The time is ripe for a Swedish human rights institution

Human rights institutions are tasked with ensuring that states comply with national and international human rights conventions. However, Sweden belongs to the countries that do not have such an institution, which has led to criticism from the UN. The establishment of a Swedish human rights institution would not only serve a domestic policy purpose, but also contribute to increasing Swedish credibility in international human rights issues, writes Hans Fridlund, UPR Info.

In October 2016, a letter was submitted to the Riksdag in which the government formulates its strategy for national work on human rights. It states that "Naden compliance with Sweden's international commitments on human rights cannot be taken for granted, either in the short or long term." Reports points out that the importance of Sweden gathering national expertise in the field to strengthen the promotion of human rights. A great responsibility in the coordination of the work is given to the national institution for human rights that the government wants to establish.

One of the main tasks of a human rights institution is to interpret the state's responsibility towards national and international human rights conventions and to contribute to their compliance. As the government bears the ultimate responsibility for Sweden complying with the conventions signed by the state, the institution's independent position is directly decisive for it to be able to carry out its work in a reliable and independent manner. A national institution may also be responsible for examining individuals' complaints about human rights violations in Sweden. It is therefore important that the department is established by virtue of a new authority.

Increases Sweden's international credibility

In addition to the many domestic policy benefits that the establishment of an institution entails, it will also strengthen Sweden's voice in the world. In fact, the lack of an independent human rights institution in Sweden has resulted in repeated and justified criticism from the UN. Through the UN Universal Periodic Review 25 countries have recommended Sweden to establish an institution. When Sweden was examined for the second time in 2015, Sweden accepted all of these recommendations. Furthermore, the committees that review compliance with UN human rights conventions have called on Sweden to establish an institution and to allocate it sufficient resources to carry out its work. It is therefore important that Sweden immediately establishes it to prevent Sweden's position as an influential country in matters of human rights from weakening in the UN. With an institution, Sweden can also, while maintaining credibility, help Mauritania, Somalia, Swaziland and other states that Sweden has recommended to establish human rights institutions. It enables strengthened exchange of democracy and development work with other countries, especially in human rights promotion efforts. For example, under sub-goal 2030, Agenda 16 calls for countries to build effective and transparent institutions with accountability at all levels and for national institutions to strengthen their international cooperation with developing countries, in order to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime.

Lessons can be learned from Danish experience

Through its many years of exchanges with institutions in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the Danish human rights institution has strengthened Denmark's international reputation in matters of human rights. The Danish institution, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice in Tanzania, has supported Tanzania in establishing an independent human rights institution, assisted the institution in Uganda in developing a manual to train the police in rights and assisted the Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights with legal support in developing a law to establish a institution. The Danish model should thus serve as a source of inspiration when Sweden now takes its first staggering steps towards its own institution.

A Swedish institution will also have the opportunity to actively participate in the global network Global Alliance of National Human Rights institutions. That platform offers a unique opportunity for networking with other institutions, as well as a platform for increased cooperation with strategically important countries. An independent human rights institution would thus have a very positive effect on Sweden's reputation in the UN and strengthen the country's foreign policy influence. When the Constitutional Affairs Committee met in June, the strategy for national work on human rights was presented and the work of starting an independent human rights institution must now be given priority.

Hans Fridlund

UPR Info is an independent non-profit civil society organization headquartered in Geneva and with regional offices in Nairobi. They work with governments, civil society organizations and national human rights institutes to streamline their participation in the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR). UPR Info offers capacity building to strengthen national collaboration in the implementation of the recommendations that each state receives in the UPR.

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