Sweden and the Scandinavian countries are generally viewed as paradigms of order and security. This may not be true. While anecdotal reports of social relations in Sweden are mostly positive, a recent report by the UN suggests that there is a profound disconnect between anecdotal evidence and objective data. Indeed, part of the problem is a reluctance on the part of Swedish authorities to collect necessary data.
While visiting the country from October 31 to November 4, the members of the International Expert Mechanism gathered information on the existing legislative and regulatory measures for tackling racial discrimination. The Chair, Yvonne Mokgoro reported that, “The collection, publication and analysis of data disaggregated by race or ethnic origin in all aspects of life, especially regarding interactions with law enforcement and the criminal justice system, is an essential element for designing and assessing responses to systemic racism”. Commenting on the scarcity of such data, the committee concluded that, “Sweden needs to collect and use this data to fight systemic racism”.
A member of the visiting committee, Tracie Keesee, goes on to highlight a discrepancy: “We heard that most of the population in Sweden generally has confidence in the police, yet most of the testimonies we received from members of racialized communities, spoke of fear of an oppressive police presence, racial profiling and arbitrary stops and searches.”
Along with the Chair, Tracie Keesee and Juan Méndez held meetings and conducted interviews in Stockholm, Malmö, and Lund, with a focus on both good practices and challenges Sweden faces in upholding its human rights obligations on non-discrimination, in the context of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
They met representatives from the Ministries of Justice, Employment, and Foreign Affairs as well as the National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), Offices of the Parliamentary Ombudsman and Equality Ombudsman, and members of the Swedish Police Authority, Prison and Probate Services (Kriminalvarden).
They had various recommendations. Among them, “Sweden should broaden the definition of safety that does not rely exclusively on police response”. What’s more, “The police should focus on strategies to restore their trust among the communities they serve, including through diversifying its staff to reflect Sweden’s true multicultural society”, added the expert.
In addition, the Mechanism visited police detention and pre-trial detention centers in Stockholm and Malmö, where Mr. Mendez raised concern over “an excessive recourse to solitary confinement”.
“More generally, we are also concerned that Sweden may be addressing legitimate security challenges, including growing gang criminality, through a response which focuses on over policing, surveillance, and undue deprivation of liberty”, he added.