Germany: New report into police ill-treatment and excessive use of force

The report includes allegations of officers punching, kicking and beating detainees, in one case allegedly kneeling on the head of a 62-year-old man and breaking his nose against the floor.

The report highlights the case of 31-year-old Stephan Neisus, who died in hospital in May 2002 after being beaten and kicked by police officers at Cologne's First Police Inspectorate 13 days earlier. Stephan's mother described the treatment her son received when he was arrested at their home:

'They kicked the door in and beat the child to a pulp. You can barely imagine such brutality.'

Police officers testified that a 'reception committee' of around six officers set upon Stephan upon his arrival at the police station, hitting and kicking him as he lay handcuffed on the floor.

On 25 July 2003, Cologne District Court found six officers guilty of causing bodily harm resulting in death. None of them received a prison sentence, instead being given suspended prison terms of between 12 and 16 months.

The report, Back in the Spotlight - Allegations of police ill-treatment and excessive use of force in Germany draws attention to the protracted length of criminal investigations into allegations of police ill-treatment. It highlights the reluctance of some prosecuting authorities to forward cases to the courts and the handing down of sentences which in some cases do not appear to match the gravity of the crime.

It also notes the high incidence of counter-charges brought by police against those who complain, which in some cases could amount to intimidation. Amnesty International is calling on the German government to establish an independent body to examine complaints of serious police misconduct.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'There can be no justification for police brutality. All such allegations must be investigated promptly and impartially, and those responsible brought to justice. Yet all too often this is not the case. Although some cases do make it to the courts, others do not, even though there is compelling evidence to suggest that they should.

'There is a very real danger that these practices result in police officers getting away with committing human rights violations. Even in cases of prima facie evidence of torture it has sometimes taken years for those accused to be brought to justice.'

The report also notes that a significant proportion of the allegations come from foreign nationals or members of ethnic minorities in Germany. One woman of Kazakhstani origin reported being kicked, dragged by her hair and having her head banged against a wall by officers in 2002.

A further concern is that official statistics on police ill-treatment in Germany are woefully inadequate. Amnesty International is calling for a central agency to collect and compile uniform and comprehensive figures on complaints against police officers.

The organisation is also calling for domestic and international human rights experts to be given immediate and unrestricted access to places of detention. The report states that Germany should sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and establish a mechanism for places of detention in Germany to be visited.

The report is available online at: http://www.amnesty.org

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