HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE TAKES UP SWEDEN'S FIFTH
Delegation Introduces National Action Plan 2002-2004;
NEW YORK, 20 March (UN Headquarters) -- As the Human Rights Committee, in two meetings today, took up the fifth periodic report of Sweden on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the head of the Swedish delegation introduced that country’s integrated National Action Plan for Human Rights, 2002-2004.
In his opening statement, Carl-Henrik Ehrenkrona, Director-General for Legal Affairs of Sweden, said although his Government was flattered by the depiction of Sweden as "close to a human rights paradise" in previous summary records of the Committee, there were some weaknesses that should be addressed.
With that in mind, he introduced the National Action Plan for Human Rights, 2002-2004. That initiative had been an outgrowth of the agreements reached at the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and the declaration of 1995 to 2004 as the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education. Sweden’s three-year Plan -- drawn up with active participation of civil society, various parliamentary parties, researchers and ombudsmen -- aimed to enhance awareness of rights issues in the Government and the population.
He said the Action Plan’s priorities were protection against discrimination, rights of disabled persons, housing issues and segregation, minority issues, rights of the Sami people, deprivation of liberty, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The Plan specified current and proposed legislation in those areas. He added that in February 2001 Sweden had also adopted a systematic National Action Plan against Racism, Xenophobia, Homophobia and Discrimination. Laws banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, disability and ethnic origin had also been passed.
In addition, he said Sweden had been active, in conjunction with the European Union, in efforts to ensure that counter-terrorism measures were pursued within the context of fundamental human rights.
When the panel began its discussion of Sweden’s presentation, an expert said that the high quality of Sweden’s work in the field of human rights was demonstrated by its answers to the Committee’s written requests. But, because Sweden held such a privileged position in the sphere of human rights protection, it also bore a special responsibility. That was particularly true as human rights and personal freedoms came increasingly under attack in the post-11 September environment. So, for a country like Sweden to maintain its traditional policy and call on international actors to not undermine or further promote the rejection of human rights would be highly instructive.
Other experts asked about Sweden’s views of its responsibilities for the treatment, in foreign countries, of individuals it had expelled on suspicion of terrorism or for other reasons. Concerns over covert surveillance were also expressed. In other areas, experts inquired about problems which could arise because of the fact that principles of the Covenant were not fully integrated into Sweden’s legal system. They also asked for details on specific cases of deaths in police custody that had occurred in recent years, and measures being taken against various forms of discrimination.
Responding to the experts, Mr. Ehrenkrona said it was difficult to balance legislative or judicial efficiency with the rights of individuals suspected of terrorism. Indeed, United Nations post-11 September sanctions had affected the rights of many persons, including three Swedish citizens whose assets had been frozen. Sweden continued to work within the European Union and various United Nations sanctions committees to strengthen legal security of those who might have been affected.
He added that he was disturbed that the Committee seemed to feel that Sweden did not take its obligations under the Covenant seriously simply because its principles had not been expressly integrated into domestic law. That was not the case. While the Swedish Government did not consider any international treaty-monitoring bodies a substitute for a court of law, there was constant judicial scrutiny of pending legislation to ensure its harmonization with international norms.
Also responding to expert questions were: Erica Hemtke, Deputy Director, Ministry of Justice; Goran Lindqvist, the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Industry, Employment and Communication; and Ulla Strom, Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The Committee will meet tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., to consider its methods of work.
The Human Rights Committee this morning began its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Sweden (CCPR/C/SWE/2000/5) on that country’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Under article 40 of the Covenant, all States parties agree to submit periodical reports on the implementation of the agreement. The report addresses the parts of the Covenant to which significant changes have been made within the country, or important developments that have taken place since submission of the last report in October 1994.
According to the report, the Swedish Constitution prohibits discriminatory treatment by courts or administrative authorities, as well as the enactment of any discriminatory laws and regulations. The Government of Sweden stresses that preventing and combating ethnic discrimination, racism and other types of intolerance (article 2) is one of its highest priorities. It strives to ensure effective legislation that criminalizes acts of racism and xenophobia. The Penal Code contains two provisions directly addressing contempt or discrimination on grounds of race, color, or national, ethnic or religious origin.
