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Human Rights and Equality

Human rights are the natural entitlement of all persons, of whatever nation, regardless of their residence, gender, nationality, race, religion, language or other status. All of us are equally entitled to enjoy basic human rights free from discrimination. They include a variety of interconnected and often inseparable rights.

Human rights therefore cannot be granted by legislation or determined by legal definitions but instead reflect the values and ethical criteria on which the justice system is based. On the other hand, human rights are often defined and guaranteed by law, for instance, through conventions and other sources of international law. International legislation lays down the obligations of governments to follow certain precepts in order to encourage the protection of the rights of individuals or groups; these obligations can be both positive and negative. Governments may not, for instance, violate their citizens' basic rights and, furthermore, must undertake specific measures to protect individuals and groups against human rights violations. At the same time, states may have to take certain actions to ensure that various groups or individuals are better able to exercise or fully capable of enjoying their human rights.

The Icelandic Constitution sets out the human rights which the country's citizens are to enjoy. The Constitution takes precedence over other legislation, which must comply with the provisions of the former. Legislation which fails to do so can be judged invalid by the courts.

As stated in Art. 65 of the Constitution everyone shall be equal before the law and enjoy basic human rights irrespective of gender, religion, opinions, national origin, race, colour, property, birth or other status. The same Article states, furthermore, that men and women shall enjoy equal rights in all respects.

Iceland is a signatory to a number of international conventions on human rights, in particular the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Council of Europe's European Convention on Human Rights. The Ministry of Justice oversees amendments to legislation when necessary to satisfy Iceland's international legal obligations and reports to committees monitoring the implementation of human rights agreements to which Iceland is a party. 

Gender equality

The Icelandic legislation on gender equality is Act on the Equal Status and Equal Rights for Women and Men, No 10/2008. The objective of the Act is to create and maintain equal rights and opportunities for women and men, and in so doing equalise the status of both genders everywhere in the community. The Ministry of Welfare is responsible for enforcing the Act. The Centre for Gender Equality is an independent institution under the auspices of the Ministry which supervises the implementation of the Act, provides advice, public education and information concerning gender equality.

Within a year from the election of a new parliament, the Minister for gender equality must submit a proposal for a parliamentary resolution on a four-year action programme for gender equality, after having received proposals from individual ministries, the Centre for Gender Equality and the Equal Rights Council, and having regard for discussions at an equal rights congress held at two-year intervals.

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