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German government approves draft law against hate crimes

Germany's government has approved draft legislation that aims to crack down on crimes with racist motivations. The measure comes in response to law enforcement's failure to stop a neo-Nazi murder spree.

The German Cabinet on Wednesday empowered the federal prosecutor's office to investigate crimes with racist motivations, in an effort to draw lessons from the failure to break up a cell of neo-Nazi militants, called the National Socialist Underground (NSU).

Currently, the federal prosecutor's office can take the lead in investigating murder, hostage, and arson cases only when Germany's internal security has been threatened.

Drafted by Justice Minister Heiko Maas, the bill would also empower the courts to take racist motivations into greater consideration when sentencing suspected perpetrators.

From 2000-2007, NSU militants went on a nationwide killing spree, murdering nine people of Turkish and Greek ethnic background. They also killed a female police officer.

Two of the alleged perpetrators, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, committed suicide. The third, Beate Zschäpe, is currently on trial. All are pictured above.

'Unclear jurisdiction'

Authorities failed to uncover the neo-Nazi cell, sometimes assuming that the victims' had been involved in criminal activities. Critics have said that the case highlights institutional prejudices in Germany against people with migrant backgrounds.

A parliamentary inquiry into to the murders found that a bureaucratic morass - among other problems - had made it difficult for law enforcement to uncover the NSU. Authorities across multiple states were involved in the murder investigations without a clear centralized leadership.

"The unspeakable suffering that the NSU perpetrated cannot be made good again," Justice Minister Maas said.

"We have the responsibility to do everything that we can so that these crimes aren't repeated," he continued. "Perpetrators must not be allowed to profit again from unclear jurisdiction."

'Symbolic legislation'

But according to the German Lawyers' Association (DAV), racist motivations behind crimes can already be taken into consideration by courts during sentencing.

"This is symbolic legislation of a superfluous kind," said DAV chief Dr. Stefan König about the draft bill approved by the Cabinet.

In a statement posted on its website, the DAV said that the problem isn't German law, but instead the internal culture among those tasked with investigating racially motivated crimes.

"The DAV Institute against right-wing extremism and violence regularly finds that leads are not pursued due to apathy, a lack of sensitivity, and insufficient empathy," the organization wrote.

slk/hc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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