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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of Sweden

23 August 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today completed its consideration of the combined nineteenth to twenty-first periodic reports of Sweden on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Jasenko Selimovic, State Secretary, Ministry of Employment, said that Sweden was an open and inclusive country based on diversity. It was implementing many measures to combat racial discrimination, including a three-year initiative to enhance awareness of xenophobia and similar forms of intolerance, funding programmes against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and Afrophobia, taking concrete steps to improve access of immigrants to employment, education and social services, and protecting the rights of the Sami people, who were recognized both as an indigenous people and a minority. Special attention was paid to vulnerable groups such as immigrant woman and the children of newly arrived immigrant families.

During the interactive dialogue, the Committee congratulated Sweden on its excellent report and presentation. The Committee said that Sweden had actively demonstrated its political will to protect human rights to the maximum, but raised concerns about hate crime and the spread of hate speech, the lack of disaggregated data on the ethnic origin of citizens, the removal of the term “race” from Swedish legislation dealing with discrimination, and the level of cooperation between the Government and civil society organizations. Issues such as the possible establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, measures taken to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, the benefits and disadvantages of banning racist groups, the national Roma strategy, and the effectiveness of the new Ombudsperson’s Office were also raised.

In concluding remarks, Gün Kut, Country Rapporteur for Sweden, said that Sweden had a very developed system of handling issues related to racial discrimination and, as a result, a lot was expected of it. Even though the Committee and Sweden did not see eye to eye on certain issues, it was important to continue engaging in a constructive dialogue.

The Delegation of Sweden included representatives from the Ministry of Employment, the Ministry of Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Research, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 10 a.m. on Monday, 26 August, when it will begin its consideration of the combined seventeenth to twenty-second periodic report of Cyprus (CERD/C/CYP/17-22).

Report

The combined nineteenth to twenty-first periodic report of Sweden can be found here CERD/C/SWE/19-21.

Presentation of the Report

JASENKO SELIMOVIC, State Secretary, Ministry of Employment, presenting the report, said that Sweden was an open and inclusive society based on diversity; 15 per cent of citizens were born in another country and the parents of five per cent of the population lived abroad. Crimes of a racist and xenophobic nature ran contrary to Sweden’s fundamental values, and Sweden had comprehensive legislation in place to combat such crimes. The Swedish Prosecution Authority was developing a tool which would enable a better and faster identification of hate crime cases. In the past four years, there had been a six per cent decrease in the number of cases with identified hate crime motives, although Afrophobic, anti-Roma, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic crimes were on the rise.

As knowledge was key to promoting tolerance, Sweden was implementing a three-year initiative to enhance awareness of xenophobia and similar forms of intolerance. Funding had been allocated to numerous civil society initiatives fighting against, among other phenomena, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Since 2012 The Swedish Ministry of Employment had been involved in the European Union project “Good Relations”, which aimed to combat xenophobia and other forms of intolerance. The Government had been exploring additional ways of fighting intolerance, as documented in a November 2012 report.

The Swedish Constitution provided fundamental legal protection against ethnic discrimination. The new Discrimination Act, which had entered into force in 2009, prohibited discrimination associated with ethnicity, religion or other beliefs. The mandate of the Equality Ombudsman, who monitored compliance with the Discrimination Act, was broad and regulated by law. Due to Swedish law on the protection of personal data it was not possible to provide complete statistical data on the ethnicity or religion of citizens.

Government initiatives included increasing newly arrived immigrant’s access to the labour market, facilitating language acquisition, and creating a society in which everyone had a sense of belonging. Particular attention was paid to disadvantaged groups to facilitate access to education and employment. The latest Government budget allocated substantial amounts of money to integration projects, and the Government was looking into ways of reducing unemployment among women immigrants.

Through the Ministry of Justice, Sweden was leading a pan-European project, financed by the European Commission, which aimed to identify, collect and disseminate examples of best practices concerning the prevention and the countering of far-right extremism across Europe. Several measures were being implemented to improve the availability of mother-tongue teaching and the teaching of national minority languages in Swedish schools. A coordinated and long-term strategy for Roma inclusion for the period 2012-2032 had recently been adopted by the Government.

Measures had also been taken to protect the rights of the Sami minority. An amendment was made to the Swedish constitution to confirm the status of the Sami people, whose right to self-determination was recognized, as evidenced by the establishment of the Sami Parliament twenty years ago. The Sami Council had been given increased influence in decision-making on matters related to the use of land and resources which affected the Sami people. More remained to be done to ensure that Sami people, both collectively and individually, could fully enjoy their rights.

Questions by Experts

GÜN KUT, Country Rapporteur for Sweden, commended Sweden on the regularity with which it submitted its reports, the latest having been submitted well before the deadline. Sweden, a Nordic country with a population of just under 10 million inhabitants, was one of the richest countries in the world in terms of per capita income. He noted that Sweden continued to have a reservation on Article 14 of the Convention.

