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Title: Germany Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author: U.S. Department of State
Date: March 1996
Law enforcement is primarily a responsibility of state governments, and the police are organized at the state level. The jurisdiction of the Federal Criminal Office is limited to international organized crime, especially narcotics trafficking, weapons smuggling, and currency counterfeiting. Police forces in general are well trained, disciplined, and mindful of citizens' rights, although there were occasional instances of police abuse.
Germany's highly advanced economy affords its residents a high standard of living. The economy has been growing over the past 2 years, recovering from a deep recession earlier in the decade which followed the postreunification boom. This growth, however, has resulted in an only gradual reduction of unemployment through mid-1995. In the East, where economic integration and growth continued particularly strongly, employment has increased more noticeably than in the West. Nonetheless, overall unemployment in eastern Germany remains significantly higher than in the country's western half as the region continues to grapple with adjustment to free market conditions. Unemployment in the East affects women disproportionately more than men.
The Government fully respects the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with instances of individual abuse. However, there were instances of admitted police abuse of prisoners, frequently foreigners. Although violence or harassment directed at foreigners continued to occur within society as a whole, the number of incidents declined markedly, as was the case in 1994. Official data show that the number of violent offenses of all kinds by rightwing extremists decreased by 14 percent in the first 6 months of 1995 compared with the same period in 1994. Rightwing violence against foreigners decreased by 27 percent. Rightwing extremist violence rose sharply after German unification but peaked in 1992 and has since been declining. Still, there were a significant number of attacks on property or persons, and foreigners were the victims somewhat more often than not.
Anti-Semitic incidents increased but remained few in absolute terms. Most involved graffiti or distribution of anti-Semitic materials. The synagogue in Luebeck, firebombed in 1994, was subjected to another arson attack on May 7, but the alleged perpetrator was apparently not acting for political or anti-Semitic reasons. The overwhelming majority of the perpetrators of attacks on foreigners or anti-Semitic acts were frustrated, apolitical youths and a small core of neo-Nazis. All the major political parties and all the highest officials of the Federal Republic denounced violence against foreigners and anti-Semitic acts.
Women continue to face wage discrimination in the private sector. The Government is taking serious steps to address violence against women.
Some murders occurred among rival factions of Iranians, Kurds, Turks, and other foreign nationals. The federal and state authorities sought to find and prosecute the perpetrators of such crimes and pressed charges in several trials.
There continue to be serious allegations of police brutality against foreigners. Hamburg officials instituted investigations of over 80 police and other officials for possible mistreatment of arrested foreigners; 16 were eventually charged. The Hamburg chief of police went into early retirement shortly thereafter. A policeman charged with mistreating an Iraqi asylum seeker during the 1994 Ascension Sunday antiforeigner violence in Magdeburg was found innocent.
Prison conditions meet minimum international standards, and the Government permits visits by human rights monitors.
There is no preventive detention. If there is evidence that the suspect might flee the country, police may detain the suspect for up to 24 hours pending a formal charge The right of free access to legal counsel has been restricted only in the cases of terrorists suspected of having used contacts with lawyers to continue terrorist activity while in prison. Only judges may decide on the validity of any deprivation of liberty. Bail exists but is seldom employed; the usual practice is to release detainees unless there is clear danger of flight outside the country. There is no use of forced exile.
Separate from these five branches of jurisdiction is the Federal Constitutional Court, which is not only the country's Supreme Court but an organ of the Constitution with special functions defined in the Basic Law. Among other things, it reviews laws to ensure their compatibility with the Constitution and adjudicates disputes between constitutional organs on questions of competencies. It also has jurisdiction to hear and decide a claim based on the infringement of a person's basic constitutional rights by a public authority. The judiciary provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
The Basic Law permits banning political parties found to be "fundamentally antidemocratic." A 1950's ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court outlawed a neo-Nazi and a Communist party. State governments may outlaw only organizations that are active solely within their state. If a group's activities cross state lines, the Federal Government assumes jurisdiction.
Four far-right political groups, not organized as political parties, were banned in late 1992. The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), along with 35 subsidiary organizations, was banned in 1993. Also in 1993, the Federal Government asked the Constitutional Court to ban the far-right Free German Workers' Party; the Court's decision was still pending at year's end. Several extremist parties were under observation by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV, the internal security service), although such monitoring may by law not interfere with the organizations' continued activities. The BFV reported that 56,600 people belonged to far-right organizations in 1994, of whom some 5,600 were considered violence-prone.
