Norway gives high priority to the fight against the death penalty and opposes its application in all circumstances as a matter of principle. Killing sanctioned by the state dehumanises society. It is not an effective deterrent, and we know that innocent people have been executed in a number of cases. Such miscarriages of justice are irreversible and unacceptable.

It would perhaps seem natural for the question of the death penalty to be raised in the wake of a terrible crime. Norwegian society was shaken to the core by the hideous terrorist attack of 22 July 2011, when 77 people were killed. Everyone in Norway feels in some way connected to these tragic events. Nevertheless, the atrocity did not change our fundamental opposition to the death penalty.

Why was this so? Largely because people in Norway have great confidence in the justice system and the penal code. Sentencing is the business of the courts, and we do not change the rules to fit events.

The Norwegian legal system views human life as inviolable. There is no room for a form of punishment that involves taking life. If the state accepted capital punishment, this would only create a more brutal society. Some people might ask themselves: “If the state can do this to people, why can’t I?”

The mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik boasted that he would kill so many people that Norway would have to bring back the death penalty. But the people of Norway, including the victims’ relatives, refused to kill just because he had done so. They refused to accept his values.

And Norway is not alone. Currently, about 150 UN members have abolished the death penalty or introduced a moratorium on its use, either in law or in practice. Most countries that have abolished the death penalty have done so despite public opposition, and yet people in those countries have quickly come to accept the reform. Taking this step is not only the right thing to do politically – it has also proved to be politically possible.

Gry Larsen
State Secretary
Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Norway sponsors the 5th World Congress Against the Death Penalty.