Events of 1994

Human Rights Developments

Right-wing violence and police brutality against foreigners and non-citizen residents continued to be the primary human rights concern in Germany during 1994. On the positive side, the state's investigatory and judicial response became more forceful and timely. But the police failed to protect foreigners under attack in some cases, and were accused of custodial violence against foreigners in Berlin and elsewhere. Germany's immigration policy also continued to be a matter of serious concern, as reports emerged of the refoulement of legitimate asylum-seekers who faced repression once deported or excluded, and of mistreatment and inhumane conditions in detention for foreigners awaiting deportation.

Government statistics indicated that for the first time in four years there had been a decline in the number of violent attacks against non-Germans. This decline was due, in part, to more forceful government measures to combat xenophobic violence, such as the expansion of the number of police and prosecutors trained to investigate and prosecute cases of xenophobic violence. Despite the important change, however, the figures were still significantly higher than prior to 1991. According to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, between January and October 1994, over 2,000 attacks motivated by xenophobia were reported to the German authorities. According to foreigners' rights groups, a large number of attacks also went unreported.

On May 12, in the eastern city of Magdeburg, a group of approximately 150 skinheads and neo-Nazis attacked asylum-seekers from Africa, chasing them through the streets and into a cafe owned by a Turkish resident, where four of the assailants were then stabbed by Turkish employees. For several hours after the attack, skinheads and neo-Nazis roamed the streets of Magdeburg attacking foreigners. The police were reportedly slow to respond to the violence and, although they arrested forty-nine suspects, all were released that same night save for two who had outstanding arrest warrants related to other crimes. The police claimed that they could not identify any of the assailants, which appeared unlikely. Moreover, the police had failed to prevent the violence in spite of having been warned that a large group of right-wing youths would gather in the town center. Many human rights and foreigners' rights groups in Germany criticized police conduct in this case.

Elsewhere, there did appear to be an overall improvement in the police response to right-wing violence against foreigners as compared to 1992 and 1993. This coexisted, however, with a serious and growing problem of brutality and mistreatment of foreigners and non-German residents by the police themselves. For example, in October the minister of justice for Berlin admitted that forty-six police officers were under investigation for allegedly having mistreated Vietnamese cigarette dealers in that city. Community leaders in Berlin reported numerous allegations by Vietnamese of brutal beatings and sexual harassment – as well as two suspicious deaths – in police custody. Similarly, Hamburg's minister of the interior resigned on September 12 to protest against xenophobia and racism within the Hamburg police force. The next day twenty-seven policemen accused of attacking foreigners were suspended from duty pending the completion of an investigation.

The judiciary appeared to treat cases of violence against non-Germans more seriously than it had in previous years. There were numerous prosecutions of crimes against foreigners, for example, that ended in convictions and comparatively high sentences. For example, in the Magdeburg case discussed above, the four defendants were convicted and sentenced to between two and three-and-one-half years of imprisonment; significantly more than requested by the prosecutor in the case. However, several judges did express sympathy for the xenophobia and right-wing extremism of defendants appearing before them.

There were also numerous efforts during 1994 to prosecute neo-Nazi leaders for a variety of offenses, including incitement to racial hatred and possessing banned right-wing propaganda. For example, Sasha Chaves was convicted of inciting racial hatred for his reported telephone network to announce neo-Nazi meetings and to disperse anti-foreigner propaganda. Charges were also brought against several individuals for continued participation in banned neo-Nazi parties. The federal Ministry of the Interior classified the Republican Party, the largest right-wing party, as "extremist" and ordered its federal security officials to put the party under surveillance. International human rights groups expressed concern that these groups not be singled out solely for exercising their protected right to hold political opinions without interference and to free expression.

Foreigners were not the only victims of right-wing violence during 1994. There were numerous reports of vandalism and destruction of Jewish properties and symbols, including the defacement of Jewish graves with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti. On March 25, on the eve of Passover, firebombs ignited the synagogue in Lubeck, a port city in western Germany. Fortunately, several Jewish families who lived in the building were able to escape unharmed. Four young neo-Nazis were arrested in May and charged with the arson attack.

In April the German constitutional court ruled that individuals who spread the "Auschwitz Lie" – propaganda that the Holocaust never happened – would not be protected by freedom of speech and could be prohibited from stating their views publicly. According to one of the justices on the court, "proven untruthful statements do not have the protection of freedom of speech." The court's ruling appeared to restrict unduly the protected right to free speech and expression.

The implementation of the new asylum law that was adopted by the German parliament in May 1993 resulted in a significant decrease in the number of asylum applicants in Germany during 1994. German government officials reported that 62,802 individuals applied for asylum in the first half of 1994, compared to 224,099 in the same period in 1993, indicating a 72 percent decrease. There were many disturbing reports of abuses related to the implementation of the asylum law. Representatives for foreigners' rights reported that the law's expedited procedures had resulted in the refoulement of many individuals who had well-founded fears of persecution. They pointed, for example, to cases of deported Kurds who, once back in Turkey, reported they had been mistreated. There were also many credible reports of inhumane conditions in deportation centers. According to a Reuters report, a court in Bremen stated in August that it had found two cases in which asylum seekers were "housed in crowed, unsuitable buildings with inadequate sanitary facilities."

The Right to Monitor

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki has received no information to indicate that human rights observers in Germany were prevented from conducting their investigations and reporting on their findings during 1994.

U.S. Policy

The Clinton administration and the German government maintained close and friendly relations throughout 1994. However, in April, Douglas H. Jones, principal officer in the U.S. Embassy's Berlin office, gave an unusually critical analysis of the German government's response to right-wing extremism. The Washington Post reported that Jones delivered a speech in Berlin in April, in which he questioned

whether it was "psychologically consistent" for the chancellor to assert, as he did last year, that Germany is both friendly to foreigners yet not a country of immigrants. If I were a skinhead, I would take a certain amount of comfort in hearing that Germany is not a country of immigration...That would signal to me that the nearly seven million foreigners who live here legally do not belong here and that I am justified in wanting them out. And to be honest with you, this sentiment is by no means limited to skinheads.

According to reports Jones had not cleared his comments with then-Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Although Jones's remarks were a forceful commentary on the treatment of foreigners in Germany, the State Department moved quickly to distance itself from them, assuring the German government that Jones had expressed purely personal views.

The U.S. and German governments also discussed ways in which they might coordinate efforts to combat organized crime and specifically "hate crimes" by the radical right. Louis J. Freeh, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, held a series of meetings with German government officials in late June, in which he expressed the willingness of U.S. federal law enforcement agencies to assist German prosecutors by providing certain evidence on neo-Nazi publications shipped to Germany from the United States.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki focused its efforts during 1994 on continuing to urge the German government to take additional steps to combat abuses against foreigners, whether committed by right-wing groups or by law enforcement officials. This work was part of an ongoing project to combat xenophobia and governmental policies that exacerbate xenophobic sentiments, not only in Germany, but throughout Europe. In Germany, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki conducted a mission in June to evaluate the various measures taken by the German government to combat right-wing violence since our release of a 1992 report on that subject. A report on the findings of that mission and our recommendations will be released in January 1995 at a press conference in Germany.

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