Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Freedom of Expression: While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned a number of individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism).
In May, Facebook announced it had removed 2.19 billion “fake profiles” between January and March, including some that promoted the AfD, after the NGO Avaaz identified them as sources of targeted misinformation. Saarland AfD politician Laleh Hadjimohamadvali claimed her posts had been deleted or blocked in the past, which deprived her of her freedom of expression.
Lower Saxony’s government approved a law in March that makes it illegal for judges and state prosecutors to wear religious symbols openly during public trials. This includes (Muslim) headscarves, (Christian) crosses, and (Jewish) kippas. Similar laws already existed in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, and Bremen, while Hesse and Thuringia imposed more vague limits on religious attire for judges and state prosecutors.
Georg Restle, the host of the left-leaning political TV program “Monitor” on Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), received a death threat by mail after he made critical comments about the AfD on July 11. WDR has filed charges against the unknown perpetrator, and 44 WDR journalists expressed solidarity with Restle in an ad in the local newspaper Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger. After the threat, Restle requested stronger protection for freedom of speech and press. The threatening letter appeared to have the same author as similar letters sent to Cologne Mayor Reker and to Altena Mayor Hollstein. The Federal Prosecutor assumed that an individual with a right-wing extremist background was responsible. Cologne police were investigating.
Press and Media, including Online Media: The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.
Violence and Harassment: On May 1, during a demonstration of the far-right Pro Chemnitz movement in the city of Chemnitz, a journalist from the local daily Freie Presse was threatened by protesters. Instead of defending the journalist’s right to cover the demonstration, police forced him to delete his pictures and afterwards expelled him from the demonstration site. Later, police released a statement saying it was a “misunderstanding.” Pro Chemnitz is a right-wing organization which the Saxony Office for the Protection of the Constitution monitors to evaluate whether it should be banned.
In August 2018 representatives of the anti-Islam Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident movement and the AfD party protested Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Dresden. A demonstrator (an off-duty police employee) claimed privacy laws prohibited a ZDF camera team from filming him, and he filed a complaint with police on the spot. Police held the camera team for 45 minutes, reportedly to verify their identities. Chancellor Merkel issued a statement in support of press freedom and noted that demonstrators should expect they may be filmed. The Dresden Police Commissioner apologized to the journalists, and the police employee was transferred to the state directorate in September 2018. In June the employee sued ZDF for violating media law and his personal rights. The case was ongoing as of November.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, with one notable exception, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The exception is that the law permits the government to take down websites that belong to banned organizations or include speech that incites racial hatred, endorses Nazism, or denies the Holocaust. Authorities worked directly with internet service providers and online media companies to monitor and remove such content. As of July authorities monitored several hundred websites and social media accounts associated with right-wing extremists.
In July the NRW Justice Minister announced the creation of a central office for severe cases of politically motivated hate speech on the Internet, such as death threats against politicians on social media.
In February 2018, NRW launched the statewide project “Prosecution Rather Than Deletion–Law Enforcement on the Internet.” Through November it received 378 offense reports, leading to 182 investigation procedures and the identification of 73 defendants. Other contributors to the initiative include NRW Justice and Interior Ministries, the Cologne police headquarters, and media outlets Rheinische Post and RTL.
There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events supporting extreme right-wing neo-Nazism.
While the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, the government restricted these freedoms in some instances.
The government restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly in some instances. Groups seeking to hold open-air public rallies and marches must obtain permits, and state and local officials may deny permits when public safety concerns arise or when the applicant is from a prohibited organization, mainly right-wing extremist groups. In rare instances during the year, authorities denied such applications to assemble publicly. Authorities allowed nonprohibited right-wing extremist or neo-Nazi groups to hold public rallies or marches when they did so in accordance with the law.
It is illegal to block officially registered demonstrations. Many anti-Nazi activists refused to accept such restrictions and attempted to block neo-Nazi demonstrations or to hold counterdemonstrations, resulting in clashes between police and anti-Nazi demonstrators.
Police detained known or suspected activists when they believed such individuals intended to participate in illegal or unauthorized demonstrations. The length of detention varied from state to state.
