Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Human Rights: Explosive Diplomacy

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Human Rights: Explosive Diplomacy

Article excerpt

The Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt should have anticipated the torrent of counter-blows he'd visit on himself if he criticised Cuba in a speech to the UN Commission on Human Rights. Juan Antonio Fernandez Palacios, Cuba's ambassador to the UN, took it hard. He gave Bildt, and his nation, a severe dressing down which has brought the two countries to the brink of diplomatic crisis.

Palacios responded with a tirade of invective against the Scandinavian country's own human-rights profile. "In Cuba, one does not persecute migrants nor does one try to carry out ethnic cleansing that just allows for retaining in the country those whose skin colour and hair colour would fit in better with the racial patterns of former Viking conquerors," he said, making reference to "the not-so-glorious days of Swedish imperialism, which filled with blood and pain their neighbouring countries".

Could he really mean Sweden? The country with one of the most equitable distributions of income in the world and one of the highest standards of living? A constitution protects its citizens from arbitrary arrest and provides for religious freedom. Prison conditions are good; and in spite of the heavy influence of the state in public life, Sweden scores high on economic freedom. According to Bildt, it is "one of the most open countries in Europe in terms of immigration". Furthermore, Sweden has been at peace for 200 years.

The imperialist past Palacios referred to seems to be a period of foreign expansion during the mid-17th century. By British standards, it was a relatively tame story of invasion and conquering, though it rankles with Norway which, under the treaties of Bromsebro and Roskilde, bore the brunt of Sweden's military exertions. …

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