Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 08:28 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Sweden

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Sweden, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 26 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. All executive authority is vested in the Cabinet which is formed through direct parliamentary elections every 3 years and consists of the Prime Minister (Head of Government) and some 20 ministers. A four-party non-socialist minority government came to power in October 1991 after national elections.

The police, all security organizations, and the armed forces are controlled by and responsive to the civilian authorities and are generally scrupulous in their protection of human rights. Either the Government, the judicial system, the Parliament, or an ombudsman investigates thoroughly all allegations of human rights violations, including the occasional allegation of police abuse.

Sweden is an advanced industrial democracy with a high standard of living, extensive social services and a mixed economy. Over 90 percent of businesses are privately owned.

Human rights are deeply respected and widely protected. Swedes are entirely free to express their political preferences, pursue individual interests, and seek legal resolution of disputes. Ombudsmen, appointed by the Parliament but with full autonomy, investigate private complaints of alleged abuses of authority by officials and prescribe corrective action, if required. There continued to be instances of anti-foreigner violence, which were vigorously prosecuted by the Government. An assault on Somali immigrants led to prison terms for the perpetrators, and the infamous "laser man" who in 1991-92 shot almost a dozen immigrants (killing one) was convicted in nine of the assaults late in the year. The overall human rights situation was largely unchanged in 1993.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Killing for political motives by the Government or by domestic opposition groups did not occur. Two deaths occurred in official custody. Swedish courts ruled, however, that although physical restraint contributed to causing both deaths, the deaths occured primarily as a result of medical conditions missed by the custodial officers. The officers in question were fined for official negligence.

b. Disappearance

Abduction, secret arrests, and clandestine detention by Swedish authorities did not occur.

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

Swedish law prohibits these abuses, and the authorities respect such prohibitions. Occasional accusations against individual policemen of excessive use of force in connection with arrests are carefully investigated, but have not produced evidence of a systematic problem. However, after the September 1993 alleged rape of a female motorist in a patrol car by a Gothenburg policeman, the national police undertook a review of some 10,000 cases of past alleged police abuse from the past several years to search again for such a pattern; this review continued at year's end. Police officers found guilty of abuse typically have been suspended or subjected to other disciplinary actions, including prison terms. One such officer, a male accused of undue sexual liberties with an inebriated female, was at year's end in the process of being terminated from his position as well as facing rape charges in the criminal courts.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Statutory guarantees of individual liberty are observed. Persons disturbing the public order or considered dangerous may be held for 6 hours without charge. Criminal suspects may be held no longer than 12 hours without formal charges. 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. Arrest is public and by warrant. The time permitted by law between detention and arraignment is 48 hours. In cases involving potential threat to public safety or risk of flight the time between arrest and the first court hearing may be extended to 96 hours (an extremely rare occurence). Bail does not exist, but suspects not considered dangerous or likely to destroy evidence are released to await trial.

By law, Swedish citizens may not be deported. Convicted foreign criminals are often deported at the conclusion of their prison terms, unless they risk execution or other severe punishment at home.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution forbids deprivation of liberty without public trial by a court of law. The judiciary functions freely and independently. The accused have the right to competent counsel, although the availability of public defenders is restricted to cases where the maximum penalty could be a prison sentence of six months or more. Convicted persons in most instances may appeal to a court of appeals, and in some cases also to the Supreme Court. There are no military courts in peacetime.

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

The law provides assurance against such arbitrary interference. Home searches are limited to investigations of crimes punishable by at least 2 years' imprisonment, such as murder, robbery, rape, arson, sabotage, counterfeiting, and treason. Search warrants are granted only on the basis of well-founded suspicion. Wiretaps are permitted only in cases involving narcotics or national security. Searches and wiretaps normally require court approval. When the time factor is critical, or when life is believed to be in immediate danger, the ranking police officer may approve these measures. There is no indication that telephone monotoring is done arbitrarily, though an increase of permits was noted during 1992, primarily involving serious narcotics crimes.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Swedes enjoy these freedoms fully. Newspapers and periodicals are, for the most part, privately owned. Government subsidies to daily newspapers, regardless of political affiliation, help assure a plurality of views.

