Global Good Samaritans: Human Rights as Foreign Policy

By Alison Brysk | Go to book overview

3
The Gold Standard

Sweden

We are not doing this with our hearts, but with our brains, and we have
no hidden agenda—we have no reason to help a country like Namibia;
we do it because it is important for the world community
.

—Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA)
official, June 8, 2004

Sweden sets the gold standard for human rights foreign policy promotion: funding, sheltering, mediating, and advocating for the full spectrum of human rights, all over the world, for several generations. Sweden represents a gold standard in another way as well, in that human rights promotion is grounded in a high level of affluence and security. This means that Sweden has the material and diplomatic resources to influence selected issue agendas and institutions—but it also raises the possibility that only wealthy, safe countries like Sweden may be able to afford the luxury of promoting human rights. Swedish foreign policy generally projects liberal democratic domestic values, even against dominant international trends and occasionally sacrificing domestic interests (Heisler 1990, Sundelius 1989, Goldmann 1986). Yet the question remains why and how Sweden chooses to expend its various forms of material and political capital in the service of a broader vision of human dignity.

Sweden’s 2007 “Human Rights in Swedish Foreign Policy” provides a near-perfect “cosmopolitan catechism” (see chapter 2):

Promoting and increasing respect for human rights is a priority issue in
Swedish foreign policy. Our commitment to human rights is in Sweden’s
interests and reflects our aspirations for a world in which people can
live in freedom and security, free from fear and want.… The principles
are: human rights are universal… it is legitimate to react… human rights
are the rights of individuals and the responsibility of governments… rights
are indivisible.…

Sweden’s historic diplomatic commitment, multilateralism, and exemplary aid policy have been retained by the Conservative government that took power in 2006 following decades of Social Democratic

-42-

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