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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Sweden

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Sweden, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Sweden is a constitutional monarchy and a multiparty, parliamentary democracy. The King is Chief of State. The Cabinet, headed by the Prime Minister, exercises executive authority. The judiciary is independent of the Government.

The Government effectively controls the police, all security organizations, and the armed forces.

Sweden has an advanced industrial economy, mainly market-based, and a high standard of living, with extensive social services.

Ombudsmen, appointed by the Parliament but with full autonomy, investigate the few complaints of alleged abuses by authorities, and prescribe corrective action if required. The human rights situation has continued to be favorable.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits these abuses, and the authorities respect such prohibitions. There have been occasional accusations of excessive use of force by police in arrests, but thorough investigations have not produced evidence of a systematic problem. Typically, police officers found guilty of abuse have been suspended or otherwise disciplined. During 1994 a few police trainees were found unsuitable for the work and were dismissed.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Government carefully observes the laws protecting persons arrested or detained. Arrests are public and by warrant. The police must lodge charges within 6 hours against persons detained for disturbing the public order or considered dangerous, and within 12 hours against those detained on other grounds. The law requires arraignment within 48 hours of arrest. The time between arrest and the first court hearing may be extended to 96 hours for detainees considered dangerous, likely to destroy evidence, or likely to flee, but this occurs very rarely. Other than such suspects, detainees are routinely released pending trial, although bail as such does not exist. If a person files for bankruptcy and refuses to cooperate with the official investigation, a court may order detention for up to 3 months, with judicial review every 2 weeks.

The Government does not impose exile.

Convicted foreign criminals are often deported at the conclusion of their prison terms, unless they risk execution or other severe punishment in their home country.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is free of governmental interference.

The Constitution forbids deprivation of liberty without public trial by a court of law, and the Government respects this provision. The accused have the right to competent counsel, but the Government provides public defenders to indigents only in cases where the maximum penalty could be a prison sentence of six months or more. Convicted persons have the right of appeal in most instances.

There are no political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law limits home searches to investigations of crimes punishable by at least 2 years' imprisonment, such as murder, robbery, rape, arson, sabotage, counterfeiting, or treason. The authorities respect this provision. Normally, police must obtain court approval for a search or wiretap; however, a senior police officer may approve a search if time is a critical factor or there appears to be a threat to life. A parliamentary committee each year reviews all monitoring of telephones, faxes, or computers.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the Government respects these provisions. Most newspapers and periodicals are privately owned. The Government subsidizes daily newspapers, regardless of political affiliation. Broadcasters operate under a state concession. Until recently the State had a monopoly over ground-based broadcasting, but there are now a variety of commercial television channels (a ground-based one and several via satellite or cable) and several commercial radio stations.

The Government may censor publications containing national security information. A quasi-governmental body excises graphic violence from films, television programs, and videos.

Academic freedom is fully respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the Government does not restrict this. A police permit is required for public demonstrations, but the authorities routinely grant this, with rare exceptions to prevent clashes between adversarial groups.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government does not hamper the teaching or practice of any faith. There is a state Lutheran Church, supported by public funds, but the Government routinely grants any request by a taxpayer for exemption from the Church Tax.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law provides for free movement within, from, and back to the country, and the Government respects these rights.

Foreigners with suspected links to terrorist organizations may be required to report regularly to police authorities, but can travel freely; each such case must be reviewed by the courts at least every 3 years.

The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, and does not expel those having a valid claim to refugee status.

In 1993 the Government denied asylum to a Peruvian, and put her on an aircraft headed for Peru even though, according to Amnesty International (AI), she faced severe persecution there; the aircraft made a scheduled stop in the Netherlands, and she obtained asylum there. AI criticized the Swedish Government for this case in its report covering 1993.

The Government has continued to tighten its requirements for asylum seekers to prove reasonable fear of persecution in their homeland, although these requirements remain liberal. One well-known case involves a soldier from the former Yugoslavia who said he deserted rather than carry out orders to commit atrocities; after extensive publicity, the Government delayed his deportation for further examination.

