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  • Objections to the 1995 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki Report on Xenophobia in Germany Remain: A Response to Maryellen Fullerton
  • Manfred H. Wiegandt (bio)

My article on the 1995 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki Report on Xenophobia in Germany 1 in the November 1996 issue of the Human Rights Quarterly tried to develop guidelines that ought to be observed to render the proposals of human rights monitoring missions, in general, more viable. 2 Maryellen Fullerton, the author of the 1995 Report, replied to my criticism in the same issue of Human Rights Quarterly. 3 Although she accepted my general guidelines, she denied that they were ignored in the 1995 Report. I would first like to thank Maryellen Fullerton for the fairness of her reply, both in wording and content, to my critique. I take this as a sign that she realized that my intention was not to discredit her or Human Rights Watch/Helsinki’s valuable work. Rather, I tried to point out some weaknesses which, if eliminated, could improve the monitoring activities that international human rights groups are doing.

As mentioned in my article, I think that the activities of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki and other nongovernmental human rights organizations [End Page 449] (human rights NGOs) regarding the recent wave of violent xenophobia in Germany were probably crucial in inducing the German authorities to take effective steps to stop those grave human rights violations. 4 However, despite the beneficial effects of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki’s activities, there were some problems both in the way the monitoring was done and, particularly, in the proposals the report made. Fullerton’s response did not sufficiently address these problems. Indeed, her remarks corroborated some of the problems.

Fullerton starts out by denying that the 1995 Report compared the observed racist violence in Germany with the genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. She argues that the very sentence I quoted for support refuted my point. 5 I continue to believe that the wording used in the 1995 Report placed the issue of racist violence throughout Western Europe, not only in Germany, into the same category as the genocides in other countries. 6 The problem with such an insinuation, whether it was intended or not, is not so much that it is unfair to Germany and the other Western European countries. In fact, I agree with Fullerton that incidents of racist violence, such as those that occurred in Germany, are extremely troubling and, “[if] unchecked, . . . can lead to disastrous consequences.” 7 Instead, the danger inherent in such a comparison is that it trivializes the ramifications of genocide. This is similar to the way in which a number of [End Page 450] conservative German historians tried to diminish the importance of the Holocaust by comparing it with the expulsion of Germans from areas of former Eastern Germany after World War II. 8 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki will not gain credibility for its activities in other parts of the world by indiscriminately placing the racist violence occurring in Western Europe into the same categories with large scale, state sponsored crimes elsewhere. Rather, the only result will be a loss of credibility with the countries in the West.

Whereas this criticism was a marginal one related to the wording of the introduction of the 1995 Report, some other points I made, and Fullerton rejected, were more substantial. I reproached the 1995 Report for unequivocally praising the German government for giving more funds to the Bundesverfassungsschutz, the German domestic secret service, to collect data on racist violence. 9 Another critique was based on the 1995 Report’s demand that the federal prosecution should take over more cases. 10 The analysis was based on Germany’s recent history of combatting terrorist violence, where it has been proven that giving more power to these organizations could reduce civil liberties in Germany. 11 Fullerton’s answer to this criticism is highly problematic.

First, she points out that, unlike the times of the Bader-Meinhof gang, this time such measures did not result in any negative consequences. 12 This argument is highly inconsistent with her defense of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki’s “hate speech” policy, as I will point out later. Second, she...

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pp. 449-454
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