Germany 2019
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Germany 2019

A majority of federal states introduced far-reaching new police powers, including extensive surveillance measures. There was an increase in anti-Semitic and racist hate crimes. Germany relocated one in four of the migrants and refugees rescued in the Mediterranean. The government revised its arms export principles.

International justice

The Federal Prosecutor General continued to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Syrian officials working for the military police and various intelligence services. In June 2018 the Federal Court of Justice issued an international arrest warrant against Jamil Hassan, the head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence until July 2019.  

In February two members of the Syrian General Intelligence suspected of crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law were arrested in Germany. In October the Federal Prosecutor General charged the two suspects for crimes against humanity.

Police and security forces

A majority of federal states amended their state police laws, substantially expanding the powers of their police forces based on recent amendments of the Federal Police Act.

Most states introduced the power to impose various administrative measures on so-called “potential attackers”, even when there is no reasonable suspicion of their involvement in a crime or that they pose an imminent threat. Based on a very vague definition, individuals can be subjected to far-reaching police measures such as communication surveillance or assigned residency if they are perceived to be “future perpetrators of crimes”. Furthermore, several states, including North-Rhine Westphalia, Bavaria, Hesse and Lower Saxony, introduced extensive surveillance measures that can also be imposed on “potential attackers”, such as installing spyware to monitor mobile phones and computers or to tap into ongoing encrypted communication.

In North-Rhine Westphalia individuals can be subjected to administrative detention for up to one week in order to be identified, if they refuse to be identified.

Civil society organizations continued to report discriminatory identity checks by police on members of ethnic and religious minorities. Authorities at both federal and state levels failed to establish independent complaints mechanisms to investigate unlawful behaviour by police.

By November, there were no indictments for ill-treatment by the police against protesters of the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg, despite 168 preliminary proceedings initiated against police officers. In several cases, charges were dropped because the relevant police officers could not be identified.

In October, the Hamburg state parliament introduced a requirement for law enforcement officials to wear identification badges. However, in six other federal states police officers had no such obligation.

Right to privacy

Many states expanded the power to use video surveillance in public places. Baden-Wuerttemberg and Saxony included the use of facial recognition in specific situations, such as to identify behavioural patterns used for committing crimes.

Intelligence law continued to be at odds with international human rights law and standards. Intelligence agencies, in particular the Federal Intelligence Service, continued to practise surveillance based on overly broad and vague provisions. Germany's intelligence oversight regime remained inadequate.

Migrants’ rights

From January, the authorities implemented a new mechanism to reunite beneficiaries of subsidiary protection with their families, based on a monthly quota of 1,000 family members.  

New legislation was adopted in June facilitating immigration detention prior to deportation. It extended the criteria for detention beyond the risk of absconding, prolonged its potential duration and allowed the detention of migrants in regular prisons pending their deportation. By the end of the year, 360 Afghan nationals had been forcibly returned.

Germany accepted the relocation of 25% of the refugees and migrants rescued in search and rescue operations in the central Mediterranean on an ad-hoc basis and advocated for a temporary disembarkation mechanism.

Germany pledged 10,200 resettlement places for 2018/19. By the end of 2019, 7,974 refugees had been resettled, including 4,987 Syrian refugees under the EU-Turkey deal.

Discrimination – hate crimes

On 11 July 2018 the Higher Regional Court of Munich delivered a judgment on the racist murders and other crimes committed by the Nationalist Social Underground (NSU) group, over the course of a decade. The court sentenced Beate Zschäpe to life imprisonment for murder, attempted murder and membership of a terrorist organization. Four men were sentenced as accessories to murder. Two other main suspects had committed suicide in 2011.

The Federal Ministry of the Interior registered 8,113 hate crimes committed in 2018. Anti-Semitic and racist hate crimes had risen by 19% in in that year. Despite this, authorities at both federal and state levels failed to implement a comprehensive strategy against hate crimes.

In June, the acting administrative president of Kassel, Walter Lübcke, was shot in the head and killed. A suspected neo-Nazi confessed to the murder because of his pronounced support for Angela Merkel’s policy to welcome refugees in 2015. Later he retracted the confession but remained in pretrial detention.

In October, a gunman tried unsuccessfully to storm the synagogue in Halle/Saale during the Yom Kippur prayer service, firing on the door. He then shot a woman and proceeded to a local food outlet where he shot a man. In his detailed confession he admitted to an anti-Semitic and racist motivation.

Arms trade

In June, the government revised its non-binding “Political Principles for the Export of War Weapons and Other Military Equipment” for the first time in 19 years. According to the principles, small arms would no longer be allowed to be exported to countries outside the EU, NATO or a group of equivalent states (Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland). The revision included options for the controls on extraterritorial arms production and compliance with post-shipment inspections. However, it promoted joint European arms manufacturing, raising concerns that stricter German national export controls would continue to be circumvented.

In October, Germany and France reached an agreement that facilitated the supply of German parts and components for joint arms projects manufactured in France. The agreement allows for the supply of parts and components for arms destined for states not eligible for a permit under German export regulation, as long as the value of the German-supplied parts and components did not exceed 20% of the total value of the exported goods.

An arms export moratorium on Saudi Arabia was prolonged twice in 2019 and remained in force at the end of the year. The moratorium covered only Saudi Arabia, not other countries involved in the Yemen conflict. The export of German parts and components for joint European arms projects was still permitted.

In September, a public prosecutor launched a criminal investigation against CEOs of the German company group FinFisher for the alleged illegal export of surveillance technology to Turkey without licence.

Following Turkey's military offensive in Northern Syria in October, the issuing of export permits to Turkey for arms that could be used in the conflict was halted. Exports under permits that had already been issued continued.

Corporate accountability

It remained voluntary for companies to undertake due diligence to ensure respect for human rights throughout their operations and supply chains. In July, following a debate on the need for a binding regulation, the government launched a monitoring process to examine the level of due diligence implementation by sending out questionnaires to 3,000 randomly selected large German companies. Under its National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, the government said that it might take legislative measures if fewer than 50% of companies claimed they were doing a sufficient level of due diligence by 2020. Of the 464 companies that responded, only 20% implemented due diligence to a sufficient level. Concerns were raised, however, that actual numbers might be even lower as the voluntary nature of the questionnaire and the lack of a process for verifying responses could have led to unreliable results. In December 2019, two ministries announced that they had started work on a binding law.

Access to judicial remedies for victims of human rights abuses by or involving German companies abroad remained difficult to obtain.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI)


The process of legal gender and name recognition for transgender people continued to violate the human rights of those affected. Humiliating processes such as psychiatric diagnosis, expert assessments and the examination of a stereotypical gender performance in daily life were still required. In the coalition agreement as of March 2018 the federal government pledged to adopt a legal regulation clarifying that surgeries on intersex children are only permitted to avert life-threatening dangers. This pledge has not been implemented yet. Invasive and irreversible harmful medical procedures, including “normalizing” surgeries, carried out on children with variations of sex characteristics continued.