|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Human Rights Committee
2612th & 2613th Meetings (AM & PM)
COMMITTEE MONITORING COMPLIANCE WITH CIVIL, POLITICAL RIGHTS COVENANT
TAKES UP SIXTH PERIODIC REPORT OF SWEDEN
Delegation Head Says National Action Plan for Human Rights, Recent
Discrimination Act among Steps Taken to Enhance Human Rights Protection
Appearing before the Human Rights Committee to present Sweden’s sixth periodic report, Swedish officials today assured that body of improved human rights protection in their country that were backed by new institutions, while United Nations experts suggested additional mechanisms to strengthen migrant and minority rights.
Head of the Swedish delegation, Carl-Henrik Ehrenkrona, Director-General for Legal Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, explained that a national action plan for human rights had been presented to Parliament nearly three years ago, with a Delegation on Human Rights in Sweden established alongside it to support the task of securing full respect of human rights.
He told the Committee that a Discrimination Act had entered into force this year, merging seven civil laws against discrimination into a single piece of legislation. Four Ombudsmen against discrimination had been merged into a single national authority. The Act included protection against five grounds of discrimination -- ethnic affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and disability -- and added two new categories, age and gender identity. It also introduced protection from discrimination for employees in the public sector, for the first time.
Throughout the day-long discussion, the delegation described various initiatives to educate people in Sweden on the universality of human rights. One official from the Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality highlighted efforts to promote understanding and tolerance between all groups in Sweden. One example was the Government’s decision to make schools responsible for implementing a nine-year culturally sensitive curriculum that required students to learn about the culture, language and history of national minorities. Even so, when asked, the delegation was uncertain whether particularly vulnerable minorities, such as migrant women in abusive marriages, were aware of their rights, even if they were not citizens.
One expert remarked that Sweden’s written responses to the Committee’s questions had often cited the European Convention on Human Rights, leading her to urge equal consideration by Swedish judges and legal officials of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which she argued went “a great deal further” than the European Convention.
But, said Mr. Ehrenkrona, in the view of the Swedish Government, it was up to States parties to decide whether to incorporate or transform the Covenant into national law, or whether to harmonize existing laws with the Covenant’s provisions. While the extensive case law of the European Court of Justice had made that body of law “clearer” and easier for Sweden to adapt to, the Government believed the application of either instrument would generally lead to the same conclusions.
Even though Sweden did not incorporate the Covenant into its laws, the Committee’s examination of the report revealed that international law had influenced Sweden’s domestic law in a number of ways, such as when the discussion turned to Sweden’s anti-terrorism measures. One expert asked whether the rights of an Egyptian asylum-seeker -- expelled from Sweden in 2001 but later compensated because the expulsion had been found to violate his rights -- were restored based on national legal precepts or that of international law.
Mr. Ehrenkrona stressed that the initial decision had been made in line with Sweden’s Aliens Act of the time. Although it was afterwards proved to be “problematic”, it had not been “some sort of abusive decision” where the Government acted in an arbitrary manner. At the same time, according to an official from the Division for Migration and Asylum Policy, the Government had later repealed the decision of 2001, in view of the violation of Mr. Alzery’s rights as established by the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
An official from the Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality further added that, according to a provision in a newly rewritten Aliens Act, Sweden was bound not to refuse entry or expel individuals to a country where there were reasonable grounds of corporal punishment or the death penalty. That provision corresponded to Sweden’s international commitments on the prohibition of torture.
The country’s terrorism law was itself derived from European law, according to an official from the Ministry of Justice, who said offences such as murder, kidnapping and sabotage could amount to terrorism if committed with the purpose of intimidating the wider population and destabilizing the State. That crime was punishable by 10 years to life imprisonment, which corresponded to the penalty for murder and gross sabotage. Those accused had a right to defence counsel and there were no specific provisions with regard to detainment -- in effect, receiving the same treatment as other violent offenders.
Other topics discussed today included the advancement of women in Sweden, protecting the rights of disabled people and securing the political rights of the indigenous Sami population. Answering questions relating to the Sami, the Deputy Director of Game Management, Fisheries and Sami Affairs said the Government was making an effort to include Sami representatives in decision-making on issues with a direct effect on their way of life, such as reindeer herding. Sami villages must be consulted before approving geological survey permits or logging permits. Parliament would address Sami participation in a bill to be tabled soon.
The Human Rights Committee will meet again at a time to be announced.
The Human Rights Committee met today to consider the sixth periodic report of Sweden (document CCPR/C/SWE/6), which also contains the opinion of local non-governmental organizations. The report, 32-pages long, describes Sweden’s progress on the first 25 articles of the Covenant, paying particular attention to issues highlighted by the Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations from 24 April 2002.
