Reporting Grave International Crimes
Through legal interventions, those who have been subjected to grave international crimes can be given redress.
How can Civil Rights Defenders report grave international crimes?
Perpetrators of grave international crimes shall firstly be brought to justice in the country where the crimes were committed. In cases where this is not possible, for example because the authorities in said country were involved in the crime being committed, perpetrators may in some cases be brought to justice outside the country.
If the country in which the crime was committed has ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, or if the UN Security Council refers the situation in a certain country to the International Criminal Court, perpetrators may in some cases be brought to justice in that court.
In cases where it is not possible to prosecute crimes in the country where they were committed, in the International Criminal Court, or in any other internationalised tribunal, perpetrators may sometimes be brought to justice in the court of another country.
Civil Rights Defenders can assist our partners in providing information to the International Criminal Court or requesting the court to open an investigation into grave international crimes committed in a certain country. Civil Rights Defenders can also support victims in Sweden to report grave international crimes committed outside of Sweden to the Swedish Police Authority’s War Crimes Unit.
Civil Rights Defenders can report grave international crimes to the Swedish Police because Swedish courts have so-called universal jurisdiction over grave international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. This means that Swedish authorities can investigate, prosecute, and sentence persons suspected of grave international crimes, regardless of where the crimes were committed and the nationality of the perpetrator or injured party.
How do I report a crime in Sweden?
If you have witnessed or become a victim of crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide, you can report the crime to the War Crimes Unit at the Swedish Police. The best way to do this is by sending an email to the police at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Gruppen för utredning av krigsbrott” (“The War Crimes Unit”).
In the email you may indicate whether you are the victim of a crime, have witnessed a crime, or have information about a crime that you would like to hand over to the police. You can also describe, in a few short sentences, what the case is concerning. Remember to include your full name and contact details (phone number, physical address, and email address) in the email, so that the police can reach you.
You can also contact us at Civil Rights Defenders if you would like help and support when filing a report. You can reach us at email@example.com.
How does the criminal procedure work in Sweden?
If you have become a victim of or witness to a grave international crime and have reported it to the Swedish Police, you will in most cases be called for an interview with the War Crimes Unit. In some cases, you may bring along a support person to the interview. This requires prior approval by the prosecutor, however. It is therefore important that you notify the police if you would like to bring a support person. If you are considered the injured party in an active preliminary investigation of a grave international crime, you are normally also entitled to a counsel for the injured party. Your counsel is there to support you, accompany you to interviews, and represent your interests throughout the legal process.
If the suspect is presently in Sweden, they may be summoned for questioning. If the level of suspicion is high enough, and if, for example, there is a risk that the suspect will attempt to evade the authorities, the prosecutor may file an application for a detention order. As a rule, a detention order should always be issued if the range of punishment for the offence prescribes at least two years in prison, as is common in cases of grave international crime. A detention order is issued by a court, at the request of the prosecutor. Once a detention order has been issued, the prosecutor must file an indictment within no more than 14 days. However, this deadline may be extended by order of the court. Investigations into grave international crimes committed in another country are often complex and lengthy. It is therefore not uncommon for the prosecutor to ask the court for more time before an indictment can be made. In this case, a new detention order must be issued by the court within 14 days, following a so-called pre-trial detention hearing. If you are a victim or witness, you do not need to participate in such a hearing.
The main hearing – or trial, as it is otherwise known – must begin no later than 14 days after the indictment has been filed. You can read more about the trial process here.
If you will be testifying in the trial, you will receive a subpoena with a date and time when you need to appear before the court. You are not allowed in the courtroom until it is your turn to testify. This is to ensure that you are able to tell your story without being influenced by what has previously been said in the courtroom. If you have incurred costs in order to participate in the trial, you may be reimbursed. You can read more about what it is like to testify in a trial here.
As the injured party, you do not have to participate in the whole trial, but you need to be present for the occasions on which you are to be examined during the trial. You can read more about the role of the injured party in the trial here.
Once both parties have made their case, it is time for the court to deliberate. Sometimes the court can deliberate right away. If so, the parties are asked to wait outside the courtroom and are called back in when the court is ready to deliver its verdict. The judgment is subsequently written down and sent to each party. However, often the court needs more time to decide on a verdict. If so, the court announces a date by which the verdict is expected to be delivered instead.
If the suspect is not in Sweden, the process may look slightly different. If you are a witness or victim of a grave international crime, and you have reported it to the police, you can still be called for an interview. If the suspect has committed a crime that may result in imprisonment for a minimum of one year, and the prosecutor deems there to be sufficiently strong suspicion against the suspect as well as a risk that they will go on to commit further crimes, the prosecutor may file an application to have the suspect detained in their absence. It is the court that issues the detention order. If the court decides that the suspect should be detained in their absence, the prosecutor may issue a European arrest warrant. This creates an alert within the Schengen Information System and Interpol. If the suspect is arrested in another country, Swedish authorities can thus request the suspect’s extradition to Sweden, so that they can stand trial here.
What are my rights?
Both victims and witnesses of crimes have the right to an interpreter during interviews with the police as well as during the trial. In some cases, victims are also entitled to have documents translated into a language they understand.
Victims of crime have a right to information as to whether the preliminary investigation has been closed, an indictment has been made, or the suspect has been released or escaped from custody.
As mentioned above, victims of grave international crimes are usually entitled to a counsel for the injured party. Victims also have a right to bring a support person to police interviews and to the trial.
It is not possible to remain anonymous as a victim or witness in a Swedish legal process. The identity of a victim may be concealed from the public in certain cases, such as those concerning sexual offences, in such a way that the victim’s identity and parts of their story are classified. The trial may also, in whole or in part, be held behind closed doors, so that the public cannot participate. However, neither the identity of the victim or witness nor their statement can be kept secret from the suspect. If a victim or witness feels afraid to be in the same room as the defendant when giving their testimony during the trial, the defendant may be removed to another room and allowed to follow the trial from there.
A victim or witness who is subjected to crime, harassment, or threats of crime may in some cases be entitled to certain protective measures by the police. It is important that the victim or witness reports these crimes and subsequently turns to the War Crimes Unit of the Swedish Police to ask for assistance. The War Crimes Unit can refer you to the police authority’s Personal Protection Unit, which evaluates the threat scenario. Depending on the severity of the threat, various measures may be taken: a restraining order issued by the prosecutor, access to an emergency telephone and alarm system in your residence, as well as access to your own contact within the police.
A victim or witness can also turn directly to the Swedish Tax Agency to request that their details be marked confidential. Once your personal data has been marked confidential, all Swedish authorities must carry out a confidentiality assessment before they can disclose your personal data.
If the threat scenario is particularly serious and the victim or witness is part of a personal protection program with the police, and a restraining order is not deemed to provide sufficient protection, they may also request protected population registration with the Swedish Tax Agency. This means that the individual remains registered as a resident of a municipality from which they have moved. The old address is removed and the new address is not added to the population register, and is thus never shared with other authorities. An address is registered with the Swedish Tax Agency at which mail can be received.
Civil Rights Defenders offers trainings for local human rights defenders and civil society organisations. The trainings aim to strengthen their capacity to document grave international crimes, so that the documentation can be used as evidence in future criminal proceedings, and to strengthen their capacity to pursue criminal proceedings with regards to grave international crimes on their own. Our trainings are adapted to the needs of the human rights defenders and civil society organisations with whom we partner.