According to the report, the Penal Code also facilitates measures to combat agitation against ethnic groups and aims to prevent establishment of organizations beyond the reach of democracy. Punishment under the code is not only imposed on the perpetrator, but also on any person who furthers a crime –- in this case, attempting to incite racial violence. The Code further prohibits discrimination in business, as well as in public assemblies or communications.
On gender equality and women’s rights (article 3), the report notes that one of the goals of the Swedish Government was for men and women to have the same chance at achieving financial independence. To elicit more information about the discrepancy between women’s and men’s financial resources, the Government established the Committee on Distribution of Economic Power and Economic Resources between Women and Men in 1995. The Committee’s most recent report showed less divergence in pay levels between men and women today, but it also emphasized that pay differentials still existed. The Government was actively addressing that issue and had directed national agencies to actively pursue gender equality.
The Government had also enacted polices to prevent and eliminate violence against women. Those measures included stricter penalties, procedural improvements and better support for women victims of violence. A new offence had been introduced into the Penal Code, gross violation of a woman’s integrity, which covered repeated punishable acts committed by men against women. The report also noted that failing or neglecting to report or reveal grave sexual offences, such as rape or grave sexual exploitation of minors, had been made punishable under certain conditions.
Reporting under article 9 concerning the judiciary, the report states that legislation now provides for a suspect person being informed of charges at the time of apprehension, rather than at the time of arrest. Other provisions have also been taken to insure the rights of detainees to swift trial. Extensive amendments to Sweden’s Act on Special Provisions for Young Offenders had also come into force, as had provisions on a right to compensation from the State for damage caused by deprivation of liberty and other coercive measures.
Further, under article 10, regarding detentions, the report documents the growing use of intensive supervision with electronic monitoring for the serving of prison terms with sentences under three months. Numerous other programmes for rehabilitation and treatment of offenders had been instituted, a number of them related to young offenders under the age of 21 whose concerns are within the social welfare system’s domain.
Under article 13, Sweden reports that the Aliens Act and its Appeals Board regulate in detail the right to appeal any decision in that regard. The concept of de facto refugee had been replaced by the concept of aliens otherwise in need of protection, including those who had a well-founded fear about returning to dangerous or abusive homes; those who couldn’t return because of conflict or disaster; and those who had a well-grounded reason to fear persecution on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. A bill concerning legislation to insure an alien’s right to appeal an expulsion order was being prepared in response to the Committee’s 1995 recommendation.
With regard to protection of rights (article 14), the report states that the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms has applied as Swedish law since 1 January 1995. Numerous amendments had strengthened the judicial appeals process, as well as the process of administering justice. New rules had been established to further ensure the rights of youthful offenders and a Commission of Inquiry into Young Offenders was studying the effectiveness of the new procedures.
In addition, Sweden reports under article 17 that a new act had been instituted to protect automated and similarly processed data. Under article 19, the scope of the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression had been extended to cover the products of new media. A governmental committee was considering a further extension. Under article 20, the relatively short periods of limitations for so-called hate-speech in the media were under consideration for extension.
Continuing under article 24, the report states that the Swedish Code concerning child custody issues had been amended to pave the way for more frequent application of joint custody. Numerous other safeguards for children had been introduced, such as new legislation on extended criminal liability for association with child pornography or an act that provides a Special Representative for Children to reinforce rights when a parent is suspected of a crime against a child. A parliamentary committee had been instructed to conduct a complete review of provisions on sexual offenses to consider whether legislation needed to be made more stringent.
Under article 25, the report states that a parliamentary decision now allowed for the casting of specific personal votes. Under article 26, a new act to counteract ethnic discrimination in the workplace had gone into effect. A National Action Plan against Racism, Xenophobia and Ethnic Discrimination was being set up, with a National Integration Office that would work in cooperation with the crime victim authority to increase awareness about the situation of racist-crime victims. Non-governmental organizations were being recruited for participation in the Action Plan while new immigrant integration policy objectives and guidelines had already been put into force in 1998. The objectives were to create equal rights and opportunities for all, regardless of ethnic or cultural background, and to create social cohesion based on diversity.
