Three German border guards on Monday received suspended sentences of nine months in jail for their involvement in the death of a Sudanese refugee who died while being deported in 1999.
The conduct of Germany's border guards is once again under scrutiny
The Federal Border Police (BGS) officers were charged with careless homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment.The court stayed below the prosecution's request of a suspended sentence of one year.
The three men were accused of using excessive force in the deportation of an asylum seeker who later died by suffocation five years ago.
The incident took place on May 28, 1999, when Aamir Ageeb, 30, was being taken to a Lufthansa airplane by border guards before being deported back to his home country of Sudan. The prosecution claimed that Ageeb was restrained in his seat with numerous plastic chains and rope to such an extent that he was struggling for air.
The court heard from the prosecution that when Ageeb began to struggle and protest, the guards then put a motorcycle helmet on his head in an attempt to prevent the Sudanese from biting them. The resulting actions, it is claimed, led to Ageeb suffocating to death.
The central crux of the case had been whether the border guards knew that the force they were exerting could have been deadly. The German refugee organization Pro Asyl has maintained throughout the trial that the procedure practiced by US guards to restrain prisoners had been adopted by the German Border Police and that they should have known safe methods of restraint. By attaching numerous restraining devices to Ageeb while he was in a certain position may have led to the breathing problems which caused his death.
Since 1991, there have been 15 cases of people dying during deportations from European nations and human rights organizations have documented evidence of dozens more cases of maltreatment. However, regardless of the outcome of the trial in Frankfurt, there should at least be no future cases like the Ageeb process in Germany.
Schily's reforms should protect detainees
Interior minister Otto Schily has brought into effect new measures that should protect those being deported from Germany. The new code specifies the use of a high tech straightjacket and a stringently tested safety helmet which protects the border guards from being bitten and provides the deportee with adequate breathing space. Above all, Schily has done much to make deportation a last resort and when no other options remain, the deportee will only be accompanied by guards which have graduated from special training courses.
Ageeb’s death generated heated discussions concerning the regulations associated with the so-called “return of rejected asylum-seekers.” Schily faced heavy criticism after his decision to suspend all deportations with a possibility of violent resistance on the part of the deportee.
Savage report accuses BGS of brutality
The Ageeb case was the straw which broke the camel's back for Germany's federal border protection police. While the case was coming to court, a Council of Europe report accused them of brutality and unnecessary violence while arresting and deporting illegal foreigners.
The 2003 report said that BGS officers were often excessively brutal while clamping down on illegal foreigners and asylum-seekers.
The Council’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture illustrated its findings with reported cases of violence on the part of German officers. It told, in one of the worst instances, of a Nigerian woman who was shackled to a wooden bench before being deported from Berlin.
The border guards involved were reported to have carried the woman on the bench onto the aircraft. Once on board, a BGS officer is said to have pressed a finger against the woman’s nose and the back of her head to break her resistance, a “common practice” according to BGS sources at the time.
Beatings, kickings and shootings alleged
Deportation of foreigners at Munich Airport
The report added that the officers were forced to take the woman off the plane again, when the captain refused to take-off with the woman on board under such circumstances. Following that, the report describes the officers as beating the woman with a truncheon while she was still handcuffed to get her into a waiting van.
The report followed a 12-day trip by a visiting delegation of 13 doctors and legal, human rights and prison experts, who inspected German police stations, prisons, airport detention facilities and closed psychiatric clinics in December 2000.
The delegation determined that both the police and the BGS officers were unnecessarily violent when they deported foreigners or made arrests. Prison inmates informed the delegation that they had been beaten, kicked and even shot at when arrested -- this in spite of them putting up no resistance.
European document prompted changes The German government responded to the 83-page report in 2003 with their own 66-page document. It acknowledged the criticism and the recommendations and said it would work to remedy the problems.