Germany is a constitutional democracy. Citizens choose their representatives periodically in free and fair multiparty elections. The lower chamber of the federal parliament (Bundestag) elects the chancellor as head of the federal government. The second legislative chamber, the Federal Council (Bundesrat), represents the 16 states at the federal level and is composed of members of the state governments. The country’s 16 states exercise considerable autonomy, including for law enforcement and education. The elections for the Bundestag on September 26 were considered free and fair, as were federal elections in 2017.
Responsibility for internal and border security is shared by the police forces of the 16 states, the Federal Criminal Police Office, and the federal police. The states’ police forces report to their respective interior ministries; the federal police forces report to the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the state offices for the protection of the constitution are responsible for gathering intelligence on threats to domestic order and other security functions. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution reports to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, and the state offices for the same function report to their respective ministries of the interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed few abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: crimes involving violence motivated by anti-Semitism and crimes involving violence targeting members of ethnic or religious minority groups motivated by anti-Muslim hatred, xenophobia, or other forms of right-wing extremism.
The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials in the security services and elsewhere in government who committed human rights abuses or were accused of corruption.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On January 28, the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court sentenced neo-Nazi Stephan Ernst to life in prison for the 2019 murder of local Hesse politician Walter Luebcke but acquitted codefendant Markus Hartmann on an accessory to murder charge. The crime was widely viewed as a politically motivated killing of a known prorefugee state official, and prosecutors believed Ernst committed the crime out of ethnonationalist and racist motivations. Frankfurt prosecutors continued to investigate multiple persons for having threatened Luebcke on the internet after his 2015 prorefugee remarks. They passed several of the remaining investigations to prosecutors across the country, depending on the residence of the accused. A Hesse state parliament investigation into why Hesse’s domestic security service failed to identify Stephan Ernst as a danger to society was ongoing as of September.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, but there were a few reports that government officials employed them. According to some human rights groups, authorities did not effectively investigate allegations of mistreatment by police and failed to establish an independent mechanism to investigate such allegations.
In June a court sentenced a Muelheim police officer to nine months’ probation for inflicting bodily injury while on duty. In 2019, when responding to a domestic violence call, the officer handcuffed a naturalized citizen with Kosovar roots and beat him in the face. The officer’s partner helped cover up the assault and was sentenced to seven months’ probation.
On September 17, a Cologne court found a police officer guilty of using excessive force against a fleeing suspect and sentenced him to eight months’ probation. The officer in 2019 shot an unarmed man aged 19, Alexander Dellis, when he fled arrest; Dellis later filed a complaint for excessive use of force. The court ruled that the officer had not adequately warned the suspect.
Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.
Laws at the state level give police the power to take preventive action against an “impending danger.” Critics argued that this provision expands police surveillance power, which had been reserved for the country’s intelligence services. As of September a case challenging the law in Bavaria was pending at the Federal Constitutional Court, as was a separate case at the Saxony Constitutional Court regarding that state’s law.
While several states required police to wear identity badges, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Amnesty International Germany criticized the lack of a nationwide requirement to do so, noting that six states had no such requirement.
In February a man was acquitted for a third time of charges of resisting police officers and causing bodily harm during a public demonstration in Cologne. The court upheld a charge of insulting a police officer but imposed no penalty, finding fault instead with the officers themselves. The judge in the man’s second trial in 2019 had dismissed the charges as unfounded and apologized to the defendant. Two police officers were placed under investigation in 2019, and in February the case against them was dropped in exchange for fines. The man thereafter sued the state of North-Rhine Westphalia for 15,000 euros ($17,300) in compensation, which the state agreed to pay in July.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Authorities must have a warrant issued by a judicial authority to arrest an individual. Police may also arrest individuals they apprehend in the act of committing a crime, or if they have strong reason to suspect the individual intends to commit a crime. The constitution requires authorities to bring a suspect before a judicial officer before the end of the day following the arrest. The judge must inform the suspect of the reasons for his or her detention and provide the suspect with an opportunity to object. The court must then either issue an arrest warrant stating the grounds for continued detention or order the individual’s release. Authorities generally respected these rights.
Although bail exists, judges usually released individuals awaiting trial without requiring bail. Bail is only required in cases where a court determines the suspect poses a flight risk. In such cases authorities may deny bail and hold detainees for the duration of the investigation and subsequent trial, subject to judicial review.
Detainees have the right to consult with an attorney of their choice; the government provides an attorney at public expense if detainees demonstrate financial need. The law entitles a detainee to request access to a lawyer at any time, including prior to any police questioning. Authorities must inform suspects of their right to consult an attorney before questioning begins.