In January 2000, the report states, Sweden ratified the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages, after adopting its own Act on National Minorities in December 1999. The national minorities recognized in Sweden were the Sami, Swedish Finns, Tornedalers, Roma and Jews, all with their minority languages. Steps had been taken at both the national and regional levels to strengthen the situation of the national minorities and to provide the necessary support to keep their languages alive. An information programme on the Sami had been launched and their rights had been strengthened with regard to their reindeer-related means of livelihood.
Finally, there were no special procedures for implementing the Committee’s views with regard to the Optional Protocol. Sweden was ready to amend its legislation to conform with the Covenant in any way recommended by the Committee.
Introduction of Report
CARL-HENRIK EHRENKRONA, Director-General for Legal Affairs, Foreign Ministry of Sweden, said that, although flattered by the depiction of Sweden as "close to a human rights paradise" in previous summary records of the Committee, Sweden did have some weaknesses in the area. In that regard, he outlined measures taken since the fifth report was submitted in November 2000.
Among those measures, he said, had been work, in conjunction with the European Union, to make sure that counter-terrorism measures protected fundamental human rights. In addition, the Government adopted a National Action Plan for Human Rights, in January 2002, following recommendations of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights. Over its three-year term, the Plan aimed to enhance awareness of rights issues in the Government and the population. Priorities were protection against discrimination, rights of disabled persons, housing issues and segregation, minority issues, rights of the Sami people, deprivation of liberty, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The plan specified current and proposed legislation in those areas.
He said Sweden had also adopted, in February 2001, a systematic National Action Plan against Racism, Xenophobia, Homophobia and Discrimination. Laws banning discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, disability and ethnic origin had also been passed. An Ombudsman for sexual orientation issues had been instituted. Countering violence against women was a priority. Measures in that area included training for relevant personnel and targeted categories of criminal offense, which, among other purposes, targeted trafficking in persons and offered protection to women living in isolation.
Measures had also been taken, he said, to ensure the rights of minorities and asylum seekers. Asylum-seeking children now had the same rights as citizens to attend school and receive health care. Other measures taken recently aimed to strengthen the ban on the death penalty, in the context of the Council of Europe.
Response to Questions
On the issue of whether Sweden’s legislation corresponded with the Covenant, Mr. Ehrenkrona touched on his Government’s reservations to the Covenant, namely the reopening of criminal cases after rulings by international courts, age limitations for prison sentencing and the country’s policies on public debate. He said that cases could be reopened if new evidence bearing on the outcome of the trial was uncovered or if inconsistencies were discovered in the trial proceedings. Of the perceived limitations to public debate, he said Swedish polices did not hinder freedom of expression. Swedish policies were in line with the Covenant outside of those reservations.
Turning next to the necessity of incorporating the Covenant into domestic law, and thus allowing its tenets to be invoked in court, he said international treaties did not automatically become part of law in Sweden. Such instruments must be transformed or incorporated. If the court saw a possible conflict between national law and an international treaty, the court would seek to harmonize its proceedings within Swedish law and recognized international norms. Since no conflicts had arisen, the State had seen no need to incorporate the tenets of the Covenant. Indeed, the Covenant itself did not explicitly state that it must be incorporated into the legislation of States parties. Still, even though the Covenant had not been incorporated into Swedish law, that did not hamper any individuals from invoking its principles in court proceedings.
Sweden attached great importance to the concluding observations of human rights monitoring bodies, he continued. Those observations gave States parties the opportunity to re-examine their own polices and programmes. Sweden considered that such recommendations should be respected and followed.
On the right to self-determination, he addressed the Committee’s concerns primarily about the situation of the Sami people in Sweden. He said indigenous people had no right to self-determination solely because they constituted such a group. Nevertheless, even though international law on indigenous people was unclear and evolving, Sweden believed the Sami had the right to self-government. The Sami were allowed a degree of self-authority, with their own parliament and public administration duties. Of measures to further enhance their autonomy, he noted the Government's intention to accede to International Labour Organization Convention 169 on treatment of indigenous persons. The Government also had made efforts towards expanding Sami hunting and fishing rights on the lands they occupied, particularly their reindeer-herding activities.
