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OMBUDSMAN AGAINST ETHNIC DISCRIMINATION
SWEDEN

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Background
Mandate
Internal organisation
Activities

Background 

The Office of the Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination (DO) was established by Parliament in 1986 through the Law against Ethnic Discrimination. The Ombudsman is appointed by the Government for a period of six years.

The DO is independent and regulated by the law on the Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination (1999:131), by yearly decrees issued by the Ministry of Justice and by the laws against ethnic discrimination. The DO takes its own decisions in all individual matters but it is accountable to the Ministry of Justice.

Beside the DO there are three Ombudsmen, namely the Disability Ombudsman, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman and the Ombudsman against Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation.

Mandate 

The three main duties of the DO are as follows:

Ethnic discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfairly compared to others or is otherwise subject to unjust or insulting treatment because of ethnic origin or religious belief. Legal protection against ethnic discrimination is at present regulated in the Measures to Counteract Ethnic Discrimination in Working Life Act (1999); the Act on Equal Treatment of Students in Higher Education (2001) and the Act prohibiting Discrimination (2003), which applies for example to goods, services and housing.

Internal organisation 

The current Ombudsman is Mrs.  Katri Linna. The Office of the Ombudsman consists of 30 employees.

Activities  

Supporting individuals

Individuals who consider themselves discriminated against on the basis of belief or ethnicity may bring a complaint to the DO. A complaint can be filed by someone who for instance considers him- or herself to have been refused employment, a bank loan or access to housing or to public places such as bars and restaurants on the grounds of ethnic origin or religious belief. Complaints against bars and restaurants have increased in particular since 2003, when a new law against discrimination was implemented.

When the DO receives complaints concerning working life and the person making the complaint is a trade union member, the DO must ask if the trade union is willing to take on the case. If the complainant is not a union member or if the union decides not to take responsibility for the case, the DO can investigate the complaint. Some complaints are resolved through settlements as a result of communications between the DO and the accused party. In other cases, for instance if the accused party denies responsibility, the DO can bring the case to court for legal ruling.

Supervising compliance with legislation

According to the law employers have a duty to set measurable goals and undertake practical measures to counter ethnic discrimination in working life. The DO is responsible for scrutinising employer’s affirmative actions in regard to ethnic discrimination. If the employer is not willing to accept corrective measures proposed by the DO, the latter can turn to the Board against Discrimination. The Board against Discrimination can insist that the employer implements the measures and can impose a civil fine in the case of non-compliance.

Each year the DO focuses its supervisory activities on different sectors of society. In 2005, the DO concentrated on governmental authorities as employers.

Raising awareness and shaping opinion

The DO aims to promote human rights and to counter ethnic and religious discrimination. By liaising with society’s key organisations, the DO attempts to influence these institutions to further combat ethnic discrimination. For this purpose, the DO maintains on-going contacts with, for example, religious and ethnic associations, trade unions and employers’ organisations, the police, the armed forces and other similar institutions and organisations. The DO also maintains continuous co-operation with other governmental institutions, especially the other ombudsmen, in order to promote human rights.

Members of the DO staff are frequently invited to speak and to take part in national and international seminars and conferences. The office of the DO also communicates with the press, radio and television concerning both individual cases and more general issues. It implements special projects with the aim of awareness-raising and shaping public opinion, either regarding certain particular issues or focused on specific target groups. The situation of the Roma receives special attention.

Special projects

In 2005, the DO started a project aimed at reducing discrimination in pubs and restaurants. The DO co-operates with the restaurants and their associations and is working to develop a code of good practice for access to such places. The code must be totally coherent and non-discriminatory to prevent door-keepers and bar and restaurant owners and staff from making arbitrary and discriminatory customer selections. Another task within the project is to scrutinise restaurants as employers when it comes to affirmative actions. The Swedish government is also currently looking into the possibility of withdrawing the license to serve alcohol from restaurants that have been found guilty of discrimination.

During the last three years the DO has been running a project, assigned by the government, to prevent discrimination against Roma. The project used dialogue, co-operation, empowerment and education in human rights as the main tools to prevent discrimination and a report on its findings was released in 2004. One of the most important arguments of the report is the need for genuine Roma participation and influence in any decision-making that concerns Roma. Many aspects of the strategies suggested in the report have subsequently been adopted by the Swedish government. As a result of the Roma project the DO receives an increasing number of complaints of discrimination from Roma.

Following the experience gained from the Roma project and from a study of the complaints filed by individuals to the DO during the last six years, the DO are now emphasising outreach work to target groups that are believed to be especially exposed to discrimination. Using the same tools, namely dialogue, education in human rights, co-operation and empowerment, the aim is to encourage these groups to fight for their rights, within and through their existing organisations. By doing this the DO also expects to gain a better overview of on-going discrimination in Sweden.

From the beginning of 2005, the DO has been running a two-year project with The National Courts Administration. The project is intended to raise awareness and understanding of discriminatory practice in the Swedish judiciary system. The training aims to explain psychological factors behind discrimination. With the use of actual complaints filed at the DO as a factual background for discussions on discrimination in the judiciary system, the project targets a broad group of judges.

Since 2002 the DO has been a member of EuroNEB - the European Network of Specialised Equality Bodies. The purpose of this co-operation is to build and reinforce co-operation between different European institutions working towards equal opportunities, and through this promote improvement of legislation on equality and human rights in Europe. The project is coordinated by The Migration Policy Group and financed by the European Union.

CONTACT:

Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination
Ombudsmannen mot etnisk diskriminering (DO)
Postal address: P.O. Box 3045
S-103 64 STOCKHOLM
Tel: +46 8 508 88 700
Fax: +46 8 508 88 750
E-mail: do@do.se
Web site: www.do.se