Universal Periodic Review: RSF regrets that the German government has failed to address the steady press freedom deterioration
Due to a rise in physical attacks, hate speech and surveillance, journalists in Germany no longer enjoy one of the best environments for press freedom worldwide. During a hearing at the United Nations (UN), the German government failed to adequately address the concerns of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The last time Germany faced criticism over the human rights situation in the country in the context of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was four years ago. Since then, Germany has dropped eight places to the 21st spot in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.
Digital violence and physical attacks against media professionals have been on the rise. Journalists fleeing persecution abroad are often forced to wait for a long time to enter the country even after having been notified about the success of their application. Moreover, once they are in Germany, their protection from attacks is far from guaranteed. At the same time, the German intelligence services’ surveillance powers, which jeopardise the protection of journalistic sources, have been extended.
Together with the German human rights network Forum Menschenrechte, Sophie von Waitz represented RSF at a hearing of the UN Human Rights Council about Germany on 9 November. Although the representative of the German government, Human Rights Commissioner Luise Amtsberg, accepted RSF’s analysis on the stalled admission procedures for international journalists at risk, she did not detail how the processes can be adequately revived. The criticism on the expansion of surveillance powers by German security authorities and secret services – raised not only by RSF but also by Costa Rica as a UN member state – was regrettably not accepted by the German government.
RSF submitted its own statement on the situation and contributed to the joint submission of the Forum Menschenrechte. In addition, RSF took part in consultations conducted by the Human Rights Commissioner prior to the hearing.
“The deterioration of the press freedom situation since the last Universal Periodic Review has regrettably not been addressed by the German delegation during the latest hearing. As regards the admission of journalists at risk from Russia or Afghanistan, the German government has failed to fully deliver on its promises to actively promote human rights and press freedom. The policy is inconsistent with its own standards in the area of human rights.
Although the German government has repeatedly stressed its commitment to protect politically persecuted individuals, including in its own UPR report, the process of admitting journalists who are at risk to Germany has come to a standstill.
Despite the devastating human rights situation in Afghanistan and numerous pledges of the German government, the Federal Admission Programme for Afghanistan has so far allowed only 23 eligible persons to enter Germany out of 4,200 cases accepted by the programme’s coordination office. Furthermore, by now, the admissions procedure has been initiated only for one journalist registered for the programme by RSF.
Since mid-2023, the admissions procedure for Russian journalists at risk has likewise been stalled. Currently, around 45 journalists from Russia registered by RSF and notified about the attribution ofa residence permit are still waiting to receive the permit. Although Germany, as the host country, cannot be held accountable for attacks on journalists coming from their countries of origin, the government has a responsibility to take additional steps to ensure their protection.
Ignoring surveillance risks
In its first UPR contribution on Germany four years ago, RSF already warned that the surveillance powers of the German intelligence services pose a threat to the protection of journalists’ sources. Since then, however, Germany has further extended them. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also holds a critical view on the issue (A/HRC/WG.6/44/DEU/2, p.5).
However, in its report, the German government addresses the issue only in a brief and defensive manner, citing the principle of proportionality of surveillance measures in the current legal framework (A/HRC/39/9/Add.1, Answer to Recommendation 155.164) without responding to the criticism of the legal basis.
RSF has already lodged a second complaint against the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) Act with the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe on the grounds that it fails to adequately protect confidential communications with journalistic sources. In the organisation’s view, after more than a decade of attempts to reform the law, its many parts remain unconstitutional.
Upholding RSF’s first constitutional complaint in 2020, the Federal Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional parts of the law, which eventually resulted into amendments. Although another attempt to reform the BND Act has been underway, it once again fails to tackle the urgently needed amendments. Especially foreign journalists continue to be inadequately protected against state surveillance.