Germany 2017/2018
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Germany 2017/2018

Parliament passed a law granting same-sex couples the right to marry. The authorities continued to deport to Afghanistan asylum-seekers whose applications had failed despite the worsening security situation in the country. The federal Parliament extended police powers to conduct surveillance measures and to impose administrative measures on individuals identified as “potential attackers”.

International justice

In March, September and November, 22 Syrian nationals residing in Germany submitted four criminal complaints to the office of the Federal Prosecutor General against 27 Syrian officials working for the military police and different intelligence services for their alleged involvement in torture as a war crime and a crime against humanity. The alleged crimes were committed in Saydnaya and other military prisons and in prisons of the Air Force Intelligence in Damascus and other places in Syria. In May, the Federal Prosecutor General carried out hearings with Syrian witnesses. Investigations were ongoing at the end of the year.

Counter-terror and security

In April, the federal Parliament passed an amendment that expanded the control powers of the Federal Criminal Police to impose administrative measures for “potential attackers”, such as electronic ankle tagging, assigned residency and telecommunication surveillance. These “potential attackers” were vaguely defined as “individuals who could be involved in committing a terrorism-related offence in the future”.

In May, the federal Parliament passed a law that facilitated the detention of people representing a “significant security threat” to society, pending their deportation. The law also granted the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees the power to seize the electronic devices of asylum-seekers who do not possess identity documents.

In July, the state of Bavaria increased the period of administrative police detention without charge for “potential attackers” from 14 days to up to three months.

Right to privacy

In June, the federal Parliament passed a law granting police authorities the power to use new surveillance techniques, including by installing surveillance software on computers and phones.

Also in June, a Higher Administrative Court ruled in an urgent procedure that the indiscriminate retention of data prescribed by a law that was due to enter into full force in July, was not in compliance with EU law. The law was not enforced pending the final ruling.

Also in June, a parliamentary committee of inquiry – established in 2013 following Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the USA’s surveillance of its allies, including Germany – concluded that the Federal Intelligence Service had resorted to an overly broad interpretation of surveillance laws and had implemented surveillance measures, such as mass surveillance of foreign-to-foreign communications, without sufficient legal basis and oversight.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

There were 222,683 asylum applications made, a drop by 70.1% compared to 2016, and the decisions on 68,245 claims were pending.

The right to family reunification for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection remained suspended throughout the year. This had a particularly negative impact on Syrian refugees who were increasingly granted subsidiary protection instead of full refugee status, providing them with fewer rights.

Despite the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, authorities continued to forcibly return Afghan nationals whose asylum claims had been rejected, in violation of the principle of non-refoulement. By the end of the year, 121 Afghan nationals had been forcibly returned.

In March, the Federal Council rejected a draft law from the government that sought to classify Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as “safe” countries of origin and to establish a fast-track procedure to determine the refugee status of applicants from those countries.

Germany had relocated around 9,100 asylum-seekers who had arrived via Italy and Greece by the end of December. Germany also resettled almost 280 refugees from Egypt and Lebanon, and around 2,700 Syrian refugees from Turkey as part of the EU-Turkey deal.

Discrimination – hate crimes

In June, the second Committee of Inquiry – established by Parliament in 2015 to address the authorities’ failure to investigate the racist crimes perpetrated by the far-right group Nationalist Social Underground (NSU) between 2000 and 2007 – concluded that the authorities had to establish clear rules for infiltrating “far-right extremist” movements, provide long-term funding to civil society initiatives against racism and assist victims of racist crimes. The authorities continued to fail to launch an official investigation into the potential role of institutional racism behind Germany’s failure to investigate the crimes committed by the NSU.

In the first nine months, the Interior Ministry reported 1,212 criminal offences against refugees and asylum-seekers, and 210 offences against asylum-seekers’ accommodations. Federal and state authorities continued to fail to implement a comprehensive assessment strategy to identify the risks of attacks against asylum shelters, in order to provide adequate police protection if necessary.

In June, following a comprehensive consultation with civil society organizations, the federal government adopted a National Action Plan against racism and other forms of discrimination, including homophobia and transphobia.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Authorities at both the federal and the state levels continued to fail to establish any independent complaints mechanism to investigate ill-treatment by police.

Civil society organizations continued to report discriminatory identity checks by police on members of ethnic and religious minorities.

In November, the central investigation unit in Hamburg was investigating complaints filed against 109 police officers for the alleged unlawful use of force during protests against the G20 summit in Hamburg in July.

In eight federal states, police officers remained under no legal obligation to wear identification badges. In October, the newly elected Parliament in North-Rhine Westphalia repealed the recently introduced requirement for law enforcement officials in the federal state to wear identification badges.

In October, prosecutorial authorities closed the new investigations opened in May into the death in custody of Oury Jalloh, a Sierra Leonean national who died in a fire in a cell of a police station in Dessau in 2005. In November, media reports revealed that months before the investigations were closed, fire experts meeting in February had unanimously excluded the possibility of Oury Jalloh setting fire to himself. In December, the Minister of Justice of Saxony-Anhalt newly assigned the investigations to the Prosecutor General of Naumburg.

Arms trade

The selective post-shipment control system to improve the monitoring of German small arms exports to ensure compliance with end-use certificates entered its pilot phase. In May, a first control mission on the whereabouts of exported sniper rifles in India was conducted in agreement with the Indian authorities.

The federal government continued to license the export of arms and other related military equipment to countries, such as India and Turkey, where there was a risk that such arms could be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations.

Corporate accountability

In March, Parliament passed a law implementing the 2014 EU Directive on non-financial reporting, which required certain large companies to report on the human rights impacts of their global operations. However, the law was more limited than the Directive, requiring companies to report only on risks that were “very likely to cause severe negative consequences” on human rights and only to the extent necessary for an understanding of their business operations.

There continued to be a lack of a binding mechanism requiring business enterprises to exercise due diligence to ensure that they respect human rights throughout their operations and supply chain. Access to the justice system for victims of human rights abuses by or involving business enterprises remained burdensome.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

In July, the federal Parliament passed a law granting same-sex couples the right to marry and to access adoption.

Children and adults with variations of sex characteristics continued to suffer human rights violations. Invasive and irreversible medical procedures carried out on children with variations of sex characteristics continued and had lifelong harmful effects. Guidelines drawn up by intersex activists and medical professionals for treatment of individuals with variations of sex characteristics had not been widely implemented.

In November, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that individuals should be allowed to choose a legal gender other than male and female by the end of 2018.

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