There were five recognized minorities in Sweden, one of whom, the Sami, were also recognized as an indigenous people. Recent measures to combat racial discrimination included a new Discrimination Act, a law on access of immigrants to the labour market, an independent police misconduct unit, a national action plan for human rights, and a comprehensive national strategy for integration.

The system in Sweden was very developed and comprised a number of policies which were implemented and evaluated. Sweden had also demonstrated its political will to protect human rights to the maximum, and was one of the better places in the world in terms of devising structures to combat racism, on which it deserved to be congratulated. However, despite all the efforts and resources invested, there were still a considerable number of persons in Sweden who remained unaware of initiatives to eliminate racial discrimination.

Despite doubts about the usefulness of statistics, sometimes disaggregated data remained the only way of describing a problem and finding a logical solution to it. The term “race” had been removed from the definition of discrimination, which made it more difficult to cover racism in the legislation. The justice system clearly worked on hate crime, and the police forces investigated many hate crimes. How many such crimes had been investigated and what was the outcome of those investigations?

Concerning the Equality Ombudsperson, Mr. Kut said that racially motivated discrimination was one of many issues with which the Office of the Ombudsperson dealt. Did that office have the capacity and necessary resources to deal effectively with so many issues at the same time and achieve the desired results? Why Sweden had not established yet a National Human Rights Institute?

No fewer than 50 non-governmental organizations had contributed to Sweden’s shadow report, which was commendable. However, civil society organizations had raised a number of serious issues, which would not have been the case had the relationship between the Government and civil society been truly harmonious and one of cooperation.

Despite serious domestic demands, Sweden had still not ratified International Labour Organization Convention 169. Why was that and were there any plans to adhere to the Convention?

Segregation was widespread in Swedish society, and the issue needed to be addressed. Terrorist acts should be dissociated from action taken by ethnic or religious groups, and the unfair identification of Muslims with terrorists should cease.

An Expert said that Sweden’s report was very well-structured and Sweden was well-known in Latin America for supporting the rights of women, indigenous people and persons from all segments of society. What did Sweden’s national strategy for the promotion of Roma inclusion consist of?

Some of the measures adopted to facilitate access of immigrants to the labour market were innovative. What was the outcome of those efforts? The 2006 initiative to use anonymous application forms for civil service jobs sounded interesting. Further information was required on the outcome of that experiment. Life expectancy in Sweden was 79 years for the native population. Did Sweden have disaggregated information on the life expectancy of indigenous peoples, ethnic groups and other minorities?

An Expert raised the issue of hate crime, which he said had reached intolerable proportions. He asked whether there was a problem of coordination among different bodies dealing with the issue. The non-collection of statistical data on ethnic origin was not in compliance with Sweden’s obligations under the Convention. Furthermore, the issue of racist propaganda spread by specific groups in Sweden was an issue which required urgent attention.

Sweden’s report was transparent, reliable and trustworthy, said an Expert, who then asked who exactly the perpetrators of hate crimes were in a developed country such as Sweden. The systematic prohibition of hate crime was required in order to eradicate hatred, which was the root of such actions. Were there think-tanks in Sweden which could seek help from members of the international community to find solutions to the problems of hate speech and hate crime? How could Sweden be certain that people no longer saw each other through the lens of race?

Sweden was a country with a well-known tradition of tolerance and openness and yet, paradoxically, it was affected by xenophobia and racism, said an Expert. The historical reasons for which Sweden did not collect ethnic statistics were understandable but there were other ways of gathering information on the ethnic origin of citizens, and those possibilities should be explored by Sweden. The term “race” was to be found in many international treaties, so its removal from the definition of discrimination, however logical the reasons behind it, might lead to a need to re-draft international treaties and also ran the risk of weakening the fight against racial discrimination.

Measures taken against extremism, including Islamic extremism, and political violence were good. Was Islamophobia more pronounced in Sweden than in other parts of Europe?

The recently adopted Roma strategy covering the period up to 2032 was a positive development, an Expert commented. Nevertheless, reports had been received about discrimination against Roma groups in housing, employment, education and numerous other areas. None of those grievances had resulted in formal complaints, which indicated a lack of confidence of the Roma in the Swedish State.

An Expert asked for clarification on the different types of discrimination identified and wondered about the meaning of “unlawful discrimination”. He also said that there was no clear definition of what constituted hate crime.

More resources should be allocated to civil society organizations to enable them to carry out their work more efficiently. Concerns had been expressed by civil society representatives about the independence of the new Equality Ombudsperson, especially since there were allegations that the previous Ombudsperson had been dismissed because she was overly zealous about her duties.

