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Statement to the media by the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, on the conclusion of its official visit to Sweden, 1-5 December 2014

Stockholm, 5 December 2014

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent thanks the Government of Sweden for its invitation to visit the country from 1 to 5 December 2014, and for its cooperation. We thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Division for Discrimination Issues at the Ministry of Employment, in particular, for their support. We wish to stress that the views expressed in this statement are of a preliminary nature. Our findings and recommendations will be presented in our mission report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2015.

During the course of the visit the Working group assessed the situation of both Afro-Swedes and Africans living in Sweden, and gathered information on the forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance that they face. We studied the official measures and mechanisms taken to prevent racial discrimination and protect victims of racism and hate crimes as well as responses to multiple forms of discrimination. The visit focused on both good practices and challenges faced in realising their fundamental rights.

As part of its fact-finding mission, the Working Group visited Stockholm, Malmö and Lund, and met representatives of the Government, communities living in the suburbs, NGOs, academia, and civil society. The experts also visited the Swedish Migration Board and its detention facility in Marsta. We would like to thank all the people who met with the Working Group and shared their views on the human rights situation of Afro-Swedes and Africans in the country.

We welcome steps taken by the Government to begin to address discrimination faced by Afro-Swedes and Africans. Sweden has ratified international human rights instruments which prohibit racial discrimination including the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms and the Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on a number of grounds.

We noted with satisfaction that in 2014 the Prime Minister in his Statement of Government Policy mentioned Afrophobia indicating that Government will not tolerate racial discrimination. We welcome plans to develop a Human Rights Strategy.

We learnt that the Multicultural Centre was awarded a government grant to undertake a study on Afrophobia in Sweden which provides a number of key recommendations. We hope that this report will foster a nation-wide discourse on how best to combat Afrophobia.

The Working Group noted the special assignment given to the Equality Ombudsman to intensify the work against xenophobia and racism. We also noted the Government’s intention to give the Living History Forum an assignment to implement a three-year education project on various forms of racism in history. We welcome the Government’s plan to consider the need for a national centre for knowledge on racism. We also note that the National Agency for Education has been given an assignment for awareness raising in schools on xenophobia and racism from 2014 until 2017.

We note the implementation in Sweden of the European Council campaign “No Hate Speech Movement” and the EU project “Good Relations” as measures to combat racism.

At the municipal level in Malmö we were introduced to a Strategic Plan for Anti-Discrimination, a study to implement the Afrophobia report recommendations and a textbook review to map and correct where necessary, misrepresentations of the history of Sweden and its role during the transatlantic slave trade, slavery and colonialism.

We welcome the establishment of Hate Crime Units in Stockholm and Malmö and we hope they will be strengthened and replicated with a dedicated and inclusive team to work with the Afro-Swedes and Africans. We learnt that the anti-discrimination bureaus and other civil society initiatives play a very important role in assisting victims to seek justice.

Despite all the positive measures referred to above, we have concerns relating to how the Government addresses the challenges faced by Afro-Swedes and Africans in the country.

We hope parliament will prioritize the work to combat Afrophobia and racial discrimination in its budget allocations for the next financial year.

The Working Group is concerned about the difference between the official discourse and on-the-ground findings after meetings with various stakeholders who related their experiences of racist acts and hate speech. Afro-Swedes and Africans expressed their experiences of multiple forms of discrimination based on their skin colour, race, religion and sex.

Heart-breaking accounts from victims reflected their lack of trust in the police and the justice system; their feelings of marginalisation, invisibility, economic vulnerability and insecurity. We consistently heard complaints of racial profiling stop and search, and arbitrary interference in the context of Government counter terrorism measures and initiatives to clamp down on illegal migrants. The perception is that concerns of national minorities – a status not accorded to Afro-Swedes and Africans -are addressed more seriously by the state.