He next turned to the situation of women in Sweden. He said in 1999, when considering age, profession and education level, women were paid wages at 92 per cent of men. On domestic violence, he reviewed the provisions on dealing with violence and sexual crime, overall. He said a relevant parliamentary committee had recently moved to impose criminal liability for the sexual exploitation and trafficking of persons and children. On strengthening equality between men and women, he said the Government had submitted a bill to that end to Parliament. Among the provisions of the bill were measures to ensure protection against discrimination for employment applicants, fair terms of employment between men and women and that all employers with more than nine employees must establish an action plan for maintaining equal wages.
He went on to say that the country’s equal opportunity ombudsman had also been given the authority to request access to workplaces to carry out investigations. The National Mediation Office was responsible for analysing wage statistics from a gender perspective. He added that the Ombudsman had been requested by the Government to speed up efforts to eradicate wage disparities between women and men, and his nationwide initiatives had recently been made part of his regular duties.
Addressing right to life issues, he said euthanasia was considered manslaughter, while assisted suicide was not. There was an ongoing debate in the country on the issue. Legislation was now being prepared to regularize the ethical review of research involving persons. Responding to questions about compulsory mental care and forensic mental care, he said several amendments regarding legal protection for patients had been passed in 2000 aiming at reducing the frequency and time period of compulsory care. Reports will be issued for the next several years.
To questions about the regulation of coercive techniques employed by the police, he said that the Osmo Vallo case had sparked review and reform in that area. Related legislation severely limited police violence. To keep young offenders out of prisons, institutionalized juvenile care legislation had been passed. Woman inmates were also separated from men.
He said that the reason for reform in alien protection was to protect more categories of persons, such as those who have a well-founded fear of various kinds of harm. He outlined regulations governing the detention of aliens. The term "illegal immigrant" was not used in Swedish law. No decision on expulsion had ever been made without a hearing involving the individual. There were difficulties, however, in providing timely hearings. Current reforms aimed at speeding up the process and strengthening the legal rights of migrants. A new aliens act was in process and would probably be presented to the legislature within the year.
Police use of secret surveillance techniques was regulated in a code of procedure, he said, and was strictly limited in purpose, process and method, conforming with provisions on protection of privacy. He detailed relevant regulations and statistics.
To questions about any possibility of limiting freedom of religion, he said that, in the Constitution, it was theoretically possible if five sixths of the legislators voted for a measure. However, in practice, partly because of the priority of signed human rights agreements, no such legislation could be passed and none have. There are no longer any privileges for a State church.
Questions from Experts
When the panel began its discussion of Sweden’s presentation, an expert said answers to the Committee’s written requests revealed the quality of Sweden’s work in the field of human rights. The place that Sweden held in the sphere of protection of human rights was indeed privileged. Therefore, the country bore a special responsibility, particularly as human rights and personal freedoms had increasingly come under attack in the post-11 September international environment. The so-called "suspicion of terrorism" now appeared to be influencing State treatment of citizens and foreigners alike around the world.
The expert said it was necessary to recognize that, within the framework of law on fighting terrorism adopted by the Council of Europe, principles might exist that could undermine freedom of expression, as well as freedom of assembly and association, so, for a country like Sweden to maintain its traditional policy and call on international actors to not undermine or further promote the rejection of human rights would be highly instructive. He asked for clarifications on Sweden’s policies in that regard, particularly cases where suspicion of terrorism seemed to justify specific action that might be in contravention with the Covenant. How would the country preserve the rights of individuals from abuse of electronic surveillance? He went on to question the Swedish delegation about the country’s policies regarding marriage, punishment of law enforcement officers and, particularly, the presence of interpreters at the trials of foreigners.
