Iceland is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The president is the head of state, and the prime minister is head of government. There is a unicameral parliament (Althingi). The last national parliamentary elections were held in 2021 and were considered free and fair. In June 2020 voters re-elected Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson president in a free and fair election.
The national police maintain internal security. In addition, the Icelandic Coast Guard carries out general law enforcement duties at sea. The national police, the nine regional police forces, and the Coast Guard fall under the purview of the Ministry of Justice. The country has no military. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police and Coast Guard. There were no reports of abuses committed by members of security forces.
There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.
The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who commit human rights abuses or engage in corruption.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Offenses
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Abusive Physical Conditions: Men and women were held in different cellblocks in the prison in Reykjavik. There was a special block for women at Holmsheidi (Reykjavik) prison but common areas for work. Female prisoners were permitted to serve their sentences in open prisons with men, if they so wished. The law states the government must accommodate juvenile offenders in establishments managed by the Government Agency for Child Protection unless there are special grounds for accommodating them in prison.
The parliament’s ombudsperson (who is entrusted with monitoring the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture) publicly released periodic reports on assessments of detention facilities including police holding cells, psychiatric wards, and prisons. The reports, which were based on interviews with prisoners and prison staff, described generally good conditions.
Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions by media and independent local and international human rights groups, including the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police may make arrests when they believe a prosecutable offense has been committed, to prevent further offenses or destruction of evidence, to protect a suspect, or when a person refuses to obey police orders. The law explicitly requires warrants only for arresting individuals who fail to appear in court for a hearing or a trial or at a prison to serve a sentence.
Authorities must promptly inform a person under arrest of his or her rights and bring that person before a judge within 24 hours of arrest, and authorities respected this right. There is no functioning bail system. A judge determines whether a suspect must remain in custody during an investigation. The judge may grant conditional release, subject to assurances that the accused will appear for trial. Upon arrival at a police station, the law entitles detainees to legal counsel, which the government provided for the indigent.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Individuals may seek damages for, or cessation of, a human rights abuse through domestic courts. They can appeal decisions involving alleged abuses by the government of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights. Administrative remedies are also available for alleged wrongs.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Immigration law allows authorities to conduct house searches without a prior court order when there is a significant risk that delay would jeopardize an investigation of immigration fraud. Immigration law also allows authorities to request DNA tests without court supervision in cases of suspected immigration fraud.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.
Freedom of Expression: The law establishes fines and imprisonment for up to two years for “[a]nyone who publicly mocks, defames, denigrates, or threatens a person or group of persons by comments or expressions of another nature, for example, by means of pictures or symbols for their nationality, color, race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, or disseminates such materials.”
In February civil society groups expressed alarm over reports police questioned journalists in the northeast who reported on alleged misconduct by the prominent fishing company Samherji.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these related rights.
e. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law allows for an accelerated procedure by the Ministry of Justice’s Directorate of Immigration for applications involving unaccompanied minors, “manifestly unfounded claims,” fraudulent applications, applicants deemed dangerous to themselves or others, or when an application is filed following the issuance of a deportation order. An independent regulatory committee, the Immigration and Asylum Appeals Board, adjudicated asylum cases rejected by the directorate.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which allows for the return of asylum seekers to the country of entry into the EU. The country did not return asylum seekers to the EU member states Greece or Hungary unless they already received protection in these countries. In certain cases, the country also did not return vulnerable asylum seekers to Italy or Greece, but civil society observers contended that the bar for asylum seekers to be considered vulnerable was often unnecessarily high.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and provided for their local integration and assisted in their voluntary return to their areas of habitual residence. The government consistently commits to receiving 100 refugees annually and fulfilled its August 2021 pledge to accept 120 refugees from Afghanistan.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of August 29, according to official numbers published by the Directorate of Immigration in April, the government had provided asylum to 27 persons, subsidiary protection to 189, and humanitarian protection to 1,050.
f. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
g. Stateless Persons
According to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, at the end of 2021, the latest date for which data was available, there were 68 persons in the country who fell under its statelessness mandate.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The May 26 municipal elections were considered free and fair. The most recent national parliamentary election in September 2021 also was considered free and fair; procedural issues in one constituency led to a recount and change of election outcome. In June 2020 voters re-elected Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson president in a free and fair election.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of historically marginalized groups in the political process, and they did participate.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliament’s ombudsperson, elected by parliament for a period of four years, secures the rights of the citizens to equal and impartial treatment in their dealings with public authorities. The ombudsperson is independent from any governmental authority, including parliament, when exercising his or her functions. The ombudsperson is party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and conducts periodic site visits to prisons and psychiatric hospitals. While the ombudsperson’s recommendations were not binding on authorities, the government generally adopted them.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Judicial Affairs and Education was responsible for legislative oversight of human rights in the country. The committee generally was considered effective.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: Conviction for rape or intimate partner violence against a person, regardless of gender, carries a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison. Judges typically imposed sentences of two to three years. The law does not explicitly address spousal rape.
The law criminalizes domestic violence and specifies a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison for violations.
Survivors of domestic violence can request police to remove perpetrators physically from the home for up to four weeks at a time. Police can also impose a 72-hour restraining order to prevent abusers from coming into proximity with the survivor, and courts can extend this restraining order for up to a year. The law entitles survivors of sexual violence to a lawyer to advise them of their rights and to help them pursue charges against the alleged assailants. As of August 29, approximately 128 women and 96 children had sought temporary lodging at shelters for women in Reykjavik and Akureyri.
Police procedure for handling domestic violence require law enforcement to report the location of the incident. If responding officers are unable to enter the premises and have reasonable suspicion that the life of an individual inside might be threatened, they are allowed to use force to enter. If a child is at risk in a domestic violence incident, an official from child protective services must be called to the scene. All parties present are questioned, and the case is entered into the police database. If the situation warrants, the responding officers can arrest the perpetrator and assist the survivor in seeking medical care and offer guidance on legal recourse. In some cases, officers, child protective services, or the family of the survivor can request the restraining order. If officers deem the survivor to be in danger following the imposed restraining order, they provide an emergency services call device.
The government helped finance women’s shelters in Reykjavik and Akureyri, the Counseling and Information Center for Survivors of Sexual Violence, the rape crisis center of the national hospital, and other organizations that assisted victims of domestic or gender-based violence. These organizations offered services free of charge, regardless of the victim’s citizenship. In addition, the government assisted immigrant women in abusive relationships, offering emergency accommodation, counseling, and information on legal rights.
Sexual Harassment: Under the general penal code, sexual harassment is punishable by imprisonment for up to two years. In addition, the law on equal status defines sexual harassment as any type of unfair or offensive physical, verbal, or symbolic sexual behavior that is unwanted, affects the self-respect of the survivor, and continues despite a clear indication that the behavior is undesired. The law requires employers and organization supervisors to make specific arrangements to prevent employees, students, and clients from becoming victims of gender-based or sexual harassment. The law establishes fines for violations, but more severe penalties could be applicable under other laws.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
The government provides access to sexual and reproductive services for sexual violence survivors, both on-site at hospitals, and via government-funded nongovernmental organizations that provide free counselling and psychiatric services. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men according to the constitution and the law. Although the government enforced the law effectively, employment discrimination occurred.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
All discrimination is illegal, in both society and the labor market, including discrimination based on race and ethnicity. Immigrants and asylum seekers, mainly of non-European origin or from Eastern Europe or the Baltic countries, suffered occasional incidents of social harassment based on their ethnicity.
Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship at birth if both parents are citizens, if the mother is a citizen, or if the father is a citizen and is married to the child’s foreign mother. If a mixed-nationality couple had obtained a judicial separation at the time when the child was conceived, the child acquires the mother’s citizenship. A stateless child can become a citizen at the age of three. By law all children have access to social services regardless of citizenship. If a child is not legally domiciled in the country or is living in the country without legal guardians, a child protection committee in the municipality where the child is physically located assumes care if needed and takes measures to secure his or her best interests. Birth registration was prompt.
Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal. The government is legally mandated to provide services for abused children, including a safe residence for children as well as specialized services. Under the law the public has a duty to notify authorities if suspicion of any form of child abuse arises. The Government Agency for Child Protection is responsible for implementation of the law. The agency operated a diagnostic and short-term treatment center for abused and troubled minors and was responsible for three short-term treatment centers. The government maintained a children’s assessment center to secure their well-being, lessen the trauma experienced by children, coordinate victim protection, and accelerate prosecution in child sexual abuse cases. The prime minister appoints the ombudsperson for children, who acts independently of the government. While the ombudsperson’s recommendations are not binding on authorities, the government generally adopted them.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 for both sexes. There were no reports of forced marriages during the year.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the payment or promise of payment or consideration of another type for the commercial sexual exploitation of a minor (a person younger than 18). Violations may be punished with fines or imprisonment for up to two years. The law punishes child pornography by up to two years in prison. The law criminalizes statutory rape with incarceration of one to 16 years. The government effectively enforced these laws.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. The law includes a requirement for explicit consent for sexual acts, meaning that consent is not considered to be given freely if obtained through violence or the threat of violence, any kind of force, or the use of drugs or alcohol.
The resident Jewish community was estimated at approximately 300-400 individuals. Jewish community leaders noted two incidents of vandalism and one instance of stickers with antisemitic rhetoric being posted on the rabbi’s residence in Reykjavik. All incidents were reported to police.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: Civil Society observers reported an anecdotal uptick in reports of harassment by private individuals against lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons. The same observers described the authorities as generally sympathetic and respectful of the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.
Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination by state and nonstate actors based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics and recognizes LGBTQI+ individuals, couples, and their families. The government generally enforced the law.
While the constitution does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it does so implicitly. The law prohibits anyone from denying a person goods or services based on that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It also prohibits denying a person access to a public meeting place or other places open to the public on the same footing with others on grounds of that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The law further prohibits incitement to hatred against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity and the dissemination of hateful material.
LGBTQI+ activists reported generally positive conditions. Nevertheless, the same activists continued to note the lack of explicit protections in hate crime laws for LGBTQI+ individuals.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: The law provides for the option of changing gender identity markers on legal and identifying documents. In January the Gender Autonomy Act (passed in 2019) went into effect. Within the first week, 12 persons registered to change their legal gender to nonbinary.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: Coercive medical and psychological practices specifically targeting LGBTQI+ individuals are illegal. The law on Gender Autonomy outlaws unnecessary surgeries on intersex persons. The government generally enforced the law.
Restrictions on Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: There were no restrictions on freedoms of expression, association, or assembly for LGBTQI+ persons or those advocating LGBTQI+ issues.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, and several laws prescribe the rights and protections provided to persons. Education is on the national level. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture oversees and issues the national curriculum that establishes standardized rules for all levels of education. According to the law, all municipalities are obliged to ensure that all school-age children who have learning difficulties stemming from special needs, social, or emotional difficulties due to disability or health reasons are entitled to specialized support in accordance with their needs. The same rules apply for upper secondary and university education. The national curriculum emphasizes nonsegregated education to the extent possible.
By law persons with disabilities are free to hire their own assistance providers and tailor assistance to their needs. The law provides that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, information, and communications.
The government generally enforced the laws effectively, but occasional discrimination did occur, and disability rights advocates complained that authorities did not fully implement the law and regulations. While violations of these regulations are punishable by a fine or a jail sentence of up to two years, one of the main associations for persons with disabilities contended that authorities rarely, if ever, assessed penalties for noncompliance.
There were no reports of violence, harassment, intimidation, or abuses against persons with disabilities.
There were no laws or reports of government action or inaction that limited the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in civic life, including accessibility in elections.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Immigrants and asylum seekers, mainly Muslims of non-European origin, suffered occasional harassment based on their religion (see section 7, Worker Rights). Civil society observers reported insurance companies generally did not provide life insurance to those with HIV, nor did they charge HIV-positive individuals higher insurance premiums.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. It is silent on whether workers fired for union activity should be reinstated, but it allows for fining employers who engage in this practice. The law permits the government to pass a provisional law to impose mandatory mediation when strikes threaten key sectors in the economy.
The government effectively enforced the law. Inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance and penalties for violations (damages and fines) were commensurate with those for similar crimes.
The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. Collective bargaining agreements covered nearly 100 percent of the formal economy’s workforce. Independent contractors in various industries, but mainly in construction and tourism, sometimes hired subcontractors to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and the government generally enforced the law.
