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War Crime - Swedish Police efforts

In Sweden, the War Crimes Unit is responsible for all investigations into genocides, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

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This is why the Swedish Police investigate genocides, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Sweden has signed the Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute, which is the basis for the International Criminal Court in The Hague. This means that Sweden has committed itself to tracking, investigating and contributing to the prosecution of those committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

All countries have a responsibility to prosecute these serious crimes and it is important that Sweden should not become a refuge for people who have committed such crimes.

  • Every person is guilty of genocide who commits a certain act, such as killing, for the purposes of annihilating, in whole or in part, a group of people which is nationally, ethnically, racially or religiously determined. The range of punishment for the crime is imprisonment for a fixed term, at least four years and at most eighteen years, or life.

  • Every person is guilty of crimes against humanity who commits a certain act, such as killing, if it constitutes or is part of extensive or systematic attacks directed at a group of civilians. The range of punishment for the crime is imprisonment for a fixed term, at least four years and at most eighteen years, or life.

  • Every person is guilty of war crimes who commits a certain act such as killing, if it is part of, or otherwise connected to, an armed conflict or occupation. The sentence imposed will be imprisonment for at most six years or, if the crime is gross, at least four years and at most eighteen years, or life.

Since 1 July 2014, there is a new law in Sweden on criminal responsibility for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Genocide and crimes against humanity (which can be considered equal to war crimes) committed prior to this date, are prosecuted in Sweden in accordance with the legislation previously in force. War crimes, also known as universal crimes, may be investigated in Sweden regardless of where or by whom they were committed.

If the suspect is not a Swedish citizen, the person may, in certain cases, be extradited to his or her home country or to the country where the crime was committed to be prosecuted there. If not, the offences will be investigated here. At the Swedish Police, this is the responsibility of the War Crimes Unit.

Police efforts against this crime

If a person who is suspected of committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes is in Sweden, the police must investigate the matter. This applies to persons who are suspected of ordering or in other ways initiating such crimes as well as to those who actually carried them out.

The War Crime Unit receives tip-offs and complaints from the public, the Swedish Migration Agency, the Swedish Security Service and local police from all over Sweden. The investigations are conducted in close cooperation with the International Public Prosecution Authority in Stockholm, where a special group of prosecutors have been designated to handle genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

It is also a task for the War Crime Unit to investigate whether people suspected of committing any of these crimes while on international missions abroad, such as UN or EU missions, are guilty of any of these crimes. To date, however, this has not happened.

The crimes are difficult to investigate

Investigating genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes is a complicated matter. The crimes were usually committed many years ago elsewhere than in Sweden. Establishing an evidentiary basis is difficult, as there rarely is any written and/or forensic evidence, but only oral accounts from witnesses or complainants (victims).

There are cases where the crime scenes no longer exist or are completely different from what they used to be at the time of the crimes. And in most cases, the individuals to be interviewed still live in the countries where the crimes were perpetrated, or have moved to other countries, which means that a major part of the investigation work must be conducted abroad. This presents a drain on time and resources.

For witnesses and complainants, talking about their observation and what they have been through can often be a traumatic experience associated with fear and anxiety. In many cases, they will have repressed what happened to them. Many of them are also afraid of what might happen to them in their home country if they tell anyone about what they have experienced, and so they might not always want to take part in the investigations.

All of the above places special demands on the police in their investigation work. In addition, it is also difficult to investigate crimes perpetrated in areas where an armed conflict is still ongoing, or where having a presence there involves other risks to the Swedish Police.

Another factor which makes war crimes difficult to investigate is the complex legislation. For example, a war crime (genocide) can only be perpetrated in connection with an armed conflict. This means that the War Crimes Unit must analyse whether the conflict in question was ongoing at the time of the commission of the crimes. Depending on the circumstances, this may prove to be quite difficult.

International Cooperation

The crimes investigated by the War Crimes Unit have not been committed in Sweden, and both witnesses and complainants are usually spread throughout the world. This is why the War Crimes Unit is engaged in extensive international cooperation in this field. They also assist police authorities abroad in their investigations regarding these crimes, by, for example, holding interviews with witnesses residing in Sweden.

Genocide, crimes against humanity / This is what the law says:

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