Since 1996 Sweden has had gender equality as a priority in its development and aid policy. In addition, the Swedish government adopted a feminist foreign policy in 2014 and also announced that they are “the world’s first feminist government to ensure that a gender perspective is included in the policy formulation on a broad front, both in national and international work.”

Sweden has had gender equality as a main priority for a long time, and in this aspect has done a lot of good things to strengthen women’s rights in the country and globally. However, we, unfortunately, see that parallel to these efforts, other undertakings directly counters the work of supporting human rights, in particular women’s rights.

The clearest example of this is Sweden’s export of arms and military equipment. This continues to be of great concern in regards to its potential effects in terms of fuelling armed conflict and contributing to or facilitating human rights violations.

From peace to arms export

Sweden was the fifteenth largest arms exporter in 2014-2018. The recipients include countries with serious and widespread human rights violations as well as weak accountability mechanisms to stop and prevent such violations. 

According to the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS), 24% of Sweden’s military equipment exports went to non-democratic countries in 2018, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Philippines, Turkey and Thailand. The criterion of democracy is significant in the Swedish context since a country’s democratic status was included in the new arms exporting law that entered into force in April 2018.

In addition to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, in 2018 Sweden exported arms to Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, all involved in the armed conflict in Yemen. Sweden also sells arms to Pakistan and India, which have been in conflict over the Kashmir region since 1947. The Swedish Erieye surveillance radar systems may, for example, have been used by Pakistan in an  air strike with the Indian Air Force in Kashmir.

Sweden needs to fully implement its feminist foreign policy

A feminist foreign policy and feminist government cannot only address issues such as development and human rights when the focus is to change something elsewhere and when it is of no cost to your own country. A feminist foreign policy must also challenge the power structures and norms in domestic policy and how Sweden’s actions affects the world.

This means, for example, taking responsibility for Sweden’s exterritorial human rights obligations. Promotion of human rights and the feminist foreign policy cannot be ignored when it does not fit within a state’s national interests.

WILPF Sweden report to the Universal Periodic Review

As Sweden is up for the Universal Periodic Review on 27 January, the Swedish Section of WILPF submitted a report to this process. 

The submission highlights four main issues with the following recommendations to Sweden:

  1. Nuclear weapons
  • sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)
  1. Swedish arms trade
  • Fully and immediately stop all arms transfers to all countries involved in the Yemen conflict, including follow-up deliveries.
  • Include in its assessments on arms exports: the recipient countries’ national implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and subsequent related resolutions, including NGO reports assessing such implementation; reports and recommendations from international and regional human rights bodies, e.g. Special Rapporteur on violence against women; countries’ and NGOs’  reports to the CEDAW Committee and other treaty bodies; reports from relevant UN agencies.
  1. Implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) and subsequent related resolutions
  • Strengthen its implementation of the Women, Peace and Security  agenda by including a focus on national context and policies, such as in Swedish arms exports.
  • Re-establish earmarked funds for civil society to implement the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
  1. Regulation of Swedish companies
  • Adopt legislation on mandatory human rights due diligence for Swedish companies that takes into account a gender-responsive perspective.

Read the full submission to see the entire analysis and all recommendations.