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Lawyer: 'Murders could have been prevented'

Relatives of NSU victims criticized the official version of what went wrong investigating the far-right terror cell. Institutional racism - not individual mistakes - are the problem, says lawyer Sebastian Scharmer.

DW: The parliamentary inquiry commission looking into the investigation into the NSU neo-Nazi murders has compiled its final report. Why do you and other victims' lawyers criticize the report?

Sebastian Scharmer: First of all you'd have to applaud the commission for trying to bring about a conclusive report. In the limited time of one-and-a-half years and after talking to 90 witnesses and some experts on the issue, of course, they didn't fully succeed. But you'd have to respect that they did put in a lot of effort - also in the face of some authorities that were not very willing to cooperate. It is even more surprising that the overall result, the evaluation and the conclusions, are not convincing: They failed to see the essential problem - institutional racism.

Can you elaborate on that?

Institutional racism is when irrespective of the personal opinions of individual policemen, there's an inner logic of norms and values which led to a racist slant in the inquiries into the NSU murders. It is not the fault of individual prosecutors, rather it's a structural problem.

What are the most important indications for this? The investigation had focused on the Turkish or Greek context of the victims' families but probably no policemen said they had prejudices against foreigners?

Indeed, no one said this. We have had many of the policemen in the trial in Munich [where the only surviving member of the NSU cell is on trial]. No one has apologized over how for years, the investigations went in the wrong direction. The main prosecutor, for instance, said in Munich that you couldn't pretend that there wasn't a Turkish drugs mafia and that it was only normal that they'd been investigating organized crime. That's been based on the assumption that a "foreigner" would have to have been killed also by "foreigners." There actually were investigations all the way to Turkey.

Take the Dortmund example. All cigarette packages in the little corner shop run by Mehmet Kubasik, my client's father, had been checked as to whether they'd been properly taxed - which of course they were. Then there was "evidence" pointing to organized crime - the fact hat the owner of the shop had cash in his wallet. Police dogs were used to search the neighborhood around his house for drugs although there had been no evidence whatsoever linking the victim to drugs. But it was just assumed that a murdered man from Turkey had to have something to do with drugs. But no one saw a possible right-wing background to the killing in Dortmund.

Were there indicators that the situation was not being taken seriously enough?

There were a number of pointers. At a number of the crime sites, we had witnesses who saw cyclists who they believed to be connected to the crime. That should have been a point where the investigators should have listened up and should have looked into the tip. The cyclists were clearly described by several witnesses as not bring southern European.

What are the most important demands of the families of the victims?

There's no point in assuming there were simply mistakes made by individuals or in starting up a day of protest without proper planning - like this neo-Nazi data base that the authorities have launched. You have to see the cause and that's the institutional racism that's an everyday occurrence within the authorities. That's not only a problem in Germany. But you have to be clear about this: Murders could have been prevented.

What we want is that the parliamentary committee will continue with its work. We also want a change in the structures of police and state prosecutors and want to make sure that in future any violent crime would require an explicit note in its files if there is no chance the crime has racist or neo-Nazi motives. In cases where this cannot be done, police officers with knowledge of right-wing practices should be involved in the investigation. The same goes for the state prosecutors.

Another important point is that there should be more police officers with immigrant backgrounds; also in higher positions We're calling for a quota here. We are also calling for changes to the system of paid insider informants used by Germany's internal security agencies. After our experiences in Munich, we have seen that the system have helped far-right developments more than it has hindered them.

We also want to see special contact offices for whistleblowers or people who experience institutional racism.

Sebastian Scharmer is a lawyer representing Gamze Kubasik at the Munich NSU murder trial. Her father Mehmet Kubasik was shot dead in 2006 in his corner shop in Dortmund. He is believed to have been the eight victim of NSU neo-Nazi terror cell.

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