The Nordic human rights paradox (completed)

This project explores the Nordic ambivalence towards human rights. On the one hand, the Nordic countries take pride in promoting human rights abroad. On the other hand, Nordic policymakers are increasingly opposed to the expansion of international human rights mechanisms. This paradox deserves more comprehensive analysis, taking both the domestic and international domains of policy and law into account.

Click here to read the call for papers [pdf]

About the project

The Nordic countries demonstrate a puzzling ambivalence towards human rights. On the one hand, citizens of these five countries appear to enjoy a level of rights realization that few other states can rival. In their foreign policies, the Nordic countries pride themselves to be staunch defenders of human rights, seeking to promote human rights in bilateral development aid and advancing a progressive human rights agenda in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the World Bank. Yet, on the other hand, Nordic policymakers often – and perhaps increasingly – question the legitimacy of domestic and international judicial review of human rights within their own polities. Moreover, Nordic governments are frequently criticised for quietly sacrificing their foreign policies’ noble human rights ambitions whenever they collide with national or corporate interests overseas.

Existing interdisciplinary scholarship underscores the puzzling nature of the Nordic states’ relationship with human rights, as research has tended to focus on either horn of the paradox. For instance, comparativists in law and political science point to deep-seated traditions of Nordic reluctance towards constitutionalism, judicial review and individual rights. By contrast, students of Nordic foreign policy assert how these small powers have successfully carved out a niche for themselves as norm entrepreneurs supposedly extending domestic norms of equality and solidarity, while International Relations scholars treat the Nordic countries as comparatively exemplary cases of human rights commitment and compliance in both domestic and international politics. Taken jointly, these disparate literatures in existing research seem to reflect rather than capture the puzzle that the Nordic states pose in the field of human rights.


Exploring the Nordic human rights paradox has a potential to produce pertinent policy implications, for these polities as they continually revise their human rights commitments at home and abroad, but also wherever the Nordic model is used as a point of reference


The outcome of the project will be a joint publication in a special issue of a scholarly journal. Towards this end, the project will organise a workshop in Oslo 11-12 December 2012.

A call for papers is now active.


The project is a joint collaboration between the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights and the MultiRights project.

Published Apr. 11, 2012 9:18 AM - Last modified Nov. 9, 2018 1:45 PM


Johan Karlsson Schaffer