UN expert sees ‘systemic failures’ in Germany’s handling of police violence

UN human rights expert, Nils Melzer, claims that the German authorities are systematically failing to record and punish police violence.

Police officers guard several demonstrations on Domplatz square in the Berlin.
Police officers guard several demonstrations on Domplatz square in the Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Peter Gercke

The outgoing UN Special Reporter on Torture, Nils Melzer, has criticised Germany’s handling of the issue of police violence.

In his former role at the UN, Melzer was in charge of monitoring compliance with the ban on ill-treatment and torture in UN member states.

Last year, he received hundreds of reports about violent incidents involving German police officers during demonstrations against the Covid measures in Berlin.

READ ALSO: German police under fire for using tracing app to find witnesses

After watching several videos that appeared to show police brutality against the Berlin demonstrations, Melzer said that he approached the German government for comment and found their reaction “alarming.”

According to the federal government, he said, it was proportionate for police officers to, for example, push a non-aggressive demonstrator off his bicycle and throw him to the ground.

“The authorities’ perception of what is proportionate is skewed,” Melzer said.

Having requested statistics from the federal government on prosecutions of police officers, Melzer discovered that, in two years, only one officer had been prosecuted for using disproportionate force, while in several states there were no statistics at all.

“That’s not a sign of good behaviour, it’s a sign of system failure,” Melzer said. “The authorities don’t even see how blind they are.”

READ ALSO: Transphobic attacks in Germany likely to be under-recorded

He also pointed out the disparity between the punishment of demonstrators and police; while many demonstrators had been tried in summary proceedings, most cases against police officers were dropped or dragged out “until no one is looking anymore.”

He concluded that “police surveillance doesn’t work in Germany” and warned that arrogance “destroys citizens’ trust in the police.”

Melzer sent his final assessment to the German government on March 28th and it is expected to be published in full by the UN Office for Human Rights in June.

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German police foil teenage school ‘Nazi attack’

German investigators said Thursday they foiled a school bomb attack, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a "Nazi terror attack".

German police foil teenage school 'Nazi attack'

“The police prevented a nightmare,” said Herbert Reul, interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state.

Police in the city of Essen had stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

Some of the pipe bombs found contained nails, but officers did not find any detonators, Reul said.

There are “indications suggesting the young man has serious psychiatric problems and suicidal thoughts,” said Reul.

Material found so far in the suspect’s room include his own writing which constituted “a call for urgent help by a desperate young man.”

The suspect was allegedly planning to target his current school or another where he studied previously.

“All democrats have a common task to fight against racism, brutalisation and hate,” said NRW’s deputy premier Joachim Stamp, as he thanked police for “preventing a suspected Nazi terror attack”.

The suspect is being questioned while investigators continue to comb his home for evidence.

Investigators believe that he was acting alone.

They had been tipped off by another teen who informed them that the young man “wanted to place bombs in his school”, located about 800 metres from his home.

The school, as well as another institution, were closed on Thursday as investigators undertook fingertip searches as the locations to ensure that no bombs had been placed on site.

‘Neo-Nazi networks’ 

Germany has been rocked by several far-right assaults in recent years, sparking accusations that the government was not doing enough to stamp out neo-Nazi violence.

In February 2020 a far-right extremist shot dead 10 people and wounded five others in the central German city of Hanau.

Large amounts of material championing conspiracy theories and far-right ideology were subsequently found in the gunman’s apartment.

And in 2019, two people were killed after a neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

Germany’s centre-left-led government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office in December pledging a decisive fight against far-right militants and investigators in April carried out country-wide raids against “neo-Nazi networks”, arresting four suspects.

The suspects targeted in the raids were believed to belong to the far-right martial arts group Knockout 51, the banned Combat 18 group named after theorder in the alphabet of Adolf Hitler’s initials, US-based Atomwaffen (Atomic) Division or the online propaganda group Sonderkommando 1418.

German authorities were also battling to clean extremists from within their ranks. Last year, the state of Hesse said it was dissolving Frankfurt’s elite police force after several officers were accused of participating in far-right online chats and swapping neo-Nazi symbols.