Sweden is a country globally renowned for its human rights and the welfare of its society. The country was the first ever to allow freedom of the press in 1766, and champions equality for all, irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity, race or religion.
Prior to my visit, I knew little about this Nordic country, so I wanted to see how Sweden compares to the U.K with regards to human rights and the welfare of society as a whole.
The opportunity came rather unsuspectingly when I discovered there was a two day conference dedicated to human rights being held in Stockholmsmässan, a large exhibition centre in Sweden’s capital city, Stockholm.
Like a fledgling explorer, I booked my tickets to the conference, booked my flights and my accommodation and off I went, to visit a country and meet people who were, as I have since found out, to have a life-affirming impact. Want to find out more about my trip? Read on….
My trip didn’t start in Stockholm however.
Whilst doing my research, I had found out about the city of Lund, or more accurately, Lund University, in the South of Sweden. This University is one of the oldest, and most well regarded universities in Sweden, having been founded in 1666 and now proudly known as one of Scandinavia’s largest research universities; amongst the top performers in the European Union and having a noticeable profile amongst international students.
The University also hosts a significant human rights faculty, offering a wide variety of human rights courses and programmes and an extensive range of publications and organisations, including the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.
I was extremely fortunate to visit the University, and spend time with Professor Lena Halldenius. Her knowledge on human rights is particularly extensive and it was a huge privilege to listen, and to discuss human rights in her company.
Remarkably, Lund’s Municipal Council have voted for their city to become a Human Rights City; they work closely with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, businesses and members of the wider community to ensure any decisions made are based on a human rights perspective and have been declared as the first municipality in Sweden to be a human rights city.
Mänskliga Rättighetsdagar Human Rights Conference
After being inspired in Lund, I then travelled North to Stockholm to visit the conference Mänskliga Rättighetsdagar,translated as, Human Rights Days.
This 3 day conference brought together International NGO’s such as Amnesty and the Red Cross, Swedish human rights charities and campaigners, universities, activists, politicians and public figures all under one roof to discuss and promote human rights.
There were seminars, lectures, interactive stands for visitor participation and loads and loads of information about human rights, equality and civil liberties.
With over 5000 visitors, the event was a huge success; hardly surprising in a country where human rights and equality underpins everything their society is built upon.
For me, the highlights included a seminar entitled ‘The Right to Freedom from Violence Online’,which as the globe becomes smaller and the internet becomes more and more the preferred choice to communicate, and the go to place to source information, is particularly pertinent.
The rise of hate speech online ‘poses a grave threat’ to security, and ‘radicalization and recruitment’ aimed towards terrorist groups has seen a sharp rise through the growth of social media. In the UK in particular, this had devastating and fatal consequences for the Labour MP Jo Cox’s family. Jo was murdered on the streets of her constituency in 2016 at the hands of a far right, Nazi supporter, who had ‘browsed the internet’, fuelling his radicalisation and hatred towards Jo.
Alfiaz Vaiya Coordinator to the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Inter group who hosted the seminar had this to say,”To combat these phenomenon’s and prevent violence, the EU signed a Code of Conduct with IT companies (Google,Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter) to remove illegal content online. The German Parliament legislated and introduced the NetzDG” law which imposes a penalty on IT companies if they don’t take down illegal content in 24 hours”. There is however still much work to be done, and this has to come through education and open communication surrounding human rights.
It was indeed, an insightful and thought provoking seminar, and just one of many being held throughout the 3 day conference. Any concerns I had about the language barrier being a problem at the event, (I don’t sadly, speak any Swedish), were quickly dispelled. The Swedish people speak exceptional English, and many of the seminars, including this one, were presented in English anyway, so I felt fully included and able to participate throughout my visit. How very typically Swedish.
After having a final day of sightseeing in Stockholm, (although I still managed to speak to a former teacher about education in Sweden and a local newspaper reporter regarding the freedom of speech in Sweden), I had to leave my new favourite city.
I can honestly say having spent time speaking to many different Actors, and researching the approach to equality and human rights within this beautiful Nordic country, their attitude is far removed from that of British Society.
When I left the UK, I knew there would be differences in our understanding and attitude towards human rights, yet I was unsure what they might be. However it is now clear human rights is a fundamental part of Swedish culture and everybody is brought up to realise their rights in society,
The crucial difference, as Lena Halldenius pointed out to me, and which is now glaringly obvious having returned to the UK, is that in Sweden, human rights is about the welfare of the whole of society,whereas in the UK, it sadly has a very individualistic theme, and one that desperately needs to change.