Amnesty: ‘Sweden lax on war criminals’

Sweden has been strongly criticized by Amnesty International in a new report released on Tuesday. Amnesty has called on Sweden to end impunity from crimes such as torture, crimes against humanity and extrajudicial executions.

Sweden’s clear international profile in the fight against impunity from justice is not matched at home, Amnesty argues in a new report released on Tuesday.

“It is high time that Sweden, which is a leading country in fighting impunity for serious humanitarian rights breaches internationally, now amends Swedish law to adapt to the demands framed in international law,” writes Amnesty Sweden’s director-general Lisa Bergh on the organization’s homepage.

Amnesty wants Sweden to extend provisions under the international legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which permits states to charge and prosecute for serious crimes regardless of where they were committed.

Sweden’s universal jurisdiction legislation dates back to a 1923 Penal Code. Current legislation allows courts to exercise criminal jurisdiction over genocide and war crimes.

Amnesty wants legislation to be extended to cover: “crimes against humanity, torture, extrajudicial executions or enforced disappearances”.

The report cites “a reliable report” to claim that “up to 1,500 war criminals freely roam the streets of Sweden.”

Amnesty recognizes however that that the Swedish police have taken steps to work against Sweden becoming a safe haven for war criminals by founding a special war crimes unit, in March 2008.

But their work is hindered by the “serious gaps” in current legislation, the group argues.

Lisa Bergh argues that the Swedish government can do more and points out that more than six years after a proposal was presented in 2002 for a law implementing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), no proposal has yet been presented by the government to the Parliament.

“I believe that the issue has simply been given a lower priority. It is thought that demands have been met in certain areas, but we do not agree. It is not a question of party divisions and there already exists a legislative proposal for review,” Bergh says.

“If this is not adopted then Sweden risks becoming a haven for war criminals”, Amnesty International warns.

The principle of universal jurisdiction is a controversial principle in international law. Amnesty International has long been one of its proponents arguing that certain crimes are so serious that states have a logical and moral duty to prosecute.

Opponents, such as former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, argue that universal jurisdiction is a breach on each state’s sovereignty.

Following the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague in 2002 the perceived need to create universal jurisdiction laws has declined. Although the ICC is not permitted to try crimes committed before 2002.