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Sweden violates human rights when they sacrifice the elderly

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The strong global criticism of Sweden's strategy against the corona virus has support in the human rights that state that all people have the right to life and health. Sweden violates these rights when they do not impose binding restrictions to save as many people as possible, writes Katinka Svanberg, international law researcher.

Swedish interpretation of 'herd immunity' is based on the spread of infections so that the individual's immune system suppresses the virus and that a majority of the population becomes immune. The 'herd' of 'herd immunity' brings one's thoughts to Darwin's theories of 'survival of the fittest', which fits poorly in a democratic society.

The contagion curve dropped

In March, Australia and Sweden had the same number of covid 19 cases, about 5,000. After the Australian government shut down society, the infection curve came down from 400 cases per day to about 20 per day, which means restrictions can be lifted before a British vaccine may be available in the fall of 2020. Experiments with herd immunity violate the right to health when the state does not fight and treat a pandemic.

Unlike comparable industrialised countries, Sweden has refrained from using binding measures against the spread of infection. When many lives are sacrificed because of the government and public health strategy, it is a violation of human rights introduced into the Swedish Constitution and the EU Treaty and against the principle of human security.

The UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that everyone has the right to health and that the state should prevent an epidemic.

The right to life can be found in the United Nations Convention on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, Article 6, of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in the European Convention on Civil and Political Rights. The right to life is a prerequisite for the exercise of other rights. But the right to life is not worth much if a pandemic rages freely. The right to life is therefore guaranteed by other human rights such as the right to health.

The UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that everyone has the right to health and that the state should prevent epidemics: 'Prevent, treat, and fight all epidemic diseases and create conditions that ensure all medical and hospital care in the event of illness'.

High level of healthcare

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECMR) is a Swedish law by virtue of Sweden becoming a member of the EU.

The EU has also introduced human rights into the EU Charter through the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. They are a cornerstone of the EU. The right to health should give EU citizens a high level of healthcare. In a pre-litigation case, the EU Attorney General argued that the right to healthcare must not be infringed by Member States because of financial difficulties. In one case, a widow won against Greek health insurance which denied her compensation for her husband's vital healthcare in the UK at a private hospital. The European Court of Justice stated that the consideration of the patient outweighed the right of the Member States to regulate their own health.

The EU's fundamental rights also include a general prohibition on discrimination. Elderly people must not be discriminated against and should be treated with dignity.

The European Court of Human Rights has interpreted the right to health as part of the right to life in ECHR. The Court found that the right to life requires that healthcare be designed so that 'patient lives are protected' with adequate equipment and that it is not underfunded and that a certain group may not be given inferior access to healthcare.

The Swedish state's lack of sanctions against the pandemic, despite the awareness that there are no emergency stocks of medicine and protective equipment, is a violation of the right to life in ECMR. The same applies if vulnerable groups are given priority, because medicine and equipment are not enough.

Some human rights can be limited when a state of emergency exists, in the event of a national crisis or war, but the right to life can never be limited, and the same goes for the core concept of the right to health. The Swedish government has not declared a state of emergency, so human rights apply fully in Sweden.

Duty to protect the population

The duty to protect against pandemics is part of the concept of human security that is part of a state's duty to protect its population in emergency humanitarian situations. The principle was emphasised by the UN during the Ebola outbreak. If the state fails to protect its population, it should receive help and advice from international expertise, such as the WHO, otherwise international sanctions may be considered.

I'm worried about my dad who is 84 years old. He is from the time when the 'people's home' (folkhemmet) was built and can therefore not imagine that the elderly or the sick would be sacrificed at the very beginning for economic reasons by a social democratic government. He cannot believe that staff in the home service in Stockholm are infected, because they act as usual, with no face masks. His grandchildren are afraid that their grandfather will be one of the anonymous numbers in the death statistics.

It is time for the Swedish state to immediately stop violating international law and adapt to the applicable law to save lives.

By Katinka Svanberg, PhD and Visiting Researcher in International Law at the University of Melbourne.

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