Norway’s Violation of the Svalbard Treaty

Over the last year or more, Norway has slowly removed rights from non-Norwegians who belong to signatory countries of the Svalbard treaty. The right to vote for non-Norwegian residents has been removed, and now the Norwegian government has removed the right to driving licenses for many. The following was written by a local non-Norwegian (USA) resident of Svalbard who forwarded me the following correspondence that has been sent to multiple embassies worldwide that are signatories to the Svalbard treaty. What Norway is doing is NOT ok and is a clear violation of the Svalbard treaty. There is a clear mandate in Svalbard to push non-Norwegians out and heavily restrict tourism to the archipelago.

In 2022, when it’s essential for worldwide democracies to stand together, Norway ended 20 years of democratic rule in the world’s northernmost town– Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Until June, 2022 the rules for Svalbard were the same as for mainland Norway. After three years, all residents can vote in local elections. But in Longyearbyen, where the non-Norwegian population is now 30%, Norway removed the right to vote from all non-Norwegian residents. Editors Note: A violation of the Svalbard treaty.

Further human rights were eliminated by Norway in October 2022 when they changed the rules for driving licenses making it illegal for non-Norwegians to drive and impossible for them to comply with the driving license rules. The decision on driving licenses so far is that only countries whose licenses follow the design of the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, or are signatories to this convention, are allowed to continue driving. Ninety-six countries have not signed the Convention, including Australia, Canada, and the US.

At the same time, Norway no longer allows Svalbard residents to exchange their licenses for Norwegian ones. In contrast, on the mainland, foreign residents can exchange their driving documents after one month. The use of International Driving Permits which is allowed in the Vienna Convention and on mainland Norway is also exempted on Svalbard.

Not only do these restrictions create deep divides in the community, but this also raises a special difficulty for international scientists studying climate change. Without a driving license, scientists cannot go out into the field to conduct their research since travel into the wilderness requires the use of a snowmobile, and snowmobiles and ATVs are included under the same driving restrictions. Suddenly, in the place where climate change is happening fastest, Norway has made it impossible for research scientists to do their work.

In addition to affecting residents and researchers, this new rule also affects tourists. On mainland Norway, visitors can stay for three months while using their country’s license. Suddenly on Svalbard, no one -resident or visitor – is allowed to drive unless they meet the above requirements.

Norway was granted sovereignty over Svalbard in 1925 through the Spitsbergen Treaty. The Treaty guarantees all residents of Svalbard equal treatment, with no country’s citizens receiving preference. The sudden loss of driving rights is a clear breach of Article 3 which requires Norway to give all residents equal access within Svalbard both on land and water. 

These shocking restrictions of rights in the high Arctic is costing people their jobs, housing and putting their safety at risk. This appears to be Norway’s attempt to force non-Norwegian Svalbard residents to leave the archipelago while at the same time the government is forcing Norwegian citizens to move to Svalbard by relocating some bureaucratic offices from the mainland to Longyearbyen. 

Svalbard Resident

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