On June 24, 2016, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights released its report on Sweden’s compliance with its obligations under the UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In accordance with the treaty provisions, the Swedish government submitted a self-evaluation of its compliance last year, followed by a hearing before the UN Committee in Geneva, and culminating in the Committee’s Concluding Observations.
Sweden is one of 164 signatories to the Convention, which protects a range of ESC rights ranging from education to housing to water. All treaty parties are required to periodically report on their progress in implementing ESC rights, so over the course of its work, the expert Committee sees a wide range of country practices. The standards applied to each nation reflect its capacity. Sweden’s compliance is not compared with, for example, that of Honduras, which was evaluated during the same Committee session. Instead, Sweden is expected to perform to its capacity in protecting these rights, and certainly to progressively improve its record over time.
The Committee’s Concluding Observations, couched in the diplomatic language of the UN, may seem soft. The Committee, for instance, “welcomes” the development of a new national strategy on violence against women and “appreciates” Sweden’s commitment to establish a National Human Rights Institution. But in many cases, this soft language masks real concerns about Sweden’s the human rights compliance.
The Raoul Wallenberg Institute’s recent report on Sweden’s widespread municipal evictions of informal Roma settlements was submitted to the UN Committee members and formed the backdrop for several, more pointed recommendations. For example, confronted with the evidence that vulnerable EU citizens were often evicted with no alternative accommodations, the Committee recommended that Sweden “ensure that forced eviction is considered only as a last resort and that in all such cases affected individuals are provided with long-term housing solutions.” Further, rejecting the government’s argument that its obligations are limited to Swedish citizens, the Committee recommended that Sweden “take measures to facilitate access to basic services by vulnerable foreigners, including citizens of other EU countries, notably of Roma origin.”
Finally, responding to Sweden’s assertion that the national government cannot intervene in local eviction decisions, the Committee reminded Sweden that “its government bears the responsibility for the implementation of the Covenant at all levels, including county and municipal.”
These recommendations provide human rights guidance to both the national government and those municipalities that have so far fallen short in meeting their obligations under the UN Convention. But the Committee can only issue its observations. Turning these recommendations into reality will require the commitment of national and local governments, working closely with civil society to ensure that Sweden steps up to meet its promise as a human rights leader.