Germany: Human Rights Issues You Should Care About

There are human rights violations all over the world, yet we often forget those that occur at our own doorstep. Although it would be impossible to cover all issues in Germany, here are some striking examples.

Refugees and asylum

Refugees and asylum policies form an issue that has received a lot of attention and is widely discussed. How can it be possible that very often the only way for refugees to get access to their right to asylum is for them to risk their lives on a perilous and illegal journey? How can it be possible that the authorities in Germany take more time to process applications for asylum than those of any other European country? How can it be possible that municipalities in Germany are not capable of providing sufficient shelter for refugees? How can it be possible that over and over again we hear about cases of refugees being severely abused by police or private security employees? And how can it be possible that access to medical care is made so difficult for refugees and asylum seekers, almost leading to a child’s death?

Data protection and freedom of information

Most people are very careless with their private data on the Internet. Are they aware of the importance and of possible issues for their private sphere? What exactly does the right to privacy mean in the digital age? And what are the consequences for Germany? Who is surveilling communications in Germany, for which reasons and to what extent? How much surveillance is necessary, and how much cooperation should there be between secret services? Will the Bundestag's parliamentary investigation committee on the NSA be able to clear up the extent and the background of surveillance activities through foreign secret services in Germany? Is the intended enhancement of the powers of Germany's foreign intelligence service (BND) the right answer?

Racism and discrimination

Another important issue in Germany is racism and discrimination. How is it possible that a right-wing terrorist group has been able to commit murders for several years without being detected by the security agencies? A parliamentary investigation committee of the Bundestag has published a list of recommendations in reaction to this case, which is a great start, but who will make sure they will be put into practice?

And how can it be possible that a scientist with German and Indian parents is the only person to be repeatedly subjected to police controls in his train compartment when he commutes to work like so many other people? Why is racial profiling a common reality here? When will Germany outlaw it, following the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination?

Human Rights and the law

With all these questions in mind, it is important to remember that Germany has committed itself to the respect and protection of human rights. When these rights are violated, the victims do have a legal claim in Germany. German fundamental rights (Grundrechte) and the Constitution (Grundgesetz) naturally play an important role here. But beyond this level, Germany has further human rights obligations.

Most people know about the European Convention on Human Rights. The United Nations treaties on human rights are not as well known, even though they are just as legally binding. For instance, there is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

All of these treaties are legally binding in Germany and—just as the European Convention on Human Rights—they have to be considered when German law or even the Constitution is interpreted. There is a lot to do—and a lot of stories are waiting to be told.