It is our view that the Swedish philosophy of equality and its public and self-image as a country with non-discrimination and liberal democracy, blinds it to the racism faced by Afro-Swedes and Africans in its midst. No country is free of racism and Sweden is not an exception. For a nation that has been perceived as having a long tradition of tolerance and openness, the relative silence around racism and racial discrimination is surprising and worrying.

Correcting this unacceptable situation can only be done through education of the entire society and Sweden facing up to its colonial past. The lack of knowledge of the history of the transatlantic slave trade and the culture of Africa is perpetuating modern day racism.

The Working Group was informed that Government does not collect disaggregated data on the basis of race and ethnicity. This results in an inability to recognize and address structural discrimination. The focus only on the country of origin and the removal of “race” from the Discrimination Act makes it extremely difficult to monitor and take action to address racism. We recommend that the Government conducts surveys based on self-identification of racial categories.
The Working Group was introduced to some statistical and academic research which indicates the existence of racial discrimination and profiling, especially in the report on Afrophobia funded by Government – which now needs to be acted upon.

We heard about discrimination in access to health, housing, and employment. We are concerned about the existence of segregated neighbourhoods and reports that health clinics, banks and other essential services are being pulled out of some “ethnic” neighbourhoods. The study on Afrophobia provides indication of the scale of the problem with clear data that Afro-Swedes and Africans are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, regardless of their educational level and citizenship status. Another concern highlighted by communities was the alleged arbitrary interference in family life of Afro-Swedes and Africans and removal of children by social welfare authorities.

Racial discrimination is also manifested in lack of access to justice and the failure to protect, effectively prosecute and deter Afrophobic hate crimes. We are also concerned about allegations that law enforcement agencies act with impunity when targeting Afro-Swedes and Africans.

According to available statistics Afro-Swedes are most exposed to hate crimes, and reports of Afrophobic hate crimes have increased by 24 % since 2008. In this context, hate crime units and investigators are insufficient. Many cases are reported but few are investigated and prosecuted. The Swedish Police is facing serious knowledge, security and capacity gaps in dealing with Afrophobic hate crimes. There has been a rise of ultra nationalist right wing groups and political parties and the Working Group is concerned that there is a heightened xenophobic and racist attitude against Afro-Swedes and Africans.

The recommendations we now make are intended to assist Sweden in its efforts to tackle Afrophobia and combat all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

With regards to the media, we state that while respecting the freedom of expression, the government should take steps to ensure that no media outlet engages in incitement to racial, religious or xenophobic hatred that could lead to further human rights violations.

To increase trust in the system, there is need for an oversight mechanism independent from the Police force with a mandate to carry out investigations into police misconduct, including acts of racism or racial discrimination. We recommend a review of laws to assess their effectiveness in addressing Afrophobia and racial discrimination.

We encourage the Government to mark important anniversaries for Afro-Swedes and Africans such as the anniversary of the abolition of slavery on 9 October, and make the day a national day of remembrance. It should adopt the city tour of sites of memory and encourage all schools to place it on their academic calendar.

We recommend that primary and secondary education curriculum include information on Sweden’s role in transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. We also recommend measures to increase representation of Afro-Swedes and Africans at all levels in the education sector.

We encourage the Government to develop disaggregated data on the basis of self-identification by Afro-Swedes and Africans and to ensure that the new national human rights action plan includes special projects and programmes to address concerns of Afro-Swedes and Africans. We recommend the establishment of information and knowledge centres for Afro-Swedes and Africans across the country.

We urge the government to strengthen the Equality Ombudsman and begin a process to establish a Paris Principles compliant National Human Rights Institution (NHRI).

Finally as the International Decade for People of African Descent is to be launched on 10 December 2014, we recommend that the Government partner with civil society and take advantage of this opportunity to implement relevant recommendations for recognition, justice and development of Afro-Swedes and Africans.

The Working Group would like to reiterate its satisfaction at the Government’s willingness to engage in dialogue, cooperation and action to combat discrimination. We understand that this is a long process and not one that can be achieved immediately. We hope that our report will support the Government in this process and we express our willingness to assist in this important endeavour.