Broadcasting in Sweden operates under a state concession. The Swedish Broadcasting Company and its independent subsidiaries (TV-1, TV-2, national and educational radio) previously had a monopoly over ground-based broadcasting, although a variety of commercial television channels are available via sattelite or cable. An independent commercial television channel with ground-based broadcasting rights started operations in March 1992 and commercial radio stations started to broadcast in the fall of 1993.

Publications containing sensitive national security information, as well as film and television programs portraying excessive violence, are subject to censorship. Commercial video tapes are also censored (and possibly banned) if they contain scenes of excessive violence. The National Board of Swedish Film Censors monitors both films and videos slated for distribution. The current Cultural Affairs Minister has attempted to abolish the Film Censor Board, but opposition in the Swedish Parliament has stalled those efforts.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Swedes exercise these freedoms without restraint. Public demonstrations require a police permit, for which applications are routinely approved. In 1993, in an attempt to stop annual right-wing, racist violence on November 30, "Karl XII Day," the police and courts initially banned all demonstrations. The Cultural Affairs Minister intervened in the name of free speech, however, and reinstated that right so long as protestors remained stationary. A massive police effort made this year's demonstrations the most peaceable in many years.

c. Freedom of Religion

Swedes have unimpaired religious freedom. There is a state Lutheran Church, supported by public funds, but persons not wishing to support the state church with their tax money may request (and easily receive) suspension of the church tax. All other denominations and faiths are freely observed. Parents have full freedom to teach their children religious practices of their choice.

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

Freedom of movement within and from the country and voluntary repatriation are guaranteed to citizens by law and respected in practice. Refugees, displaced persons, and others seeking political asylum are on the whole generously treated. Under the Terrorist Act as amended in 1991, foreigers with suspected links to terrorist organizations and whose deportations cannot be effected, may be required to report regularly to police authorities, but there are no travel restrictions, and each case must be reviewed by the courts on a regular basis – at least every 3 years.

During 1993, an increasing number of illegal immigrants, particularly from the former Yugoslavia, caused the Government to begin actively searching for and deporting such refugees, leading many to "go underground" to avoid deportation. The Government has come under some degree of criticism for such actions. A police raid on a convent which had declared itself a "sanctuary" for illegal immigrants shocked many Swedes, particularly since children were present, but no change in government policy was foreseen as a result of the negative publicity.

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

Sweden has a long history of vigorous democratic political life within a representative, multiparty parliamentary system. The 349 seats in the unicameral Parliament are divided proportionally among the 7 political parties represented. A party must win a minimum of 4 percent of the votes cast to enter Parliament. Only citizens may be elected to the Parliament. There is universal suffrage beginning at age 18. Approximately 85 percent of eligible voters participated in the 1991 election. Voting takes place by secret ballot. Aliens who have been legal residents for at least 3 years have the right to vote and run for office in municipal elections.

Women participate actively in government and the political process, accounting for one-third of the members of Parliament. A Women's Party was formed in October 1992 to offer an alternative to those who claim that women's issues are not adequately addressed by the established parties.

There are no de jure or de facto barriers to participation by the indigenous Sami, otherwise known as Lapps, whose civil and political rights are fully protected. There are no Sami members of Parliament, but they are present in leadership positions within other centers of power, such as the boards of labor unions.

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

Active private organizations monitor issues such as the impact of comprehensive social legislation and the condition of the indigenous Sami population. Ombudsmen serve as official governmental monitors of individual rights in Sweden and are effective both in making citizens aware of their rights and in publicizing and correcting abuse of state authority. 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

Basic economic, social, and cultural needs for the entire population are thoroughly met by the state without discrimination in the form of social welfare and medical services, benefits to families, pensions, and disability and unemployment insurance.


Although there is no institutionalized job discrimination based on sex, surveys show that women are underrepresented in higher paying jobs, particularly in business, and often receive less pay for equal work. Institutionalized efforts to extend equality between the sexes continued in 1993. Sweden's largest political party, the Social Democrats, decided that half of all party nominations at all political levels would go to women. Possibly due to the recession and the "last hired, first fired" discrimination experienced by women, the percentage of women in the work force employed full-time fell in 1993 for the first time in the postwar period, to 75.9 percent.