Law enforcement authorities and the Administration of Occupational Health and Safety (AOSH) effectively enforced the law. Resources were adequate. There were no prosecutions for forced labor violations. The law is sufficiently stringent compared with those on other serious crimes, and penalties for violations were commensurate.
Some instances of forced labor occurred. Traffickers subjected men and women to forced labor in construction, tourism, and restaurants. Foreign “posted workers” were at particular risk of forced labor because traffickers paid them in their home countries and contracted with them to work for up to 183 days in Iceland to avoid taxes and union fees and limiting tax authorities’ and union officials’ ability to monitor their work conditions and pay. Foreign workers have the same rights as local workers in collective bargaining agreements. Union officials noted that they do take legal action on the behalf of workers, regardless of whether union dues had been paid.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment, including limitations on working hours, occupational safety, and health restrictions for children younger than age 18. According to the law, children ages 13 and 14 may be employed in light work up to 12 hours per week and a maximum of two hours per day outside school hours during the school year and up to 35 hours a week or a maximum of seven hours per day during school vacations. They may not work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children between the ages of 15 and 18 who do not attend school may work up to 40 hours per week and a maximum of eight hours per day, but not between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. For children ages 15 to 18 who remain in school, the law limits work to 12 hours per week and a maximum two hours per day during the school year, but up to 40 hours per week and a maximum eight hours per day during school vacations. They may not work between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Children younger than 18 may not be employed in hazardous work as specified by law.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes and were regularly applied. Inspection capacity was sufficient to enforce compliance.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution and other laws prohibit employment discrimination in general and provide for fines determined by the courts for violations. The law provides for equal treatment in the labor market, without regard to race, ethnicity, age, religion, beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or gender expression. The law does not specifically address HIV, AIDS, or refugee status. Under the law individuals, companies, institutions, and nongovernmental organizations can refer cases to the Gender Equality Complaints Committee, which rules on appointments and salary-related matters.
The government effectively enforced the law in most areas, but instances of employment discrimination occurred. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations and were regularly applied to violators. Despite laws requiring equal pay for equal work, a pay gap existed between men and women. According to Statistics Iceland, the gender pay gap was 14 percent in 2019, the last year for which data was available. Disability rights advocates asserted that persons with disabilities had a more difficult time finding jobs due to prejudice and because fewer job opportunities, especially part time, were available for persons with disabilities.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wages and Hour Laws: The law does not establish a minimum wage. The minimum wages negotiated in various collective bargaining agreements applied automatically to all employees in those occupations, including foreign workers, regardless of union membership. While the agreements can be industry-wide, sector-wide, or in some cases firm-specific, the type of position defined the negotiated wage levels, which were higher than the poverty level.
The law requires that employers compensate work exceeding eight hours per day as overtime and limits the time a worker may work, including overtime, to 48 hours a week on average during each four-month period. Collective bargaining agreements set the terms for overtime pay; these do not vary significantly across unions. The law entitles workers to 11 hours of rest in each 24-hour period and one day off each week. Under specially defined circumstances, employers may reduce the 11-hour rest period to a minimum of eight hours, but they must then compensate workers with corresponding rest time later. They may also postpone a worker’s day off, but the worker must receive the corresponding rest time within 14 days. AOSH monitored and enforced these regulations.
Occupational Safety and Health: The law sets occupational health and safety standards that are appropriate for the main industries, and the Ministry of Welfare administered and enforced them through AOSH, which conducted both proactive and reactive inspections. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health and safety without jeopardy to their employment. AOSH can close workplaces that fail to meet safety and health standards.
The government effectively enforced the law. AOSH employed a sufficient number of inspectors to enforce standards effectively in all sectors. AOSH levied daily fines on companies that did not follow instructions, urging them to improve work conditions. Daily fines were commensurate with those for similar violations. Except for certain asylum seekers, the government provided universal health-care coverage to all workers, including those in the informal economy.
Wage, Hour, and OSH Enforcement: The government effectively enforced minimum wage, overtime, and OSH laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud or negligence. Penalties were regularly applied against violators. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections.