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Based on the experience with the atrocities of the Nazi regime, human rights in Germany are protected extensively by the constitution. The country has ratified most international human rights treaties. Reports from independent organizations such as Amnesty International certify a high level of compliance with human rights, while still pointing out several issues, in particular police brutality and mistreatment of refugees.



The constitution of Germany, the Grundgesetz, which came into effect in 1949, puts a particular emphasis on human rights. Its first sentence, "Human dignity is inviolable", is being interpreted as protecting the sum of human rights. This paragraph is protected by an "eternity clause" and cannot be changed. It has wide-ranging effects on judicial practice; for example, it has been used to justify the right on Informational self-determination in a 1983 finding of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany.

However, following experiences from the Weimar Republic, Germany sees itself as a wehrhafte Demokratie (defensive democracy); actions targeted towards removing the democratic order are not covered by human rights.

The constitution guarantees all rights from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which itself is not legally binding), with the exception of an unlimited right for asylum.

The ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights allows citizens to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Male citizens are required to do a military service of currently 9 months. At any time, conscientious objectors can opt to do Zivildienst (civilian service) instead. For the time of both services, many human rights such as freedom of movement are suspended. Due to lack of demand for soldiers, in current practice many citizens engage in neither service.


UN core treaties[1] Participation of Germany CoE core treaties[2] Participation of Germany
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Ratified in 1969 European Convention on Human Rights Ratified in 1952
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Ratified in 1973 Protocol 1 (ECHR) Ratified in 1957
First Optional Protocol (ICCPR) Accesion in 1993 Protocol 4 (ECHR) Ratified in 1968
Second Optional Protocol (ICCPR) Ratified in 1992 Protocol 6 (ECHR) Ratified in 1989
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Ratified in 1973 Protocol 7 (ECHR) Signed in 1985
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Ratified in 1985 Protocol 12 (ECHR) Signed in 2000
Optional Protocol (CEDAW) Ratified in 2002 Protocol 13 (ECHR) Ratified in 2004
United Nations Convention Against Torture Ratified in 1990 European Social Charter Ratified in 1965
Optional Protocol (CAT) Ratified in 2008 Additional Protocol of 1988 (ESC) Signed in 1988
Convention on the Rights of the Child Ratified in 1992 Additional Protocol of 1995 (ESC) Not signed
Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (CRC) Ratified in 2004 Revised European Social Charter Signed in 2007
Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC) Ratified in 2009 European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Ratified in 1990
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families Not signed European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages Ratified in 1998
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Ratified in 2009 Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities Ratified in 1997
Optional Protocol (CRPD) Ratified in 2009 Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings Signed in 2005

Germany is also a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. It recognizes the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.


The Amnesty International reports of 2005 and 2006 mainly criticize police brutality, mistreatment of refugees, and racist attacks.

The 2008 Freedom in the World report by US-funded Freedom House gives Germany a score of "1" (the best possible) for both political rights and civil liberties.




The death penalty is abolished. Remand must be ordered by a judge. Usually, a suspect cannot be detained for more than six months without a conviction. The courts may order that a person be detained indefinitely if he is convicted of particularly serious crimes and has completed his sentence but is judged, after expert testimony, to be a danger to the public (Sicherungsverwahrung).

The German citizen Khalid El-Masri was abducted by the CIA in 2005 and interred without trial for months, although innocent. German intelligence was informed early about this, but undertook nothing, which is currently subject to an intense political debate.

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the constitution. However, Volksverhetzung (incitement of the people) is a crime, defined as spreading hate against or insult against a part of the population. In 1994, a paragraph explicitly forbidding denial of Nazi crimes was added.

These practices were criticized by the United States Department of State report, but are generally accepted in Germany as part of the wehrhafte Demokratie (defensive democracy).

Freedom of Assembly

Open-air public rallies require (generally) prior announcement to the local authorities, but no permits. Local authorities can prohibit rallies only on grounds of public safety concerns or involvement of outlawed organizations. This has occasionally happened for Neo-Nazi rallies. This is seen as a problem by the U.S. Department of State report, but rarely draws criticism in Germany, except from Nazi supporters.

Freedom of Press

Freedom of press is generally very established in Germany; the 2006 Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders rates Germany at place 23 of 168 countries.

In 2005, minister of the interior Otto Schily authorized a raid of offices of the periodical Cicero, which was criticized as an attack on press freedom by part of the German press. The raid was based on a substantiated suspicion of leaking of state secrets. However, on February 27 2007, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that suspicion that a journalist is aiding the betrayal of state secrets is not sufficient to warrant a search, and thus the raid was illegal. The finding has been widely regarded as a strengthening of press freedom.[3]

A scandal regarding spying on journalists by the secret service Bundesnachrichtendienst, starting in May 2006, has not been cleared up yet.

Human trafficking

There has been a growing awareness of human trafficking as a human rights issue in Europe (see main article: trafficking in human beings). The end of communism and collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia has contributed to an increase in human trafficking, with the majority of victims being women forced into prostitution. [1] [2] Germany is a transit and destination country for persons, primarily women, trafficked mainly from Central and Eastern Europe and from Africa for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Russia alone accounted for one-quarter of the 1,235 identified victims reported in 2003, the latest year for which statistics are available. For the first time, Germany’s statistics included German nationals who numbered 127. [3] [4]

Police brutality

Amana, A.Ö., died in a hospital on 5 March after falling into a coma while in police custody in Hagen on 17 February where he had been bound face-down. The Office of the Public Prosecutor terminated its investigations and found that the force used by the police was proportionate, despite the fact that since 2000, police officers have been trained not to restrain a person face-down because of the danger of asphyxia.[4]

In December, the regional court of Dessau acquitted two police officers of killing Oury Jalloh as a result of negligence. Oury Jalloh had died in 2005 from heat shock caused by a fire in his cell while in police custody. In its oral reasons for the judgment, the court strongly criticized the testimonies of most of the police officers who were witnesses in the court case.[5]


Amnesty International and other organizations reported several incidents of mistreatment of refugees. Also, the practice of deporting asylum seekers to countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, where their safety is unclear, is widely criticized.


There are no reports on systematic use of torture in Germany. However, there were some related incidents.

In 2002, Frankfurt's police vice president Wolfgang Daschner ordered a subordinate officer to threaten the suspect of a kidnapping to use force in order to get information on the whereabouts of the abductee (the abductee was killed shortly after the kidnapping, but the suspect told the police that the child was still alive, and Daschner decided to break the law to save the child's life. Daschner himself wrote down an official note of his actions). This triggered an emotional debate over the legality of such measures. Daschner was convicted to the lowest possible penalty of a fine. Daschner and the subordinate officer remained in duty.

In a trial against terror suspect Mounir El Motassadeq, a court used evidence provided by US authorities, despite widespread evidence of torture in US detainment camps. The conviction was rejected in appeal due to lack of evidence. In January 2007 he was condemned for 15 years in detention.


Several extremist parties, such as the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and the communist platform of the Left Party, are under surveillance from the Verfassungsschutz ("Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution"). The use of police informers has sometimes been criticized as excessive. A trial against the NPD was aborted, because it became apparent that many actions of the NPD were actually controlled by the Verfassungsschutz. In addition to extremist parties, the German Government placed the Church of Scientology and its members in Germany under surveillance by the Verfassungsschutz since 1997 for the alleged goal of abolishing the order based on the German Grundgesetz. See also: Scientology in Germany.

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