In February the Duesseldorf administrative court ruled that the police ban of the planned Kurdish demonstration “Against the war in Afrin” in February 2018 was unlawful. The court found the police assumption that the protest group was a suborganization of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party was false and the ban disproportionate. It ordered the police to compensate the protest group 5,000 euros ($5,500).
The government restricted freedom of association in some instances. The law permits authorities to prohibit organizations whose activities the Constitutional Court or federal or state governments determine to be opposed to the constitutional democratic order or otherwise illegal. While only the Federal Constitutional Court may prohibit political parties on these grounds, both federal and state governments may prohibit or restrict other organizations, including groups that authorities classify as extremist or criminal in nature. Organizations have the right to appeal such prohibitions or restrictions.
The federal and state OPCs monitored several hundred organizations. Monitoring consisted of collecting information from public sources, written materials, and firsthand accounts, but also included intrusive methods, such as the use of undercover agents who were subject to legal oversight. The federal and state OPCs published lists of monitored organizations, including left- and right-wing political parties. Although the law stipulates surveillance must not interfere with an organization’s legitimate activities, representatives of some monitored groups, such as Scientologists, complained that the publication of the organizations’ names contributed to prejudice against them.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
In 2016 the federal government issued a law requiring refugees with recognized asylum status who received social benefits to live within the state that handled their asylum request for a period of three years, and several states implemented the residence rule. States themselves can add other residence restrictions, such as assigning a refugee to a specific city. Local authorities who supported the rule stated that it facilitated integration and enabled authorities to plan for increased infrastructure needs, such as schools.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On August 21, the law addressing deportation, known as “better implementing the obligation to leave the country,” entered into force. In an open letter, 22 NGOs, including lawyers’ and judges’ associations and child rights, welfare, and human rights organizations, called on the Bundestag to reject the law, which they criticized for its focus on ostracizing migrants and for its alleged violation of human rights. Under the law, all asylum seekers will have to remain in initial reception facilities until the end of their asylum procedure, up to 18 months. Until passage of the new law, this only applied to those from “safe countries of origin.” Rejected asylum seekers who do not cooperate sufficiently in obtaining travel documents can be obliged to stay in the institutions for longer than 18 months. Authorities are now able to arrest persons who are obliged to leave the country without a court order. Persons obliged to leave the country who do not attend an embassy appointment to establish their identity can be placed in detention for 14 days. The law indicates that persons detained under “deportation detention”–including families and children–will be held in regular prisons. NGOs such as Pro Asyl, Amnesty International, and the Jesuit Refugee Service criticized this as contradicting “the clear case law of the European Court of Justice,” which calls for a strict separation of deportation detention and imprisonment. Refugees deemed to be flight risks can be taken into preventive detention. Officials who pass on information about a planned deportation are liable to prosecution. Legal scholars stress the regulations are legally problematic, as both the German constitution and the EU Return Directive pose high hurdles for deportation detention. The law also provides for the withdrawal of all social benefits from those recognized as asylum seekers in other EU states after two weeks. Of the 16 federal states, 11 announced they would not implement the law.
Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants continued, as did attacks on government-provided asylum homes. On April 14, a video appeared online showing four security guards beating an asylum seeker in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt. Saxony-Anhalt’s Interior Ministry suspended the four security guards and ordered an investigation of the incident. The investigation was ongoing as of November.
In May the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) criticized the country’s deportation practices for rejected asylum seekers, including the practice of not informing detainees of their exact deportation date. In its report the CPT also called on the country’s government to refrain when deporting migrants from “disproportionate and inappropriate” use of force, such as methods that cause suffocation or severe pain. On a deportation flight in August 2018 the CPT’s experts had witnessed a police officer pressing his arm against a deportee’s neck, which restricted his ability to breathe. Another police officer repeatedly squeezed the genitals of the same man, who was tied with tape. The CPT also specifically condemned methods in the Eichstaett, Bavaria, detention center, where security guards were not specially trained and detainees lived in prison-like conditions that included limited access to multipurpose rooms, lack of access to their own clothing, and no ability to speak directly to a doctor. In response, the Federal Ministry of Justice rejected accusations that a direct visit to the doctor was not possible. It further asserted detainees usually did not have enough clothing to change regularly and needed to supplement this with clothing from the detention center when their own clothing was being washed.
Refoulement: In 2018 the government lifted its deportation ban for Afghanistan, and approximately 200 refugees were deported to that country during the first six months of the year. Previous federal policy permitted deportations only of convicted criminals and those deemed a security risk. NGOs including Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country faced the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017, as well as an additional 305,943 who requested asylum in 2018 and during the first six months of the year. The heavy influx of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants taxed the country’s infrastructure and resources.
The NGO Pro Asyl criticized the “airport procedure” for asylum seekers who arrive at the country’s airports. Authorities stated the airport procedure was used only in less complex cases and that more complex asylum cases were referred for processing through regular Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) channels. Authorities maintained that only persons coming from countries the government identified as “safe” (see below) and those without valid identification documents could be considered via the “fast track procedure.” The “fast track procedure” enabled BAMF to decide on asylum applications within a two-day period, during which asylum applicants were detained at the airport. If authorities denied the application, the applicant had the right to appeal. Appeals were processed within two weeks, during which the applicant was detained at the airport. If the appeal was denied, authorities deported the applicant. The NGO Fluechtlingsrat Berlin criticized a similar “fast track” or “direct” procedure applied to some asylum seekers in Berlin. The organization claimed asylum applicants were not provided with sufficient time and access to legal counsel.
In April 2018 BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch amid allegations that the official improperly approved up to 2,000 asylum applications. In April, however, a BAMF review concluded that just 50 Bremen asylum decisions (0.9 percent) should be subject to legal review–a proportion below the national average of 1.2 percent.
A Hamburg lawyer and former Green party state parliamentarian confirmed in February that he was representing four German families with seven children aged two to 14 who were calling on the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs for repatriation from Syria and Iraq, where they had joined the Islamic State. In April the government allowed one of the mothers to return from Iraq to Germany with her three children; the mother was promptly arrested. In November an appeals court in Berlin ruled the German government must repatriate from Syria the German wife and three children of an Islamic State member. Their lawyer said he hoped the decision would set a precedent for the 20 other German mothers and 40 children he represented.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation, which permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through “safe countries of transit,” which include the EU member states, and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. “Safe countries of origin” also include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, and Serbia. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria. The NGO Pro Asyl pointed out that refugees who under the Dublin III regulation fell into another EU state’s responsibility but could not be returned to that country often remained in a legal gray zone. They were not allowed to work or participate in integration measures, including German language classes.
Employment: Persons with recognized asylum status were able to access the labor market without restriction; asylum seekers whose applications were pending were generally not allowed to work during their first three months after applying for asylum. According to the Federal Employment Agency, approximately 200,000 refugees were unemployed as of July. Refugees and asylum seekers faced several hurdles in obtaining employment, including lengthy review times for previous qualifications, lack of official certificates and degrees, and limited German language skills.
The law excludes some asylum seekers from access to certain refugee integration measures, such as language courses and employment opportunities. This applies to asylum seekers from countries considered “safe countries of origin” and unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot be returned to the country through which they first entered the area covered by the Dublin III regulation. The government did not permit asylum seekers and persons with a protected status from safe countries of origin to work if they applied for asylum after 2015.
Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to house asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, and whether to provide allowances or other benefits.
Several states provided medical insurance cards for asylum seekers. The insurance cards allow asylum seekers to visit any doctor of their choice without prior approval by authorities. In other states asylum seekers received a card only after 15 months, and community authorities had to grant permits to asylum seekers before they could consult a doctor. The welfare organization Diakonie criticized the medical insurance card system, which only enabled asylum seekers to obtain emergency treatment. Local communities and private groups sometimes provided supplemental health care.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement and facilitated the local integration (including naturalization) of refugees who had fled their countries of origin, particularly for refugees belonging to vulnerable groups. Such groups included women with children, refugees with disabilities, victims of trafficking in persons, and victims of torture or rape. Authorities granted residence permits to long-term migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who could not return to their countries of origin.
The government assisted asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants with the safe and voluntary return to their countries. In the first half of the year, authorities provided financial assistance of 300 to 500 euros ($330 to $550) to 6,786 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification.
