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Archbishop: Sweden found wanting over Sami rights

Published söndag 25 januari 2015 kl 12.31
The Sami flag, next to the Swedish one. Photo: Lillemor Strömberg/Sveriges Radio.
The Sami flag, next to the Swedish one. Photo: Lillemor Strömberg/Sveriges Radio.

Sweden is not taking its responsibility towards the indigenous people, the Sami, seriously, according to Archbishop Antje Jackelén. Ahead of a hearing in the UN Human Rights council on Monday, she urges the government to do more.

Even though Sweden supports the UN guiding principles for indigenous peoples, Jackelén says the government's position over the past few years has been "passive" and "insufficient".

She wants the Sami self determination strengthened and their legal position improved, especially when it comes to the exploitation of land. "For years, Sweden has referred to ongoing negotiations regarding a Nordic Same Convention. So also this time in its report to the UN. But that is not good enough," writes Jackelén in an opinion piece in the daily Dagens Nyheter. "In which other set of rights does Sweden choose to refer to ongoing negotiations as an excuse to delay the realisation of human rights in the own country?" she writes.

When it comes to taking responsibility for Sweden's colonial past, Jackelén notes that the state has come some way in later years, when it comes to accepting responsibility for how it has treated Roma people, and children who were maltreated when they were placed in foster care.

What is in Sweden is known as a "white book" on its treatment of Roma people was published last spring. This is a report recounting the abuses, violations and other acts of discrimination against the Roma people in the 20th century. And in 2011, men and women who were abused in Swedish foster homes and orphanages over several decades received a state apology. It was also announced they would get a blanket compensation of 250,000 crowns each.

"But the apology given to the Sami in 1998 by the then Sami Minister has never been filled with content, despite promises," Jackelén writes.

The Sami parliament in Sweden is calling for a kind of "truth commission" and Antje Jackelén supports this idea. In her opinion piece, she notes that the Swedish Church is not without blame. Over centuries, the Church was part of the colonising power and "took actively part in exerting power and control over the Sami". Among others, she mentions the "nomad schools" where young Sami children were taken from their families and put into schools run by the Swedish church. To this day, many Sami people have traumatic memories from this period.

Therefore, the Swedish Church is currently working on its own "white book" about how the church treated the Sami people. The purpose is to "heal relations, redress the wrongs and to increase the understanding for Sami experiences".

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