UN group on arbitrary detention concerned over practices in Germany

5 October 2011

The United Nations independent working group on arbitrary detention today voiced concern over Germany’s preventive detention system, citing the practice of depriving some people of their liberty after serving their prison terms because they are considered a “danger to society.”

The United Nations independent working group on arbitrary detention today voiced concern over Germany’s preventive detention system, citing the practice of depriving some people of their liberty after serving their prison terms because they are considered a “danger to society.”

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also drew attention to “the significantly disproportionate number of foreign detainees or Germans of foreign origin” in the country’s jails.

At the end of its first official visit to Germany, the UN expert body urged the authorities “to ensure that its institutional and legal framework regarding deprivation of liberty fully conforms to the human rights standards enshrined in its legislation and in international human rights standards.”

During visits to German detention facilities, the Working Group interviewed several detainees under the preventive detention regime and found that retroactive provisions present serious problems that can result in indefinite detention of convicts. This was further supported by interviews with officials in federal and state ministries, prosecutors, prison officials and judges.

“Preventive detention violates the ban on retroactive criminal punishment in international law, particularly when this punishment was not foreseen in a convict’s sentence,” said El Hadji Malick Sow, the current chair of the Group.

Another member of the Group, Mads Andenas, noted that the use of preventive detention in cases of people considered to have social disorders would not be in conformity with national and international human rights standards.

“The detention of foreigners due to illegal border crossing, coupled with harsh sentencing, raises again the issue of proportionality and how this needs to be carefully addressed and remedied by the Government,” said Shaheen Sardar Ali, a member of the Working Group. She suggested that immigration detainees be kept in centres designated for such purposes and not in prisons.

Nonetheless, the Group noted several good practices in Germany, such as the establishment in Hamburg of an independent special commission for investigating police officers for alleged misconduct or alleged ill-treatment.

The removal of the obligation to disclose the identity of children of irregular immigrants receiving emergency medical treatment by teachers and hospital authorities is also a positive change in the law, they observed.

The Group visited detention facilities and held meetings with federal and state authorities in Berlin, Hamburg, Karlsruhe and Stuttgart. It also met with members of civil society, and held confidential interviews with 69 detainees in various detention centres.

It will present the full report of its findings in Germany to the UN Human Rights Council in March next year.

 

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