Pretrial Detention: The Federal Statistical Office and the NGO World Prison Brief reported that, as of December 2020, persons held in pretrial detention accounted for 20.8 percent of all prison inmates in the country. In 2019 the Ministry of Justice reported that the median stay in pretrial detention was between four and six months. The courts credit time spent in pretrial custody toward any eventual sentence. If a court acquits an incarcerated defendant, the government must compensate the defendant for financial losses as well as for “moral prejudice” due to his or her incarceration.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The trial shall be fair, public, and held without undue delay. The law requires defendants be present at their trials. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney of their choice, and the government provides an attorney at public expense if defendants demonstrate financial need, as stated above. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The government provides an interpreter to any defendant who cannot understand or speak German and does so free of charge if the defendant demonstrates financial need or is acquitted. Defendants have access to all court-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants may question the prosecution’s witnesses and may introduce their own witnesses and evidence in support of their case. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal.
The law does not allow courts to punish a person twice for the same crime. A court may, however, order an offender convicted of rape, homicide, or manslaughter to spend additional time in “subsequent preventive detention” after completing a sentence. The court can only order preventive detention if it determines that the offender suffers from a mental disorder or represents a continuing serious danger to the public. The law permits the imposition of such detention for an indefinite period, subject to periodic review.
Because the law does not regard such detention as punishment, authorities are legally required to keep those in preventive detention in separate buildings or in special prison sections with better conditions than those of the general prisons. Authorities must also provide detainees with a range of social and psychological therapy programs. According to the Federal Statistics Office, 589 offenders were held under preventive detention at the end of March 2020, the most recent date for which figures were available.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Citizens may file complaints regarding abuses of their human rights with petition committees and commissioners for citizens’ affairs. Citizens usually referred to these points of contact as “ombudsmen.” Additionally, an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters provides court access for lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights abuse. Persons who exhaust domestic legal remedies may appeal cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.
Property Seizure and Restitution
The government has laws and mechanisms in place for, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported it made significant progress on, resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. Since the end of World War II through 2020, according to the Federal Ministry of Finance, the government paid approximately 79 billion euros ($90.8 billion) in Holocaust restitution and compensation, which included an additional 1.04 billion euros ($1.19 billion) in hardship payments made to poorer Holocaust survivors severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The country has also supported numerous public and private international reparation and social welfare initiatives to benefit Holocaust survivors and their families.
After World War II, the government adopted legislation to resolve compensation claims stemming from Nazi atrocities and Holocaust-era property confiscation. In 1952 the government designated the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Claims Conference) as its principal partner in handling restitution and compensation claims made by Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.
Before German reunification in 1990, in accordance with the Federal Restitution Law, West German authorities provided property restitution and compensation payments for properties and businesses that were confiscated or transferred during the Holocaust era. The Claims Conference assumed ownership of and auctioned off heirless properties, using the proceeds to fund the organization’s efforts to support Holocaust survivors and fund Holocaust education. For confiscated Jewish property located in what was formerly East Germany, the Claims Conference filed additional claims under a law enacted after reunification. Since 1990 authorities have approved and granted restitution in 4,500 cases and provided compensation in approximately 12,000 cases. There were approximately 5,000 cases involving fixed assets remaining to be processed at the Federal Office for Central Services and Unsettled Property Issues, including land, real estate, and company shares.
Regular negotiations between the Claims Conference and the country’s federal government expanded existing programs and introduced additional ones. In the September 2020 negotiations, the government agreed to increase the total funding level during the year by 30.5 million euros ($35.1 million) for home-care services for frail and aging Holocaust survivors. In October the federal government agreed to provide monthly 375-euro ($431) pensions to an estimated 6,500 Holocaust survivors not previously receiving them, as well as symbolic one-time payments of 2,500 euros ($2,875) to child survivors born in 1928 or later. Additionally, survivors who received previous one-time payments under a hardship fund were scheduled to receive additional payments of 1,200 euros ($1,400) during the year.
In 2015 the federal government established the German Lost Art Foundation (DZK) to promote provenance research. The DZK maintained an online “Lost Art” database and helped victims and their heirs to find the right institutions and contacts. The database documented objects suspected or proven to be confiscated by the Nazis. In May the DZK announced it would provide $2.8 million in funding to 31 projects for research on cultural assets confiscated under the Nazis.
On April 29, the Duesseldorf City Council, following the recommendation of the country’s national commission on Nazi looted art, unanimously voted to return the 1913 Franz Marc painting Foxes to the heirs of Kurt Grawi. Grawi had used the sale of the painting to finance his escape from Nazi Germany and emigration to Chile in 1939. As of September the painting had not been returned to Grawi’s heirs.
The Bavarian State Painting Collections, owned by the State of Bavaria, has not referred the case of the Pablo Picasso painting Portrait of Madame Soler to the country’s national commission on looted art, contrary to usual practice when disputes concerning the provenance of artworks arise. The work had been sold by Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in 1934 or 1935; his heirs had first asked Bavaria in 2010 to refer the case to the commission, maintaining he sold the work under duress. In June the commission’s chair Hans-Juergen Papier dismissed the state’s view that the claim is irrelevant, saying it is up to the commission to evaluate such cases.