Unlike women’s associations and civil society organizations, the Government had not openly condemned the attack against a woman in a niqab last week in Sweden.

On what issues had the Sami Parliament been given autonomy, an Expert enquired.

Comments by Delegation

An Expert congratulated Sweden on the initiatives it had taken since its last review and on committing considerable resources to the fight against discrimination. However, why did Sweden think that removing the word “race” from the definition of discrimination would help the Government in its efforts to combat racial discrimination, he asked. The Expert asked Sweden to reconsider the impact of that move on all those who were affected by racism and colour-related intolerance on a daily basis.

The delegation was asked to explain what “dialogue police” was and what role could non-governmental organizations play in improving access of immigrants to the labour market.

Sweden needed to be more assertive in persuading its population of the advantages of immigration, said an Expert, mainly through education and a robust enforcement of the law. How much money did unemployed persons receive in welfare benefits? If the number of unemployed immigrants was particularly high and they received high sums of money in welfare and housing benefits, then the population might feel that immigrants were a burden to the Swedish State.

Response by Delegation

The delegation said that the analysis of Sweden’s report had been very good. The use of the term “race” in Swedish legislation had been questioned. Following that, a decision had been made to remove it from the Discrimination Act and not to use it in new legislation. The Government was of the opinion that human races did not exist or matter, even though it was necessary to acknowledge the existence of races in certain contexts. That was just a choice of words favoured by Sweden and would have no effect whatsoever on the level of protection offered to those affected by racism.

Concerning national minorities, the delegation said that specific authorities had been given the task of following up on the implementation of law on national minority languages. Consultation with the national minorities concerned was central to all such initiatives, so it would strengthen implementation of the Act on national minorities at local and regional level. In addition, awareness-raising measures were being implemented at that regard.

Measures at national level were being taken to help the Roma people, raise awareness about sexual and reproductive health, and promote their integration in society. The Equality Ombudsman had launched a special three-year programme targeting discrimination against the Roma in the area of social services. Following a dialogue with Roma representatives, the Government had established a Roma reference group to discuss on a regular basis the implementation of the Roma national strategy.

Concerning those in the Roma community who were unemployed, the future of 90 per cent stated yesterday by the Committee was not exact, the delegation said. A nationwide study was under way to collect accurate data.

Sweden was working to mitigate the effects of reindeer damage, particularly in Sami areas, and a bill on predatory animals was currently being prepared. A draft convention was currently being negotiated with the Sami people in order to find solutions to outstanding issues.

Sweden did have the necessary criminal legislation in place to prohibit use of all forms of racist language, not only in public but also within organizations, as stated in the report. The criminal law was designed to force racist groups into passivity by prohibiting all racist activity and expression, both in private meetings and in public. Sweden believed that an outright ban on such groups would be counter-productive. Organizations which were banned could easily re-establish themselves under a different name or re-group underground, which would make it very difficult for the Government to monitor their activities.

Concerning hate crime statistics, the delegation clarified that four per cent, not 30 per cent as heard yesterday, of hate crimes in Sweden targeted Jews.

A Swedish crime survey showed that xenophobia and racism had not increased in Sweden since measuring began in 2006. Sweden used extensive statistics in all aspects of society and public life to enhance policymaking. Hate crime data was collected at different stages of the process, including the initial stage of reporting a crime to the police. Legal authorities were adopting their computer systems to enable exchange of information between different departments, which was expected to enhance efficiency when dealing with hate crimes.

Sweden focused on increasing labour participation rates, increasing supply and demand in the labour market, and also worked with entrepreneurs who wanted to set up new businesses.

Education was another area of focus, especially improving results for the children of newly arrived immigrant families.

Urban development work was being undertaken to reduce segregation and sustain socio-economic living, and improve school results in specific areas with a high concentration of immigrants. Citizenship was used as a general tool for integration.

Sweden was actively engaging in meaningful dialogue with non-governmental organizations, which received State funding, both directly from the Government and through a numerous other programmes.

The delegation said that the number of complaints received by the new Equality Ombudsman was very similar to the number of complaints received by the old Ombudsman. The website of the Ombudsman’s Office aimed to provide clear information to individuals who wanted to contact the office on a certain matter and provided information on other bodies which could be of help with discrimination matters. The website was not designed to dissuade persons with grievances from contacting the Ombudsman’s Office.

Measures against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were being taken across the country, especially in the area of education. Afrophobia was sometimes combined with Islamophobia, for example in the case of persons with a Somali background.

Regarding the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, the delegation said that Sweden was currently working on a strategy for human rights issues in general and that the proposal to establish such an institution had been put to the Government by various bodies. The proposal was currently being examined.

