Germany must investigate police abuse claims

Amnesty International's report describes how excessive force is used during arrests

Amnesty International's report describes how excessive force is used during arrests

© Amnesty International


8 July 2010

“I heard something split and crack, felt a blow on my shoulder, then one on my forehead and one on the back of my head. Then I passed out."
PW describing his treatment by the police

Germany’s failure to thoroughly investigate claims of police ill-treatment and the use of excessive force has denied justice for victims of abuse, Amnesty International said in a report published on Thursday.

The report, Unknown Assailant - Insufficient investigation into alleged ill-treatment by police in Germany, details three deaths and 12 cases of serious injury following police action but it is believed that there could be many more.

“Law enforcement officials are not above the law – they are subject to it. This means that the police must be accountable to the law, to the state and to the public,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director.

“Failure to live up to international standards on effective and independent investigations is leading to a climate of impunity and a lack of accountability”

The report describes how excessive force is used during arrests, against suspects held in police stations, against protesters at demonstrations, during deportations and on other occasions.

It also documents the reasons why law enforcement officials are rarely brought to account for human rights violations.

Lack of information about how to lodge a criminal complaint, difficulty in identifying police officers and inadequate investigations have prevented victims or their relatives from receiving justice.

Amnesty International is concerned that despite Germany’s obligations under national and international law, abuses committed by the police continue to take place.

The authorities must carry out prompt impartial, independent and thorough investigations in all cases of alleged human rights violations by police officers.

On the night of 20 August 2005 MM, a communications engineer, was celebrating his stag night at a Berlin music club. At 1.30am around 300 police officers, entered the club to search it based on information that 150-250 football hooligans were going to gather there. Some of the police officers’ faces were concealed, some wearing balaclavas, and others helmets.

MM said: “Suddenly, our party was over when masked figures stormed in and lashed out randomly at everything that moved.”

He said he was hit on the head with a side-handle baton. Reportedly, he lost his balance and was again hit in the face by one of the masked police officers. MM was diagnosed with suffering trauma and two lacerations to the head.

Amnesty International is concerned that it was not possible to identify the police officers who had been involved in ill-treatment and, in turn, it was therefore not possible to hold them accountable.

The organization has found deficiencies in the current system and calls on the German authorities to take measures to improve it, including:

  • To establish independent police complaints bodies;
  • To ensure that police officers are individually identifiable when on duty;
  • To provide regular training to police officers in the legal, safe and proportionate use of force.


“Mistakes and misconduct can and do take place in police work. It is widely acknowledged that police officers perform a difficult and dangerous task, often at great personal risk, and that the great majority of officers fulfil their duties professionally and lawfully,” said David Diaz-Jogeix.  

“However, officers responsible for criminal conduct must be brought to justice in full and fair proceedings. Victims have the right to an effective remedy and reparation.”  

Cases of deaths in police custody
On 7 January 2005, Oury Jalloh, an asylum-seeker from Sierra Leone, burned to death, after having been tied to a bed in a cell at Dessau police station in Saxony-Anhalt. Oury Jalloh was arrested for allegedly harassing four women while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Amnesty International is gravely concerned that Oury Jalloh was left alone in a cell while physically restrained, that the police failed to regularly monitor his safety and well-being, and ignored the initial fire alarm warning them that he was in danger. The accused police officers on duty when he burned to death remain in office but they are no longer working at the same police station.

On 5 March 2008, 26-year-old Adem Özdamar died in hospital after being transferred from Hagen police station where he had been bound to a stretcher during a panic attack. On the night of 17 February 2008 at around 2am, Adem Özdamar called the police because he feared he was being pursued. Amnesty International is concerned that it could not be clarified why Adem Özdamar was taken to the police station and not to a psychiatric hospital even though it was apparent that he was suffering from mental health problems. The circumstances of the incident at Hagen police station were not clarified sufficiently and no disciplinary measures were taken against any police officer.

Germany: Unknown assailant: Insufficient investigation into alleged ill-treatment by police in Germany

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Index Number: EUR 23/002/2010
Date Published: 7 July 2010
Categories: Germany

When a person dies or is subjected to ill-treatment while in police custody, the state has an obligation under international human rights law to investigate thoroughly such violations of their human rights. But in Germany these investigations often fail to live up to those standards. This report analyzes 12 cases of alleged ill-treatment or excessive use of force by police officers in Germany and three cases of deaths in custody, which are illustrative of hundreds of cases.


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