Another expert asked what sentence was handed down following the conviction of police officers in the Osmo Vallo case. He drew the delegation’s attention to a non-governmental organization report of an instance of alleged police violence in which a person had been shot in the back. Who was in charge of investigations in such cases -- the police themselves or an independent body? He asked a series of questions on a case involving persons deported to Egypt and subsequent reports of their ill-treatment. He asked if the Government had demanded that assurances with respect to torture were respected. What measures had indeed been taken? Had there been visits to those persons detained, to ensure that the assurances had been respected?
An expert hoped that the day would come when provisions of the Covenant were totally incorporated into the legislation of Sweden and asked if mechanisms were being created to allow that to happen in the future. He congratulated Sweden on openly discussing its problems with white supremacists and asked what legal remedies were being considered to deal with them. He also wondered about the scope of self-determination provisions regarding the Sami people, particularly as regarded limitations on their reindeer herding. He asked, in addition, about the verdicts in cases of death in custody in Sweden, if tax privileges still existed for the Church of Sweden, and if there were allowances for conscientious objection, if Sweden had mandatory universal military service.
Another expert wondered what problems would arise if assisted suicide occurred in State-supported facilities and what issues were being taken into account in the re-evaluation of euthanasia’s illegality. How, he asked, was stem-cell research being handled in Sweden? In addition, he asked whether the principle of non-refoulement was in force in the country in relation to terrorism. He realized that secret surveillance could not be revealed to its subject during the investigation, but he asked if the subject was informed afterward. He asked also for more details of mechanisms for the interpretation of provisions of the Covenant in Sweden’s legal system, baring their integration into it. Finally, he asked for the procedures for communicating the Committee’s views to the Government.
An expert pursued the question of a country’s responsibility for individuals it expels to other countries, and asked about Sweden’s viewpoint and practice in that area.
Another expert asked what was the mechanism for ensuring compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights? There were areas where the Covenant went further than the European Convention and it had been troubling that Sweden had been reluctant to acknowledge the Covenant’s pre-eminence in certain cases.
He also commented on a disturbing "shadow report" he had received from a non-governmental organization concerning the preparedness of police officials on duty during the Gothenburg demonstrations. He asked the delegation to elaborate on lessons learned at the outcome of those demonstrations. He also expressed concern about Government policies regarding the Sami people. He was particularly concerned about Sweden’s approach to the cultural or traditional practices of persons living in the country when that culture violated rights.
An expert wondered whether Sweden’s law on terrorism was truly in effect and whether the country’s entire population was the target of some of its provisions. He asked how terrorism could be defined. Terrorism was rather propagandistic as a concept and, therefore, difficult to criminalize, he added. In the current international environment, it was very easy to express suspicion that could deprive an individual of individual rights. Was there now a danger of criminalizing public demonstrations or other behaviour that was essentially considered normal? He cautioned Sweden from adopting a military, rather than social approach to that issue.
On domestic violence against women, another expert wondered under what circumstances such behavior would be considered criminal. He also asked the delegation to elaborate on Sweden’s efforts to address the issue of child abuse. Were there any concrete examples of the effects of Sweden’s laws on child pornography and sexual exploitation of children?
An expert said that it was discouraging that Sweden, like many countries in Europe, was more involved in Europe than in the rest of the world, in the area of human rights. Incorporation of the Covenant into its laws would allow the rest of the world to benefit from the actions of Swedish jurisprudence. She also asked for information on the relation of gender and rights of asylum seekers, in relation, in particular, to violence against women, genital mutilation and trafficking in persons.
A final expert said it was important to fight for a restricted definition of terrorism, so that the fight against it did not jeopardize progress in human rights. He asked for further information on Swedish policy towards assisted suicide, the issue of which presented a dilemma to many countries.
Response by Delegation
On the issue of incorporation of the Covenant into Swedish law, Mr. EHRENKRONA said he was disturbed that the Committee seemed to feel that his country did not take its obligations under the Covenant seriously simply because its principles had not been expressly integrated into domestic law. The Government did not look upon the Committee, or any international treaty-monitoring bodies, as a court of law. That view was reflected in Swedish legislature. Sweden’s judicial system assisted in interpretation of the Covenant, but that did not rule out the notion of courts taking another view. The international human rights system was different from that in Europe. There were no special procedures in Swedish law, or the law of any other European country, on how to comply or implement court decisions.