Sweden has a national action plan for human rights for the period 2006 to 2009, which was presented to the Riksdag, or Parliament, in March 2006, the report says. That plan was the second of its kind. Around the same time, the Government formed a body to support the task of securing full respect for human rights in Sweden, called the Delegation on Human Rights in Sweden. The Swedish Government’s human rights website, at www.manskligarattigheter.se, contains all Swedish reports to the various international bodies that review individual States’ observance of human rights. The website carries the Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations regarding Sweden, alongside those of other monitoring committees. These documents are available in both Swedish and English.
The approach commonly used by Sweden to implement an international agreement is to establish a corresponding Swedish provision in a Swedish statute, the report says. Swedish law is interpreted in compliance with Sweden’s international obligations -- known as “treaty-compliant interpretation” -- in accordance with Swedish case law established by the Supreme Court on a number of occasions. Thus, while the content of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights “is not directly applicable in Sweden”, the Government argues that the Covenant “may be invoked in a Swedish court of law” in the sense that Swedish law is treaty-compliant.
The report adds that supervisory institutions fulfil an important function in Sweden with regard to the protection of human rights. The Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Chancellor of Justice are examples of supervisory institutions, which are authorised, alongside the police and public prosecutor, to bring charges against a civil servant for breach of official duty.
Introduction of Report
The Swedish delegation was headed by Carl-Henrik Ehrenkrona, Director-General for Legal Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The delegation was comprised of Gunilla Isaksson, Special Adviser, Department for International Law, Human Rights and Treaty Law, Ministry for Foreign Affairs; Carin Bratt, Director and Deputy Head of the Division for Migration and Asylum Policy, Ministry of Justice; Maria Kelt, Director, Ministry of Justice; Malin Ekman Alden, Desk Officer, Division for Social Services, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs; Göran Ternbo, Deputy Director, Game Management, Fisheries and Sami Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture; Bilge Tekin Befrits, Desk Officer, Division for Discrimination Issues, Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality; and Camilla Goldbeck-Löwe, Deputy Director, Division for Discrimination Issues, Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality.
In presenting Sweden’s report, Mr. EHRENKRONA referred to a Communication to Parliament on human rights in Sweden’s foreign policy, which identified Sweden’s position regarding various rights, such as freedom of expression, protecting the integrity of individuals in detention and prohibiting torture, and preventing racism and xenophobia, including Islamophobia. The Government was committed to upholding the rule of law, in which the protection of civil and political rights constituted a “fundamental task”.
He recalled the Human Rights Committee’s Draft General Comment number 33 with regard to Sweden, which had stopped short of referring to the Committee’s views as legally binding, but through which the Committee had sent a signal that it regarded its views as though they were decisions from a judicial body. Sweden was concerned that the Draft General Comment would extend the Committee’s competence beyond what was feasible in international law and what States had intended when the Committee was created. That type of approach might necessitate a new Swedish ratification, and so the Government could not support the wording in the Draft General Comment, as it stood. He understood that the language had been somewhat softened. The Government would be available to offer its views and assist the Committee in any way appropriate.
He then touched on a list of controversial issues facing Sweden. First, he addressed the question of a new law on “signals intelligence”, which had caused considerable debate in Sweden and neighbouring countries. “Signals intelligence” was collected in support of Swedish foreign, security and defence policy, so as to monitor external threats. The Government had proposed legislation that would allow the collection of communications transmitted via cable. The Government planned to submit proposals to enhance control mechanisms aimed at ensuring the integrity and privacy of individuals, which was currently being circulated for comment. The law would be more detailed in stating the purposes for which signals intelligence might be used, and it would give only the Government, Government Offices and the Swedish Armed Forces the right to direct signals intelligence. Permission would be sought from a new special court, the Defence Intelligence Court, in order to strengthen the control system.
Next, he turned to the controversial cases involving two Egyptian citizens, Mohamed Alzery and Ahmed Agiza, who were expelled from Sweden to Egypt in December 2001. He said that, in March 2007, the Government decided to repeal the decision of the former Government, and referred Mr. Alzery’s claim for compensation to the Chancellor of Justice. In a settlement reached on 2 July 2008, Mr. Alzery received SKr3.16 million, or $390,000. Once the Government had made its decision on the appeal lodged by Mr. Alzery regarding his residence permit, the Committee would be apprised of the details.
He explained that public prosecutors in Sweden acted independently of the Government, where the Government was not allowed to instruct them to institute criminal investigations in the cases of Mr. Alzery and Mr. Agiza. But, in principle, they were obliged to initiate a preliminary investigation as soon as there was reason to believe that an offence had been committed. Pubic prosecutors on different levels had examined the necessity of initiating cases against the two men. Both a prosecutor and a superior prosecutor had decided not to initiate a preliminary investigation, as had the Parliamentary Ombudsman. The Prosecutor-General had decided not to resume the preliminary investigation.
