Svenska kyrkan

Return of Sámi human remains highlighted in UN review


Ahead of the UN’s general review of Sweden’s compliance with human rights requirements, the Church of Sweden and the Christian Council of Sweden presented a parallel report with a number of recommendations. The government recently approved several of these recommendations regarding, for example, repatriation of Sámi human remains. However, they rejected the recommendation of additional protection for the right of asylum seekers to leave their religion or convert.

Roughly every five years, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) examines the general human rights situation in Sweden in what is known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Prior to Sweden's review on 27 January this year, the Church of Sweden, together with the Christian Council of Sweden and the Sámi Council of the Church of Sweden, wrote a parallel report on Sweden's compliance with its HR commitments. Several UN States took up the proposals in their recommendations to Sweden.

The right of the Sámi to human remains and the issue of asylum-seeking converts were two of the issues raised by the parallel report.

Right of the Sámi to repatriation of human remains
The government approved recommendations regarding, for example, repatriation of Sámi human remains. Together with the Sámi Parliament, the Church of Sweden has driven the issue that the Swedish State should return the Sámi human remains that are still kept at national museums and institutions.

“It is both inhumane and immoral that these human remains have not been reburied as the Sámi have long demanded. It is therefore gratifying that the Swedish government has now approved the recommendations to redouble efforts to repatriate Sámi human remains and step up cooperation with the Sámi in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I now hope that the State's cooperation with the Sámi will also be strengthened in this matter”, says Archbishop Antje Jackelén, of the Church of Sweden”.

“We would like to have seen a willingness on the part of the government to go even further and accept all recommendations regarding repatriation. According to Article 12 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a clear national action plan and funding are needed as to how this restitution should be carried out. The issue cannot therefore be dealt with on a case-by-case basis when a large number of human remains are involved, but has to be coordinated”, says Ingrid Inga, Chair of the Sámi Council of the Church of Sweden.

Asylum-seeking converts
The government rejected the recommendation it received to more effectively protect the right of asylum seekers to leave their religion or convert to another.

"We had expected approval from the government, especially since Sweden believes that its asylum process for converts already complies with international law", says Karin Wiborn, Secretary General of the Christian Council of Sweden. “We believe that the Migration Agency's assessments of who is considered to be genuinely Christian are problematic and risk being arbitrary. In any rejection of an asylum application, converts are expelled to the countries they have moved from, where they risk persecution because of their new religion”.

Universal Periodic Review (UPR)
The UN’s Universal Periodic Review is its general review of the human rights situation in each Member State. It takes place every five years and the audited State receives recommendations from other Member States on human rights. These can either be accepted - in which case the State is committed to work actively on the issue - or noted - in which case the country does not agree or does not commit to work on the issue. The government/Sweden has now responded to the 300 recommendations contained in the review. Sweden was reviewed earlier this year.

Read more about Universal Periodic Review on the website of the Council for Human Rights (English) or on Sweden on the UN website.

Archbishop Antje Jackelén, +46 72-237 28 86 (Press Secretary)
Ingrid Inga, Chair of the Sámi Council of the Church of Sweden, +46 70-554 29 99
Karin Wiborn, Secretary General of the Christian Council of Sweden, +46 8-453 68 57 (Press Secretary)



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The Church of Sweden is a national church, open to everyone living in Sweden regardless of nationality. It is a place for church services, meetings and dialogue. The Church of Sweden is an Evangelical Lutheran church with 5,9 million members. There are 3500 churches in Sweden, and 13 dioceses.

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