Battling Racism: UN Body Reprimands Germany over Sarrazin Comments
When former Berlin politician Thilo Sarrazin made critical remarks about Muslim immigrants four years ago, many found them offensive, though prosecutors rejected complaints, citing free speech laws. A UN committee disagrees, however, and has accused Germany of violating an anti-racism convention.
A United Nations committee has reprimanded Germany in strong language, saying that the country had violated an international anti-racism convention.
At issue are controversial statements made in 2009 by Thilo Sarrazin, a former finance senator for the city-state of Berlin, about Turks and Arabs, who he said sponged off the state and were incapable of integrating, among other things. But a complaint submitted to public prosecutors in Berlin was rejected on grounds that the comments were permissible under Germany's freedom of expression law. An appeal to the decision was rejected as well.
According to the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), however, this constituted a violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, because it failed to conduct an "effective investigation" into the matter.
"This is a historic decision," said the TBB Turkish Union, the cultural organization that submitted the case to the committee, in a statment on Thursday. "CERD has determined that Mr. Sarrazin's comments touch on a feeling of racist superiority or racial hatred and contain elements of incitement to racial discrimination."
CERD also issued an ultimatum to Germany, giving the country 90 days to inform the committee of the measures it will take to address the committee's opinion. It also recommended that the country "review its policies and procedures in cases of alleged racial discrimination" and widely distribute this information to prosecutors and judicial bodies.
"The opinion paper from the committee is at the Justice Ministry and will be reviewed," the government told the Der Tagesspiegel newspaper, which broke the story on Thursday.
The offending statements were made in an interview with the culture and political magazine Lettre International in September 2009, in which Sarrazin, also a former board member at Germany's central bank, disparaged Muslim immigrants, alleging that they "constantly produce little girls in headscarves" and were part of an "underclass that does not take part in the normal economic cycle." He also said that "a large number of Arabs and Turks in (Berlin) ... have no productive function other than in the fruit and vegetable trade."
The UN committee concluded that such statements "contain ideas of racial superiority, denying respect as human beings and depicting generalized negative characteristics of the Turkish population, as well as incitement to racial discrimination."
In 2010, Sarrazin repeated his sentiments in his controversial, best-selling book "Germany Does Itself In," which sparked a major debate about Muslims in the country.
The TBB filed its complaint with CERD in July 2010, and the committee reached its decision on Feb. 26, publishing it on April 4.
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