The government also offered a return bonus of 800 to 1,200 euros ($880 to $1,320) per person to asylum seekers whose applications were pending but who were unlikely to have their applications approved. Most of the applicants who received this bonus came from Albania, Serbia, North Macedonia, and Iraq.
Temporary Protection: The government provides two forms of temporary protection–subsidiary and humanitarian–for individuals who do not qualify as refugees. In the first six months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 11,855 persons. This status is usually granted if a person does not qualify for refugee or asylum status but might face severe danger in his or her country of origin due to war or conflict. During the same period, 3,872 individuals were granted humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is granted if a person does not qualify for any form of protected status, but there are other humanitarian reasons the person cannot return to his or her country of origin (for example, unavailability of medical treatment in their country of origin for a health condition). Both forms of temporary protection are granted for one year and may be extended. After five years, a person under subsidiary or humanitarian protection can apply for an unlimited residency status if he or she earns enough money to be independent of public assistance and has a good command of German.
UNHCR reported 14,779 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2018. Some of these persons lost their previous citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed or Yugoslavia disintegrated. Others were Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria whom the government registered as stateless.
Laws and policies provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain citizenship on a nondiscriminatory basis. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship after six years of residence. Producing sufficient evidence to establish statelessness could often be difficult, however, because the burden of proof is on the applicant. Authorities generally protected stateless persons from deportation to their country of origin or usual residence if they faced a threat of political persecution there.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: In a June report, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) assessed the country as “globally unsatisfactory” and accused the Bundestag of not implementing its recommendations on the prevention of bribery of members of parliament. Of the eight recommendations GRECO made in 2014, the government had only implemented three of them satisfactorily. Among other things, GRECO faulted the Bundestag for its unclear rules with regard to dealings with lobbyists and for overly lax reporting obligations of parliamentarians, including existing or potential conflicts of interest.
Research by multiple media outlets in April examined Russia’s attempts to influence German politics, in particular through the AfD. They uncovered Russian documents from 2017 recommending that Russia provide concrete assistance to AfD candidate Markus Frohnmaier, as his victory would provide Russia with “its own absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag.” Frohnmaier entered the Bundestag in 2017 and has taken consistently pro-Russia positions.
In March, Transparency Germany, Transparency International’s national chapter, filed a criminal complaint against Bundestag member Karin Strenz and former Bundestag member Eduard Lintner over an alleged bribery case orchestrated by the Azerbaijani government. Beginning in the early 2000s, the Azerbaijanis operated a money laundering scheme to, among other things, bribe politicians at the Council of Europe to soften human rights resolutions and election observation reports. Following an investigation, the Council of Europe banned both Strenz and Lintner for life from the Council of Europe in June 2018. In January the Bundestag presidium announced Strenz had violated the Bundestag’s rules of conduct.
Financial Disclosure: Members of state and federal parliaments are subject to financial disclosure laws that require them to publish their earnings from outside employment. Sanctions for noncompliance range from an administrative fine to as much as half of a parliamentarian’s annual salary. Appointed officials are subject to the public disclosure rules for civil servants, who must disclose outside activities and earnings. If the remuneration exceeds certain limits, which vary by grade, the employee must transfer the excess to the employing agency. Under the federal disciplinary law, sanctions for noncomplying officials include financial penalties, reprimand, or dismissal. In the corruption case involving Strenz, the Bundestag fined her more than 19,000 euros ($20,900) in March for the late disclosure of her payments from a company that passed along the money from Azerbaijan.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, of men and women, and provides penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Without a court order, officials may temporarily deny access to their household to those accused of abuse, or they may impose a restraining order. In severe cases of rape and domestic violence, authorities can prosecute individuals for assault or rape and require them to pay damages. Penalties depend on the nature of the case. The government enforced the laws effectively.
In 2018, 9,234 cases of sexual violence against men and women were reported to police. This is a substantial reduction from the previous year, but the federal police indicated this is due in part to a change in statistical methodology by which certain offenses previously classified as “sexual violence” have been reclassified as “sexual harassment.”