With that in mind, he said, panellists had wondered how the Government ensured compliance when the Covenant was not integrated. There was always scrutiny of pending legislation to ensure its harmonization with international norms. A special institution made up of former Supreme Court Justices -- the Law Council -- examined any laws proposed by Government to Parliament to ensure they did not violate the Swedish Constitution or its obligations under international law. The general policy was that no Swedish law may be instituted that violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
Turning to legal security and the struggle against terrorism, he said obviously it was difficult to balance legislative or judicial efficiency with the rights of the individuals suspected of terrorism. Indeed, United Nations post-11 September sanctions on terrorist activity had affected the rights of three Swedish citizens. Those United Nations sanctions had been implemented through an ordinance adopted by the Council of Europe and were, thus, legally binding on all members of the European Union.
He reiterated his earlier statement that Sweden worked within the Union and various United Nations sanctions committees to strengthen the legal security of those who might have been affected by the sanctions. He highlighted several recommendations Sweden had offered such bodies, including that decisions should be based on concrete evidence of the connection between an individual and an entity that had committed acts of terrorism, and that an underlying legal mechanism should establish the existence of such a connection.
He added that national or international agents should verify that connection through reasonable suspension, probable cause, proof or condemnation. While accepting the "silent procedure" of such bodies, Sweden believed that the accused should be able to make objections, so that the sanctions committees could review their decisions. The sanctions committee should also consider providing elementary cost of living for those taking part in procedures before a court of law. Returning to the case of the three Swedish citizens, he said the matter had been brought before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and attempts had been made to have the accusations declared invalid. The case was pending.
ERICA HEMTKE, Deputy Director, Ministry of Justice, then gave the Committee a brief overview of the European Union’s framework decision on the definition of terrorism and terrorist activity. She noted that it was a political agreement accepted by European parliaments but not yet formally adopted. The framework agreement was, therefore, not directly applicable, but should be harmonized into law.
She said the framework could not be used in a way to harm human rights. The agreement noted specifically that fundamental human rights could not be affected and the definition did not restrict or criminalize the freedom of expression or right to assembly.
Of the legal safeguards on secret surveillance, she added that the Swedish Code of Judicial Procedure prohibited any surveillance that was detrimental to the subject or other adverse interest. The Court would determine whether secret wiretapping was allowed at all.
Mr. EHRENKRONA then answered questions on Sweden’s refusal of asylum for two Egyptians and their subsequent deportation to Egypt, and whether those persons had been exposed to torture or capital punishment. He said that after those persons had been deported, an official in the Swedish Foreign Affairs Ministry had flown to Cairo to meet with high officials in the Egyptian Government to make sure those persons were not exposed to torture or ill-treatment. That official made clear that, if such punishment occurred, Sweden would be exposed to serious violations under international law. Sweden had subsequently received written and oral guarantees that the persons would not be harmed and made its decision based upon those facts.
He said Sweden had been aware of reports of the probability of ill-treatment during interrogation and that was exactly what it had been trying to avoid by calling a high-level meeting. After the two citizens arrived, the Swedish Ambassador had visited them twice in prison. Journalists had also visited. There was no evidence of ill-treatment or torture, nor had there even been any complaints. Mr. Ehrenkrona’s information showed that the two persons were being held in "white collar" prisons. Sweden would continue to visit the detainees as well as continue to monitor their treatment.
He said there was no change in Sweden’s policy of non-refoulement: the country would not deport anyone when there was a substantial risk of exposure to the death penalty or torture. That policy was clear. He had been a judge dealing with asylum cases and was not aware of any case in which a person expelled from Sweden had been executed or tortured.
Ms. HEMTKE took up the matter of police violence. In the case of Osma Vallo, the Government had appointed a committee to comprehensively scrutinize authorities’ response to that death, with a view to any procedural changes that needed to be made to make the public feel confident in the result of such investigations. She was not familiar with the verdicts and sentencing in other specific cases of bodily injury caused by policemen. In 2001, a committee was appointed to review the handling any such cases.
