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XI. Norway

Norway has not introduced definitions of international crimes into its domestic law.359 However, article 12.4 of the Norwegian General Civil Penal Code (Criminal Code) enables the prosecution of non-nationals for crimes committed overseas—including international crimes—provided the criminal acts amount to a crime under Norwegian criminal law. Article 12.4 provides that Norwegian criminal law shall be applicable to acts committed abroad by a foreigner when the act either constitutes murder, assault and certain other crimes under Norwegian law, or “is a felony also punishable according to the law of the country in which it is committed, and the offender is resident in the realm or is staying therein.”360

Although no trials based on universal jurisdiction have yet taken place in Norway, the country has identified numerous suspects on its territory. Around forty alleged war criminals who sought asylum in Norway remain at liberty. Seventy cases have been examined so far and divided into regional folders. Cases concern suspects from Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa (particularly Rwanda) and the Balkans. As of September 2005, a new unit for international crimes had been set up within Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS). The unit, together with a special prosecutor in charge of international crimes, is creating a detailed list of all cases in order to establish guidelines for the selection and prioritizing of cases.361

In February 2006, there was an unprecedented request by the prosecution at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for the transfer of a case from the ICTR to Norway. The request was preceded by negotiations with the Norwegian authorities, who were willing to try Michel Bagaragaza, accused of “conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide or complicity in genocide” under Norway’s domestic legislation. However, the ICTR rejected the transfer of the case in May 2006. Without explicitly referring to the lack of implementing legislation, the ICTR concluded that “Norway does not have jurisdiction over the crimes in the indictment against Bagaragaza.”362

A. Jurisdictional Challenges

1.   Presence

The suspect does not have to be present on Norwegian territory for an investigation to be opened, but he or she needs to be present for the indictment. The problem of whether the presence of an accused can be secured by way of extradition is neither dealt with by the Norwegian Criminal Procedure Act363 nor by rulings of the Supreme Court.  So far, out of the seventy cases that the newly created unit within the NCIS has examined, nineteen suspects have fled the country. Although Norway no longer retains jurisdiction over these persons, the unit has decided to continue examining their files prior to closure in order to assess whether to forward the files to the country where the relevant suspect is believed to be.364

2.   Immunities

The Norwegian Criminal Code is silent on the issue of immunity, but the c-ode is to be applied within the limitations of international law.365 So far, the issue of immunity has not arisen in any case of international crimes nor has the issue of amnesties, which is not regulated in Norwegian law. Practitioners interviewed by Human Rights Watch indicated that there is no obligation under Norwegian law to respect an amnesty and that this would be considered on a case to case basis.366

3.   Limitation

Because international crimes can be prosecuted only as analogous domestic crimes such as murder, international crimes may be subject to statutes of limitations. Possible revisions to this situation are being considered by a committee, but any decision regarding this matter has yet to be taken.367

B. Practical Arrangements for the Exercise of Universal Jurisdiction in Norway

1.   Special departments in charge of the investigation and prosecution of international crimes

As mentioned above, a new unit within Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) is responsible for investigating international crimes. One of the reasons why the issue of prosecuting international crimes attracted attention in Norway is related to the creation of the war crimes unit in Denmark (see Country Case Study: Denmark, above). Following the establishment of this unit, suspected perpetrators of international crimes left Denmark for Norway. Norwegian authorities soon realized the problems posed by this development and called for a study to determine the best arrangements for a new unit.

The unit is currently composed of four investigators and one lawyer. One investigator has been trained in The Hague in the investigation of international crimes, and this training will be extended to other investigators and lawyers joining the unit. The unit will be comprised of ten people in total, with two police lawyers who are prosecutors, one historian in charge of explaining and researching the context of the crimes, and seven investigators. The aim is to have teams (as in Denmark) which are in charge of cases concerning specific countries. At present two investigators are working on crimes that occurred in Rwanda.368A national chief prosecutor has been nominated to work on international crimes, but does not form part of the special unit (her work also includes issues such as organized crime, child pornography and computer crimes); she is assisted on a case-by-case basis by local prosecutors.369 It is envisaged that at least three prosecutors will work on international crimes in the future.370

2.   Notification

Most cases are referred to the police by immigration authorities who are notified about crimes either by witnesses and victims or by the perpetrators themselves.371 Most alleged perpetrators are already living in Norway, but many cases remain uninvestigated because domestic cases are given priority. The unit has also received notifications from other countries, including the Rwandan government and Denmark, when suspects fled the latter country to hide in Norway.

