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Human Rights

Pressure mounts on Germany over rights abuses

According to a recent UN human rights report, Germany needs to improve its record on protecting asylum seekers, police transparency and women's rights at work. Experts and politicians now want the government to react.

Large sections of German society as well as various authorities have come in for considerable criticism in a recent report by the UN Human Rights Committee. The study said Germany needed to make improvements in the areas of treatment of asylum seekers, housing, police treatment of people in custody and women’s rights at work.

Human rights expert Ingrid Hönlinger from the German opposition party, The Greens, demands that the German government follow up on the points listed by the UN committee. "I think that the Federal Republic of Germany has to meet its obligations. After all, Germany is a member state of the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights,” Hönlinger said.

The list of recommendations includes suggestions to change the German Asylum Procedure Act in order to improve conditions for refugees in the country. Currently, refugees who come to Germay via a so-called “safe third country”, like Greece, are being sent back there.

Foto: Kay Nietfeld/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Refugees are currently demonstrating in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to raise awareness

The UN committee says asylum-seeking refugees who first entered another state before coming to Germany should have the same rights as refugees who come directly to Germany and apply for asylum.

Discrimination by landlords

The report continues by criticizing a provision in German anti-discrimination law. The clause says that landlords should consider the mixture of tenants in their region before taking on someone new.

Petra Follmar-Otto from the German Institute for Human Rights in Berlin says that landlords use this clause to reject migrants and members of ethnic minorities as tenants. "At the moment, the provison is worded in a way that makes it possible to misuse it", Follmar-Otto said. "That's why the the UN committee is asking Germany to change this law."

Portrait of Petra Follmar-Otto (Copyright: Institut für Menschenrechte)

Petra Follmar-Otto says German law is abused by landlords

Andreas Hieronymus, Director of the Institute for Migration and Racism research in Hamburg, has come across several examples of this kind of abuse of regulations.

"There are several cases which are currently pending before the courts”, he told DW. “People of migrant origin have been rejected by landlords with the argument that enough migrants were already living in a particular housing block."

Police abuse

The 18-member-body of UN experts also voiced concerns over the ill-treatment of people in custody by police and prison officers, although they made no exact figures available.

Verena Haan, Amnesty International’s expert on police and human rights, says more transparency is needed in this area. "It’s not right that Germany does not have any mandatory assessment of data on human rights abuses committed by police forces," she told DW.

The UN human rights committee suggests that police personnel across Germany should be identifiable by a number they carry on their uniforms. The report also suggests that independent complaints boards should be put in place, where people could report police abuses.

Women disadvantaged at work

Ingrid Hönlinger portrait photo

Ingrid Hönlinger says Germany needs to respond to the report

The UN experts also criticize the fact that women in Germany often earn considerably less money than men for doing the same jobs. The report demands that the country "firmly strengthen its efforts aimed at promoting women in leading positions in the private sector."

Ingrid Hönlinger agrees with the harsh criticizm by the UN experts on the issue. "Women only make up three percent of the management boards of Germany's 200 top companies," she said.

Women's academic degrees are generally equal or even better than those of their male counterparts, but they rarely manage to climb into top management positions, she added.

Four years to react

As yet, the German government has not yet given a formal answer to the UN committee’s comments. Neither the German Interior Ministry nor Foreign Ministry were willing to give DW a response to the criticism at the time of publication.

North African refugees stand outside their temporary accommodation in Chemnitz (Copyright: Hendrik Schmidt/lsn)

North African refugees in Germany are often sent back to the country where they first entered Europe

With the “to do” list from the current analysis, Germany now has four years in which to put the recommendations into practice before the next report is made. Every four years, the UN Human rights committee monitors member states to see whether the UN Covenant, which came into force in 1976, is really being put in practice.

The monitoring process is based on reports submitted by the states themselves, as well as on UN documents and information provided by independent organizations and NGOs.

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