The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were assertions the government failed in some cases to respect these prohibitions.
The federal and state offices for the protection of the constitution (OPCs) continued to monitor political groups deemed to be potentially undermining the constitution. These include left-wing extremist groups inside the Left party and right-wing extremist groups inside the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, both of which have seats in the Bundestag, as well as the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD). Monitoring requires the approval of state or federal interior ministries and is subject to review by state or federal parliamentary intelligence committees.
All OPC activities may be contested in court, including the Federal Constitutional Court. Following a 2014 Constitutional Court ruling, the government stated the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (FOPC) could no longer monitor Bundestag members.
The Bavaria OPC during the year monitored the NPD; Der Fluegel (“The Wing,” a loose network of far-right extremist AfD party members within the AfD); the AfD youth organization Junge Alternative (“Young Alternative”); as well as the Der Dritte Weg (“The Third Way”), an extremist party that was mainly active in opposing public COVID-19 measures.
The Baden-Wuerttemberg OPC monitored Querdenken 711 (“Lateral Thinking 711”), a movement directed against state and federal COVID-19 restrictions, due to its extremist views. The state’s anti-Semitism commissioner repeatedly warned of Querdenken 711’s anti-Semitic rhetoric and views.
On January 26, the Saxony-Anhalt OPC announced it would monitor the Saxony-Anhalt chapter of the AfD due to the party’s attacks on human dignity, its rejection of constitutional principles, and its hostility to democracy. In response the AfD moved for an injunction. On April 24, Saxony-Anhalt’s Interior Ministry determined the state’s OPC would refrain from monitoring the party until a verdict had been reached. As of August proceedings were ongoing.
In early March media reported that the FOPC had decided to surveil the AfD national party organization but not AfD elected officials or candidates. The FOPC reportedly took this step in light of AfD infringements upon human dignity and democratic principles and the influence of “The Wing,” which supposedly was officially dissolved in 2019, but members of the group continued to convene. Anticipating this, the AfD filed suit in January in the Cologne Administrative Court to block FOPC surveillance. Shortly after the March media reports, the court issued an injunction preventing the FOPC from commenting on whether it had decided to surveil the AfD until the court had ruled on the January suit. In August the court indicated it would not issue a ruling until early 2022, to avoid influencing voters’ decisions in the September 26 elections.
On May 12, the Thuringia OPC upgraded its classification of the Thuringian chapter of the AfD from a suspected case to a proven extremist case. According to the OPC, there are clear “efforts against the free democratic basic order” within the Thuringian AfD chapter.
In June 2020 the Brandenburg OPC announced it would monitor the state chapter of the AfD as a suspected case of right-wing extremism. The Brandenburg state chapter of the AfD challenged the decision before the State Constitutional Court, which ruled against the AfD on March 19.
In June the Bavarian government amended its police powers law to give police the power to screen visitors at major events using “reliability tests” conducted with visitors’ personal data obtained from “public and nonpublic entities.” The law entered into force July 31 and was immediately challenged by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD), Greens, and Free Democratic Party before the Bavarian Constitutional Court. As of October the case was still pending (for the “NSU 2.0” case, see section 3, Political Parties and Participation).
In August the Hamburg Administrative Court ruled that Hamburg’s OPC may no longer state that two AfD state parliament staffers were identitarians, a right-wing extremist movement. The AfD caucus in the state parliament had sued the OPC for mentioning the staffers’ supposed connection in its 2020 public report. The court stated that, although the staffers had attended two identitarian events, such attendance alone was not proof of their membership in the group. Under the ruling, the Hamburg OPC must delete the allegation from its public 2020 report and issue a public correction. The OPC pledged to continue monitoring The Wing’s activities in Hamburg.
Human Rights Watch reported that on June 10, the parliament had passed amendments to a law that allows OPCs to use spyware and bypass encryption. Human Rights Watch raised strong privacy concerns regarding the change, noting that the law allows interception of communications by “persons against whom no suspicion of a crime has yet been established and therefore no criminal procedure can yet be ordered.” The government argued the provisions were needed to keep up with technological changes.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
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.
The federal government, the states, and NGOs supported numerous projects to prevent and respond to cases of gender-based violence, including providing survivors with greater access to medical care and legal assistance. Approximately 350 women’s shelters operated throughout the country.
The NGO Central Information Agency of Autonomous Women’s Shelters (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 were particularly at risk, since they were required to maintain residence in a single district for three years and many resided in districts in which there were no women’s shelters.
The women’s shelter association Frauenhauskoordinierung e.V. complained that federal vaccination regulations did not prioritize residents and staff of women’s shelters for COVID-19 vaccination, in contrast to homeless shelters, refugee housing, and other group housing settings, threatening the homes’ ability to provide shelter in the event of an outbreak. Multiple NGOs expressed concern the COVID-19 lockdown constrained opportunities for women to escape violent domestic situations. ZIF called for additional government funding to place women and children in hotels if quarantine rendered its shelters inaccessible.