3.   Decision to investigate and prosecute

The decision of whether to open an investigation lies with the chief prosecutor of the national prosecution office and an investigation has to be carried out where there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that a crime has been committed.372 The police commissioner can also order a local investigation by way of a written investigation order. Where the police decide not to investigate, the complainant can appeal to the regional prosecutor and subsequently to the national prosecution office up to the director general of prosecution. No appeal is possible against a decision of the latter.373 The current chief prosecutor has asked that all decisions not to investigate complaints regarding international crimes are passed to her, enabling her to scrutinize the decisions and to establish a set of guidelines for the investigation of future complaints.

The chief prosecutor will give orders to prosecute based on criteria established by the attorney general, including considerations such as whether the evidence is sufficient to go to court and whether the prosecutor is convinced of the suspect’s culpability and likely conviction.

4.   Investigation

Before the police can start an investigation, a written investigation order must be issued and signed by either the chief prosecutor or a police commissioner. The special unit of the NCIS will then investigate the case in open sources and try to establish the whereabouts of the alleged perpetrator. As there is a backlog of cases, the unit for the moment is focusing on the files referred to it by immigration authorities and seeks to identify cases where the perpetrator is still present in Norway. All cases concerning international crimes will be reviewed by the national chief prosecutor.374

C. Cooperation

1.   International cooperation

a. EU Network

The NCIS regards the EU Network as a source of information and a venue for sharing experiences in prosecuting international crimes through face to face meetings. 375

b. Interpol

The Interpol meetings fulfil a similar role to the EU Network, but on a larger scale.

c. Cooperation with other states

The unit cooperated with Denmark, the UK, the Netherlands and Canada to exchange information and knowledge about best practices.

D.  Role and Rights of Victims and Witnesses

1.   Victims—Compensation and legal representation

Victims can only claim compensation in civil suits. In criminal cases, the prosecutor will claim compensation on behalf of the victims. The compensation is normally paid by the convicted perpetrator or, if this is not possible, out of a victims’ fund provided by the government. This fund is already operational.376

2.   Witnesses

During a trial witnesses do not have to be physically present in Norway.  It is possible to arrange testimonies via video conference or to record testimonies given in the presence of a judge, prosecutor and defense lawyers or to read out statements in court.377 However, the chief prosecutor has emphasized the importance of at least the main witnesses giving testimony in person at trial, and states that the possibility of witnesses claiming asylum should not constitute a reason to prevent witnesses from testifying in person.378 

E.  Fair Investigation and Trial

No matter where an investigation takes place, the police must look for evidence on behalf of both the accused and the complainant. The accused is entitled to receive legal aid where he or she lacks the means to pay for his or her representation. This only covers representation in court and is not extended to investigations carried out by the defense itself. Should the defense have carried out its own investigations, it can present a salary bill to the court at the end of the trial and the court will decide whether to reimburse the costs of investigation.379

[359] Norway has been a party to the four Geneva Conventions since August 3, 1951, and ratified the Convention against Torture and Other, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment on June 9, 1986.

[360] Criminal Code 1982, art. 12.4.

[361] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Norwegian official, September 14, 2005.

[362] “UN genocide court rejects transfer of suspect’s case to Norway,” Agence France-Press, May 19, 2006.

[363]Act of 22 May 1981 No. 25 relating to Legal Procedure in Criminal Cases (The Criminal Procedure Act), with subsequent amendments, most recently by Act of 17 July 1998 No. 56, available online at (retrieved June 2006).

[364] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Norwegian official, November 16, 2005.

[365] Criminal Code, art. 4.

[366] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Norwegian official, September 14, 2005.

[367] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Norwegian official, September 14, 2005.

[368] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Norwegian official, November 16, 2005.

[369] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Norwegian official, November 16, 2005.

[370] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Norwegian official, September 14, 2005.

[371] According to officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch, perpetrators sometimes admit or even fabricate involvement in international crimes, thinking that it may assist an asylum claim in Norway.

[372]Act of Criminal Procedure 1981 (Straffeprosessloven), para. 224. The unofficial translation by the Norwegian Ministry of Justice reads as follows: “a criminal investigation shall be carried out when as a result of a report or other circumstances there are reasonable grounds to inquire whether any criminal matter requiring prosecution by the public authorities subsists.”

[373] Act of Criminal Procedure 1981, para. 59a.

[374] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Norwegian official, September 14, 2005.

[375] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Norwegian official, September 14, 2005.

[376] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Norwegian official, November 16, 2005.

[377] Act of Criminal Procedure, para. 298: “where it is in the interest of the witness to do so.”

[378] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with official in the office of the chief prosecutor, November 16, 2005.

[379] Act of Criminal Procedure, para. 107.

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