Regarding the violence in Gothenburg, another committee was formed to examine police actions there, in order to avoid excessive use of violence and protect freedom of expression in the future. Four policemen had been accused of misconduct in the Gothenburg violence.
In answer to questions about protection of women against violence, she said that tasks had been given to officials in various sectors to strengthen national and international policy. Activities included increased work with victim support organizations, raising awareness, and more attention paid to the situations of foreign-born women and children in households in which violence had occurred. There was a law protecting women in vulnerable situations in the new Swedish aliens law, and laws countering female genital mutilation, as well as legislation making it a crime to have knowledge of a sexual offense and not report it. Stronger legal remedies for trafficking in women had been examined recently, along with ways of protecting its victims.
GORAN LINDQVIST discussed progress in dealing with "honour killings" in which foreign-born residents had killed daughters who had wanted to pursue a Swedish lifestyle. A package of measures had been developed to protect girls in patriarchal families.
Ms. HEMTKE then resumed her explanation of efforts to prevent all forms of violence against children. Strong legislation had been in effect in that area for over 30 years in Sweden and included educational efforts and a ban on corporal punishment. There was also legislation that aimed to protect the rights of a child during various legal proceedings in which the child was involved. Any involvement in child pornography, including through negligence, had also been the target of legislation.
Mr. EHRENKRONA reiterated that euthanasia was still a crime under Swedish law, and revision of such law had not been discussed in the legislature.
On marriage laws, Ms. HEMTKE said the marriage age in Sweden for both parties was 18. Persons under 18 could marry with special permission by a county administrative board. A foreign national could choose to abide by age requirements of Swedish law. That would avoid the situation where the marriage was considered valid in one State and invalid in another. At the same time, provisions for marriage to foreign nationals must not contravene Swedish public policy. The country was in the process of reforming its laws so that the age of 18 would apply for both Swedish nationals and foreigners.
Mr. LINDQVIST took up questions on the rights of persons with disabilities. In that regard he highlighted Sweden’s Action Plan for policies on the disabled, adopted two years ago. The main goal of the Plan was to ensure that rights for disabled persons were mainstreamed into all Government polices. The Plan had resulted in a number of other concrete measures, including the instruction to all Government agencies to ensure equal opportunities for the disabled and ensure their full participation in society. Another law prohibited discrimination in the labor market on grounds of disability.
On military service, Mr. EHRENKRONA said the notion of compulsory service still existed in principle, but only as the an obligation to serve in what was called "total defence." That did not mean persons were forced to carry arms; rather, they could work as a fireman, a nurse or other public-sphere occupation to fulfil their compulsory service. That allowed those persons who did not wish to serve in the armed services a way to fulfil their national obligations. Sweden’s capacity to maintain an armed force was limited, so not all men were drafted. There were still rules that punished those that totally refused to serve in any fashion. There were, however, very few persons punished under that rule.
Ms. HEMTKE, concerning the right to an interpreter during criminal proceedings, said the court had an obligation to fully examine a case, so in reality accused persons did have a right to an interpreter.
Continued Response to Written Questions
Mr. EHRENKRONA then continued his response to written questions submitted regarding the fifth Swedish periodic report. He said that there was some limitation on racist speech in the media, though the constitutional freedom of expression in the country was strong. In practice, most hate speech was found in recordings, and amendments were in progress to deal with that issue. He described various penalties for agitation against ethnic groups and the time-limits for their prosecution. Provisions regarding aggravating circumstances in the context of acts committed for racist reasons had been applied four times in 2000, the last year such figures were available.
He also reviewed the findings of a Parliamentary Commission on crimes related to racist organizations. They had resulted in a proposed bill against certain kinds of racist and homophobic actions, including stricter punishments for crimes that threatened individuals. An expert had also considered methods to bolster anti-discrimination laws, and widen them in scope. In a related matter, protection against discrimination at work covered the entire recruitment process. The increased number of complaints about work discrimination might, he said, be due to higher awareness and more avenues of redress.
