Swedish Law too Weak for War Crime Cases?

For the first time a case being investigated by the Swedish police's special war crimes unit could lead to a trial in Sweden. But there is concern among experts whether Swedish legislation is extensive enough to deal with such crimes.

On Tuesday a 43-year-old Swede of Bosnian origin was arrested in northern Sweden for suspected war crimes during the civil war in the Balkans. As a guard at a prison camp for civilian Bosnian Serbs 18 years ago, he is accused of murder, torture and other types of violence against those interned there.

But according to his defence lawyer Ola Salomonsson, the man is denying all the charges.

"He is appalled by these allegations and denies responsibility for any of these crimes," said Salomonsson to Swedish news agency TT.

The Swedish Police's War Crimes Unit has been in existence since 2001. Since 2008 there are 10 members of staff. The number of suspected war criminals in Sweden has previously been estimated at around 1000. But the present head of the unit, Tomas Ackheim, does not want to speculate on this figure. He says that there are currently between 30 and 40 cases under investigation, some further along then others, and that the Swedish migration board reports about 20 to 30 new suspected cases every year. However, he says, it is not that simple to solve these kind of cases.

"Partly the difficulties are due to the crimes being committed many years ago in another part of the world. In many cases it is no longer possible to get to the scene of the crime and therefore impossible to get any physical evidence. Also witnesses are crucial and sometimes these are scattered all over the world," said Ackheim.

Many legal experts in Sweden are also concerned as they don't believe Swedish legislation is properly adapted to deal with war crimes. Mark Klamberg, a doctoral candidate in International Law at the Stockholm University says that a potential trial in Sweden might pose a problem.

"Swedish legislation only deals with war crimes and genocide - not crimes against humanity. The prosecutor might well have wished to prosecute on the grounds of crimes against humanity - but that is not possible due to current Swedish legislation," he said to Swedish Radio News.

Klamberg's concerns are shared with the Amnesty lawyer Anna Dahlbäck. She says that as Sweden has adapted legislation to international regulations in these matters, they should prosecute suspected war criminals here - but she would like to see the legislation adapted further.

"For example there is no crime called torture here in Sweden, and no crimes against humanity in our legislation. So one must assume that if he is guilty of international crimes we won't be able to sentence him accurately in Sweden, due to the lack of legislation," she told Swedish Radio News.

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