He acknowledged that the expulsion of the two men in 2001 had been heavily criticized by United Nations treaty bodies and also Swedish national institutions, such as the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Affairs. The Parliamentary Ombudsman had expressed serious concern about the way in which the Swedish Security Police acted towards the two men. After the expulsion, the National Swedish Police Board issued guidelines stipulating an alien’s right to receive humane and dignified treatment during the enforcement of an expulsion order. In the case of mistreatment, even by representatives of a foreign authority, the Swedish police would abort the enforcement. The expulsion process was considered complete once the alien had been submitted to representatives of the receiving country.
He then addressed the question of time limits on the detention of adults undergoing the expulsion and deportation process, saying there was no maximum time limit for adults. But, children could not be detained for more than 72 hours, and longer only under exceptional grounds. However, a Special Investigator was “looking into” a maximum time limit of 18 months detention, and would present a report in June. Residence permits were granted by the Migration Board, or in some cases by the Government, if an international body was able to establish that the enforcement of an expulsion order would be in breach of Sweden’s international commitments. Under the United Nations Convention against Torture and the European Convention of Human Rights, Sweden was obliged not to enforce its expulsion laws if a subject risked facing torture or other cruel on inhuman treatment in the country to which he or she was being sent. At present, a commission was studying the development of case law in that area.
He next addressed Sweden’s treatment of minorities and the fight against discrimination. On the question of the Sami people, he said a 1971 agreement between Norway and Sweden on concession pastures for reindeer grazing had been reviewed and amended, resulting in a new agreement that would be signed shortly. A Discrimination Act which entered into force on 1 January 2009, had merged the current seven civil laws against discrimination into a single piece of legislation. The current four Ombudsmen against discrimination had been merged into a single national authority. The Act included protection for the five previously protected grounds of discrimination, ethnic affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and disability. It added two new categories, age and gender identity, and introduced protection in an area not previously covered -- prohibition against discrimination for employees in the public sector.
He said a National Action Plan for Human Rights 2006-2009 was presented to Parliament in May 2006, and a Delegation on Human Rights in Sweden had been established to support the task of securing full respect of human rights. Sweden understood that task to be a long-term, continuous process, involving broad consultation with various segments of society.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Since Sweden had provided detailed written responses to questions, which had been received in time to be translated into the Organization’s official languages, the Committee Chairman, YUJI IWASAWA, expert from Japan, announced that the delegation had chosen to open the discussions by taking follow-up queries directly from the experts.
RUTH WEDGWOOD, expert from the United States, said that, while she applauded Sweden on so many counts, she was nevertheless concerned about its reservations to certain articles of the Covenant, especially article 10, paragraph 3 (against the requirement for keeping juvenile offenders segregated from adults), which she urged the delegation to consider removing.
Just as a prophylactic measure, children in detentions should be separated from adults, she said. Further, Sweden had admitted in its answers that it was difficult to monitor detention centres or prisons in rural areas. As more jails were built and more arrangements were made for family visits, it would seem that the need for that reservation would diminish. She asked if there was an age limit for mixing children and adults in prisons.
On Sweden’s reservation to article 14, paragraph 7 (matters related to “double jeopardy” and the reopening of finalized cases), she wondered if the Government, on grounds of common practice, might consider re-examining or reversing its position.
Continuing, she said that, while she appreciated Sweden’s tendency to cite in its jurisprudence the European Convention on Human Rights, she believed that, in many instances, the International Covenant went a great deal farther than the European Convention. She urged the delegation to consider informing judges and legal officials in the country to at least consider both documents, if not pressing for the full integration into domestic law.
On mainstreaming gender and women’s participation, she asked if Sweden had considered any special measures to boost such participation in business, political and, especially, academic fields. For instance, had Sweden considered giving women academics a “tenure time out” so that they would not lose credit during pregnancy and immediately after child birth? Turning next to violence against women, “an enormously challenging social problem”, especially when dealing with ethnically diverse communities, she asked if Sweden had made any attempt to hire women police officers from Sami and Muslim communities, among others, to make it easier for women in those communities to report crimes and abuse.
Also on violence against women, she wondered what sort of priority police in general gave to domestic abuse cases. Was there a procedure for women to report such cases in secure circumstances? She was also concerned that there were reportedly very few shelters for abuse victims and that those that existed received only superficial funding from the Government. Was that the case? What was being done to rectify that situation? On the situation of women in Sami and other minority communities, she expressed concerns about female genital mutilation, honour killings and other gender-based violence. She wondered if the Swedish Government had launched any education programmes, in all its communities, about such practices, especially in the various languages. Was data being collected from doctors, nurses and hospitals on the prevalence of female genital mutilation?
