Sweden must increase efforts to combat systemic racism, urge UN experts
A group of independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council called on Sweden to step up efforts to combat systemic racism and focus on strategies to restore trust between the police and minority groups.
The experts on promoting racial justice and equality – Tracie Keesee, Yvonne Mokgoro and Juan Mendez – held meetings and conducted interviews in Stockholm, Malmö and Lund, where they gathered information on combating racial discrimination, combating systemic and structural racism, “excessive use of force ” and other human rights abuses by law enforcement and the criminal justice system against communities of color.
During the five-day visit, the members of the UN’s international expert mechanism met representatives from the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Labor Markets, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Council for Crime Prevention, the offices of the Riksdag’s Ombudsman and the Gender Equality Ombudsman and members of the Police Authority, the Correctional Service.
The mechanism also met members of the Swedish National Human Rights Institution, representatives of civil society, researchers, academics and affected communities as well as members of the Police Authority.
Concerns about police treatment
Keesee told Anadolu Agency that in meetings held with “communities of color” but also with researchers, “many people” raised concerns “about treatment in terms of their interaction with the police” in the Nordic country.
She emphasized the need to address unequal treatment of minority groups by the police and to begin to understand the nature of the broken relationship between law enforcement and communities.
The Swedish population is considered to have confidence in the police, but most of the testimonies from members of racialized communities “talked about fears of an oppressive police presence, racial profiling and arbitrary stops and searches,” Keesee said.
“Sweden should broaden the definition of security that does not solely rely on police efforts. The police should focus on strategies to restore their trust among the communities they serve, including by diversifying their personnel to reflect Sweden’s true multicultural society,” she added.
Alexandra Pascalidou, a well-known journalist, writer and human rights activist who lectured Swedish police on many occasions about hate crimes and racism, told Anadolu Agency that there is no real trust between minorities and the police force.
She said minorities are even reluctant to report racist attacks to the police because they feel no action will be taken and “you know, unfortunately, they’re right, because every time I reported threats (directed at myself),” I mean, nothing really happened.”
The mechanism also visited police prisons and pre-trial detention centers in Stockholm and Malmö, and it raised concerns about an “excessive use of solitary confinement”.
There is “really a need for an evaluation and a clear understanding,” Keesee said.
In addition, there was concern about how Sweden can address “legitimate security challenges,” including growing gang crime, through a response that focuses on “over-policing, surveillance and undue detention,” according to a statement from Mendez.
Keesee agreed that “it’s a big concern, because often, when you try to tackle violent crime, which we also see as a concern for Sweden, you’ll often do it without realizing what the underlying causes are.”
She pointed out that “a lot of lessons” need to be learned “across the country, in a way that these things are not going to work or support themselves.”
“We call on Sweden to fully comply with the Nelson Mandela Rules – formerly the UN’s standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners – and to privilege alternatives to detention,” Mendez added.
Pascalidou accused Sweden of treating minorities as criminals, saying “it’s like we’re all criminals until we prove that we’re not criminals, that we’re innocent.”
She said this is a “huge problem” in the country because it stigmatizes huge numbers of people.
“And the only thing we have in common is that we have different backgrounds, or we look different, we talk different, our names are different or something,” and all this causes “of course racism,” she added.
Concerns over race data
The experts “were deeply concerned about the reluctance to collect data disaggregated by race in Sweden,” citing “historical sensitivities” surrounding racial classifications in the country.
“So, you don’t just have people of color, but you have the institution of slavery, colonialism. And you have things that have been part of history, how people have been identified, how they haven’t been identified,” Keesee said, adding “those threads are there still there today.”
Mokgoro, chairman of the mechanism, said in the statement that “the collection, publication and analysis of data disaggregated by race or ethnic origin in all aspects of life, particularly in interactions with law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system,” is an essential part of design and assess responses to systemic racism.
She added that “Sweden must collect and use this data to fight systemic racism.”
Pascalidou thinks that the fight against racism is not really on the Swedish agenda.
“No one is really discussing it,” she said, but hopes the UN intervention will start the discussion.
Nazis ‘tried to kill me’
But so far the public debate in Sweden has been withdrawn, because according to her experience as a journalist, she was confronted with negative comments when she tried to stand up against racism.
– On the one hand we have racism, and on the other hand we have people who say that there is no racism in Sweden. So it’s crazy, and it’s worse to say someone is racist than to be racist,” Pascalidou said.
In her fight against it, she was even subjected to death threats.
“I had Nazis outside my door trying to kill me,” she said.
But for her, the fight against racism is “a duty for all of us. It is within the democratic system.”
Therefore, she will not be silenced.
According to the UN statement, the mechanism has shared its preliminary findings with the Swedish government and will prepare a report to be published in the coming months and presented to the Human Rights Council.
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