Employers are required to base hiring decisions on merit and to pursue actively the goal of equality. A public official [the Equality Ombudsman] investigates complaints of sex discrimination in the labor market. However, in 1993 the Ombudsman received little attention and is perceived to have made little progress. Most cases reported to her were withdrawn before completion due to some resolution having been reached between the parties or a decision by the complainant to withdraw the case. Sexual harassment is prohibited by law. The issue of sexual harassment at work received continued high attention in 1993. Several work places started programs to prevent such practices.

Rape and abuse of women continued to receive a great deal of attention. Laws protect abused women from having their abusers discover their whereabouts or contact them. In a few cases, women have been helped to obtain new identities and homes. In 1992 the Government decided to provide bodyguards for women in extreme danger of being assaulted by former male companions. Those in slightly less danger have been provided with electronic alarms that can summon the police, methods which the women report have significantly improved their quality of life and sense of security. The abusers typically are prosecuted and sentenced to jail terms or psychiatric treatment. Both national and local governments support voluntary groups that provide shelter and help to abused women. The number of reported rapes, some 1,400 yearly, has remained at approximately the same level since 1989.


The Government is strongly committed to protecting children's rights and welfare. Swedish law prohibits parents or other caretakers from abusing children either mentally or physically. Parents, teachers, and other adults are subject to prosecution if they physically punish a child. Children have the right to report such abuses to the police; on some occasions parents have been found guilty of physical abuse in a court of law. The usual sentence has been a fine, combined with counselling and monitoring of the family by social workers. If the situation warrants, children may be removed from the home and placed in foster care. However, because of a strong legal emphasis on parental rights, it is extremely rare for such children to be adopted officially by their foster families or others. As in the past several years, the number of cases of reported abuse in 1993 rose by approximately 25 percent. Swedish experts attribute virtually all of the increase to a rise in reporting of abuse rather than to a rise in abusive behavior. The Government allocates funds to independent organizations involved with children's rights. During 1993 a Child Ombudsman was appointed, taking office in July.

Indigneous Peoples

Some 17,000 Sami (Lapps) live in Sweden. While there are no formal obstacles to their participation in the political process, they tend to address their specific interests through various organizations earmarked for Sami such as the National Association of Swedish Sami which was organized in 1918. A Sami "parliament", the "Sametinget," was formed in 1993, consisting of 31 members. Eleven different Sami parties are represented in the Sametinget, which is to convene four times a year and have consultative responsibilities to the Government.

A law permitting non-Sami to hunt on designated reindeer pastures went into effect during 1993. Several Sami protested with hunger demonstrations. Yet another law permitting non-Sami to fish in lakes previously reserved for the Sami is scheduled to go into effect by January 1994. A suspension of that law, and the abolition of the new hunting law, is on the new Sametinget's agenda.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were a number of incidents of anti-foreigner acts in 1993, some violent. Most of the incidents involved clashes between groups of ethnic Swedish and non-Swedish youths. At least a dozen immigrants were physically assaulted, and several immigrant businesses and homes were burned or damaged. Threats of such violence are more common and appear to be increasing. For example, in one case a Greek restaurant in a small coastal town closed after repeated threats and harassment by local youths and complaints by neighbors that the restaurant was "un-Swedish." Also, the Talinas Refugee Camp in northern Sweden, which houses some 600 refugees from the former Yugoslavia and Somalia, saw a wave of nighttime attacks, including burning crosses, smashed windows, and an ultimately unsucessful arson attempt on one of the camp's apartment buildings. In August a mosque was firebombed and completely destroyed. The perpetrators received prison terms ranging from a few months to 2 years. As noted above, the infamous "laser man" (so called because he used a laser sight to hunt down immigrants) also was convicted and is to be sentenced early in 1994 pending further psychiatric examination.

The Government decided in 1993 to move responsibility for processing refugees to the local level. All municipalities will be required to accept a certain number of refugees and provide for their needs. A few such entitites have declared they will not accept refugees, but the matter has not been tested as the largest number of refugees, primarily from Bosnia, is not anticipated until 1994. Although violent acts such as those described above are anathema to the overwhelming majority of Swedes, attitudes in general towards asylum seekers contined to sour. Refugees are resented in some quarters because they were perceived to receive too-generous benefits (such as immediate placement in apartments and extensive financial support) in a time of recession.

