nobuhle Enyam herself, who is without any supportive legal assistance was not even aware of such an institution until suggested to make use of it by Norway’s centre of anti-racism and only after the decision was made by the police watchdog. Her case is known by many yet she is helped by few within Norway’s Human Rights elite. Several of which have suggested direct legal action and appeal against Norway on Human Rights grounds. Yet pro bono lawyers are few and far between inside the country and launching successful Human Rights claims against its justice system require substantial financial and legal support. Support that has only been publicly present in the recent times for cases more international in appeal.
With few options left besides further complaints and appeals, Nobuhle Enyam now waits and contemplates the future. Juggling a choice between two lives. One in which she continues to fight for a dignity she believes was taken from her and a life in which she learn to live without it.