Members of the Church of Scientology continue to allege both social and government-condoned harassment, such as being fired from a job or expelled from (or not permitted to join) a political party. Major German political parties exclude Scientologists from membership, arguing that Scientology is not a religion but a for-profit organization, whose goals and principles are inconsistent with those of the political parties. Business firms whose owners or executives belong to the Church of Scientology may face boycotts and discrimination, sometimes with governmental approval. Artists have been prevented from performing or displaying their works because of their Scientology membership. Public criticism of Scientologists by leading political figures increased during the year, with one Cabinet member publicly stating that Scientologists were unfit to serve as teachers, police officers, or professors. Scientologists continued to take such grievances to court, and the courts have frequently ruled in their favor.
For ethnic Germans entering the country, the Basic Law provides both for citizenship immediately upon application and for legal residence without restrictions. Persons not of German ethnicity may acquire citizenship (and with it the right of unrestricted residence) if they meet certain requirements, including legal residence for at least 10 years (5 if married to a German), renunciation of all other citizenships, and a basic command of the language. Long-term legal residents often opt not to apply; they receive the same social benefits as do citizens, and after 10 years of legal residency they are entitled to permanent residency. Representatives of the Turkish and Roma communities in Germany have criticized the citizenship policy as unjust and discriminatory and have opposed the policy against dual nationality.
The Basic Law provides for the right of foreign victims of political persecution to attain asylum in Germany. However, since an amendment of the asylum law took effect on July 1, 1993, tightening the criteria for granting asylum, applications have dropped sharply. Applications in 1994 were fewer than in any year since 1989, and this trend continues.
Under the tightened criteria, persons coming directly from any country that officials designate as a "safe country of origin" cannot normally claim political asylum, but may request an administrative review of their applications while in Germany. Persons entering via a "safe third country"--any country in the European Union or adhering to the Geneva Convention--are also ineligible for asylum.
The legislated changes also limited legal recourse against denials of asylum applications. Critics argue that few countries can assuredly be designated as "safe third countries" and that the law unjustly fails to allow applicants to rebut such designations. While the law permits appeals against designations of "safe countries of origin," critics protest that the 48-hour period allotted for hearings is too brief.
Asylum seekers with applications under review enjoy virtually the full range of civil rights except the right to vote. While less than 5 percent of applicants have attained political asylum, denial does not automatically result in deportation. Most rejected applicants are allowed to remain in the country for humanitarian reasons, especially those from the former Yugoslavia.
Applicants who have been conclusively denied asylum are placed in detention pending deportation. Some police detention facilities, particularly in Berlin, are overcrowded or otherwise seriously substandard.
On July 12, Germany signed an agreement with Vietnam on development aid which included funds for the repatriation of Vietnamese citizens living illegally in Germany. The plan calls for up to 300 illegal residents to be deported every month, but the two countries have not worked out detailed mechanisms for the procedure, and only 30 have been deported as of December 1. The Government has said it will begin with illegal immigrants, rejected asylum seekers, and convicted criminals.
The law entitles women to participate fully in political life, and a growing number are prominent in the Government and the parties, but women are still substantially underrepresented in those ranks. Slightly over 26 percent of the Federal Parliament is female, including its President. Women occupy 3 of 16 cabinet positions. One state minister president is a woman. On the Federal Constitutional Court, 4 of the 16 judges are women, including the Chief Justice. All of the parties have undertaken to enlist more women. The Greens/Alliance 90 Party requires that women comprise half of the party's elected officials. The Social Democrats have a 40-percent quota for women on all party committees and governing bodies. The Christian Democrats voted at their October convention not to mandate a one-third quota.
Germany has been a party to the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women since 1985 and supported the appointment of a special rapporteur on violence against women at the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The Government has conducted campaigns in the schools and through church groups to bring public attention to the existence of such violence and proposed steps to counter it. The Federal Government has supported numerous pilot projects throughout Germany. There are, for example, 330 "women's houses" in Germany, over 100 in the new states in the east, where victims of violence and their children can seek shelter, counseling, and legal and police protection. Police statistics on rape showed a 4.4 percent decrease to 6,095 cases in 1994 (latest data) from 6,376 in 1993.