She went on to express concern about early marriage in the country and asked if there had been any moves to criminalize such underage unions under law? Turning next to the situation of people with disabilities, she asked if the Government had undertaken any programmes to measure what had been achieved in such areas as workplace adaptation and mobility, among others, to improve the lives and livelihoods of such persons.
Sir NIGEL RODLEY, expert from the United Kingdom, turned to the issue of the deportation of Alzery and Agiza, which in light of the Committee’s knowledge of Sweden’s strong attitude towards torture, had seemed “inconsistent” from what was expected of Sweden. He was gratified to see Sweden’s written response acknowledging the violation of rights in Mr. Alzery’s case and to learn that he was being compensated, and that Mr. Agiza was undergoing a similar process to regain his rights. But, did Sweden perceive its Government to have violated national law or international law? What would it do to ensure that such cases were not repeated? He asked for assurances that Sweden would absorb the lessons on non-refoulement offered by the two cases, adding that non-refoulement was a question of fact, requiring a certain amount of monitoring and follow-up.
Saying Sweden’s response to asylum-seeking children was reassuring, he asked to know more about a new action plan to protect the rights of such children. Had the courts dealt with that issue since the action plan was adopted? The written response had talked of prosecutions, but he was not certain whether those were old or new cases.
ZONKE ZANELE MAJODINA, expert from South Africa, addressed the issue of national institutions that protected and promoted human rights within a country. Sweden had various Ombudsmen to supervise compliance with the new Anti-Discrimination Act, a national institution for human rights and a delegation for human rights. She asked what activities were envisaged for those bodies and if they would undertake a more broad view of human rights. So far, the focus in Sweden had been narrowly trained on anti-discrimination measures.
On the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, particularly women, she asked if Sweden had national protocols in place to provide guidance to workers at care facilities. It was difficult to assess violence in institutions and sheltered housing because the hierarchical structures within those care institutions discouraged workers from reporting instances of abuse. Also, what monitoring mechanisms did Sweden have to ensure effective implementation of the “equal treatment plan” to combat acts of intolerance in schools?
Next, JOSÉ LUIS PEREZ SANCHEZ-CERRO, expert from Peru, asked if there were any procedures in place to ensure that asylum-seekers had not participated in terrorist activities, or were not terrorists themselves. He was concerned because, in his own experience, he had witnessed high school-age children distributing pamphlets and tracts in support of groups that had been listed as terrorist actors by the Security Council. Obviously, those youngsters had been recruited and some might not have even been aware that the group had been banned, but, nevertheless, such activities were proscribed. What measures were in place to implement the Security Council’s various counter-terrorism resolutions?
He went on to urge the delegation to press the Government on certain gaps in its Constitution regarding discrimination and gender equality. He noted that Sweden was also a party to several conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO), but there seemed to be very few measures in place aimed at ensuring equal pay between men and women. Further, foreigners and persons from disadvantaged communities seemed to be underrepresented in the labour market. He was also concerned that there was not more firm legislation in place to promote the rights of disabled persons, especially since Sweden was a leader in that field and since it had signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
ABDELFATTAH AMOR, expert from Tunisia, said that Sweden’s reservation to Covenant article 20, paragraph 1 (prohibition of war propaganda) was “troubling”. Among its arguments for maintaining the reservation, Sweden had stressed that it considered the prohibition a restriction on the freedoms of expressions and opinion, which were themselves regulated under Covenant article 19. Sweden also believed the effect of the provision on free public debate must be considered. The expert wondered if the Government might not reconsider its reservation, especially since it had acknowledged the primacy of the right to freedom of expression.
AHMAD AMIN FATHALLA, expert from Egypt, asked the delegation to clarify several of its positions as set out in the report. Among other issues, he wondered about the status of the ongoing dialogue with the Sami Parliament and whether Sami representatives were active on administrative boards dealing with issues such as agriculture; whether measures were being undertaken to integrate the Covenant into Swedish law or harmonize State legislation with the instrument; and what was the status of the proposed report to be compiled on the extent of violence and harassment in prisons.
CHRISTINE CHANET, expert from France, asked to hear further justification for Sweden’s continued reservations towards certain articles of the Covenant. Also, with regard to General Comment 33, she said Sweden’s reaction, along with similar reactions from other countries, might have been exaggerated. The Committee did not view itself as producing mandatory rulings, or that it issued opinions. There were some similarities with judicial bodies, in the sense that complainants might turn to the Committee, if all domestic avenues had been exhausted. When States accepted the First Optional Protocol, they must implement them in good faith. She then asked a question on Sweden’s counter-terrorism measures, in particular whether terrorist activities were subject to different laws and penalties, and whether lawyers came into play.
