Fredrik Malmberg talade på EU-konferens om institutionellt skydd för grundläggande rättigheter

Institutets direktör Fredrik Malmberg inledde andra dagen på EU:s högnivåkonferens om institutionellt skydd för grundläggande rättigheter i tider av kris. I sitt tal lyfte han bland annat hur pågående kriser påverkar mänskliga rättigheter i Sverige idag. Han beklagade att den svenska regeringen inte gett ett tydligt stöd till Institutet för mänskliga rättigheter när det uppkommit diskussioner om Institutets fortsatta existens. Men tackade för det stöd Institutet fått från civilsamhället och andra institutioner för mänskliga rättigheter.

Fredrik Malmbergs tal

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Minister, Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,

Let me start by expressing my gratitude to the organizers of this very important high-level conference – The Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

I am very grateful and honored to have the opportunity to address you today, both since we are here to discuss highly important topics, but also to showcase that Sweden since last year has strengthened its institutional protection of human rights by establishing a national human rights institution that I have been tasked to lead. This is a very important step for the promotion and protection of human rights in Sweden and fully in line with recommendations from key international and European stakeholders.

Sweden has for a very long time been one of the few countries in the European Union without a National Human Rights Institution, but since January last year Sweden has an independent institution with a broad mandate to promote and protect human rights. This means that NHRIs exist in all EU member states but one, where such an institute is being planned.

In the preparatory work to the law it is made clear that the ambition was to create an independent institution in full compliance with the Paris Principles. That is also our ambition. I am therefore proud to inform you that we exactly one week ago formally applied for international accreditation status with, Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. We submitted our first annual report three weeks ago and look forward to continuing our important job to promote and protect human rights in Sweden.

I am very pleased to welcome you all to Lund, the home of the Swedish Institute for Human Rights!

The importance of institutional protection of human rights in times of crises is as important as ever before. Throughout the years we have experienced numerous crises in Europe, and we will for sure experience numerous more in the future.

This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights as we know them today were codified to ensure that the atrocities during World War 2 would never happen again. The Declaration described, for the first time, rights that apply to everyone, everywhere, always. We may never forget why the Universal Declaration was created.

This year we also celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Paris Principles – principles aimed at strengthening the institutional protection of human rights at the national level. Independent National Human Rights Institutions with a broad human rights mandate is a key player in the institutional human rights protection across Europe and must be supported. Also during times of crises. Also when their messages might be challenging and difficult.

This was confirmed last month by EU Member States under the ongoing Swedish Presidency of the European Council. On 10 March this year they adopted Council Conclusions that encourage all states to establish an NHRI. They also state that NHRIs are indispensable elements in the system of checks and balances in a healthy democracy, and that “unjustified restrictions to their operating space can present a threat to the rule of law”. The council conclusions encourage member states to adopt a legislative framework enabling NHRIs to carry out their role independently, and to provide them with the adequate mandate and resources to carry out their tasks effectively.

In other words, both the rights and how they should be institutionally protected are established by important instruments that are agreed upon by most states, not only in Europe, but across the world. We celebrate these instruments this year. It is not time to walk away from Human Rights. It is time to step up.
Still, we see how human rights are challenged across Europe at different levels, in different ways and in different times. In particular during times of crises.
We have in recent years experienced several different types of crises in Europe. Many of them were discussed yesterday, for instance the covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Let me highlight the context in which the Swedish Institute for Human Rights operate. I will give you a few examples of how the different crises have affected human rights in Sweden:

First of all, poverty in Sweden is increasing. Parts of the development is closely linked to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine and its consequences for the production, distribution, and price of for example energy and grain. The pandemic and the war have contributed to a very high rate of inflation in Sweden and as we have seen so many times before, vulnerable groups are the ones most affected. Elderly persons, persons with lower education, persons with disabilities and/or health problems and asylum seekers are for example disproportionally more affected by the inflation. It can for example be noted that asylum seekers and the Ukrainian refugees in Sweden receive a daily allowance that is just above 6 Euro per day. This should cover both food and clothing. It is the same amount asylum seekers has received since 1994. It was difficult to have the allowance cover all necessities before the sharp inflation rise. It has now become close to impossible.

