Representatives from German Ministries are to be questioned today by the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva. The allegations made by Amnesty International include the accusation that German personnel interrogated witnesses who had been tortured by the CIA.
Interview with Markus Löning, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid. Broadcast on Deutschlandfunk on 8 November 2011
Mr Löning, what do you have to say to these allegations made by Amnesty International?
They are of course allegations that the Federal Government is taking seriously. On the one hand, Amnesty is a respected human rights organization and any allegations it may make will be taken seriously and duly investigated by us. On the other hand, you have to look carefully at the precise allegations, and at the reports of the UN inquiries, the findings of the German parliamentary committee of inquiry, as well as those of other internal government inquiries under both the SPD-Green Government and the Grand Coalition.
Let’s start by focusing on Ms Dierßen’s last allegation about events in Uzbekistan. Does the German Government cooperate with secret services which systematically resort to torture?
This Federal Government, like previous Federal Governments, is strongly opposed to torture and combats torture around the world. I myself have taken part in a wide range of anti-torture projects, in which we work with various authorities with the aim of eliminating torture and ensuring that we do not support or profit from torture in any way at all.
But German investigators have interrogated suspects in prisons where torture is known to take place.
This allegation stems from the year 2002, when the SPD-Green Government was in power, from events said to have occurred in Syria. It’s never really been proven. But regardless of that, such cases must always be investigated; there should not be any cause at all for such suspicions to arise. But one thing is clear: Confessions or any information provided by witnesses under torture or obtained by coercion are not to be used in any fashion at all by German authorities, let alone by German courts. All German authorities are under a strict duty to ensure that we strictly adhere to all parts of the Convention against Torture.
Are those just noble sentiments expressed by the Human Rights Commissioner, or is it the Federal Government’s policy as put into practice that such interrogations should no longer take place?
The allegations made now by Amnesty – concerning the one case in Uzbekistan and the Syrian case from 2002 – have of course had an impact. For example, our security forces have introduced new internal oversight mechanisms, so that these things cannot happen, so that such incidents are absolutely ruled out.
Does it damage our foreign policy if we’re always getting on our high horse and saying we want a worldwide ban on torture, but at the same time our policy doesn’t prevent situations arising in which such practices are supported, albeit indirectly?
No. The Federal Government does not support such practices under any circumstances. That’s why a parliamentary committee of inquiry was established, as I thought was right and proper. Of course, we can argue about the content of the inquiry’s final report – back then the FDP was in opposition, and had a different take from the governing coalition on a few issues. But nevertheless, a parliamentary inquiry was conducted, and even the UN’s own reports, the reports by the UN Special Rapporteur, say that Germany and German agencies did not in the final analysis bear any blame.
What would you advise the Federal Government to do if the UN now comes to a similar conclusion as the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, and holds that the parliamentary committee of inquiry was provided with too little information by the Federal Government, that too many documents were held back? Would the inquiry have to be relaunched?
That is up to Parliament. A majority in Parliament would have to decide whether it thinks the whole procedure should be repeated because some documents were not released and some testimony held back. The Committee in Geneva is not however concerned with this question, but rather with a number of other issues. But it has been cited in the Government’s reports as acknowledging that the Government is not guilty of any shortcomings in the fight against torture, but rather that lessons have been learned from mistakes made in the past.
But don’t you expect that the committee of inquiry will face renewed criticism today from the UN?
It is true that the Federal Constitutional Court criticized the fact that specific documents were not made available, and that certain witnesses were not permitted to testify. As a result, the rules of procedure were amended, in case another such committee of inquiry is established. But that is now a matter for the Bundestag, for parliament. If criticism is to be directed at anyone at all, it is the Bundestag, not the Federal Government. The Federal Government can’t establish parliamentary committees of inquiry.
And even the Human Rights Commissioner doesn’t have a view on the matter?
Of course I do! It is, as I said, that changes have been made as a result of the Constitutional Court’s ruling. The judgement was published at the end of June , and two weeks later the ruling coalition of the time concluded the inquiry. That was two months before the parliamentary elections, i.e. in the final term of office of the CDU/CSU-SPD government. This is something that falls within the Bundestag’s remit; and I have no reason to publicly proffer my advice.
Several German Ministry officials are to be questioned today in Geneva by the United Nations Committee Against Torture. With us here on Deutschlandfunk Markus Löning from the Free Democratic Party, who is the Federal Government Human Rights Commissioner. Thank you for talking to us today, Mr Löning.
Questions put by Thomas Armbrüster. Reproduced with the kind permission of Deutschlandfunk