German authorities should step up efforts to tackle rising hate crime, an independent government report recommended this week. There were 10,373 hate crimes in Germany in 2015, according to official data, a leap of 77 percent from 2014. The report is by the German Institute for Human Rights, the country’s independent national human rights body.
The report is important not only for its findings but for its genesis. It was commissioned and paid for by the German government itself, as part of the government’s role as this year’s chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The report assesses Germany’s performance in meeting a range of human rights standards that apply to all the OSCE’s 57 members.
Unlike the United Nations, the OSCE has no mechanism for monitoring human rights in its member countries, which includes Europe, the US and Canada, and countries of the former Soviet Union. This is a major problem in a region where serious human rights violations and restrictions on basic freedoms are common. For this reason, Germany’s decision to commission this study – a voluntary monitoring of its own human rights performance – is welcome. The German Institute for Human Rights decided on the report’s focus. Both the government and civil society organizations (including Human Rights Watch) made submissions.
The report defines hate crimes as those “motivated by group-based bias.” It criticizes the police and judiciary for their handling of the investigations into at least 10 murders between 2000 and 2007 by the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground (NSU). It says there are clear “deficiencies” in the way hate crime legislation is applied, “especially when dealing with those affected by hate crimes.” Germany needs to better train police and the judiciary on protecting victims. More comprehensive data is needed on the alleged perpetrators of hate crimes, including on the numbers of cases prosecuted and rulings passed. The state should also do more to involve civil society in combatting hate crimes, the report says.
Germany should take extra steps to tackle sexual violence and domestic violence, and to prevent human trafficking, especially of children, it states.
Germany is the third OSCE chair to commission a self-evaluation. Switzerland led the way in 2014 followed by Serbia in 2015. Switzerland says its report has led to government steps to improve human rights, for instance by better training Swiss diplomats on human trafficking.
Germany’s self-evaluation is an important signal to other OSCE members that the organization’s human rights standards are a vital part of its approach to protecting security in the region It’s now up to Germany to take the next step and act on the report’s recommendations, putting into practice this human rights commitment.