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 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. During the year there were no reports FGM/C was performed in the country. A working group under the leadership of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth collaborated with other federal government bodies and all 16 states to combat FGM/C.
In July the Federal Ministry for Women and Families published a “protection letter” for girls at risk of FGM/C, warning of the high criminal penalties for FGM/C in the country. The letter was intended to be carried when travelling abroad and shown to relatives or others who tried to subject girls to FGM/C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes “honor killings” as murder and the government enforced the law effectively. During the year there were some reports of such killings in the country; for example, in December, Berlin prosecutors charged two men of Afghan descent with murdering their sister age 34 in July because she had divorced her abusive husband and begun a new relationship. No trial date had been set at year’s end. Although authorities estimated the number of such killings fluctuated between approximately three and 12 during any year, some observers questioned how many of these were “honor killings,” which media tended to attribute to immigrant communities, and how many were other manifestations of domestic violence.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of women was a recognized problem and prohibited by law. Penalties include fines and prison sentences of up to 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.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
There are no legal, social, or cultural barriers, nor government policies, that adversely affect access to contraception nor to attendance of skilled health personnel during pregnancy and childbirth. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraception.
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.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The country’s constitution states that no one shall be “favored or disfavored because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions.” Federal laws prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnicity by public authorities as well as private actors such as employers, landlords and businesses, but there were reports of discrimination despite these laws.
Public incitement of hatred against an ethnic, racial, religious or other minority is a crime in the country, and authorities vigorously prosecuted violations of the law. Crimes motivated by such hatred also incur harsher sentences than similar crimes not motivated by such hatred, and judges regularly imposed these sentences.
The federal and state governments employed a wide range of measures to eliminate ethnic and racial basis. For example, the federal government operated FADA, which takes complaints and reports of discrimination and provides advice and support to victims. Some states also had similar offices. Observers noted FADA was underfunded and that both state and federal offices were not sufficiently independent. Members of minority groups were not always aware of these resources.
The federal and state governments also provided grants to civil society organizations working to combat racism and ethnic bias. For example, during the year the federal government program Demokratie Leben (Live Democracy) dispensed 150 million euros ($172.5 million) in grants to organizations promoting diversity and combating extremism.
Federal and state OPCs also monitored groups with racist or xenophobic ideologies. The annual FOPC report for 2020, released in June, recorded 22,357 politically motivated crimes committed by individuals with right-wing extremist backgrounds, 1,023 of which were violent. Of these, 746 were categorized as xenophobic. The 2020 FADA report detailed 2,101 complaints of racism, a 79 percent annual increase compared with 2019, and the agency reported 6,383 requests for consultations from possible victims of discrimination, compared with 3,200 in 2019. Persons with Asian features were often affected, according to official sources and multiple media reports (see also section 3, Participation of Womenand Members of Minority Groups, attacks on campaigns of minority group politicians).
In a survey by researchers at the University of Bochum on interactions with police published in November 2020, respondents who were members of ethnic minority groups or who had a migrant background reported being subjected to random police checks more often than white respondents without a migrant background. Ethnic minority respondents and those with a migrant background were more often advised against reporting incidents of police violence, and their attempts to do so were more frequently rejected than were those of white, nonmigrant respondents.
In May the NRW state government launched a campaign to attract more employees with immigrant backgrounds to join the civil service.
On August 18, the Erfurt public prosecutor charged nine men and one woman from the right-wing extremist scene with inflicting grave bodily harm for their attack on three Guineans in Erfurt, Thuringia. Two of the victims were injured during the August 2020 attack, one of them seriously. According to the prosecutor’s office, proceedings against seven other suspects were dropped due to lack of evidence. As of August a trial date had not been set.
On June 9, Frankfurt prosecutors began investigating 20 members of the Frankfurt police department’s elite special forces unit (SEK) for sharing racist, extremist content in a chat group. Hesse interior minister Peter Beuth then dissolved the Frankfurt SEK and announced a statewide reorganization of such units on August 26. Investigations against most of the officers were still ongoing as of October 1, while investigations of two senior officers for obstruction of justice have been closed.
In September 2020 the NRW Interior Ministry suspended 29 police officers for participating in a right-wing chat group in which they shared extremist propaganda. In July charges were filed in six cases, including five counts of spreading symbols of anticonstitutional organizations and sedition; the charges could lead to fines. Seven cases were closed with no charges filed, and investigations continued in 14 cases. In September the special representative examining right-wing extremist tendencies in the police force presented his report to the NRW state parliament. Although he found many examples of right-wing extremist, racist, sexist, and homophobic statements, he found no evidence of right-wing extremist networks in the police force or that police had been subverted by right-wing extremists. The report included an 18-item list of measures to combat extremism in the police force.
