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Discrimination report

June 16, 2010

Discriminating against someone because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin is illegal in Germany. But a new report says that laws alone are not going to solve the problem of racism and unequal treatment.

UN logo
The UN says Germany has room for improvementImage: picture-alliance / dpa / AP / Montage DW

The United Nations Human Rights Commission has said in a report released Wednesday that Germany is not doing enough to combat discrimination and racism.

The report, compiled by UN Special Rapporteur Githu Muigai, praises Germany for signing international conventions against intolerance and for having anti-discrimination laws. But he said these legal standards are not always being implemented at the ground level.

Petra Follmar-Otto, a researcher at the German Institute for Human Rights, said that one problem is that most Germans, and German law, tend to recognize only a narrow definition of racism.

"I think most people throughout Germany, throughout the population, but also politicians or the courts or the police, when you talk about racism, they have some pictures in their mind," Follmar-Otto said. "And those pictures show right wing extremists; skinheads who violently attack people with migration background or black people."

Follmar-Otto said this attitude can actually make it more difficult to prevent more everyday forms of discrimination - in housing, education or work.

"When you focus on those right wing extremists, you will focus your efforts very much on the perpetrators, and not on the victims," Follmar-Otto said. "You really have to look into how discrimination is functioning in systems, for example, in schools, in the education system."

Laws need better enforcement

German neo-nazi skinhead
Racism means more than skinheads, researchers sayImage: AP

The UN report also said that the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, which is in charge of mediating complaints about discrimination, is underfunded, understaffed and lacks the mandate to prosecute cases of ethnic and racial discrimination. It said the agency should take a more proactive role, and reach out to groups who face such unfair treatment.

"Without a robust mandate, the equal treatment provisions contained in national legislation will not have a concrete effect on the lives of those who are or could be victims of discrimination," the report said.

But some organizations who work with these groups say the German government has disappointed them before. Theodor Ratgeber with the Forum on Human Rights, a German umbrella group, told German radio that recommendations from the UN's previous report - which was on education in Germany - still had not been implemented.

"I'm speechless when I think of all that hasn't happened," Ratgeber said. "So the commissioner's special report is really a wake up call. I think they're exactly right in their assessment about racism in this country. I just hope the report will be properly heard in Germany."

Author: Stephanie Siek
Editor: Andrew Bowen