Germany failing to tackle rise in hate crime

Failed responses to the sharp increase in hate crimes across Germany – including attacks on shelters for asylum-seekers – expose the need to urgently step up protection and launch an independent inquiry into possible bias within the country’s law enforcement agencies, said Amnesty International in a report released today.

The report, Living in insecurity: How Germany is failing victims of racist violence, details how 16 times as many crimes were reported against asylum shelters in 2015 (1,031) as in 2013 (63). More generally, racist violent crimes against racial, ethnic and religious minorities increased by 87% from 693 crimes in 2013 to 1,295 crimes in 2015.

“With hate crimes on the rise in Germany, long-standing and well-documented shortcomings in the response of law enforcement agencies to racist violence must be addressed,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s EU Researcher.

With hate crimes on the rise in Germany, long-standing and well-documented shortcomings in the response of law enforcement agencies to racist violence must be addressed
Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s EU Researcher

“German federal and state authorities need to put in place comprehensive risk assessment strategies to prevent attacks against asylum shelters. Further police protection is urgently needed for shelters identified at highest risk of attack.”

While the German public has been among Europe’s most welcoming to refugees, as many as six anti-refugee protests were staged weekly throughout 2015. Many asylum-seekers and refugees who were attacked, or whose friends or acquaintances were attacked, told Amnesty International that they now live in fear and no longer feel safe.

“All my friends were afraid after the attack against me. I escaped a war in Syria and I don’t need to face tensions here in Germany. I just would like to work … and to have a good life, as I had before the war,” Ciwan B., an ethnic Kurd who fled Syria and was attacked in Dresden in September 2015, told Amnesty International.

Thwarting Institutional racism

The failure of the German authorities to investigate, prosecute and sentence racist crimes effectively is a longstanding concern that predates the arrival of around one million refugees and asylum-seekers last year.

I escaped a war in Syria and I don’t need to face tensions here in Germany. I just would like to work … and to have a good life, as I had before the war
Ciwan B., an ethnic Kurd who fled Syria and was attacked in Dresden in September 2015

Many of these shortcomings were highlighted by the botched investigations into a spate of killings between 2000 and 2007, by the far-right group, the National Socialist Underground (NSU). 

Investigations into the murders of eight men of Turkish descent, one man of Greek descent and a German police officer repeatedly failed to identify and follow up leads pointing to the racist motivation behind the attacks, while relatives of the victims reported feeling victimized by the police.

“In all these years, they never treated us as victims,” Yvonne Boulgarides – wife of locksmith Theodorus Boulgarides, killed in his Munich shop by NSU attackers on 15 June 2005 – told Amnesty International. “We were always treated as suspects by the police or politicians, as if we were hiding something. Nobody asked us about our opinions or listened to us.”

Inquiries into the NSU failures have resulted in a number of recommendations being made, and implemented by German law enforcement agencies. However, they have not tackled the pressing question of whether institutional racism is contributing to the ongoing failure to diligently identify, record and investigate possible racist crimes.

Turkish national Abdurrahman suffered life-threatening injuries after he was assaulted by a group of nine men as he closed his kebab shop at the Bernburg train station in September 2013.

According to him, his partner and a friend who witnessed the attack, police at the scene returned a key piece of evidence used in the assault – an air pump – to the attackers. Once in court, the racist motive was not fully taken into account and the lack of evidence helped to strengthen the group’s argument that they had acted partly in self-defence.

Some of these failures are the result of Germany’s complex system for classifying and collecting data on politically motivated crimes, which include hate crimes.

This system, consciously or otherwise, sets a high threshold for an offence to be classified and treated as a racist crime. Any criminal offences that are perceived to be racially motivated - by the victim or any other person – should be classified as hate crimes by the police.

“There are many factors that point to the existence of institutional racism with German law enforcement agencies. This question needs to asked, and it needs to be answered: real improvement in how law enforcement agencies tackle racist crime cannot happen unless those very agencies are prepared to examine their own attitudes and assumptions.”

“This is not a time for complacency, but for law enforcement agencies to take a long, hard look in the mirror. A fully independent public inquiry is urgently needed to review the NSU murder investigations and to establish the extent to which institutional racism may be contributing to the broader failure of law enforcement agencies to tackle racist crime effectively,” said Marco Perolini.