In July a Wiesbaden court sentenced an Iraqi asylum seeker to life imprisonment for murder. The court also determined an “exceptional severity of guilt,” meaning an early release after 15 years is highly unlikely. In June 2018 he raped and killed a 14-year-old in Wiesbaden. The suspect was also accused of twice raping an 11-year-old girl in a refugee shelter in March 2018. The suspect initially fled to Iraq, but he was subsequently returned to Germany, where he was tried.
In December 2018 an off-duty police officer in Berlin raped a 24-year-old woman. Following consensual sex, the police officer asked for additional services, which she declined. The officer then hit her and raped her until the victim’s partner intervened. The Berlin public prosecutor’s office emphasized that the officer was off-duty and his status had no bearing on the alleged crime. The case was pending as of November.
The federal government, the states, and NGOs supported numerous projects to prevent and respond to cases of gender-based violence, including providing victims with greater access to medical care and legal assistance. Approximately 340 women’s shelters offering a total of 6,700 beds operated throughout the country. The NGO Central Information Agency of Autonomous Women’s Homes (ZIF) reported accessibility problems, especially in bigger cities, because women who found refuge in a shelter tended to stay there longer due to a lack of available and affordable housing. ZIF also stated refugee women are particularly vulnerable, as they are required to maintain residence in a single district for three years and many live in districts in which there are no women’s shelters.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C of women and girls is a criminal offense punishable by one to 15 years in prison, even if performed abroad. Authorities can revoke the passports of individuals who they suspect are traveling abroad to subject a girl or woman to FGM/C; however, authorities have not taken this step since the law took effect in 2017. FGM/C affected segments of the immigrant population, in particular those from Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, and Egypt, and their Germany-born children. A working group under the leadership of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth worked with other federal government bodies and all 16 states to combat FGM/C. While official statistics indicated just four cases of FGM/C in 2018, a March study by the ministry indicated that between 1,558 and 5,684 daughters of immigrants are at risk of FGM/C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes “honor killings” as murder and provides penalties that include life in prison. The government enforced the law effectively and financed programs aimed at ending “honor killings.”
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of women was a recognized problem and prohibited by law. Penalties include fines and prison sentences of as many as five years. Various disciplinary measures against harassment in the workplace are available, including dismissal of the perpetrator. The law requires employers to protect employees from sexual harassment. The law considers an employer’s failure to take measures to protect employees from sexual harassment to be a breach of contract, and an affected employee has the right to paid leave until the employer rectifies the problem. Unions, churches, government agencies, and NGOs operated a variety of support programs for women who experienced sexual harassment and sponsored seminars and training to prevent it.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights under the constitution, including under family, labor, religious, personal status, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. The government generally enforced the law effectively.
Birth Registration: In most cases individuals derive citizenship from their parents. The law allows individuals to obtain citizenship if they were born in the country and if one parent has been a resident for at least eight years or has had a permanent residence permit for at least three years. Parents or guardians are responsible for registering newborn children. Once government officials receive birth registration applications, they generally process them expeditiously. Parents who fail to register their child’s birth may be subject to a fine.
Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse. Violence or cruelty towards minors, as well as malicious neglect, are punishable by five months to 10 years in prison. Incidents of child abuse were reported. The Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women, and Youth sponsored a number of programs throughout the year on the prevention of child abuse. The ministry sought to create networks among parents, youth services, schools, pediatricians, and courts and to support existing programs at the state and local level. Other programs provided therapy and support for adult and youth victims of sexual abuse.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years.
Legislation passed in 2017 nullifies existing marriages conducted in other countries in which at least one spouse was under age 16 at the time of the wedding, even if they were of legal age in the country where the marriage was performed. Individuals aged 16 or 17 can petition a judge on a case-by-case basis to recognize their foreign marriage if they face a specific hardship from not having their marriage legally recognized. Complete central statistics are unavailable on such cases.
Child and forced marriage primarily affected girls of foreign nationality. The government reported that as of March 31, there were 179 married minors in the country, a substantial decrease from 1,475 in 2016. The majority of married minor registrants were from Syria.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or procuring children for prostitution and practices related to child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14 years unless the older partner is older than 18 and is “exploiting a coercive situation” or offering compensation, and the younger partner is under 16. It is also illegal for a person who is 21 or older to have sex with a child younger than 16 if the older person “exploits the victim’s lack of capacity for sexual self-determination.” The government’s Independent Commissioner for Child Sex Abuse Issues offered a sexual abuse help online portal and an anonymous telephone helpline free of charge.
