By Niklas Hofmann from the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (FADA) in Germany
Things had been planned very differently, but that’s the way it goes in the age of the COVID19 pandemic. When ECRI launched its sixth report on Germany on March 17th, it could not do so at the prestigious Federal Press Conference in Berlin and had to rely on a simple press release instead. Altogether cancelled was the civil society event that FADA and ECRI had co-organised and which would have brought in the German Institute for Human Rights as well as the Ministry of Justice to discuss ECRI’s report with dozens of legislators, NGO representatives and activists.
But in spite of all this, the ECRI report did not go unnoticed at all. There was widespread and well-informed media coverage and politicians as well as civil society chimed in on social media. And even though the novel coronavirus had a firm grip on the news cycle, the ECRI report did make it into the main TV evening news.
This level of interest in ECRI’s findings is good news for everybody who feared that the overdue debate about racism in Germany – triggered by the right-wing terrorist attack in Hanau – would be completely abandoned in the face the coronavirus crisis. It is also good news for FADA, because the ECRI report makes strengthening Germany’s equality bodies one of its priority recommendations.
In particular, ECRI recommends “that the authorities establish a coherent system of organisations that provide victims of discrimination throughout the whole country with effective support including legal assistance to enforce their rights. To this end, the German Länder should start setting up independent equality bodies in line with ECRI’s General Policy Recommendation No.2”. This, along with another priority recommendation to undertake a study on racial profiling by the federal and Länder police forces, will be followed-up on in 2022.
It is true that, almost 15 years after the General Equal Treatment Act came into force, German federalism has still not fully embraced its own crucial role in implementing European equality legislation. Only half of Germany’s 16 Länder have set up some form of state-level equality body. And those that exist vary widely in their mandate, competences, institutional structure and resources. Only two weeks prior to the release of the ECRI report, FADA’s acting director Bernhard Franke had taken part in a hearing in the parliament of Germany’s most populous Land, North Rhine-Westphalia, arguing before lawmakers in favour of establishing their own equality body and pointing to ECRI GPR No.2 as well as the European Commissions recommendations on standards as important guidelines in that process. Hopefully, ECRI’S new report can help to convince more Länder to follow.
And ECRI has more to say about the need for strong equality bodies in Germany. In further recommendations, the commission also advises that FADA’s “competences, powers, independence and effectiveness” be brought into line with GPR No.2, for example by extending its mandate to cover hate speech, additional grounds like skin colour and gender identity, and discrimination in the public sector. And it argues for giving FADA the competence to offer legal support to victims of discrimination, to represent them before the courts and to bring cases in its own name. Many of these are long-standing demands by FADA itself.
FADA is grateful that ECRI used the sixth monitoring cycle to put such a special emphasis on the importance of a strong equality body infrastructure in Germany. It will do whatever it can to make sure this message is heard and understood – during the crisis and afterwards.
To read the full ECRI report, click this link.
The views on this blog are always the authors’ and they do not necessarily reflect Equinet’s position.