The Government delayed deportation of a great many other illegal immigrants, on humanitarian grounds in most cases. In April it granted a one-time amnesty covering some 22,000 illegal immigrants from Bosnia who had children of minor age and who had been in Sweden since January 1993.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides ways and means for citizens to change the Government. Elections to the 349-member unicameral Parliament are held every 4 years. Suffrage is universal for citizens at least 18 years old, and balloting is secret.

Women participate actively in the political process and government. They account for 41 percent of the members of Parliament and half of the Cabinet. The governing Social Democratic Party pledged to place women in half of all political appointments, and by year's end had largely done so.

Section 4 Government Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Several private organizations actively monitor issues such as the impact of social legislation and the condition of the indigenous Sami population. Official ombudsmen publicize abuses of state authority, and initiate actions to rectify them. Government agencies are in close contact with a variety of local and international groups working in Sweden and abroad to improve human rights observance.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides for equal rights for all citizens, and the Government respects this provision.


The law requires employers to treat men and women alike in hiring, promotion, and pay. A public official, the Equality Ombudsman, investigates complaints of sex discrimination in the labor market; in July she was granted authority to visit all places of work to check on implementation of equality measures. Women may also pursue complaints through the courts. A third option, and by far the one most chosen, is to submit the complaint to the labor union for mediation with the employer. Almost all gains in women's rights took place through consensus and labor negotiations, with relatively little resort to legislation.

Despite the available remedies, surveys show that women remain underrepresented in higher-paying jobs, their salaries averaging only 72 percent of men's (a decrease from a high near 80 percent only a decade ago). Part of this decrease reflects cuts in social-sector jobs, where women are overrepresented. Also, under the tight economic conditions in recent years, unions have been less willing to pursue claims of pay discrimination. Fewer than a dozen women in 1994 chose to seek redress through the courts when their unions refused to take up their complaints. Women submit hundreds of complaints to the Ombudsman each year (260 in 1992--latest data), but almost all of these complaints are either resolved or dropped before the Ombudsman takes action. The law prohibits sexual harassment, and in this regard, too, women may take complaints to the Equality Ombudsman, the courts, or their unions.

Nearly 18,000 cases of assault against women over age 15 were reported to police in 1993 (latest data), a rise of 2,000 from 1992. Most involved spousal abuse, and in some three-quarters of all cases the perpetrator was an acquaintance of the victim. Abuse of women occurs especially often within the immigrant community. In one controversial case, in which a Palestinian Christian immigrant killed his daughter for marrying a Moslem, the court convicted him of manslaughter rather than murder because of his cultural background; but a higher court overturned the decision, convicting the father of murder and lengthening his sentence accordingly. The law provides for measures to protect abused women from having their abusers discover their whereabouts or contact them. In some cases the authorities have helped women obtain new identities and homes. In 1994 the Government provided electronic alarms or bodyguards for women in extreme danger of assault. Both the national and local governments support voluntary groups that provide shelter and other assistance to abused women. The authorities strive to apprehend and prosecute abusers. Typically, the sentence for abuse is a prison term or psychiatric treatment.

The number of reported rapes, some 1,400 yearly, has remained at approximately the same level since 1989. There is no legal differentiation between spousal and nonspousal rape.


Although indications are that child abuse is not common, the public and the authorities are concerned by data indicating it has been on the rise. The number of reports of abuse of children under the age of 15 years rose significantly in 1993 (latest data), to 3,300 from 2,700 in 1992. To some extent this probably reflects an increased willingness to report abuse, but child advocates fear it largely reflects an actual rise due to the strains imposed on families by the worsening economic situation.

The law prohibits parents or other caretakers from abusing children mentally or physically in any way. Parents, teachers, and other adults are subject to prosecution if they physically punish a child in any way, including slapping or spanking. Children have the right to report such abuses to the police. The authorities respect these laws, and have prosecuted some parents for abuses. The usual sentence is a fine combined with counseling and monitoring by social workers; but if the situation warrants, children may be removed from the home and placed in foster care. Foster children are virtually never allowed to be adopted, even in cases where the parents are seen as unfit or seek no contact with the child; critics charge that this policy places the rights of biological parents over the needs of children for care by caring families.

