July 10, 2009
Human Rights Group Responds to Hate Crime Murder in Germany
Human Rights First expresses deep concern at the stabbing of a Marwa El Sherbiny, who was suing her attacker after he insulted her for wearing the Islamic headscarf. "We hope that the investigation into this shameful crime will shed light on the particularly distressing circumstances that surround this case. In a tragic twist of fate, the attack occurred in a court room, a place that should bring justice to victims of racism - and not set the stage for new racist hate crimes to be committed", said Tad Stahnke, Director of Policy and Programs at Human Rights First. Human Rights First calls on the German authorities to speak out forcefully against all violent hate crimes, including targeted violence against Muslims, and to examine shortcomings in its existing monitoring and reporting systems as well as its legal framework for addressing such crimes. It should also examine ways to strengthen communications between law enforcement and affected communities in order to address threats of violence. El Sherbiny's murder has understandably aroused anger in Germany and in her native Egypt, as well as elsewhere. Government authorities have an obligation to protect the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression, and should also ensure that their actions in these circumstances seek to combat hatred, intolerance and xenophobia. Violent hate crimes against Muslims and those thought to be Muslims have been occurring at worrying rates in many parts of Europe and North America, yet few European governments have the tools to address them adequately. The Criminal Code of Germany, for example, still lacks general provisions that expressly enable the racist or other bias motives of the offender to be taken into account by the courts as an aggravating circumstance when sentencing. Human Rights First's reporting, including our Hate Crime Survey and Report Card on Germany, has found that violent hate crimes in Germany have been on the rise. Between 2003 and 2006, official figures for right-wing violent crimes increased steadily from 759 in 2003 to 1,047 in 2006, only decreasing slightly in 2007 (980), and once again rising to 1,042 in 2008. Germany's annual report on extremism showed that a record number of right-wing politically motivated crimes were committed in 2008. The murderer of Marwa El Sherbiny, identified by media sources as Alex W., a Russian-born German citizen, has reportedly claimed his support to the National Democratic Party of Germany, a right-wing neo-Nazi organization. In recent years, right-wing extremism has become openly aggressive, manifested by personal assaults in the streets and systematic attacks on immigrant-run businesses. Victims of xenophobic violence have often been foreign nationals, like El Sherbiny, or those perceived to be "non-Germans." Members of the large population of Turkish origin, both German citizens and non-nationals, faced harassment and violence in many parts of the country. People of African and South Asian origin have also been among targets of persistent and sometimes extreme violence. Foreign-owned shops have been targeted for vandalism and arson; members of minorities have been attacked in the street or at public events such as town festivals and on public transportation. Such crimes are not evenly distributed across Germany, occurring far more frequently in the eastern part of the country. The city of Dresden, where the heinous murder of El Sherbiny took place, is located in the eastern German state of Saxony, where the National Democratic Party currently has representatives in every county council, based on last summer's elections. To read more, see Human Rights First's factsheet on violence against Muslims.