Are human rights threatening our democracy?
This summer, leading academics and practitioners have debated the relationship between human rights and democracy in Norway in the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv.
The debate was triggered by Prof. Gjems-Onstad, who claimed that there has been a hyperinflation of human rights and that the judicialization is silencing political debates. Drawing on cases from the ECHR regarding names, parking tickets, and fees Gjems-Onstad claims that the international human rights system is both challenging the national right to regulate, and watering down the concept of human rights.
In the following month, representatives from PluriCourts, the National Institution for Human Rights, the University of Oslo, the University of Bergen, and legal practitioners, have revisited debates on the balancing of power between international and national institutions, the core of human rights, and their justiciability.
Follesdal and Ulfstein’s contribution
As human rights experts and editors of the book “Human Rights and Norway” criticized by Gjems-Onstad, PluriCourts directors Prof. Ulfstein and Prof. Follesdal joined the debate. In their comment, they shed light on the role and practice of the European Court of Human Rights on all issues regarding human rights, although with a clear dominance of issues regarding fair trial, freedom of speech, and judicial independence.
Follesdal and Ulfstein state that rather than undermining democracy in Norway, the European Court of Human Rights has given life to the Norwegian Parliament's intention to give effect to human rights - as expressed in the enactment of the Human Rights Act in 1999 and the constitutional amendment of 2014. In most cases concerning Norway, the ECtHR has reviewed Norwegian administrative and judicial practice and brought it in line with parliament's wish to respect international human rights.
The authors concede that there may be democratic challenges concerning the composition and operation of the European Court of Human Rights that should be critically assessed.
Another central critique was aimed at the Norwegian human rights community, claiming that those who voice critical opinions of the system are written off. An outcome of the debate and this critique will be a seminar, hosted the National Institution for Human Rights, ensuring the inclusion of critics. When a date has been settled, PluriCourts will announce the event on our webpage.