The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions
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The Legacy of the Gothenburg Summit Riots (June, 2001)
HITS: 1763 | 30-10-2002, 05:06 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Sweden , Politics, Global Events
Sweden’s image as a peaceful law-abiding society was shattered by the world-wide broadcast of riots at the combined EU and EU-US summit in Gothenburg in June, 2001. The scenes of vandalism and the resort to firearms by the Swedish police were sharp breaks with tradition. The Group’s observers heard claims that the police had doctored video tape evidence by overlaying the film track of defendants clashing with the police with another soundtrack which gave the impression that the crowds around him were chanting aggressive slogans. Several people made this point independently. A defense lawyer suggested that since the opening of the trial of one of his German clients had been prefaced by the playing of the videotape in which the defendant did not appear, that this unprecedented use of audio-visual material in a Swedish court had the effect of creating an emotive atmosphere prejudicial to all defendants, even those not featured on the film or soundtrack.
The question of future inflows of people from EU accession-states likely to join the EU in 2004/05 was avoided in the campaign. From this Group’s experience and recent opinion polls in candidate countries like Poland or Slovakia, Sweden may expect a marked increase in arrivals from its neighbors across the Baltic. Up to 7 million Poles are expected to seek work in the existing EU states after Poland’s accession (regardless of any rules limiting free movement of labour which might be conditions of entry). Migration on this scale cannot help but be a socio-economic issue in the politics of the existing member states like Sweden. Left-wing parties like the Marxist KPML (r), which has a strong municipal presence in Gothenburg also find themselves largely invisible in the established media even if they would share the established media’s revulsion at the Swedish Democrats’ views. On the question of immigration, the extra-Parliamentary left seems divided between those who see accepting an influx of foreigners and defending their right to maintain their own identity as an act of solidarity, and those who fear that wages and social conditions will be eroded by the import of a “reserve army of labour” as Marx himself might have characterized it.
HITS: 2035 | 30-10-2002, 04:32 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Sweden , Media World, Foreign media
Parties which are outside the centre-left/centre-right consensus, even though not necessarily particularly hard left or right find it difficult to get access to the media whether in its news coverage or advertising space. The high cost of newspaper and journal distribution through the PressByran network which appears to have an effective monopoly on retail outlets for news and current affairs makes marginal viewpoints still more marginal in Sweden. The Swedish Democrats complain that their attempts to place advertisements have been boycotted by the news media. According to the Swedish Democrats some media refuse their materials point blank, while others invoke their need to show solidarity with an informal media “blackout” of the “extremists”. Private media may have the right to pick and choose whom they permit to advertise, but when nationwide public organizations like Swebus choose to provide a platform for some but not other legal parties then the fairness of the campaign may be drawn into doubt.
Although the Swedish PR system appears to guarantee equal chances and reasonable local access to all potential points of view, there are features of the electoral system which, despite being in force for many years, are of dubious value. Like most people in Britain, most Swedes are understandably proud of their long history of parliamentary government. However, as in Britain complacency about election procedures can creep into the system and make people unaware of emerging flaws or even irregularities and cheating. Although initial counts in the individual polling stations around the country are open to observers from the different parties and members of the general public, participation of non-members of election commissions throughout the whole counting process is not universal. Where all members of the local commission are known to each other and may be friends/comrades, even if not drawn from the same party, there is always the risk of collusion in counting. This, admittedly small risk, is magnified by the very large number of ballot papers floating around the country. Given that voters, and even non-citizens, can pick up ballot papers at post offices around the country at least 18 days before the election day, the possibility of “valid” ballot papers being available to substitute for ballots actually cast exists.
Sweden is one of Europe's oldest democracies, but are its elections as correct and fair as the country's reputation would suggest... This Group’s election observers are often asked by ordinary voters in the post-Communist societies where much of the BHHRG’s activities take place whether there aren’t enough problems back home in the West to keep them occupied. Unlike some other human rights groups, the BHHRG’s observers have never operated on the presumption that they come from states of perfection to observe others. As readers will remember, this Group suggested that serious flaws are apparent in the existing British electoral system and that they are likely to be worsened by proposals to make voter turnout rather than ballot security the key criterion in future regulation of elections in the U.K. A Swedish correspondent, who shares an interest in much of the Group’s monitoring of human rights and democracy in the Balkans especially, suggested that the BHHRG should monitor aspects of the forthcoming Swedish general election. Along with several other academics, journalists, lawyers and political activists, he suggested that the run-up to the polls on 15th September, 2002, would be a suitable time to study what was happening in the Swedish general election campaign but also some of the controversial issues omitted by common consent of the parties already sitting in the Riksdag.