Revelations of right-wing extremist activities among police and security forces raised concerns about the protection of minorities’ human rights. The authorities were urged by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance to investigate police racial profiling. The authorities failed to develop a comprehensive strategy against hate crimes. Calls to the nationwide “Violence against women” helpline rose sharply during the restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In a landmark court ruling it was stated that the Federal Intelligence Service’s obligation to comply with the human rights enshrined in the Constitution includes extraterritorial activity. Germany remained one of the few EU countries to accept asylum-seekers for relocation.
In February, a man in Hanau shot and killed nine people of foreign descent in two shisha bars before killing his mother and himself at home. Before the attack, the man published a racist and anti-Semitic manifesto online. The Federal Prosecutor General took up the case and treated it as a terrorist attack.
In March, following the Hanau attack, the government set up a Cabinet Committee against Racism and Right-wing Extremism. In September, the Committee carried out expert hearings, attended by representatives of migrant organizations and academics.
Civil society organizations continued to report discriminatory identity checks by police of members of ethnic and religious minorities. In March, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance called for a study on racial profiling by the police. In July, the Federal Minister of the Interior rejected the need for a study, arguing that “discriminatory identity checks were illegal”.
Authorities at both federal and state level failed to establish an independent complaints mechanism to investigate discriminatory and unlawful behaviour by police. At the end of the year, police in six federal states were still not required to wear individual identification badges.
In May, the Federal Ministry of the Interior reported that the number of hate crimes committed in 2019 had risen by over 5% to 8,585; anti-Semitic hate crimes had risen by 13%. The authorities at both federal and state level failed to develop a comprehensive strategy against hate crimes which would include obligatory anti-racism training for law enforcement officers.
Throughout the year, investigations were ongoing into a series of more than 100 threatening letters, including death threats, sent between August 2018 and the end of 2020 and addressed to mostly female politicians, lawyers and anti-racism activists. They were mostly signed “National Socialist Underground 2.0”, referring to the racist murders committed by the Nationalist Social Underground (NSU) between 2000 and 2007. The addresses were obtained from police databases, raising concern over data breaches and infiltration of the security forces. The Military Counterintelligence Service also investigated more than 500 soldiers suspected of using banned National Socialist symbols and of connections to “far-right” networks that have advocated violence, focusing on the Special Commando Forces.
Right to truth, justice and reparation
In April, the first trial addressing torture by Syrian officials started before the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz. Two members of the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate were charged with crimes against humanity, including 58 counts of murder and at least 4,000 cases of torture.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people
In May, the Federal Parliament passed a law banning so-called “conversion therapies” that aim at changing or suppressing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the law was considered to enhance the rights of LGBTI people, it was criticized by NGOs and experts for falling short in some areas, including limiting the ban to people under the age of 18. Concerns were raised that the law allows exemptions for parents who try to “cure” their children if they do not “grossly violate their duty of care”.
In September, the federal government presented a draft law to protect infants and children born with variations of sex characteristics from so-called “normalizing treatments”. Although the draft addressed human rights violations of intersex people concerning medical procedures, it failed to address compensation for people who underwent unnecessary and irreversible treatment. The draft also failed to introduce further measures to end the pathologization of intersex bodies.
According to preliminary figures by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, requests to the nationwide helpline Violence against women rose by 20% in April when restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were first implemented and remained at that higher level compared to the first quarter of the year.
Right to privacy
In May, the Federal Constitutional Court held that monitoring by the Federal Intelligence Service of worldwide internet traffic was a violation of constitutional law. In a landmark decision, the Court decided that state authorities, including the Intelligence Service, are bound by the rights enshrined in the Constitution, such as the privacy of communications, regardless of whether the target is a German or a foreign national, and regardless of where the target was based. The provisions for untargeted surveillance in the Act on the Federal Intelligence Service were found to be too vague. Germany’s intelligence oversight regime was judged to be inadequate. The Court noted the lack of safeguards for the protection of groups such as journalists and lawyers. The law was due to be revised by the end of 2021.
Freedom of assembly
In April, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that the COVID-19 regulation prohibiting public gatherings of more than two people from different households could not be interpreted as a blanket ban on protests. Instead, local authorities had to weigh the health restrictions against the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Demonstrations could be held if they met public health requirements, including physical distancing.
Freedom of expression
In April and June, amendments to the Network Enforcement Act were passed. The law regulates the handling of certain content punishable under the German criminal code by large internet platforms. Although some revisions were largely welcomed as improvements for the protection of users’ freedom of expression, some experts raised concerns that users could be reported to the Office of the Federal Criminal Police for creating legitimate content which was wrongly assessed by the platform provider.
Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants
In December, Amnesty International and other civil society organizations criticized a decision taken by the Interior Ministers of the federal states to allow individuals convicted of crimes or considered so-called “potential attackers” to be deported to Syria, despite the risks to their right to physical integrity if returned to Syria.
By the end of the year, 1,293 refugees and asylum-seekers from the Greek islands were admitted to Germany. Under the EU voluntary humanitarian admission scheme of the EU-Turkey statement, 1,178 Syrian refugees arrived, and 216 refugees were resettled under the UNHCR resettlement programme.
The government launched a two-phased monitoring process in 2019 to examine the level of implementation by large German companies of human rights due diligence policies and procedures. In August 2020 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published the results of the second phase of the monitoring process. The findings indicated that only 13-17% of companies conducted a sufficient level of human rights due diligence. In Germany’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights adopted in 2016, the government announced that it would consider implementing legislative measures if fewer than 50% of companies conducted sufficient due diligence.
Access to judicial remedies for victims of human rights abuses by or involving German companies abroad remained difficult to obtain.
Irresponsible arms transfers
An arms export moratorium on Saudi Arabia was prolonged in March to the end of the year. The moratorium did not cover any other countries involved in the Yemen conflict. The export of German parts and components for joint European arms projects destined to Saudi Arabia remained permitted.