Persons of foreign origin sometimes faced difficulties with finding housing. FADA reported cases of landlords denying rental apartments to persons not of ethnic German origin, particularly of Turkish and African origin.
According to local media, internal documents and whistleblower testimonies suggested that Bremen’s city-owned housing association Brebau systematically discriminated against persons of color, Sinti and Roma, Bulgarians, and Romanians. Brebau staff were instructed to note applicants’ race in the company’s internal information technology system, as well as whether they wore a head scarf and if they were “integrated” into Western society. The reports stated this information was temporarily removed if applicants asked to review their application and later re-entered.
Harassment of members of racial minorities, such as Roma and Sinti, remained a problem throughout the country.
In May the Independent Commission on “Anti-Ziganism” presented its final report to the government. The report, commissioned by the government, concluded that anti-Roma racism was an “all-encompassing everyday experience for Sinti and Roma” that posed a “massive societal problem.” Harshly criticizing an ongoing “failure of German policy, German legislation and the application thereof,” it described discrimination in local government, law enforcement, education, and other areas. The genocide of the Roma and Sinti committed by the Nazis had a “deep and lasting impact,” the report said, and had only partly been addressed.
On August 5, a Sinti family was expelled from a campground in Bad Zwesten, Hesse. The head of the family reported that he was told Sinti were not welcome at the campground. Campground operator Camping Club Kassel (CCK) confirmed to local media it had a policy of not admitting minorities. Following public complaints, the CCK eventually apologized to the family and declared it had rescinded the discriminatory policy.
On September 23, four defendants in Erbach, Baden-Wuerttemberg were convicted of coercion in a 2019 attack in which they threw a burning torch at a vehicle in which a Romani family slept with their baby, age nine months. They were given suspended juvenile sentences and were ordered to visit a concentration camp memorial. The court found the defendants were motivated by racism and had hoped to drive the Roma out of Erbach, but the defendants did not intend to harm them. The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma welcomed the verdict.
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 received birth registration applications, they generally processed them expeditiously. Parents who fail to register their child’s birth may be subject to a fine. Birth certificates are required to access some public services, such as education or day care.
Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse. Violence or cruelty towards minors, as well as malicious neglect, are punishable. Incidents of child abuse were reported. The Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women, and Youth sponsored 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.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years.
The law nullifies existing marriages conducted in other countries in which at least one spouse was younger than age 16 at the time of the wedding, even if they were of legal age in the country where the marriage was performed. Individuals ages 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 were unavailable on such cases. Child and forced marriage primarily affected girls of foreign nationality.
In June the NRW state government launched an awareness campaign against forced marriage headlined EXIT.NRW – Protection United – North Rhine-Westphalia against Forced Marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or using children for commercial sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking, as well as practices related to child pornography. 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 younger than 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.”
Crime statistics for 2020, the latest available, indicated 14,594 cases of child sexual abuse occurred in 2020, an increase of 6.8 percent over 2019. The number of child pornography cases processed by police rose in 2020 to 18,761, a 53 percent increase over 2019.
The law enables undercover investigators to use artificially created videos of child sexual abuse to gain entry to internet forums. The government’s Independent Commissioner for Child Sex Abuse Issues provides an online help portal and an anonymous telephone helpline free of charge.
In January police conducted two large nationwide raids involving 1,000 law enforcement officers against persons suspected of possessing or distributing child pornography, following a similar series of raids in September 2020. The raids were part of investigations that began with the 2019 arrest of a Bergisch-Gladbach man for severe child abuse, including the production of child pornography. That case eventually evolved into a large-scale investigation involving 400 police detectives and a network of at least 30,000 suspects, several of whom were convicted and sentenced in 2020 to multiyear prison sentences, to be followed by preventative detention, for child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography. Investigations and court proceedings were ongoing.
In June 2020 police uncovered a child abuse ring in Muenster, NRW. The main suspect was a man, age 27, suspected of sexually abusing the son, age 10, of his partner; he also produced pornography of the abuse and sold it online and offered his foster son to others. By August more than 40 suspects had been identified, with approximately 30 in pretrial detention or custody; 30 children were believed to have been victims. In July a Muenster court handed down a 14-year sentence for the main suspect and ordered preventive detention after the sentence is complete; in October the main suspect’s partner was sentenced to seven years and nine months in prison for aiding and abetting the crime. Three other defendants received prison sentences of between 10 and 12 years, also with preventive detention after serving their sentences. In October the mother of the main suspect, who was tried as an accomplice, was also convicted of aiding and abetting the crime and sentenced to seven years and nine months in prison.
In 2019 an NRW parliamentary committee opened an investigation into possible failures and misconduct by the NRW state government in a case of multiple sexual abuse of children at a campground in Luegde. The investigation continued as of October, with sessions scheduled until December 17.
