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 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.