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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Norway : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Norway : Overview, 2007, available at: [accessed 7 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Norway is located on the western side of the Scandinavian peninsula, and shares a land boundary with Sweden, Finland and Russia. It has an extensive coastline and is famous for its numerous fjords. The Kingdom of Norway also includes the arctic island archipelago of Svalbard and Jan.


Main languages: Norwegian (two official forms: Bokmaal and Nynorsk), Sami

Main religions: Evangelical Lutheran Christianity (86%); other Christian denominations including the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Methodist (combined total about 4.5%); Islam (between 55,000 and 65,000 adherents), Buddhists 6000 (Vietnamese descent), Judaism roughly 1,000.1

Minority groups include Sami, the Kvens, the Roma, as well as various immigrant groups from, among others, Bosnia Herzegovina, Pakistan, Somalia and Turkey. Norway has two standard forms of the same language: Bokmaal ('Book language', or Dano-Norwegian) and Nynorsk ('New Norwegian'); they have equal official and educational status.

Sami are the indigenous inhabitants of northern Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the far north of Russia. The official estimate of the Sami population in Norway is around 40,000 (data: Statistics Norway, 2006). They are concentrated mainly in Finnmark County.

The Kvens are a historic ethnic group in northern Norway, descended from Finnish-speaking fishing communities. Their history is closely interlinked with the history of the Sami, through intermarriage. In some early documents, the Kvens were believed to be a part of the Sami people, but today Kvens consider themselves a distinct community. An estimate from a 2001 parliamentary inquiry put the number of Kven people figure at 10,000-15,000 – but exact figures are difficult to estimate as there is no official definition of the Kvens.

After the Second World War, Norway began to experience the immigration of foreign workers, a trend that accelerated with the development of North Sea oil in the late 1960s. In the 2005 Census, the highest number of immigrants was from Asian countries, including Turkey (149,000) and Eastern European nations (65,000), as well as refugees from former Yugoslavia and a sizeable Somali community. (Statistics Norway).2


Harald Fairhair united hitherto separate fiefdoms into a single Norwegian kingdom in 872. From the eighth to the eleventh centuries, Norwegians established Viking settlements on Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and parts of the British Isles. Towards the end of the fourteenth century, the Norwegian crown was united in a personal union with Denmark and Sweden. Following the defeat of Napoleon, with whom Denmark had allied, in 1814 Norway was able to declare independence and adopt its own Constitution under crown prince Christian Fredrik. This new-found independence did not last long and Sweden soon forced Norway into establishing Charles XIII of Sweden as king of Norway. A formal separation with Sweden took place in 1905, and since then Norway has been an independent constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. Norway was a neutral country during the First World War but was occupied by Germany during the Second World War. Since then, the Norwegians have been keen supporters of collective security arrangements. Norway was one of the signatories of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949 and a founding member of the United Nations.


Under Norwegian law, the Forest Finns, Jews, Kvens, Roma and Skogfinn (people of Finnish descent in South Norway)3 are officially recognized as national minorities. Norway has assumed legal obligations for these groups as part of its commitments arising under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM). At the same time, Norway has accorded the Sami status as an 'indigenous people' and acceded to ILO Convention 169 on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Norwegian policy directed at these various recognized groups is thus subject to regular review and appraisal by international monitoring bodies.

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

Following Norway's ratification of ILO Convention 169 in 1990, the circumstances of the Sami have improved considerably. A deputy minister within the Ministry of Local and Regional Affairs now has permanent responsibility for Sami affairs. Since 1989, the Sami have had their own constituent assembly, the Sameting. Nevertheless, the right to land and water use in Finnmark County (where the Sami traditionally reside) has remained controversial. In June 2005, the Norwegian Parliament passed the Finnmark Act to regulate the management of natural resources in this area. The Act transfers ownership of 96 per cent of the county's land area from the Norwegian state to an independent council known as the Finnmark Commission. The Finnmark Commission is made up of representatives from the Sameting as well as the local and central governments.

Henceforth, controversial decisions regarding land use in the Finnmark County are to be handled by the Finnmark Commission. Despite these new administrative arrangements, Sami remain concerned over land ownership and expropriation issues. Accordingly, the UN Human Rights Committee has sought clarification from Norway regarding certain elements of the Finnmark Act, including its failure to identify those areas where the Sami have the right of ownership and occupation under international law.

According to the Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality, the Roma are the least integrated national minority and the one that suffers the most discrimination within Norwegian society. In 2005, the Norwegian government adopted a system of reparations for past human rights violations experienced by the Romani people of Norway. It also promised extra funding to improve the situation of Roma schoolchildren.

In 1996, the Kvens were granted minority status in Norway and in 2005 the Norwegian government recognized the Kven language as a minority language. These were significant steps for the Kvens – a minority which at one point was on the verge of obliteration. MRG's 1997 World Directory of Minorities stated that it was widely believed that 'the group had completely disappeared through assimilation'. The November 2006 report from the Advisory Committee on the FCNM welcomed the government's efforts 'to support the revitalization and promotion of the Kven language and create the conditions required to give effect to the Kvens' right to learn their language'.

In previous years, Norway has been criticized by the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance for giving insufficient protection against discrimination. In 2005, the Norwegian Parliament approved new legislation prohibiting discrimination based on ethnicity and religion. At the same time, a new Ombudsman for Equality and Anti-discrimination was created to 'promote equality and combat discrimination based on gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability and age.'

In 2006, the Advisory Committee on the FCNM welcomed these moves and praised the Norwegian government's generally positive attitude towards minorities – as well as the establishment of a forum for contact between national minorities and the authorities, set up in 2003. However, it also identified some areas where progress could be made: for example, better collection of numerical data on minorities, continuing discrimination against Roma, and complaints by minorities that it continues to be difficult to get their voices heard when decisions are taken which affect minority groups.


1 Norway Government official site,

2 Statistics Norway,

3 Norwegian government,

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