Displaced Children: According to the Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, 2,230 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in the country in 2020, approximately half of whom came from three countries: Afghanistan, Guinea, and Syria. BAMF granted some form of asylum to unaccompanied minors in 58.7 percent of cases in 2020, compared with 94.5 percent in 2016. The NGO Association for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors observed that some unaccompanied minors might have become victims of human trafficking, since youth offices have no legal responsibility to locate them if they disappear from foster families. For more information see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
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, and such acts increased during the year. Jewish organizations also noted anti-Semitic attitudes and behavior among some Muslim youth and left-wing extremists. NGOs agreed right-wing extremists were responsible for most anti-Semitic acts but cautioned that federal statistics misattributed many acts committed by Muslims as right-wing acts.
In 2020 the Federal Ministry of Interior reported 2,351 crimes motivated by anti-Semitism, a 15.7 percent increase from the 2,032 anti-Semitic crimes in 2019. In presenting the FOPC’s annual report, Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (Christian Social Union) stated right-wing extremists continued to pose the greatest threat to the country’s democracy. NGOs working to combat anti-Semitism cautioned the number of anti-Semitic attacks officially noted was likely misleading, because a significant number of cases may have been unreported.
The FOPC’s annual report stated the number of violent right-wing anti-Semitic incidents dropped from 56 in 2019 to 48 in 2020. The FOPC also identified 31 anti-Semitic incidents with a religious ideological motivation, including one violent incident and 36 with a foreign ideological motivation. Federal prosecutors brought charges against suspects and maintained permanent security measures around many synagogues.
In the year preceding March 17, the Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism registered anti-Semitic incidents at 324 separate demonstrations against restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, none of them violent. Incidents included positive references to Nazis, for example the use of anti-Semitic conspiracy myths, including the assertion that Jews were responsible for unleashing the corona virus.
In May the Research and Information Office on Anti-Semitism Bavaria reported 239 anti-Semitic incidents in 2020, an increase of 55 incidents over 2019. The incidents included one violent attack, 10 threats, 13 incidents of vandalism, 27 anti-Semitic mass mailings, and 188 cases of abusive behavior. Two weeks later, the Bavarian parliament passed a resolution against anti-Semitism. The resolution calls for better surveillance and screening of possible threats as well as physical protection measures for Jewish institutions and synagogues.
In December 2020 a court sentenced Stephen Balliet, the gunman who attacked a Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur in 2019 and killed two persons, to life imprisonment with subsequent preventative detention for murder, attempted murder, and incitement. The Saxony-Anhalt court cited Balliet’s lack of remorse and expressed desire to reoffend as reasons for issuing the maximum sentence. The President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany welcomed the verdict for its clear condemnation of anti-Semitism. Balliet had testified to being motivated by xenophobia and anti-Semitism in court, repeating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and calling Muslim refugees in the country “conquerors.”
In May protesters burned Israeli flags in front of synagogues in Muenster and Bonn. The Muenster synagogue was not damaged, and authorities charged 13 men with violating the law of assemblies. In Bonn individuals threw stones at the synagogue’s front door, and authorities filed charges against three suspects.
Also in May a police cordon stopped an unregistered anti-Israel demonstration with approximately 180 attendees waving Palestinian, Turkish, and Tunisian flags at the Gelsenkirchen synagogue. In a video of the demonstration, anti-Semitic chants like “Jews out” could be heard. Police arrested a German-Lebanese man, age 26, and further investigations continued as of December.
On May 15, 3,500 persons participated in an anti-Semitic demonstration in the Neukoelln district of Berlin. Demonstrators chanted anti-Semitic slogans and displayed signs equating Israel with the Nazis. According to media reports, participants included members of Turkish extremist organizations such as the “Grey Wolves,” left-wing extremist groups, as well as families. After police attempted to end the demonstration due to noncompliance with COVID-19 restrictions, some demonstrators turned violent, throwing bottles, stones, and burning objects at police and journalists covering the event. Police were only able to restore order after several hours. In the disturbances 93 police officers were injured, and authorities arrested 59 persons for battery, assaulting police officers, and other charges. As of December police investigations continued. The same day, also in Berlin, unknown persons vandalized the memorial stone marking the site of a destroyed synagogue in the Hohenschoenhausen neighborhood. Berlin mayor Michael Mueller condemned the demonstration as “unacceptable.”
On June 5, a man, age 45, attempted to set fire to an Ulm synagogue, resulting in minor damage to the building. The suspect, a Turkish citizen, fled to Turkey after the attack. According to Baden-Wuerttemberg authorities, the Turkish government refused to extradite him. Following the attack, the Baden-Wuerttemberg state parliament passed a resolution denouncing anti-Semitism.
In August a Jewish resident, age 18, wearing a kippa was insulted and severely beaten by a group of young persons while sitting in a Cologne public park. The victim was hospitalized with broken bones in his face. Police identified two attackers via video cameras and arrested them. Police suspected the attack was motived by anti-Semitism but as of December investigations were ongoing.