The use of anonymous applications for recruitment in the civil service had been found to have made no difference to employment rates for Swedes of non-Swedish origin, so that practice had been abandoned. The delegation said that it was possible to make an appeal against a Government contract by filing a complaint with the local authorities.

Sweden wanted to upgrade the meaning of citizenship in order to enhance the population’s sense of belonging. Municipalities had an obligation to organize citizenship seminars, which were optional, for newly arrived immigrants at least once a year.

Provisions for the prevention of discrimination existed both in the civil law and in the criminal law. The term “unlawful discrimination” was used in a provision in the Penal Code.

Comments by Experts

One of the very first victims of hate crime was not of non-Swedish origin, an Expert recalled. Olof Palme had been assassinated in what constituted a crime against humanity, was a man who had political ideas which were ahead of his time. It was not a coincidence that Stockholm had been chosen for the Nobel Prize ceremony, including the Nobel Peace Prize, for Sweden was a world centre for the promotion of peace and tolerance.

Concerning the role of the media, especially the internet, in spreading racial discrimination and hatred, a recent study had shown that the internet was a major source of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Sweden. What was being done to monitor the situation and ensure that the media were not used to spread racial hatred? Was a distinction made between racial hate and other types of hate speech, for example against homosexual, bisexual and transgender persons?

An Expert asked how the Sami people saw the consultations held with the Swedish Government. Did they have confidence in the consultation process, or did they feel that Sweden was not doing enough to address the issues of land ownership and natural resources which were crucial to them?

Non-governmental organization representatives had reported that racist organizations were thriving in Sweden, said an Expert. Would Sweden stick to principles and let the activities of racist groups carry on or adapt its existing rules to ensure that the problem of racist organizations and their activities were effectively tackled?

Concerning the term “agitation” used in criminal law, the Expert said that some racially motivated crimes did not involve agitation, so if the prosecution had the burden of proof, the use of the term “agitation” might reduce the number of crimes prosecuted, because agitation would be impossible to prove.

Information received from civil society organizations indicated that more could be done by Sweden to more effectively tackle the problem of hate speech. What was Sweden doing in terms of high-level condemnations of hate speech and hate crime? Concerning segregation, civil society organizations had indicated that Swedish Muslims were unable to obtain financing in a Muslim-compliant way. What was Sweden doing to address that matter?

An Expert raised serious concern about the fact that there were far more complaints than convictions in racial discrimination cases, which, he said, pointed to a major problem in the implementation of criminal law. That issue needed to be addressed by Sweden. What means and mechanisms were there to deal with the problem?

Referring to the recent incidents of social unrest in the outskirts of Swedish cities, an Expert asked the delegation to comment on the matter and explain what was being done in response.

An Expert praised the delegation for providing very clear and precise responses.

Response by Delegation

Sweden had recently launched a campaign focusing on xenophobia spread through the internet, and that was one of the main activities of a three-year initiative on combating hate speech.

Hate crimes were all crimes against a person or a person’s property committed not only because of race, religious beliefs or ethnic background but also because of sexual orientation or gender identity. The concept of hate speech as such was not used in Swedish criminal law. The term used for that was “agitation against national or ethnic group”, which made punishable the dissemination of statements expressing contempt for certain groups.

The Sami people were recognized both as an indigenous people and as a minority in the Constitution. In that capacity, the Sami people had benefited doubly in terms of getting their voice heard. For example, their language had been recognized and revitalized through school teaching. Consultations with the Sami people took place at the local, regional and Government level.

“Agitation” was used in the title of the criminal law provision but was not one of the criteria in the provision itself, so it was not one of the elements which the prosecution was required to prove and, therefore, it would not affect the number of cases prosecuted under the law.

Banning completely racist organizations might turn their members into “martyrs” and increase public interest in their racist activities, so Sweden was not convinced that that was the way forward, a delegate explained.

Concerning the riots which broke out in May, the delegate said that the initial concern of the State was to re-establish order in the affected areas. The incident, which involved members of minority groups, also served to draw attention to the long-term need to improve the situation of populations living in disadvantaged areas by reducing unemployment and improving school results. The Government would allocate further resources to such areas to help young persons get back into education and employment.

Concluding Remarks

GÜN KUT, Country Rapporteur for Sweden, thanked the delegation for its frank dialogue which gave Committee Members a clearer picture of the situation. Sweden had a very developed system for handling issues related to racial discrimination. Consequently, Sweden had raised the bar and expectations were very high.
Even though the Committee and Sweden did not see eye to eye on certain issues, it was important to continue engaging in a constructive dialogue.

JASENKO SELIMOVIC, State Secretary, Ministry of Employment, said that Sweden was grateful for the input of the Committee and thanked Experts for their questions and comments, which would be studied further in Sweden.


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For use of the information media; not an official record