Taking the floor for the second time, Ms. WEDGWOOD said she was concerned by Sweden’s decision not to consider a mandatory reporting system to monitor the use of electro shock therapy in psychiatric intuitions, largely owing to advances in medicine, law and because of patient privacy. But there were reports from many places in the world that such treatment was indeed misused, either because of malpractice or even as a punitive measure in some institutions.
“So, it seems to me that there’s no harm in just collecting the data […] just like in medical malpractice cases,” she said, urging Sweden to collect such data. Finally, on disability issues, she asked if it was true that, currently, the disabled could not bring lawsuits against private institutions for breaches of obligations set out in the disability convention.
BOUZIB LAZHARI, expert from Algeria, asked about measures taken by the national police board to investigate “honour related” crimes. What was the meaning of that term?
Replies to Experts’ Questions
Mr. EHRENKRONA addressed the questions in clusters, beginning with issues relating to Sweden’s reservations to the Covenant. Under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, any State party was allowed to make reservations to treaties, so long as they did not go against the treaty’s purpose. That held true for Sweden in this instance. Moreover, when the reservations were made, no other State party had voiced their opposition.
Ms. KELT provided further context behind its reservation against the provision of separation of children from adults, saying Sweden carried no penal responsibility for children under 15 years of age. Strict sentencing rules for young offenders made their imprisonment rare, and the convicted perpetrator was often placed in juvenile care only in the case of a serious offence. Perpetrators between 18 to 21 years of age were also governed by strict sentencing requirements. Finally, to protect young offenders in Sweden’s remote areas, the law made it possible to incarcerate them in facilities that were close to their home, family and school, which might involve mixing with adult offenders.
On the non bis in edem requirement (“not twice for the same”), she explained that Sweden allowed cases to be reopened for trial, but that the practice was governed by strict rules. First, it could only happen if a member of the court or the prosecutor was found to have committed a crime and, second, if evidence had come to light that had not been invoked during the previous trial for very good reasons.
Mr. EHRENKRONA defended his country’s reservation regarding hate speech, saying that freedom of expression was a strongly-held right in Sweden. War propaganda was not considered “such a big problem” in Sweden that it would call for the right of expression to be restricted. Sweden did not view it “a duty” to restrict the expression of war propaganda simply because the Covenant suggested it.
Continuing, Mr. Ehrenkrona said the Covenant did not set out the ways the instrument was to be implemented -- whether it was to be incorporated into national law, or whether national legislation should be harmonized to reflect its tenets. Sweden did not feel the need to incorporate the Covenant in the same way it did the European Convention on Human Rights. The language of the European Convention was clearer, especially as there was substantial case law that could be referenced. At the same time, the Covenant’s articles on discrimination went farther than the European Convention. At any rate, the Government believed that application of either instrument would generally lead to the same conclusions.
On counter-terrorism, he said there was no specific screening procedure for migrants, but immigration officials carried out a more general procedure that might expose affiliation between migrants and terrorist groups. If such discovery was made, it could be reported to security officials.
Ms. KELT said that, in April 2003, Sweden had enacted a law on terrorist offences. There was no single definition of those offences, so the Government referred to crimes already on the books -- murder or kidnapping -- and then applied other criteria, such as whether the perpetrator was, for example, “seriously intimidating a population or group of a population”. The normal penalty was 10 years to life in prison, which actually corresponded to sentences handed down for murder or other capital crimes. She said anyone suspected of carrying out terrorist acts had the right to counsel, as well as all other rights available to accused. She also added that incitement to rebellion or other crimes was prohibited under law.
Responding to questions on gender issues, Ms. EKMAN ALDEN said the Government had taken several actions to address the persistence of unequal employment and unequal remuneration between men and women. One such measure had been the launch of the programme “The Power to Shape Society in Ones Own Life”, which targeted, among other things, equal distribution of power and influence, equal distribution of unpaid care and household work, and ending violence against women. She said that Sweden was not in favour of setting quotas for women in the workplace, as it believed the private sector should monitor such issues.
On violence against women, she said the Government had launched a 56-point action plan that was supported by €80 million. Among other things, it focused on protection and support; preventive measures; enhanced judicial effectiveness; measures aimed at the perpetrators; and knowledge and awareness-raising. All measures would be followed up and reported to Congress in 2010. She said the women’s shelter movement in Sweden went back to the 1980s. There were some 160 shelters throughout the country, and most were run by non-governmental organizations. Only a handful were managed by municipalities.
