Law and Human Rights in Iceland

Today’s article marks the start of my Travelling series on THWBlog – discussing law and human rights in numerous countries and states that I visit over the next four months approximately. My travels begin with a short trip to Iceland before visiting numerous parts of North and South America. Although articles will be less regular than usual, I hope it provides an insight for all of my readers into the practices of nations other than the UK. I hope you enjoy the series!

Iceland is a country to the north of the UK, with a population of approximately 300,000 people. Affectionately known as ‘the land of fire and ice’ due to its extraordinary climate (or as it is said in Icelandic `loftslag’) – the phenomenal weather and natural sites are not all that is extraordinary about Iceland. The small island just outside the Arctic Circle is seen as providing a glowing example of how human rights application should be implemented, as well as having an unbelievably low crime rate; both of which I will discuss below.
Human rights in Iceland
As well as ratifying the ECHR in 1953 and numerous UN Covenants and Treaties, Iceland provides for the guarantee of human rights in Sections VI and VII of its Constitution. By ratifying the ECHR, Iceland must guarantee all of the human rights which the UK also promises to guarantee. However, more than that it provides a refreshing example of not simply ensuring minimal liberty according to human rights laws, but promotion of such rights. For example, LGBT rights are widely accepted in Iceland. In fact, the 2010 Human Rights Report on Iceland carried out by the United States Department of State reported that there were zero reported cases of discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation that year, which is to me an absolutely astonishing stat. The same year, the Act of Marriage was adopted to ensure complete marriage equality.
Other civil liberties such as freedom of assembly, movement and speech are all encouraged to support Iceland’s claim to being at the forefront of human rights protection and promotion, however there has been one notable example where restrictions have been placed on human rights in Iceland and the government has had to deal with some scrutiny. As I’m sure some of you have seen through the influx of ‘Be like Bill’ memes, Iceland has been commended by some left-wing commentators for how they dealt with the 2008 banking crisis. To put it simply for those who haven’t seen them (somehow), Iceland refused to bail out their 3 biggest banks after their contributions to the crisis, severely punished the bankers liable for some of the problems it had caused and won the hearts of Corbynites everywhere. Yet, even though they looked strong here, they obviously did feel the economic pressure most nations worldwide felt, as they applied some incredible restrictions on their citizens’ freedom to travel and trade internationally, which has led to them unlawfully restricting some freedoms guaranteed by the ECHR. If Icelanders wish to go abroad, they need government authorisation, as foreign currency is so tightly regulated now and permission to trade abroad is required from the Central Bank – all as part of this assumedly knee-jerk reaction to the 2008 crash. This does somewhat tarnish the state’s reputation, however generally it is a record to be proud of, achieving markedly less recorded infringements than most other countries worldwide.
Crime rate in Iceland
The majority of this series of articles will solely concentrate on human rights matters in states (to correlate with the blog of course), but on this occasion the overall crime rate in Iceland is too astounding to ignore. According to Numbeo, Iceland has a level of crime at 19.74 out of 100, which means it is classed as very low. Furthermore, the crimes that cause the crime rate to be at 19.74 and not lower, are seemingly fairly small-time crimes, such as drug use and vandalism (graffiti being quite a common sight in Reykjavik for example). Crimes such as homicide are incredibly rare in Iceland, recording only 1 murder in the year 2012 (the most recent homicide statistic I could find) and none in 2003, 2006 and 2008. This rate of 0.3 homicides per 100,000 people is only bettered worldwide by Lichtenstein and Singapore and all in a country that has legalised gun ownership, albeit with very tight regulations (maybe Trump is right after all? Lol).
So, why is the crime rate so low? There is no one definitive answer as I’m sure you guessed, but numerous arguments can be made. One common argument is that Iceland has low levels of immigrations, with over 96% of the population being Icelandic (though this does not properly represent their stance on immigration, exemplified by its happiness to accept refugees). However, proving this is a reason is difficult to ground due to limited ability to analyse it. Other arguments are that there is no real class divide in Iceland, with more than 98% of its population considering themselves to be middle class and only 1.2% considering themselves as lower class. This goes hand in hand with the fact that although the banking crisis did hit hard in Iceland, they are economically very prosperous, experiencing minimal problems with poverty or homelessness for example (this is regardless of the fairly expensive cost of living there). But, yet again the reliability of this as a reason can be questioned due to the lack of ability we have to test such a hypothesis.
Regardless of the reasons, one thing is for sure. Iceland is a country for us to envy and perhaps learn from. Not only is it an incredibly safe place to be, but also a very liberal place to be. Standing at the forefront of civil liberties application, Iceland provides a brilliant example of how much progression has been made in the 20th and 21st century post WWII. And it has geysers, volcanoes and breath-taking waterfalls, so really what more do you want?


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