Communication No. 48/2010

UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

The petitioner argued that, in an interview, the former Finance Senator of Berlin made discriminatory statements against Arabs and Turks. The Committee found that Germany did not conduct an adequate investigation into these statements, which amounted to a violation of, amongst others, Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.


Theme(s): Ethnic Hatred

Date: 26 February 2013

Description of applicant(s): Association

Brief description of facts: The German cultural journal Lettre International published an interview with Mr. Thilo Sarrazin, the former Finance Senator of Berlin and member of the Board of Directors of the German Central Bank. This was entitled “Class instead of Mass: from the Capital City of Social Services to the Metropolis of the Elite”. In this interview, Mr. Sarrazin expressed himself in a derogatory and discriminatory way about social “lower classes”, which are “not productive” and would have to “disappear over time” in order to create a city of the “elite”. In this context, he stated, inter alia:

“[…] The city has a productive circulation of people, who work and who are needed, be they part of the administration or of the ministries. Beside them, there are a number of people, about 20% of the population, who are not economically needed. They live off social welfare (Hartz IV) and transfer income; on a federal level this segment is only 8-10%. This part of the population needs to disappear over time. A large number of Arabs and Turks in this city, whose numbers have grown through erroneous policies, have no productive function, except for the fruit and vegetable trade, and other perspectives will probably not develop either […].

On 23 October 2009, the petitioner, ‘as the interest group of the Turkish citizens and citizens with Turkish heritage of Berlin and Brandenburg’ filed a complaint of criminal offence against Mr. Sarrazin to the Office of Public Prosecution. It claimed, amongst others, that Mr. Sarrazin’s statements constituted incitement of the people. National judicial procedures failed. The petitioner claims to be a victim of a violation by Germany of, amongst others, Article 4 of the ICERD, since the State party failed to provide protection under its Criminal Code against Mr. Sarrazin’s racially discriminatory and insulting statements.

(Alleged) target(s) of speech: Muslims/Immigrants

The Committee’s assessment of the impugned speech:

The Committee ruled that there was an absence of an effective investigation into the statements by Mr. Sarrazin which amounted to a violation of, inter alia, Article 4 ICERD.

Important paragraph(s) from the decision:

12.3 The Committee recalls its earlier jurisprudence according to which it does not suffice, for the purposes of article 4 of the Convention, merely to declare acts of racial discrimination punishable on paper. Rather, criminal laws and other legal provisions prohibiting racial discrimination must also be effectively implemented by the competent national tribunals and other State institutions. This obligation is implicit in article 4 of the Convention, under which States parties undertake to adopt immediate and positive measures to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, racial discrimination. It is also reflected in other provisions of the Convention, such as article 2, paragraph 1 (d), which requires States to prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, racial discrimination, and article 6, which guarantees to everyone effective protection and remedies against any acts of racial discrimination.

12.8 While acknowledging the importance of freedom of expression, the Committee considers that Mr. Sarrazin’s statements amounted to dissemination of ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred and contained elements of incitement to racial discrimination in accordance with article 4, paragraph (a), of the Convention. By concentrating on the fact that Mr. Sarrazin’s statements did not amount to incitement of racial hatred and were not capable of disturbing the public peace, the State party failed in its duty to carry out an effective investigation into whether or not Mr. Sarrazin’s statements amounted to dissemination of ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred. The Committee further considers that the criterion of disturbance of the public peace, which is taken into consideration in the evaluation if statements reach the threshold of dissemination of ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred, does not adequately translate into domestic legislation the State party’s obligation under article 2, paragraph 1 (d), in particular as neither article 2, paragraph 1 (d), nor article 4 contain such a criterion.

ICERD Article: 4

Decision: Violation