We understand that Sweden allocates 1% of its annual budget to promoting democracy globally. Is this the case?
Well, actually we allocate about 1% of the annual budget to development cooperation and of course a big part of that is aiming to promote democracy and human rights and non- discrimination and things like that. So we do not allocate 1% only to human rights exclusively, rather that 1% goes to development aid, but human rights are included in that.
Can you give specific areas to where this 1% budget is allocated?
Yes, we have eight specific goals. Those are 1) Building democracy, 2) Promoting free speech, 3) Abolish the death penalty, 4) End torture, 5) Combat summary executions and detentions, 6) Uphold the rule of law, 7) Protect of human rights and international humanitarian law and 8) Fight against discrimination.
The Human Rights Council in Geneva next week is a perfect example of when we promote the above eight points. For example, we promote resolutions on Iran concerning summary executions.
Also what is now very important is the freedom of the Internet. We have had several conferences in Sweden over the last two years to support and promote this issue, especially with regards to an individual’s freedom of speech online. And also Sweden believes that the Internet should be free generally. There has been a discussion where some countries believe the UN or the state should control the Internet, but we support keeping the Internet free from government control.
And does Sweden have a long-term plan concerning what it would like to accomplish with its significant budget allocation for the promotion of the eight target areas you mentioned?
Well I only know that we collaborate closely with other EU countries and for instance in the UN context both in New York and the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva there is EU coordination on all human rights issues even if we do not always vote the same way. We (Sweden) usually take the lead on these issues – the freedom of the Internet, on Iran and on summary executions.
There are projects of course, but for us the general policy of promoting human rights in its various aspects in the context of the UN, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and so on, these are arenas where we try to be active and try to have other countries follow.
Concerning Iran, we support and often take the lead on the Iran Resolution on the Human Rights Council because that resolution is talking about the necessity to open up Iran for inspections from UN organizations that are looking into the situation of human rights. So then it becomes more of a political manifestation. And understand that the support for our resolution last year diminished because the composition of the Human Rights Commission, where countries like Russia, China and other countries that are not in the forefront of human rights are now members. We are not members of the commission even though we have applied but we did not get the necessary votes. Norway was a member for a long time. Normally we have some kind of cooperation with other Nordic countries both in the Human Rights Commission and the Security Council, so one Nordic country is a member for a period of two years and then normally another Nordic country should be elected for the next period. Sweden was a candidate for the last election but we lost so we did not get the seat. However, even if you do not have a seat you can still be active but you have no right to vote. In any case, the balance of the Human Rights Commission tilted to the more negative.
But is there a question of ethics concerning the Internet? For example monitoring hate speech or other voices that promote aggression or even human trafficking?
The Internet is extremely complicated because you cannot control it yet there are some things you have to control. And when the government uses the Internet we believe that everyone should have freedom of speech. However, if somebody writes something that is against human rights or promotes discrimination, then it should be possible to stop that somehow.
Let us switch tracks from human rights to politics. What do you think about the extremist right party, the Sverigedemokraterna (Swedish Democrats)in Sweden, their existence in your parliament and what do you foresee as the future of this party in Sweden?
It is difficult to say but obviously they are in the mix now in our parliament and they have been democratically elected. But all the other parties are against that party and are working together to try and stop the tendencies that this party (Swedish Democrats) promotes, which is against foreigners and against immigration and so on. But since it has been democratically elected, you have to accept that it is there.
If Sweden is trying to stop this radical far right agenda that the Swedish Democrats are seeking to promote, are there initiatives to inform the public where the country is headed as a nation regarding multi-cultural, multi-ethnic realities?
All the parties except that party promote multi-culturalism and human rights. There is a very strong lobby to promote LGBT issues and women’s rights both in Sweden and developing countries. For example we have been very active in promoting women’s rights in Afghanistan.
That said, with this last election the Swedish Democrats got 6% of the vote, so they are gradually trying to become more civilized, so to speak, to attract more voters.
But the tendency might still stay the same?
The tendency might still stay the same, but this is a general tendency in Europe judging from the elections to the European Parliament. So obviously this issue about immigration is a very big issue. And generally in countries with high unemployment this issue becomes stronger.
But in Sweden most parties are trying to explain and create more understanding. But I think the general public is also very open to immigration and to non-discrimination.
In the Swedish parliament do you currently have any representatives who were immigrants to Sweden?
Yes we have some immigrants in parliament in Sweden, but I think there are more here in Norway.
Concerning the Ukraine, how does the Swedish government look on the situation and especially Russia’s interference?
Our Foreign Minister has been extremely critical towards the Russians. I think he has been one of the most critical about the Russian interference and their unacceptable behavior in both the Crimea and eastern Ukraine. He has been really in the forefront of those criticizing the Russians for supporting the opposition.
So the Swedish government supports the result of the recent Ukrainian election, in terms of its transparency?
Well I do not think it was (completely transparent), but I think what we said was that it was as good as it could be. There were observers there from various organizations and from what I understand it was relatively OK and we have congratulated the elected President.