The Criminal Code was amended in 1993 to further protect children against pornography and sexual abuse. For possession of child pornography, the maximum sentence is 1 year's imprisonment; for distribution, 5 years'. The amendment made sexual abuse of children by German citizens abroad punishable even if the action is not illegal in the child's own country.
The Federal Government has established guidelines for attainment of "barrier-free" public buildings and for modifications of streets and pedestrian traffic walks to accommodate the disabled. While it is up to the individual states to incorporate these guidelines into building codes, all 16 states now have access facilities for the handicapped.
Ethnic Turks continue to credibly complain about societal and job- related discrimination. Pro-Kurdish demonstrations led to injuries of 47 policemen and 3 demonstrators in Frankfurt in July. Isolated firebombing incidents occurred during this same period targeting Turkish businesses establishments. There have been no arrests in connection with these firebombings.
The Karlsruhe Regional Court sentenced NPD Chairman Guenther Dickert to 2 years' imprisonment in April in connection with denial of the holocaust.
Since late 1993, officials and courts have generally dealt with extremist crimes more vigorously than previously. On October 13, a Dusseldorf court sentenced four men in the May 1993 arson murders of five Turks, the worst killing in the wave of rightwing violence since reunification. Markus Gartmann was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for killing two women and three girls--all members of the same family-- in a firebomb attack in the town of Solingen. Three accomplices tried as juveniles received maximum sentences of 10 years.
Perpetrators of rightwing violence were predominantly young, male, and low in socioeconomic status, often committing such acts while inebriated. As in the past, most acts of violence against minority groups were committed spontaneously. As in the past, there was evidence that neo-Nazi groups continue to make efforts for greater coordination among themselves.
In addition to voicing condemnation of the violence, the Government recommended tougher anticrime legislation and law-enforcement measures, as well as measures aimed at the societal roots of extremist violence and other crime. In the eastern states, governments introduced several model, social and educational programs designed to counteract the root causes of xenophobia and intolerance. Eastern state governments also undertook efforts to reinvigorate enforcement of laws against violence by extremists. For such projects, however, state governments have thus far allocated only limited funds in their tight budgets.
The police in the eastern states continued to become better versed in the federal legal system, better trained, and more experienced, and by year's end they began to achieve the standards of effectiveness characteristic of police in the rest of Germany. Certainly the level of rightwing activity in the new states continued to decrease, and the police and state officials showed greater coordination in moving quickly and effectively to prevent illegal rightwing and neo-Nazi gatherings and demonstrations.
Sinti and Romani leaders expressed satisfaction at the signing by the Government of the Council of Europe Convention on Minorities. Germany submitted an interpretation of the Convention in which Sinti and Roma were explicitly mentioned as ethnic minorities in Germany, providing them the recognition which they had long sought.
The law provides for the right to strike, except for civil servants (including teachers) and personnel in sensitive positions, such as members of the armed forces. In the past, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has criticized the Government's definition of "essential services" as overly broad. The ILO was responding to complaints about sanctions imposed on teachers who struck in the state of Hesse in 1989 and, earlier, the replacement of striking postal workers by civil servants. In neither case did permanent job loss result. The ILO continues to seek clarifications from the Government on policies and laws governing labor rights of civil servants.
However, some firms in eastern Germany have refused to join employer associations, or have withdrawn from them, and then bargained independently with workers. Likewise, some large firms in the west withdrew at least part of their work force from the jurisdiction of employer associations, complaining of rigidities in the centralized negotiating system. They have not, however, refused to bargain as individual enterprises. The law mandates a system of works councils and worker membership on supervisory boards, and thus workers participate in the management of the enterprises in which they work. The law thoroughly protects workers against antiunion discrimination.
There are no export processing zones.
An extensive set of laws and regulations on occupational safety and health incorporates a growing body of European Union standards. These provide for the right to refuse to perform dangerous or unhealthy work without jeopardizing employment. A comprehensive system of worker-insurance carriers enforces safety requirements in the workplace. This system now applies in the eastern states, where lax standards and conditions under the Communist regime created serious problems. The Labor Ministry and its counterparts in the states effectively enforce occupational safety and health standards through a network of government organs, including the Federal Institute for Work Safety. At the local level, professional and trade associations--self-governing public corporations with delegates both from the employers and from the unions-oversee worker safety.