The Government, particularly the present Cultural Minister, is making efforts to change these attitudes. The Government intervened in November, for instance, to overturn a decision by the Immigration Department to deny asylum to several Russian Jews. The Government also supports groups which work against racism and anti-immigrant sentiments. Perhaps the most effective is the "5-to-12" movement (taking its name from the "atomic clock"), founded by the parents of a teenage girl who on her own began organizing weekly anti-racist vigils in her hometown. When their daughter was killed by an Eritrian immigrant, her parents channeled their sorrow into making the vigils a nationwide event, to occur on the December 5 at 5-to-12 in the evening. The King and Queen joined this year's vigils. Swedish schools provide education and information designed to counter racist tendencies. The Government and key politicians, including the Prime Minister, issued strong statements about Sweden's history of tolerance and its need to continue in that tradition regardless of the economic downturn.

The Government runs special programs to help immigrants adjust to Swedish life and culture [including 240 hours of free Swedish-language instruction]. Immigrants still complained about difficulties in finding professional employment. The Government continued its efforts to translate and evaluate diplomas from foreign countries to facilitate the hiring of foreign nationals with documented professional skills, with several new nationalities added to the approved list. Unemployment figures for immigrants in general were considerably higher than for native-born Swedes.

People with Disabilities

Disabled persons are provided with extra help to be able to live as normal a life as possible in their own homes, as well as assistance in pursuing a career or holding a job. Regulations for new buildings require that they be fully accessible. However, this requirement has not been extended to existing public buildings.

Section 6 Workers Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to associate freely and to strike. A large majority of the working population, including career military personnel, police officers, and civilian government officials, belong to trade unions. Unions conduct their activities with complete independence from the Government and political parties, although the Confederation of Labor Unions (LO), the largest federation, has been allied for many years with the Social Democratic Party. Swedish trade unions are free to affiliate internationally and are active in a broad range of international trade union organizations. Laws forbid retribution against legal strikers. On the other hand, illegal strikers (i.e., wildcat strikers or a strike action that recklessly and clearly endangers health or safety) can be fined by labor courts. Only a few minor strikes took place in 1993, most of them settled quickly. The longest strike during the year was that of the electricians which lasted about a month.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers are free to organize and bargain collectively. The traditional form of collective bargaining through national framework agreements between central organizations of workers and employers, followed by industry- and factory-level agreements on details, was challenged by the Swedish Employers' Confederation, SAF. In 1993, after a two-year wage stabilization agreement expired, a new national agreement with small wage increases was signed for the manufacturing industry. As structured, the settlement represented a step toward the decentralization of the wage formation process, as favored by business. At the same time, labor welcomed the conclusion of a national-level agreement with a modest wage increase instead of threatened wage cuts.

Swedish law fully protects workers from antiunion discrimination and provides sophisticated and effective mechanisms for resolving disputes and complaints. Disputes concerning violations of labor laws are in the vast majority of cases solved by informal discussions between the involved parties. Should a settlement not be reached, a Labor Court tries cases of general interest for guidance and interpretation of the law, and its rulings in turn are followed by other courts. Employers generally accept the unions' partnership role; there were no known cases of firing an employee for union activities in 1993.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor, which does not exist, is prohibited by law which is enforced by the police and public prosecutors.

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 municipal or community authorities. Those under age 18 may work only during daytime and under a foreman's supervision. During summer and vacation periods, children as young as 13 may be hired for part-time work or light "summer jobs" for periods of 5 days or less. It is rare for people under 15 to be employed except by family members. Violations are few, and enforcement – by police and public prosecutors, with the assistance of the unions – is considered good.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage law. Wages are set by collective bargaining contracts, which typically have been observed even at non-union establishments. Even the lowest paid workers are able to maintain a decent standard of living for themselves and their families because of substantial assistance available from social welfare entitlements. The standard legal work week is 40 hours or less. The amount of permissible overtime is also regulated, as are rest periods. Since 1991, Sweden's vacation law has guaranteed all employees a minimum of 5 weeks plus 2 days of paid annual leave, and many labor contracts provide more. During 1993, however, the minimum leave was reduced by 2 days through negotiations with the unions. Occupational health and safety rules, set by the government-appointed National Board of Occupational Health and Safety in consultation with employer and union representatives, are closely observed. Trained trade union stewards and safety ombudsmen monitor observance of regulations governing working conditions. Safety ombudsmen have the authority to stop life-threatening activity immediately and to call for a labor inspector. The courts have upheld this authority.

Search Refworld