Human Rights Watch faults German response to far right

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Human Rights Watch said German police need to step up their response to hate crimes, in a report released Friday as the country grapples with the fallout from a decade-long neo-Nazi murder spree.

The New York-based pressure group said it found German authorities ill-equipped to deal with racist, homophobic and other hate violence, despite frequent attacks across the country.

HRW's deputy Europe and Central Asia director, Benjamin Ward, said revelations last month that a neo-Nazi gang was believed to be behind the unsolved murders of 10 people, mainly shopkeepers of Turkish origin, exposed a blind spot in the criminal justice system.

"These shocking murders underscore the need for a more holistic approach to tackling hate violence in Germany, especially when suspects have no apparent ties to organised far-right groups," Ward said.

"Better police training to identify and pursue these kinds of crimes is crucial."

Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the killings a "disgrace" for Germany and acknowledged gross errors in the course of the investigation.

The report is based on field research in six of Germany's 16 states between December 2009 and September 2010 on the response to attacks against minorities.

It cited official statistics showing 467 violent hate crimes had been recorded by police last year but noted that victim support groups say the number is far higher.

"One concern is that Germany treats hate crimes as a subcategory of politically motivated violence," it said.

"In practice, this means that in cases in which a suspected attacker has no connection to organised right-wing groups or obvious ideological motivation, the attack risks being treated by the police as an ordinary crime."

It said that while police may intervene to protect victims in an attack, they often fail to follow through with an investigation against the perpetrators, thus discouraging victims from filing complaints.

HRW recommended assigning dedicated police liaison officers with minority communities and victim support groups, citing a programme in Berlin as a model, and improving outreach on the outcome of investigations and trials.

© 2011 AFP

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