In September a Halle police officer was suspended for repeatedly corresponding with Stephan Balliet, who had attacked the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur 2019. The officer wrote Balliet at least 10 letters using a pseudonym and false address and was reported to have expressed sympathy for the attacker while minimizing his crimes in conversations with colleagues.
An attack in Hamburg on September 18 left a Jewish man, age 60, hospitalized with potentially lifelong injuries. According to Hamburg anti-Semitism commissioner Stefan Hensel, the perpetrator and his companions shouted, “free Palestine” and “f- Israel” at a pro-Israel vigil in central Hamburg. When the vigil participants asked them to stop, the attacker punched the Jewish man in the face and broke his nose and cheek bone. Hamburg police were searching for the unidentified assailant. Hamburg deputy mayor (equivalent to deputy governor) Katharina Fegebank strongly condemned the attack.
On October 8, a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier from Oberhausen, NRW, was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Liebermann (1852-1934) in the country’s largest Protestant cemetery, located in Stahnsdorf, near Berlin. The burial, during which Liebermann’s headstone was covered by a black cloth quoting the Bible verse “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” was attended by prominent neo-Nazis and Citizens of the Empire, according to media reports. The Protestant Church of Germany Berlin-Brandenburg was investigating how the request for the grave was approved, as well as possible consequences. Police were also investigating.
On August 23, Baden-Wuerttemberg interior minister Thomas Strobl officially inaugurated country’s first two police rabbis, Moshe Flomenmann from Loerrach and Shneur Trebnik from Ulm, to serve as counselors and contact persons for prospective and existing police officers as well as community members.
Many prominent government officials repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism throughout the year, including Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. In 2018 the federal government created the position federal commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism. Since then, 15 of 16 states have also established state-level commissioners to combat anti-Semitism. In the one state not to have instituted a commissioner, the Bremen Jewish community told the state government it was not necessary to introduce such a position, and that they deemed alternative tools to combat anti-Semitism to be more efficient. 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. A federal- and state-level Commission to Combat Anti-Semitism and Protect Jewish Life including all commissioners met twice a year to coordinate strategies.
In April, Hamburg launched a publicly funded independent reporting agency for anti-Semitism and other racist incidents.
In August the NRW state government established a reporting office for anti-Semitic assaults that do not rise to the level of criminal charges. The office was temporarily administered by the North Rhine State Association of Jewish Communities until a new organization could be established.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Federal and state laws require public authorities take measures to ensure persons with disabilities have equal access and treatment in education, health, public services, and transportation. These include the elimination of physical barriers in buildings and transportation; communication assistance; the elimination of barriers to applying for and accessing public services; the provision of public information in accessible formats; and ensuring access to the political process. These requirements were not always implemented. For example, most physicians’ offices often located in older buildings were not accessible to persons with disabilities, and there were too few health-care facilities able to address the specific health-care needs of persons with disabilities. Government information and communications were not always provided in accessible formats, especially at the local level.
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.
Persons with disabilities also faced hurdles in employment and housing. While discrimination based on a disability was illegal, the unemployment rate among persons of working age was much higher than in the general population. Not enough suitable employment opportunities were available for persons with disabilities, and despite requirements that private companies employ persons with disabilities, many chose to pay a fine instead of doing so. There was also a shortage of affordable, accessible, and barrier-free housing for persons with disabilities and older, privately owned residential and commercial buildings were often exempt from accessibility regulations.
An estimated 1.3 million adults were living under conservatorships in the country, many of them with a disability, whose rights were restricted to various degrees under conservatorship laws. In 2021, 85,000 persons with disabilities under conservatorship were permitted to vote in the federal elections for the first time, after the federal constitutional court ruled in 2019 that a ban on voting by persons with disabilities under was unconstitutional. In March the government extensively reformed conservatorship laws, effective 2023, to give persons under conservatorship more control over their own lives. NGOs such as the Institute for Human Rights stated that the reforms did not go far enough, for example because they still permitted involuntary medical treatment or sterilization in some cases.
State officials decide whether children with disabilities may attend mainstream or segregated schools. The law obliges all children to attend school, so those with disabilities do so at the same rate as children without disabilities. Approximately 43 percent of children with disabilities attended schools with their peers in public schools, while the remainder attended segregated schools, although inclusion levels varied significantly between the country’s different states. Somewhat more than half of the students with disabilities attending school with their peers successfully completed their secondary education, compared to more than one in four of those attending segregated schools.
According to FADA, many persons with disabilities believed they were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 measures, especially mask requirements, and were stigmatized as COVID-19 deniers when raising their concerns. The number of complaints to FADA by persons with disabilities tripled to 2,631 cases in 2020, 41 percent of the total, which declared more must be done to meet needs of the persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example by expanding outdoor retail or delivery options.