In answer to questions about minorities, he said it was too early to report on problems encountered in the implementation of a minority protection policy. In regard to the Sami, a Committee studying issues of reindeer pasture grounds would report its findings later this year. Funds were being allocated for promotion of Sami culture, and efforts were being made to strengthen the functioning of the Sami parliament.
Comments by Experts
One expert said there seemed to be a somewhat uneven approach to human rights following the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September. While the Swedish delegation had given categorical responses to its position on such issues as its standard policy on non-refoulement, non-governmental organization information indicated that might not always be the case. He asked for further clarification on increased complaints of xenophobia and racism against the Sami.
He was also concerned about high unemployment rates in Sami communities. Finally, he said there seemed to be a very large number of committees and agencies examining any number of issues, but that did not mean that concrete results would be reached. He was not satisfied with the brief answers to many questions, particularly regarding the Sami. He asked for more information on the Sami Language Act.
Another expert requested the texts of the written assurances provided by Egyptian officials concerning the two persons deported to Egypt. He also wondered about the length of time between visits to the prison by the Ambassador. Had the prisoners been able to speak freely during those visits? If protection was to be effective, he said, the measures to be taken required a certain amount of diligence and expertise.
One expert wondered whether legislation or legal sanctions were the most desirable avenues for promoting human rights or correcting human rights violations.
Another Committee member said that Sweden had not incorporated article 26 of the Covenant (non-discrimination) into its laws, but had integrated a similar though less inclusive tenet of the European Convention. It was useful for the Committee to have the thinking of the judges deprived of their ability to pronounce on Covenant rights. Some thought should be given to moving away from being too Euro-centric. He asked for further clarification on Sweden’s policy for secret telephone tapping. Did secret tapping require a judicial order? Was there a time limit?
In response, Mr. LINDQVIST said that many issues in discrimination were extremely complicated and that is why they have been referred to committees. The National Action Plan on Discrimination, Racism and Xenophobia was a serious effort to counter the phenomena. It prioritized educational efforts and far-reaching proposals in the public sector, such as provisions on goods-and-services procurement.
The Roma, he said, were certainly victims of discrimination and there were targeted efforts to improve their situation. For all discrimination problems, a national database on all efforts against discrimination was envisioned. In the matter of unemployment, there were many reasons for lower employment of immigrants and the Government was addressing them on various levels, including through the National Labor Board, vocational training, urban policies and other initiatives.
Ms. HEMKE added that anti-discrimination measures were necessary, but were not enough. Hate speech could be countered through countering speech that inhibited the freedom of speech of others. There were both civil and criminal laws against discrimination and it was not an ideal situation, so a general law was now being considered. Combating racism was one of the most important efforts of the Government and many specific measures had been enacted.
ULLA STROM addressed the Sami issue. Samis were recognized as an indigenous people and as a minority by Sweden. Their rights in self-management or self-determination encompassed both economics and politics. It included their rights to preserve their own culture and manage their affairs. Admittedly, the scope of the Sami parliament was limited to matters of Sami culture, allocation of certain funds and input on utilization of land and certain resources.
The Sami issue was politically sensitive because of the clash of interests, and would not be easy. Hunting, fishing and grazing rights were particularly difficult, but the Government was trying to comply with relevant conventions, while balancing contentious factors.
Mr. EHRENKRONA described his Government’s monitoring of the guarantees given by Egypt on the treatment of the individuals who had been deported to that country.
Committee Chairman PRAFULLACHANDRA NATWARLAL BHAGWATI of India praised Sweden for the timely submission of its report and the constructive way in which the delegation had participated in the day’s discussions. Sweden was indeed a role model for achievement in human rights, to the extent that was possible. Still, he said, Committee members had been concerned by deficiencies in some areas. Lack of time did not allow him to repeat all those concerns, but troubling issues included the status of the covenant in Sweden’s domestic law, persistent reports of domestic violence and violence against women, and the situation of the Sami people. He was also concerned that an independent body had not been created to handle complaints against law enforcement officials. He added that there must be a balance between human rights and terrorism.
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