The Government allocates funds to private organizations concerned with children's rights. In 1993 it appointed an Ombudsman for Children. During her first year she focused mainly on the Government's adherence to international agreements, and found only one case meriting criticism, that of a 17-year-old who was given an 18-month prison term for robbery.

Indigenous People

Some 17,000 Samis (Lapps) are among Sweden's 8.5 million inhabitants. In 1994 a Sami parliamentary body, the Sametinget, was formed; it is to convene four times a year, and is to serve as a consultative body to the Government.

Also in 1994, Samis staged protest demonstrations against a 1993 law permitting others to hunt on designated reindeer pastures, and demonstrations against a 1994 law permitting others to fish in lakes previously reserved for Samis.

Samis also complain that in their localities they often encounter discrimination against them in housing and employment, and that the Government is not doing enough to combat this.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There continued to be scattered acts against minorities, some involving violence. Most involved clashes between ethnic Swedish and non-Swedish youths. At least a dozen immigrants were physically assaulted, and several businesses and homes were burned or otherwise damaged. The Government vigorously investigated and prosecuted such crimes, although in many clashes between youth gangs, both sides seem to have been at fault. Most cases resulted in conviction and prison terms, unless the offender was a minor.

In 1993 the Government shifted responsibility for processing refugees to the local level, requiring every municipality to accept a proportional number of refugees and provide for their needs. A few municipalities continued to refuse to do so, on the grounds that they lack adequate resources. By year's end their resistance had not yet been put to a test.

People with Disabilities

Regulations for new buildings require that they be fully accessible to disabled persons. However, there is no such requirement for existing public buildings, and many are not accessible to unaided disabled persons. The law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The Government provides disabled persons with assistance aimed at allowing them to live as normal a life as possible, preferably outside an institutional setting. This includes educational assistance, such as provision of personal tutors or aides, at all stages from pre-kindergarten day care to university studies; assistance within the workplace, such as provision of a personal aide or improvement of the workplace's accessibility to wheelchairs; and provision of services such as home care or group living.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law provides for freedom of workers to associate and to strike. The Government respects these provisions. Some 87 percent of the work force belong to trade unions, including career military personnel, police officers, and civilian government officials. Unions are independent of the Government and political parties, although the largest federation of unions has been allied for many years with the largest political party.

Laws forbid retribution against legal strikers. Only a few minor strikes took place in 1994, and most of them were settled quickly.

Unions freely affiliate internationally.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for the right of workers to organize and to bargain collectively. Labor and management, each represented by a central organization, periodicially negotiate framework agreements which are followed by industry- and factory-level agreements on details.

The law fully protects workers from antiunion discrimination and provides effective mechanisms for resolving complaints. Almost all complaints are settled informally. If informal discussions fail, the issue goes to a labor court, whose ruling on it sets a precedent to be followed by other courts. Cases of an employer firing an employee for union activities are very rare; in 1994 there were none.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and the authorities effectively enforce this ban.

d. Minimum Age of Employment of Children

Compulsory 9-year education ends at age 16, and full-time employment is normally permitted at that age under supervision of local authorities. Employees under age 18 may work only during daytime and under a foreman's supervision. During summers and other vacation periods, children as young as 13 may be hired for part-time or light work, with no more than a 5-day workweek. Police and public prosecutors effectively enforce the restrictions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage law. Wages are set by collective bargaining contracts, which usually are observed also by nonunion establishments. Even the lowest-paid workers are able to maintain a decent standard of living for themselves and their families because substantial assistance is available from social welfare entitlements.

The standard workweek is 40 hours or less. Overtime and rest periods are regulated partly by law and partly by collective bargaining agreements. The law stipulates that for workers not covered by a labor agreement, the limit for overtime is 200 hours a year, although exceptions may be granted for key employees; some collective bargaining agreements put the limit at 150 hours. The law requires a rest period after 5 hours of work, but does not stipulate a minimum duration; in practice it is usually at least 30 minutes. The law also calls for all employees to have a minimum of 5 weeks of paid annual leave; many labor contracts provide more.

Occupational health and safety rules are set by a government-appointed board and monitored by trained union stewards, safety ombudsmen, and, occasionally, government inspectors. The ombudsmen have the authority to stop life-threatening activity immediately and to call in a labor inspector.

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