Secondly, during the election campaign last year in Sweden we noted an increased polarized and xenophobic rhetoric among politicians and the public. We are concerned with the ongoing racism and discrimination in Sweden that for example the Afro-Swedish, Muslim, Sami, Jewish and Roma communities are subject to. The racism and discrimination in Sweden have been noted by a number of international observers. For example, the Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the context of Law Enforcement stated after their visit to Sweden last year that Sweden should step up efforts to fight systemic racism. We cannot shy away from these problems now. In times of crisis, it is always the already vulnerable groups that will suffer the most.

Thirdly, climate change greatly affects people that already are exposed to discrimination or living in fragile ecosystems. Indigenous peoples are highlighted as particularly vulnerable since they often live in close relation to the environment and nature’s resources. This applies also to indigenous people of Sweden, the Samis. The changing climate already gravely affects both ecosystems and conditions for reindeer husbandry, fishing and hunting. Climate change and its consequences threaten the future of Sami culture and way of life. In addition, we note that in the transition to green energy and the need for raw material some of the state’s and major companies’ investment plans stand in conflict with the Sami’s right to land and culture.

Finally, during the pandemic, several decisions were taken in Sweden that restricted human rights. We take for example note of the hard restrictions on movement for elderly people in health care. They were restricted to leave their designated area or receive family visits, resulting in longtime in involuntary isolation for many. Similarly, we note that people deprived of their liberty in both youth homes and prisons were hit hard by revoked leave and cancelled family visits. Once again, it is vulnerable groups that are most affected in times of crises. It is of utmost importance to evaluate decisions taken during this period to ensure any restriction to human rights in the future are necessary and proportional.

Both similar and different issues exist across the European Union. This highlights among other things the importance of well-functioning national human rights institutions with a broad mandate to promote and protect human rights at the national level. NHRIs can fill the important role as an early warning system providing recommendations and pointing at risks before a crisis. Respect for human rights must be considered before a crisis takes place. If not, violations of human rights will have to be considered after the crises. Such approach is harmful to both individuals and society at large.

Let me remind you about the strong commitments the EU member states have made in the Council conclusion last month:

  1. Firstly, to encourage the establishment of NHRIs in accordance with the Paris Principles in each country
  2. Secondly, to adopt a legal framework enabling them to carry out their role independently from their government
  3. Thirdly, to provide them with adequate mandate and appropriate resources to carry out their tasks effectively

It is always important to guarantee resiliet NHRIs, but even more important in times of crises. As we heard yesterday, NHRIs are more likely to be under attack during such times.

With that in mind, let me just shortly mention the current situation in Sweden. As was also mentioned yesterday we see that human rights in general are being challenged in the public debate. In that context the existence of our institution is also being questioned. When an institution is questioned in such a way it is of utmost importance with strong political backing, not least from the government. We have unfortunately not yet received any such support. 

We expect the government to clarify urgently the question marks that currently surrounds the continued existence of Sweden’s National Human Rights Institution.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank civil society actors as well as the international community for the massive support. It is highly appreciated!

Our message to civil society actors and rights bearers in Sweden is clear. We are committed to do our job. We will build a strong NHRI. We will stand up to the challenges and we will not be silenced!

We are here today to discuss the importance of strong institutional protection of human rights in times of crises. Let me however underline the importance of full respect for human rights at all times, in particular since it is the single most important method to avoid crises. Declining respect for human rights will trigger crises. If human rights are violated and the violations are not adequately addressed the result is often a spiral of injustices that fuel existing tensions and, in the end, causing a crisis.

The shortcomings in respect of human rights during normal times are often reinforced during times of crises. Vulnerable groups are as pointed out usually the most affected. In addition, disinformation is more common in times of crises, and this risk increasing the downward spiral in terms of lack of respect for human rights. Decreased respect for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary as well as the introduction of restrictions that shrinks civic space are also familiar threats during times of crises which further weaken the respect for human rights. 

I look forward to the breakout sessions today where these important issues will be discussed. Please let us all bear in mind that the 75 years old Universal Declaration, and other important human rights instruments, are challenged from many sides during times of crises. It is now important that we explore how structures and institutions can be strengthened to contribute to increased respect for human rights also in our joint times of crises. I look forward to learning from the vast experience and knowledge of human rights and crises prevention gathered in this room today.

Thank you!