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Echoes of the Past
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Germany Special Report

International Outrage Grows Over German Discrimination by Warren Pagliaro

Papers A myriad of international complaints from human rights bodies, a high profile protest from U.S. celebrities in a full page International Herald Tribune ad and now a strong rebuke by the U.S. State Department.

here is no prejudice here.” “The allegations have no basis.” “Nobody is discriminated against because of his religion here.”

     If you are a German official or spokesman—Labor Minister Norbert Blüm, Member of Parliament Johannes Gerster or even Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel—the statements above are part and parcel of your daily discourse. Long ago, the facts and the evidence ceased to be relevant. Why bother to look?

     But if you are one of many human rights watchdogs or a non-German government official wary of abuses abroad, the words—and actions—are very different.

     The arrogance and dismissals of German officials have not kept the rest of the world from learning the real score—and taking action.

     The most recent scolding for the German government came in the U.S. State Department’s 1996 Human Rights Report (see “State Department Lambasts Germany”). But this was far from the first time the rising intolerance in Germany had been observed and commented upon by an outside agency.

United Nations Criticism

     In November 1996, the United Nations Human Rights Committee—arguably the most prestigious human rights body in the world—weighed in with its criticism of the conduct of German officials toward Scientologists.

     Based in Geneva, the committee is composed of 18 human rights experts from around the world. The committee’s report is the result of a review of Germany’s compliance with the International Covenant of Political and Civil Rights—on which Germany is a signatory—conducted every four years.

     The completion of the review signaled certain broad areas of serious concern in Germany, including police brutality; inadequate education of children on the evils of anti-Semitism and xenophobic attitudes; a too-narrow definition of “minority”; and infringement of freedom of religion.

     Discriminatory efforts to restrict the rights of members of religious minorities, such as the Church of Scientology, are cited as matters of “serious” concern.

     “The Committee is concerned that membership in certain religious sects as such may, in some districts of the State, disqualify individuals from obtaining government employment in the public service, which may in certain circumstances violate the rights guaranteed in articles 18 and 25 of the Covenant,” said the Committee. “The Committee thus recommends the State party to discontinue the holding of ‘sensitizing’ sessions for judges against the practices of certain designated sects.”

Consistent Condemnation

     1996 also marked the second consecutive year the Special Rapporteur to the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations has condemned Germany for human rights violations. The report decried Germany for its violations of religious freedom, specifically citing:

  • “attacks on the freedom to express one’s religion or one’s conviction”

  • “control by authorities on religious activities ... that can take the form of prohibitions with respect to certain religious groups.”

     The report warned of the dangers of political parties used by religions to squelch opposition, a problem that plagues Germany: “[P]arties, spokesmen, and standard-bearers of religions are not always of such a nature as to favor tolerance and human rights. It is for this reason that more and more states forbid the establishment of political parties on exclusively or principally religious bases.”

     The United Nations Rapporteur’s report cited a broad range of discrimination against the Church of Scientology, documenting how children, parents, businessmen and members of political parties were singled out simply because of their membership in the religion of their choice.

     Last year’s report was the strongest international criticism of Germany for human rights violations since World War II. It confirmed that the source of the problem was not neo-Nazi skinheads, as might be expected as an explanation, but that “[t]his discrimination is particularly the doing of political parties.”

     One detailed section of the document, released in Geneva, was devoted to chronicling abuses and discrimination by government bodies and officials against members of the Church of Scientology—as well as incidents of threats and outright violence.

     The Rapporteur has also announced that in April 1997 he will travel to Germany to investigate the “problem of religious intolerance” based on complaints received from minority religions. Such an on-site investigation is an action of great moment, taken only in instances where the concerns over abuses are serious.

Experts, Officials, Others Speak

     The storm of controversy which surrounds Germany on the international human rights front has included condemnations from a broad range of groups and individuals.

     A number of U.S. officials, including Senators and Congressmen, have been monitoring developments in Germany—and they have been dedicated to making their views public.

     Indeed, members of the Senate and House—representing more than 80% of Congress—have written both to the Secretary of State and to German officials to express their deep concern over the mistreatment of Scientologists in Germany or to request the Secretary of State to intervene to protect the rights of Scientologists.

     Veteran Congressman Carlos Moorehead recently wrote to the German Ambassador in Washington that “Certainly, it would be gratuitous to constantly harangue those who have inherited the history of the Holocaust about the sins of half a century ago. ... History has dealt you an expectation of high standards in this regard, but your government is not even meeting an acceptable standard. ... I hope you take my thoughts as constructive ones, for they are meant with respect. But, as a World War II veteran, I also wanted you to know that I have lived through the history of this century and find these recent developments disturbing.”

     Public perception of increasing intolerance is by no means limited to government officials and bodies established to investigate human rights abuses. Freedom found that 67 percent of Americans surveyed believe that there is “a serious problem of religious intolerance in Germany.” And 79 percent of those surveyed believe that the return of Nazism in Germany is a real danger.

     Across the Atlantic, a visiting delegation of British human rights experts reported that it found the level of politically-sanctioned discrimination in Germany both “astonishing” and “perplexing.”

     The five committee members—two Members of Parliament, Lords McNair and Hylton, accompanied by professors of philosophy and sociology and a religious scholar—reported that they were stunned by the contrast between the clear evidence of widespread violations of international human rights agreements to which Germany is a signatory, and the assertions of the officials they interviewed who maintained that there was “no discrimination” in Germany. (See “Echoes of the Past”.)

How Many Will Confront Them

     It is certainly appropriate that such international concern and outrage over the present state of affairs in Germany is growing. But just as it is apparent here in the United States and around the world that something is highly amiss, it is equally clear that this perception has yet to sink in within Germany—and that the abuses continue.

     “It has been observed that the future will be determined not by how many Nazis there will be, but how many anti-Nazis, people of Goodwill, there will be to confront them. That is what I think it all comes down to today,” says Rev. Heber Jentzsch, President of the Church of Scientology International. “More and more people are piercing the veil of lies and propaganda. It is my hope that they will act on the knowledge they gain and thus help ensure that this stain on the latter half of the 20th century is removed—and that no one else suffers such treatment.”

International Outrage Grows Over German Discrimination by Warren Pagliaro
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