In March a Leipzig court convicted a Red Cross transportation service driver of the rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment of several children with disabilities and young adults whom he transported to education and care facilities. The court sentenced him to four years in prison.
Police in Wuerzburg arrested a speech therapist in March and charged him with the sexual abuse of children with disabilities under his treatment; a court convicted him of severe sexual abuse in May, sentencing him to 11 years in prison.
In April police arrested a caregiver at a Potsdam residential facility for persons with disabilities and charged her with killing three residents and wounding a fourth that same month. The trial continued as of November.
The NGO German AIDS Foundation and the NGO German AIDS Service Organization reported that societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS ranged from isolation and negative comments from acquaintances, family, and friends to bullying at work.
In September the NGO German AIDS Service Organization published a survey showing that that 56 percent of HIV-positive persons had experienced discrimination due to the HIV status in the previous year, with 16 percent being refused dental treatment and 8 percent experiencing such discrimination in health care. The impact of this discrimination was greater than that of the infection itself, respondents said.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists and community members complained of violent attacks and a growing atmosphere of hostility towards LGBTQI+ persons across the country, often directed at transgender individuals. Official crime statistics recorded 782 hate crimes against LGBTQI+ persons nationwide, 154 of which were violent and 144 of which involved battery. Community activists suspected true figures were much higher and counted three anti-LGBTQI+ killings in the country in 2020. The Berlin NGO Maneo identified 510 hostile incidents in Berlin alone in 2020, 119 of which involved battery or attempted battery.
On March 16, Frankfurt prosecutors charged with aggravated battery three individuals aged 16, 17, and 18 who had attacked a LGBTQI+ individual, age 20, in Frankfurt in November 2020 after he had spoken in a YouTube video regarding queer topics and hostility toward the LGBTQI+ community. They were expected to be tried in juvenile court.
On March 20, an unknown man attacked a trans woman in Frankfurt with verbal insults and several punches to her face, resulting in light injuries and hospitalization. Following the attack, trans rights activist Julia Monro praised the communications practices of Frankfurt police, especially for having explicitly named transphobia as the motive for the attack.
On May 21, the Dresden Higher Regional Court sentenced a Syrian refugee, age 20, and known Islamist to life imprisonment followed by a conditional security detention for attacking a gay couple in Dresden with a knife in October 2020, fatally injuring one of them. The state Ministry of the Interior and Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Saxony rejected a homophobic motive, focusing instead on the crime’s radical Islamist background. LGBTQI+ advocacy groups decried this as “unacceptable” and “disturbing.”
On June 24, the day of Berlin’s pride march, a group of unknown persons attacked a march participant from behind before punching him in the face; he required medical treatment for his injuries. Earlier that same evening, a group of persons punched and kicked three other marchers in a Berlin park while shouting anti-LGBTQI+ insults; all three were injured. Police arrested three suspects. The previous afternoon a man aged 18 assaulted a gay couple in the subway and the city’s plaque commemorating the gay liberation movement had been vandalized.
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Under the law offering, advertising, or arranging treatments to convert homosexual or transgender minors by means of “conversion therapy” is a crime punishable by up to a year in prison. Penalties are also possible if persons of legal age have been coerced to undergo such “therapy.”
LGBTQI+ activists criticized the law’s requirement that transgender persons obtain two assessments by independent experts to receive legal gender recognition (including a legal name change), as expensive, time consuming, subjective, and intrusive.
In July the Cologne District Court fined a Polish theology professor and priest for inciting hatred by calling homosexuals in the Roman Catholic church a “cancer” and “colony of parasites,” in a January church periodical article. The publication was also fined; both defendants appealed the decision.
A professor previously convicted of defamation of LGBTQI+ persons won his appeal on March 2. In August 2020 a Kassel district court had found Kassel University biology professor Ulrich Kutschera guilty of defamation and fined him. In a 2017 interview, Kutschera had alleged that sexual abuse of children was likelier to occur among same-sex parents and called same-sex couples “asexual erotic duos without reproduction potential.” Kutschera appealed his conviction to the Kassel State Court, which overturned the lower court’s decision, ruling that his statements were covered by constitutional free speech protections.
Between January and March, unknown suspects committed three attacks against a Frankfurt mosque. Twice the mosque door was defaced with swastikas, and once a perpetrator accessed the mosque and vandalized the location.
In April an unknown man broke the windows of the prayer room of a Hildesheim mosque and entered its courtyard before fleeing. Police arrested and charged a suspect, age 20.
In September unknown persons threw stones through six windows of what police called “a Muslim institution” in Zwickau, shattering them; media reports called the building a mosque, which had been the target of vandalism in the past. Police had not arrested a suspect at year’s end.
Media reported women who wore a hijab faced employment discrimination, and that discrimination was made easier by the customary practice of requiring photos as part of job applications. According to one March report by the ZDF national television network, a job seeker who wore a headscarf said that she had to submit 450 applications before she was offered an interview.