In January police informed the public about a child abuse case on a campground in Luegde, NRW, involving more than 40 sexually abused children aged between three and 14 years. The abuse took place over more than a decade. Three suspects were detained and confessed to the crimes. In July, one man was ordered to attend therapy and was sentenced to two years of probation for taking part in the crime via webcam and for owning child pornography. The public prosecutor appealed the sentence as overly lenient. The other two men were sentenced in September to 13 and 12 years in prison, followed by preventive detention.
On July 12, a parliamentary investigating committee opened an investigation into possible failures, omissions, misjudgments, and misconduct of the NRW state government in the child abuse case. Problems with the investigation included the disappearance from the local police station of 155 USB drives containing child pornography, the placement of a foster child with one of the main perpetrators, and concerns that authorities did not follow up on an earlier suspicion of child abuse. As of November the investigation was ongoing.
The case led to the creation of new resources for abuse victims and prosecutors. In March, Cologne opened a new office to serve as a point of contact for children and youth, and in May the first countrywide center for child protection went into operation in Cologne. The office combines the expertise of forensic medical specialists and child protection experts to examine suspected cases of child abuse.
Displaced Children: According to the NGO Federal Association for Unaccompanied Minor Refugees (BumF), 4,087 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the country in 2018, over half of whom came from four countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Guinea, and Eritrea. BAMF granted some form of asylum to unaccompanied minors in just 61.5 percent of cases, a sharp drop from 94.5 percent in 2016. BumF observed that some unaccompanied minors might have become victims of human trafficking. For more information see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
According to estimates by the NGO Off Road Kids, as many as 2,500 children between the ages of 12 and 18 become at least temporarily homeless every year. Off Road Kids reported most runaways stayed with friends and were not living on the streets. These minors were generally school dropouts who did not receive assistance from the youth welfare office or their parents, and instead used digital networks to find temporary housing with friends and online acquaintances.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
Observers estimated the country’s Jewish population to be almost 200,000, of whom an estimated 90 percent were from the former Soviet Union. There were approximately 107,000 registered Jewish community members.
Manifestations of anti-Semitism, including physical and verbal attacks, occurred at public demonstrations, sporting and social events, in schools, in the street, in certain media outlets, and online. Apart from anti-Semitic speech, desecration of cemeteries and Holocaust monuments represented the most widespread anti-Semitic acts. The federal government attributed most anti-Semitic acts to neo-Nazi or other right-wing extremist groups or persons. Jewish organizations also noted an increase of anti-Semitic attitudes and behavior among some Muslim youth and left-wing extremists. NGOs agreed that right-wing extremists were responsible for the majority of anti-Semitic acts but cautioned that federal statistics misattributed many acts committed by Muslims as right-wing.
In 2018 the Federal Ministry of Interior reported 1,799 anti-Semitic crimes, an increase from the 1,504 anti-Semitic crimes in 2017. NGOs working to combat anti-Semitism noted the reported number of anti-Semitic attacks was likely too low, and a significant number of cases were unreported due to fear.
The FOPC’s annual report stated that the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents rose more than 70 percent, from 28 in 2017 to 48 in 2018. The FOPC also identified three violent left-wing anti-Semitic incidents, plus four with a religious ideological motivation, and 10 with a foreign ideological motivation. Federal prosecutors brought charges against suspects and maintained permanent security measures around many synagogues.
Many prominent government officials repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism throughout the year, including Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Maas. In 2018 the federal government created the position Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism. Several states also established state-level commissioners to combat anti-Semitism. The positions’ responsibilities vary by state but involve meeting with the Jewish community, collecting statistics on anti-Semitic acts, and designing education and prevention programs.