Turning to cultural and minority issues, Ms. TEKIN BEFRITS said police officers met many people of different cultures and ethnic groups during the course of their daily work and, of course, adapted their behaviour to address the circumstances. Authorities also provided training courses on national minorities, and special information campaigns targeting such groups had been launched to help police work go more smoothly. She noted that there were Sami police offices in the country, especially in the regions where the Sami population was highest, and some were reindeer herders. Sami villages were taken care of by Sami-speaking officers.
Responding to other questions, Mr. EHRENKRONA said female illegal immigrants could report crimes, including domestic violence, but there was the risk that such women might be expelled from the country. If those women needed protection, they could turn to social service authorities, who had the duty not to reveal their identity or status to the police except in the case of the commission of a serious crime.
On female genital mutilation, Ms. KELT said that practice had been criminalized since 1982. Sweden considered consent irrelevant and had set the penalty for committing such mutilation quite high, at 2 to 10 years in prison. While the crime could, of course, be hard to prove, there was no consideration being given to shift the burden of proof to family members or other persons. At the same time, she said there was penal responsibility for family members who incited, aided or abetted in the commission of that crime.
Ms. TEKIN BEFRITS highlighted efforts to promote understanding and tolerance between all groups in Sweden. One example was the Government’s decision to make schools responsible for implementing a nine-year culturally sensitive curriculum that required students to learn about the culture, language and history of national minorities. Moreover, in order to obtain a Bachelor’s degree, students at that level must show that they had acquired basic values and a respect for society and democracy, and that they were able to identify, prevent or counteract discrimination, as well as degrading treatment of children.
Mr. EHRENKRONA said he did not know whether immigrant women were aware of their right to waive the two-year marriage rule prior to obtaining citizenship, in cases where they were being abused by the spouse.
Next, Ms. KELT fielded a question on the witness protection programme, under which 11,500 people were being protected, saying it was currently being scrutinized by a special commission. Findings showed that victims feared being found, leading many to flee from place to place. The commission was proposing that specially trained municipal staff establish links with the victims. The Government would consider the commission’s findings in its efforts to improve legislation in that area.
On the question regarding early marriage, she said there was no provision in Swedish law naming it a crime, but it had been suggested that a custodian who allowed a Swedish citizen younger than 16 years to enter into a marriage would be sentenced to maximum imprisonment of two years. A bill was planned for spring 2010.
The delegation was not aware of the statistics cited by Ms. Wedgewood on violence against women with disabilities, but one member said the Commission of Social Welfare had been commissioned to study the issue. Workers engaged in care services, whether paid or voluntary, “were obliged” to report instances of mistreatment. Municipality authorities were responsible for delivering those reports to the National Board of Health and Welfare.
She admitted that the most vulnerable people sometimes had no freedom to choose when to go to bed or eat, and the Government was presently considering strategies to correct that situation through awareness-raising and staff training. Supportive legislation, too, would make clear “which kind of compulsion” was allowable and which was not. That included new laws currently being prepared to protect people with dementia.
She said Sweden’s disability policy was designed to enable all citizens to live a full life, regardless of ability, and was the responsibility of all ministries and departments to uphold. The national disability action plan was the key guiding document, and its implementation would be monitored through a mechanism being developed in conjunction with Sweden’s recent ratification of the Disabilities Convention. Work on accessibility took place across several realms, encompassing the built environment (private housing and other buildings), public transport and access to digital services.
It was true that there was a lack of accessibility in Sweden, she said, as documented in both Government and shadow reports. The Government would begin working to consolidate activities and funding being done in the name of increased accessibility. To bridge the gap between legislation and implementation within local municipalities, Sweden was now providing individuals with the option to go to court to obtain their right to certain social services. Efforts were being taken to educate municipality officials on the importance of accessibility and to make their services more people-friendly. They would also be subject to more supervision.
Ms. TEKIN BEFRITS added that failure to implement accessibility measures was regarded as discrimination. The discrimination committee responsible for creating the discrimination act had originally proposed that access to goods, services, housing, health and others service be included in the act, but it was taken out because some thought more “analysis” was called for. For instance, trades-people and business-people needed to know exactly what was expected of them. An investigator would hold a hearing in April regarding accessibility in higher education institutions.
Mr. EHRENKRONA briefly added that anyone could bring a case for compensation provided he or she had a relevant legal basis for the claim, whether disabled or not.
The delegation then moved on to the next issue -- the deportation of Mr. Alzery and Mr. Agiza. Mr. EHRENKRONA stressed that the initial decision had been a lawful one, was made in line with the Aliens Act of the time and had been a decision in good faith. Although it was afterwards proved to be “problematic”, it had not been “some sort of abusive decision” where the Government acted in an arbitrary manner.
