World leaders gathered at UN headquarters last week to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA), a comprehensive and visionary document demonstrating the world’s commitment to combating racism in all its forms.
Two decades after the adoption of the Landmark Document, however, discrimination continues to “permeate institutions, social structures and everyday life in all societies,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at a high-level UN General Assembly meeting. “Xenophobia, misogyny, hateful conspiracies, white supremacy and neo-Nazi ideologies are spreading in the echo chamber of hatred,” he added.
In this context, the meeting provided a renewed opportunity to mobilize our common political will and drive the global anti-racism agenda forward, and should be welcomed and embraced by all parties.
Nevertheless, the United States and some other countries, mostly from the West, boycotted the meeting over “the event’s history of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias.” And Sweden was one of them.
Sweden’s boycott doubts the seriousness of the fight against racism and its international commitment to promoting and protecting human rights.
As some reflect, the beautiful nomadic land is not actually a paradise society that many imagine, especially for its indigenous Sami people.
Sweden has a long history of racism dating back many centuries. Historically, the Sami are victims of Swedish politics, which began in the 19th century and lasted until 1970. Compiled as inferior, less intelligent and unable to survive in a civilized society, was subjected to abuse, insults and racism. They have lost their country, their religion, culture and language have been suppressed.
In 1922, Sweden became the first country in the world to establish a national institute for racial biology, under the leadership of doctor and psychiatrist Herman Lundborg. Lundborg promoted eugenics due to its obsession with the threat of racial mixing between Sami, Finns and Swedes.
In the mid-1930s, the Sami were focused on sterilization policy when the Swedish authorities actively followed Nazi Germany and its ethnocentrism. The Sami, together with homosexuals, people with mental disabilities, homeless, were not considered suitable to have offspring and underwent mandatory sterilization. Up to 63,000 people – 90% of them women – were sterilized with state approval to improve Swedish “racial purity” as part of a policy of “ethnic hygiene” until 1976.
Today, the estimated number of Sami in Swedish territory is only 20,000-40,000.
Although the Swedish government recognized the Sami as an indigenous people, prejudices and unconscious racist views have characterized Swedish Sami policy over the years. Sweden has refused to ratify the ILO Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. The autonomy of the Sami is a more cultural and linguistic meaning. Their territorial and land rights are poorly recognized. Their voices are marginalized in national political life. Their ethnic background leads to harassment and attacks at work and school.
Some Sami have recently commented on the hatred they have been the target of. “I have never experienced such hatred and threats that exist now, never,” said Sami Jannie Staffansson.
The Sami’s real experiences mean that people can see the dark side of Sweden. When the online hatred of the Sami has escalated, or the reindeer owned by Sami communities are found shot or hit, we cannot write them off as isolated incidents. They are a warning call and point to structural racism and systematic injustice in the country that still undermines the fundamental human rights of its ethnic minorities.
Twenty years after the adoption of the DDPA, it is a pity that Sweden, for diplomatic purposes and blocking policies, has refused to enter into a deeper and honest global dialogue to address racial discrimination. Sweden’s national brand as a “protector of human rights” calls hollow when it fails to deal with its racist past.
Xin Ping comments on international issues and writes regularly for China Daily, Global Times, CGTN etc. He can be reached at [email protected]