On October 9, a gunman attacked the synagogue in the eastern German city of Halle on Yom Kippur, where approximately 50 individuals were attending a prayer service. When the gunman was unable to enter the building, he shot and killed two German nationals outside the synagogue in a snack bar. He was arrested shortly after the attack. The federal public prosecutor’s investigation into the suspect’s background and motives was ongoing, but according to media reports he admitted to the investigating authorities that he harbored far-right extremist political sympathies. Several Jewish community leaders called for police protection at all synagogues during services. Leading officials promised a more determined fight against anti-Semitism and far-right violent extremism, and the Federal Ministry of Interior introduced a package of measures to improve security and deter anti-Semitic crime that is expected to be taken up by the Bundestag in early 2020.
In March local media reported criminal proceedings against four police detectives were suspended in relation to an incident in July 2018 in Bonn that involved a visiting professor who was allegedly assaulted by a 20-year-old German with Palestinian roots. When police arrived, the attacker fled the scene, but the police mistakenly believed the victim was the attacker and allegedly used excessive force to detain him. Police later apprehended the perpetrator and charged him with incitement of hate and causing bodily harm. Cologne police opened an internal investigation and assigned the police officers involved in the incident to desk jobs pending the investigation’s results. Prosecutors, however, denied the professor’s request to provide testimony for the internal investigation. The police officers returned to regular duty. The attacker was indicted for charges of sedition and bodily harm. His trial took place on October 14 and resulted in conviction for incitement of hate. He was sentenced to youth custody for four years and six months, including a pre-existing juvenile sentence of three years and nine months for robbery, insult, coercion, bodily harm, and fare evasion.
In December 2018 media reported that Frankfurt prosecutors were investigating five police officers who had exchanged right-wing extremist messages, including racist slogans, swastikas, and pictures of Hitler, via text message. Investigators began their work after a lawyer who defended victims’ families in the 2013-18 trials related to the right-wing terrorist organization National Socialist Underground (NSU) received a threatening letter in August signed “NSU 2.0” at her private address, which was not publicly known. When she reported the threat, investigators found that an officer in Frankfurt had conducted an unauthorized search for her address and uncovered the right-wing extremist messages. In June the lawyer received additional death threats, once again signed “NSU 2.0.” Also in June, another Frankfurt police officer was briefly arrested in connection with the scandal that by March had expanded to 38 investigations into police officers from Hesse.
In July, two men speaking Arabic insulted and spat on Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal and his son as they were leaving a Berlin synagogue. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier later visited Teichtal in his home to offer his support, saying, “There is no place for anti-Semitism in Germany.” Rabbi Teichtal called for “tolerance, dialogue, and training” to counter rising levels of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitic incidents also occurred in Hamburg and Munich, involving spitting and anti-Semitic slurs.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law makes no specific mention of the rights of persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities, but their rights are considered included under the other headings. NGOs disagreed whether the government effectively enforced these provisions.
The Bundestag approved a measure on March 15 to extend suffrage to the approximately 80,000 adults with disabilities in Germany who are the subjects of court orders declaring that they are incapable of independently managing their administrative and financial matters. The Constitutional Court ruled in April this law must go into effect in time for the European Parliament elections in late May, which it did.
A workshop in Leverkusen, NRW, that employs persons with disabilities separately from others dismissed two caregivers after a February 2017 TV report disclosed secret recordings taken in 2015 showing them humiliating a young woman with mental disabilities. The workshop management criticized the TV station for not sharing its insights earlier. In June the local court in Opladen, NRW, sentenced one of the dismissed caregivers to pay a fine of 2,400 euros ($2,640). The Cologne prosecutor indicted two more defendants, but these cases were not pursued due to insufficient evidence.
Persons with disabilities faced particular difficulties in finding housing.
State officials decide whether children with disabilities may attend mainstream or special needs schools. In 2017-18, 544,630 children with special education needs attended school; of these, 317,480 attended special needs schools. In some instances, parents or teachers in mainstream schools protested against the inclusion of students with special needs, primarily because the schools had insufficient resources and capabilities to address their needs.
The annual FOPC report for 2018 recorded 1,088 violent, politically motivated crimes committed by individuals with right-wing extremist backgrounds. Of these, 821 were categorized as xenophobic.