Ms. BRATT added that the Chancellor of Justice had found grounds to rule that what occurred represented a violation of the two men’s rights under the International Covenant, which the Parliamentary Ombudsman agreed with. The Government repealed the decision of 2001 in view of the violation of Mr. Alzery’s human rights, as established by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and referred his request for a residents permit to the Migration Board. The case was still open.
She said, to ensure non-repetition in the future, the new asylums procedure and new procedure for security cases -- cases concerning resident permits and other matters where the security service recommends that the application be rejected -- the Aliens Act had been modified, so that such cases would be adjudicated by the Migration Board at the first instance. Their decisions might be appealed to the Government, which would in turn pass the case to the Migration Court of Appeal. After an oral hearing, it would form an opinion on the case, and in turn pass the case on to the Government for a decision. The fact that the case was examined in more than one instance strengthened the legal rights of the individual.
To ensure that such decisions did not contravene the non-refoulement principle, every case would be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The absolute prohibition against torture was reflected in several provisions of the Aliens Act. Refusal of entry or expulsion could not be enforced to a country where there were reasonable grounds of corporal punishment or death penalty, as commensurate with Swedish commitments to international standards.
Sweden had no practice of using diplomatic assurances for expulsions; the only time they were used was in the case of Alzery and Agiza. In other cases, the issue had never been raised. If it should arise in the future, Sweden would consider all relevant international obligations and instruments, such as recommendations of United Nations special rapporteurs.
An action plan was being implemented jointly by border police, the Migration Board and social services to deal with asylum-seeking children, namely children from China. The action plan had succeeded in speeding up the process whereby children were given care, counsel and representation. Investigations began at Arlanda Airport, upon their arrival. The decision was usually made within 1 to 2 days. In most cases, most were not found to be asylum seekers in the usual term and, indeed, no decision in those cases had ever been appealed. Often, the children lacked an identification document, making it hard to return them to their home country. There was a drop in unaccompanied minors arriving from China, with only three arriving for China in 2009. The written response contained a reference to an old case, dating from 2006, where a Chinese man and women were prosecuted for smuggling Chinese children. They were imprisoned for two years.
Ms. TEKIN BEFRITS said the new Ombudsman would work to ensure that no discrimination occurred in Swedish society and would provide support for those claiming discrimination to gain access to their rights. That mechanism was also supposed to follow national and international trends, and meet with human rights activists and organizations. The Ombudsman could also suggest legislative changes and amendments to specific Government ministries.
On what one expert considered gaps in the Swedish Constitution regarding discrimination against minorities and women, Mr. EHRENKRONA read out the relevant articles to clarify the matter. Continuing, Ms. GOLDBECK-LOEW cited several sources for data on salaries in the country, including the report Men and Women in Sweden: Facts and Figures 2008. To another question, Mr. TEMBO said that the Boundary Inquiry did include two Sami representatives, one from the Sami Parliament and one from the Swedish Sami Association.
On the use of electro-shock therapy in hospitals, Ms. EKMAN ALDEN said the issue should be looked at broadly, because, in reality, it was only one of the many methods used to treat psychiatric patients in the country. The Government was aware that it could be used as a method of torture or in other deleterious ways. She stressed that the Swedish law did allow cases of malpractice or mistreatment by medical professionals to be brought by both patients and their relatives.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Opening the second round of comments on the Covenant, PRAFULLACHANDRA NATWARLAL BHAGWATI, expert from India, asked whether the State provided public defenders in every case where an accused could not afford representation. Was there a list of public defenders from which accused persons had to choose? Were public defenders paid by the State? Was it true that, in some cases, public defenders recouped their salaries from monetary judgments in favour of their clients? He also asked if Sami and other minorities were provided with legal aid or assistance.
MICHAEL O'FLAHERTY asked if the current system was actually providing adequate access to medical care for persons in detention. He added that some reports suggested that, in some instances, requests for medical assistance were left to the discretion of on duty police officers. He was also concerned that other reports had cited a serious lack of knowledge among the police and other authorities on how to deal with the needs of persons with disabilities.
On matters relating to discrimination and intolerance, he asked for more information on what Sweden was doing to address all forms of intolerance. Some civil society groups had reported increasing intolerance, especially among youth, towards minorities, including Muslims, Jews and homosexuals. In a related query, he wondered if the Swedish Living History Forum, which sounded like a great idea, and in which the Government had placed great stock to promote cultural diversity, was actually up to the task.
Next, Sir NIGEL, expert from United Kingdom, asked for statistics on the reports about the actions of police officers in response to major demonstrations. It would also be useful to have statistics on police abuse or use of excessive force. Where did such complaints go? Who followed up on them? Did the police at least follow the norms set out in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials? The Government must at least consider that, in Sweden, just like in most other countries, “the police were not the best monitors of their own misbehaviour”, he added.
