Awaited, Wanted and Weighed with High Expectations: The New Swedish NHRI

We talked to Anna-Karin Lindblom, Inquiry Chair for the National Human Rights Institution in Sweden, who works to help install the new institute.

NGOs, CSOs, authorities and other stakeholders are welcoming the new Swedish Human Rights Institute. The Institute will be in place early next year, 2022.

As the institute, an independent authority, initiates its operations – to promote and protect human rights in Sweden – it will also have to manage the high expectations that come with its new assignment.

I think we will have to be patient with the new institute”, says Anna Karin Lindblom, Inquiry Chair. “Expectations are high. Many have waited a long time for such an institute to materialise. We must remember that it is an entirely new authority. I believe we will have to give it at least a year to be fully up and running.”

The institute will have many counterparts in Sweden as well as internationally and create relations with a great number of stakeholders; other authorities, cities, municipalities, regions, the UN, the EU, the Council of Europe, the special rapporteurs, treaty bodies, CSOs, NGOs and many more.

“There is indeed a great number of organisations to interact with — and to follow”; Lindblom says.

A New Perspective and Overview

The institute will oversee the human rights situation in Sweden. This involves discerning gaps and human rights challenges. It also means compiling reports and issuing recommendations to the government. However, the institute will not handle individual complaints.

It will have a broad mandate, which provides the possibility of gaining a holistic perspective and vaste knowledge on all human rights. It will thus be able to provide the big picture of the situation in Sweden as well know and share how the rights are tied together.

Pointing out human rights irregularities to actors, will sometimes be uncomfortable:

“This institute will have to provide feedback in a constructive manner to stimulate dialogue and change in various areas of human rights”, Lindblom says.

The institute will strive to ensure that Sweden aligns with national human rights legislation, especially the Swedish constitution, but also international law.

Considering international human rights law as such is relatively new to Sweden. Through the existing authorities, such as Diskrimineringsombudsmannen (DO), we are mainly used to applying Swedish law, but not international law”, says Lindblom. The role of the Ombudsman for Children is to monitor how the Convention on the Rights of the Child is observed in  society, but the Human Rights Institute will have a mandate covering all of Sweden’s human rights obligations.

Collecting and sharing knowledge

Apart from aggregating, analysing information, and giving recommendations, the institute will keep the government informed on a regular basis. The material that the government will recieve, will most likely be an important basis for the government’s information to the parliament regarding the human rights situation in Sweden.

The Swedish government will receive suggestions and opinions that it can act on. The government might consult or need the approval of the parliament, all depending on the situation.

The material that the Swedish government will get regarding human rights in Sweden will from now on be more complete. holistic and synchronised than before”, says Lindblom. “The existing authorities are doing a good job within their respective areas, but up til now no one has had the task of providing a complete picture.”

Many Issues to Deal With

Which issues the Institute will focus on, when, and in what order, we can only speculate about. The board and the director will decide on the institute’s focus and priorities:

It will not be able to handle everything at the same time. Focus will probably depend on what issues that are of most concern in Sweden during a specific period”, says Anna Karin Lindblom. “In accordance with the so-called Paris Principles, it is important that the Institute can decide freely on which human rights issues to address. But, it is likely that it will study what areas that have been the most discussed by international human rights monitoring mechanisms as well as by national authorities with a role connected to human rights issues, such as the Parliamentary Ombudsman. That way, the Institute can see which concerns have been lifted repeatedly and/or by several actors, thus discerning patterns.

To be compliant with the Paris principles, the institute can address and oversee all human rights issues, including civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. The institute will work continuously with all human rights.

The institute cannot limit itself to one or a few issues. Over time, its work will span all human rights areas and sectors of society. The approach to human rights needs to be dual; the institute will have to address specific human rights issues, but also look at how human rights are mainstreamed across different fields.

Mainstreaming in this context means to study how human rights are respected within different sectors and levels of society. It also means to study how rights are interconnected and how they influence one another.

High Integrity and Firmness

As an independent actor, the institute will have to have integrity. It will form its own opinions and ideas:

It will have to stand up for its conclusions with confidence, develop deep knowledge and base its statements on facts. It has to be meticulous. Sometimes it will have to deliver social criticism and has to dare have its say but at the same time stimulate actors to take action. Hence, be clear, but at the same time pedagogical and constructive.

It will also be important to find the right approach to an open dialogue. Language will be essential:

It will not use any other means of power but words. Words will be its main instruments.

What happens right now?

Currently, Lindblom and her team is working on preparing the institute’s facilities in Lund and are starting to form a base for the new organisation, consisting of a small group of staff.

Board members to the institute can be appointed from October 1st  2021. The board will be appointed by January 2022. After that, the Board will appoint the director of the institute.

There will also be an advisory council, reflecting civil society in a balanced way.

What are the next steps?

“The Institute will have to get settled, create its organisation and all the things that come with that. When it is up and running and feels that the timing is right, it will apply for an accreditation as Sweden’s national human rights institution. That is of course crucial”, says Lindblom. “For its own credibility and for Sweden’s, there is really no other option than getting an A-status.”

Read a summary, Lindblom’s take on the added value of the new Swedish NHRI, in the form of Five C’s:

Read more about NHRI’s

Check out the video recording from the past NHRI webinar

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