In July a 55-year-old right-wing extremist shot and gravely wounded a 26-year-old Eritrean man in the town of Waechtersbach, Hesse. Before the attack the perpetrator had announced his intention to kill a refugee. A search of the perpetrator’s home confirmed suspicions of a racist motive, a police spokesperson said. Police found the perpetrator’s body in a car in a neighboring town, where he had shot himself in the head.
On March 20, the press reported legal authorities had initiated 239 criminal proceedings in connection with demonstrations in Chemnitz in August 2018, when approximately 6,000 right-wing demonstrators and 1,500 counter protestors took to the streets in response to the fatal stabbing of a German man, reportedly by two immigrants. Newscasts showed right-wing extremists giving the Hitler salute, which is illegal, and chanting anti-immigrant slogans. On August 22, the district court of Chemnitz sentenced a 23-year-old Syrian asylum seeker to nine years and six months in prison for the fatal stabbing that led to the demonstrations. Authorities believe the other suspect, a 22-year-old Iraqi, fled the country.
Hostility focused on asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants from the Middle East and Africa. On March 17, two men threw explosives at a home for asylum seekers in Nussdorf, Bavaria; two weeks later they perpetrated a similar attack on the same home. Police arrested two offenders, 20 and 23 years old, who were tried and convicted and sentenced to three years and nine months in prison.
Persons of foreign origin faced particular difficulties with finding housing. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) reported cases of landlords denying rental apartments to persons not of ethnic-German origin–particularly of Turkish and African origin.
Harassment of members of racial minorities such as Roma remained a problem throughout the country. In March statistics from the Federal Ministry of the Interior reported a 54 percent rise in attacks on Sinti and Roma in 2018. The ministry considers all but five of the crimes as right-wing, and of 36 suspects identified, 32 belonged to the extreme right spectrum. The Federal Interior Ministry stated “even if the number of cases increased compared to 2017, they are still at a very low level.” The head of the Sinti and Roma Council, Romani Rose, suggested, however, that many crimes against Sinti and Roma go unreported.
In May in the town of Erbach, Baden-Wuerttemberg, a burning torch was thrown at a vehicle in which a Romani family slept with their nine-month-old baby. No one was injured, as the torch missed the caravan. The Stuttgart public prosecutor suspected a politically motivated offense, and in July, police arrested five Germans aged 17 to 20 in connection with the crime.
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTI activists criticized the requirement that transgender persons be diagnosed as “mentally ill” in order to obtain legal gender recognition.
In March the then federal justice minister Katrina Barley announced that gay men placed under investigation or taken into investigative custody between 1949 and 1969 under the law criminalizing male homosexuality would receive compensation from the government. The government began paying compensation immediately to those who filed for it. Barley said the anti-homosexuality law known as Paragraph 175 “destroyed lives, led to sham marriages, harassment, blackmail, and suicide.” In 2017 the country approved compensation to gay men who were convicted under the antihomosexuality law; however, Barley’s announcement extended this to men who were placed under investigation but not convicted. West Germany decriminalized homosexuality in 1969, but approximately 50,000 men were convicted between 1949 and 1969.
In June the Regional Court in Chemnitz declared it could not identify a homophobic or right-wing motive for beating a 27-year-old gay man to death in April 2018. The court found the three men guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. The three were known members of the right-wing scene, and one of them had a swastika tattoo. Police classified the crime as a “right-wing motivated homicide.”
The NGO German AIDS Foundation reported that societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS ranged from isolation and negative comments from acquaintances, family, and friends to bullying at work. A domestic AIDS service NGO continued to criticize authorities in Bavaria for ongoing mandatory HIV testing of asylum seekers.
In March 2018 unknown perpetrators wrote anti-Muslim graffiti on the Fatih Mosque in Bremen-Groepelingen. The Bremen Police State Protection unit investigated. The chair of the Fatih Mosque, Zekai Gumus, called on the Bremen senate and authorities to solve the crime, noting police had not identified suspects responsible for a 2017 attack on the mosque. As of July police had yet to identify any suspects for the March 2018 attack.
On June 8 in Bremen, unknown perpetrators desecrated 50 copies of the Quran by throwing them into toilets when the mosque was open to the public. As of November local police were investigating.
Civil society organizations continued to report discriminatory identity checks by police on members of ethnic and religious minorities.