Also taking the floor for the second time, Ms. MAJODINA, expert from South Africa, raised concerns about access to documentation and opportunity to question all articles in evidence by parties to legal proceedings. To what extent was evidence withheld from an applicant on national security grounds?
She also asked the delegation to provide information on proposed legislation on “signal intelligence in defence operations”, which would provide the executive branch wide powers of surveillance in respect of electronic monitoring. That law was bound to impact privacy rights, she said, because it appeared the prevailing theme was an expansion of the use of covert surveillance mechanisms. The law also raised concerns, because it came on the heels of “troubling” allegations of long-running operations carried out by the National Defence Radio Establishment. A former employee of that agency had leaked information that it had been tapping wires among the wider citizenry for more than 15 years.
Returning to his earlier question, Mr. SANCHEZ-CERRO, expert from Peru, asked for more information about the Government’s response to non-governmental organizations or immigrants that might be accused of cooperating with terrorist networks. On other matters, he asked for more clarification on the methods used to disseminate information about the Covenant. Were civil society organizations consulted?
IULIA ANTOANELLA MOTOC, expert from Romania, asked several questions about the structure, perception and effectiveness of the Sami Parliament. Were duties shared between municipal authorities and the Sami authorities? What was the role of the Government Ministry that had been set up to address Sami issues? Did the Government feel it had effectively addressed all outstanding issues regarding native lands, grazing and hunting rights?
Response to Experts’ Questions
Ms. KELT said detainees had a right to a public defender, except in the case of a petty crime, and could choose them from a list of names provided by the court. Their services were paid for by the State. If the accused was convicted, the State must be reimbursed for the cost. However, a number of persons convicted did not have the means to pay the State back, in which case the State would bear the costs.
Answering questions relating to the Sami, Mr. TERNBO said the Government had appointed an inter-ministerial group on Sami issues, to encourage better coordination between ministries and to provide a parliamentary working group with data relating to their work. The group was established two years ago, and took decisions on all proposals relating to Sami issues, including issues of hunting and fishing rights, reindeer breeding matters and border issues. A bill would soon be submitted to Parliament based on the group’s decisions. Sami representatives would be instrumental in drafting the bill, due in March.
On legal aid, he said the Sami had the same right to legal aid as any other citizen, but such aid would not be granted to “a legal entity” such as a Sami village. Sami rights were recognized in the Constitution and to varying extents through the Forestry Act, Mineral Act and Reindeer Herding Act, he added.
The Sami would be consulted in approving permit applications for projects that had a direct affect on their way of life, such as reindeer herding. Sami villages must be consulted before approving geological survey permits or logging permits. Again, the coming bill to Parliament would address the issue of effective participation in detail.
Continuing, he said the Sami Parliament had been established in 1993. It was both a Swedish Government agency and an elected body. Elections were held every four years and its highest decision-making body was called the Plenary Assembly. Its secretariat was located in the north of the country, but local offices had been set up in other areas. The Government had given the Sami Parliament greater responsibilities on reindeer issues in 2006 and had subsequently transferred numerous duties from the respective Government ministries to that end.
On medial assistance for detainees, Ms. KELT said that all prisoners and detainees had access to such treatment. The Government had undertaken a broad effort to address the situation in remand prisons throughout the country to ensure better staff training and education, including regarding medical care. Ms. EKMAN ALDEN added that all Government agencies were required to make facilities and processes accessible to persons with disabilities, included through the provision of, among other things, ramps and staff familiar with sign language. The Government was launching a broad consultative process on the issue, to see if those and other initiatives were yielding positive results.
Next, Ms. TEKIN BEFRITS said the Living History Forum was the main Government agency dealing with tolerance issues. Though she was unsure what the experts meant by new forms of intolerance, that agency did address such issues as “Islamophobia”. Moreover, the Government had invested heavily in the past few years to tackle a wide range of discrimination issues, including anti-Semitism and homophobia.
Turning to questions about Chinese children alleged to have disappeared in the country, Ms. GOLDBECK-LOWE said that the number of Chinese children entering the country had dropped significantly over the past two years. Only five Chinese children had entered Sweden last year, two of which were considered to have disappeared. As for last year, she said three Chinese children had entered the country, but after evaluation, two had been found to be grownups. Two of the three that had entered the country were now considered disappeared.
For his part, Mr. EHRENKRONA said the Swedish Government was aware of the Committee’s desire that it should seriously consider establishing an independent body to monitor police behaviour. He reminded the experts that there was no requirement under the Covenant to set up such a body, and so the matter was left to the State party. He said that figures on police brutality were difficult to compile, but the National Police Board was mandated to hear cases of suspected police misconduct.
* *** *For information media • not an official record