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Demonstrators mark the anniversary of a far-right extremist attack on February 19, 2020 in Hanau, Germany, that killed nine persons of predominantly Muslim background, February 17, 2024. © 2024 Hasan Bratic, picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

(Berlin, April 30, 2024) – The German government is falling short in protecting Muslims and people perceived to be Muslims from racism amid rising incidents of hate and discrimination, Human Rights Watch said today. The absence of a working definition of anti-Muslim racism and a lack of official data on incidents and of investment in institutional support for victims are among the impediments to an effective response.

“The German government’s failings in protecting Muslims from hatred and discrimination start with a lack of understanding that Muslims experience racism and not simply faith-based hostility,” said Almaz Teffera, researcher on racism in Europe at Human Rights Watch. “Without a clear understanding of anti-Muslim hate and discrimination in Germany and strong data on incidents and community outreach, a response by the German authorities will be ineffective.”

By end of September 2023, the government’s preliminary hate crime statistics for the year had counted 686 “anti-Islamic” crimes, surpassing the 610 recorded for all of 2022. In mid-January 2024, the Interior Ministry told Human Rights Watch that it could not yet provide any data for the period between October and December. But German civil society groups have warned of a rise in anti-Muslim incidents since October, following the outbreak of hostilities in Israel-Palestine.

On November 30, Reem Alabali-Radovan, Germany’s federal commissioner for anti-racism, added her voice to a first of its kind EU-wide expression of concern about the increase in incidents. This is a positive step, underscoring the work needed to improve protections for Muslims in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, Human Rights Watch said.

Rima Hanano, head of the Alliance Against Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate (CLAIM), a German network of nongovernmental organizations, told Human Rights Watch that 2023 marked a frighteningly new high for anti-Muslim incidents. In November, the Alliance documented an average of three anti-Muslim incidents a day. In one case, a man perceived to be Muslim was called a “terrorist” when exiting a public bus, assaulted, and hospitalized for his injuries.

While civil society groups like CLAIM collect data on such incidents, the German government has yet to develop an infrastructure for countrywide monitoring and data collection, based on clear indicators that would equip authorities with the necessary knowledge and tools to tackle the problem.

Since 2017, the German government’s hate crime system has classified hate incidents against Muslims and people perceived to be Muslims under the rubric of “anti-Islamic” motives. This classification considers prejudice to be based on their religious identities, dissociated from hostility based on their ethnic identities, Human Rights Watch said.

A government-commissioned three-year study (“Bericht des Unabhängigen Expert*innenkreis Muslimfeindlichkeit”) on the state of anti-Muslim hostility in Germany, published in June 2023, recognized that anti-Muslim sentiments are widespread in Germany, recommending that the German government should no longer dissociate anti-Muslim hate from racism but recognize their connection. To the dismay of an author of the study, the Interior Ministry has neither engaged with the experts who produced the report nor carried out their recommendations. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said she did not agree with everything in the report.

In a written response to a letter sent by Human Rights Watch in mid-December inquiring about the government response to the rise in anti-Muslim and antisemitic hate, the Interior Ministry referred to the study, vaguely acknowledging that a racial lens was missing from the category of anti-Islamic crimes. However, the ministry did not elaborate on how it intended to revise its approach. Any focus on anti-Muslim hate and discrimination that fails to include racism or acknowledge the intersectional nature of such hostility will be unable to capture the full picture or inform effective policy responses, Human Rights Watch said.

In 2017, 1 out of 10 people interviewed for the second survey on anti-Muslim discrimination by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in 15 EU member states, including Germany, said that they had reported the most recent anti-Muslim incident against them. Those that did not report felt that “nothing would happen or change by reporting it.” Of those who did report incidents, 81 percent said they felt “somewhat dissatisfied with the way police handled the matter.”

Anti-Muslim violence in Germany, which has one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, is neither a new phenomenon nor has it grown in a vacuum. In 2020, a far-right extremist and racist attack in Hanau, a German town, killed nine people predominantly of Muslim background: Ferhat Unvar, Hamza Kurtović, Said Nesar Hashemi, Vili Viorel Păun, Mercedes Kierpacz, Kaloyan Velkov, Fatih Saraçoğlu, Sedat Gürbüz and Gökhan Gültekin. Then-interior minister Horst Seehofer labelled it an “unequivocal racist attack.”

The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) stressed in its Policy Recommendation No. 5 on preventing and combating anti-Muslim racism and discrimination the need for independent monitoring structures and robust capacity-building by authorities to combat anti-Muslim racism and strengthen recognition and recording of such incidents.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination obliges the German government to protect Muslim communities. In its 2023 review of Germany’s compliance, the Committee that monitors compliance with the convention reminded Germany of its duty to effectively investigate, prosecute, and punish all racist hate incidents.

“Muslim communities in Germany aren’t a monolithic religious group but rather a group with a diversity of ethnicities that experiences hatred and discrimination that cannot be reduced to their faith,” Teffera said. “Germany should invest in protecting Muslims and all other minority communities in Germany because it is an investment in protecting all of German society.”

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