Germany and Italy criticized for rights abuses | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 25.01.2013
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Germany and Italy criticized for rights abuses

The European Court of Human Rights has held its annual press conference, giving a review over the last 12 months. Russia had the most abuse charges, but other nations like Germany and Italy also faced criticism.

"Oftentimes our first impression is that human rights violations only take place elsewhere in the world, in Africa, Asia or Latin America." But they're happening here in Germany too, says Wolfgang Grenz, head of Amnesty International Germany. In many cases the severity and intensity of the violations vary, of course, he says, but still we mustn't think they don't happen here.

Police violence

One of the important points observed by Amnesty in Germany is the abuse of people by police.

"We've seen cases in which police violence wasn't able to be clarified. For starters, the accused officers couldn't be identified. The second problem is the lack of independent investigations."

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Amnesty is calling for a system of identification by which officers can be better monitored. "We're not talking about name tags or anything like that - we do have the protection of officers in mind. But there has to be a way for officers to be identified so we can clarify allegations of police violence," he said.

Several cases exist in which there is photographic evidence that victims were beaten. However, it wasn't possible to identify which officer was responsible.

Hugh Williamson, head of Human Rights Watch for Europe and Central Asia, is also concerned by the lack of police sensitivity with regard to racist attacks in Germany. "Attacks against ethnic minorities aren't taken seriously enough," he told DW, adding that some police themselves discriminated against minorities.

"The German police has to be trained in anti-discrimination practices - both officers and judges, for that matter," said Williamson.

Policemen in Frankfurt airport

Many of the complaints made in Germany were brought against the federal police

Deportations in Italy

Human Rights Watch also criticized Germany's neighbor Italy - above all for the government's treatment of illegal migrants and asylum seekers. "Thousands of refugees make their way to Italy from Greece every year, many via the Mediterranean on unsafe boats or via land hidden underneath trucks."

And they are sent straight back, says Williamson, although Italian authorities know precisely that these people cannot expect a fair asylum process in Greece.

"The refugees in Greece are deprived of basic human rights; they are treated inhumanely, locked in rooms that don't have enough space," Williamson noted.

Italy's "reckless treatment" of refugees has also been criticized by Barbara Lochbihler, head of the European Parliament's human rights commission.

Asylum seekers in Naples

Human Rights Watch has criticized Italy's handling of refugees from Greece

Discrimination against Sinti and Roma

In an interview with DW, Lochbihler also pointed to Italy's handling of Sinti and Roma, criticizing "explicitly racist statements made against Roma" under former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's administration.

"One of [his] ministers said outright that Roma should be 'hunted down', and there were TV programs that broadcast forced evictions of entire Roma communities." According to Amnesty International's Marie von Möllendorf, who also monitors the situation in Italy, the situation hasn't improved since Berlusconi's resignation.

Möllendorf points out that it's not only the Roma and Sinti who face persecution; on the whole, "little is done" to prevent hate crimes in the country.

Violence against homosexuals and transsexuals is barely even noticed, she told DW. "There are no independent investigations into police violence and little to no penalties for officers who break the law."

Even in the country's legal ground rules for penalizing criminal acts committed by officers, much is lacking. Torture, for instance, has yet to make it into the Italian penal code.

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