Germany is set to defend its human rights record in front of the UN in Geneva. Activists have heaped criticism on Berlin's treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers.
Representatives from nearly 100 states are getting ready to question Germany on Thursday (25.04.2013) in Geneva. Like all other UN member states, every four years Germany has to report to the Human Rights Council at the United Nations about its own human rights situation.
According to Rolando Gomez, spokesman of the Human Rights Council, this process of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) doesn't result in a list of "good" and "bad" states.
"There may be notorious violators of human rights among these states, to which the Council should possibly pay more attention than to others," Gomez said. "But the review process should not be regarded as something that can be used as a chance to denounce other states."
Instead, it's supposed to be a process in which states scrutinize each other and, in the end, hand out recommendations rather than grades, he added.
If it were to be left to the governments alone to give account of their own human rights record, there would be a risk that problems would be played down. Human rights organizations also contribute important information for a so-called "parallel report." The parallel report for Germany received input from the Berlin-based Forum for Human Rights, a network of more than 50 German NGOs.
Problems with migrants and asylum seekers
The group was critical of Germany's approach to asylum issues and migration, according to the network's representative in Geneva, Theodor Rathgeber.
"A lot of misery is being created, for instance when families are torn apart due to deportation, even when existing laws allow a different decision," Rathgeber said.
While the German government lists the measures it has taken to protect refugees, the NGOs specifically addressed the problems and demanded that the government be more lenient, for instance when dealing with refugees from Syria.
But it's not just the written report which has an influence on how a state is judged in the UPR process. How a state presents itself is also important. During the first proceedings in 2009, Germany presented a report that many criticized as too defensive. But Germany scored points by sending two junior ministers to Geneva who demonstrated a good degree of self-criticism during the presentation of the report.
This time, the German delegation will be led by the federal human rights commissioner, Markus Löning. The government report has also received unanimous praise, as it openly addresses difficult topics, such as the series of murders carried out by the right-wing National Socialist Underground terror group.
Back to square one?
The most decisive test of German credibility will be, however, when the delegation shows how the German government has dealt with the recommendations it accepted in 2009.
Human rights organizations were critical.
"It really isn't about simply accepting the lot," said Beate Rudolf, the director of the German Institute for Human Rights in Berlin. "There are recommendations that are problematic, but one needs to confront them and take a position, while, in return, accepting those recommendations that have already been issued by other human rights bodies."
For example, the government has rejected a recommendation that would increase the rights of migrants, including those without legal residence status.
Amnesty International said it was not happy with Germany's implementation of the 2009 UPR recommendations. According to Peter Splinter, the organization's representative in Geneva, it's not enough just to get the hearing behind you, go away for four years, and then start again from scratch.
"I think Germany needs to do better in respect of a public national discussion of the UPR findings," he said.
It's not only a matter of passing laws and setting up action plans, Splinter said one has to "communicate about implementation with all groups in society and all levels of government."
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