In Berlin, President Obama Calls for Tolerance and Strengthening Transatlantic Alliance

Today President Obama called for inclusion, tolerance, and the strengthening of the transatlantic alliance in a speech in Germany. He’s there to meet with Western European leaders and attend the Hannover Messe. Human Rights First’s Susan Corke reported from Berlin last week on opportunities for the United States to deepen its partnership with Germany on key issues such as the refugee crisis and the rise of xenophobia.

President Obama called for respect for people of different backgrounds and religious practices. “We know from our own histories that intolerance breeds injustice,” he said. In Germany in 2015, far right supporters carried out both 90 percent of antisemitic hate crimes and 90 percent of the attacks on refugee shelters.

Combating this intolerance demands swift action. U.S. officials should follow up on Obama’s speech by offering to send a surge team of judicial and law enforcement experts to help Germany to investigate, prosecute, document, and prevent hate crimes.

In a welcome move, President Obama also called for European nations to shift from complacency to active engagement and to defend the values on which the transatlantic alliance is built. His call to move from fear-based politics and policies to a more constructive agenda is particularly important; Europe and the United States should jointly strive to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.

We’ve seen how destructive fear-based governance can be in Europe in recent months, from the deterioration of rule of law in Hungary to the erosion of constitutional checks and balances in Poland, and the collective failure of European nations to protect refugees fleeing violent conflict and seeking shelter within their borders. As part of this trip, President Obama should publicly support the strengthening of the Organization for Society and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as a vital democratic transatlantic security organization.

President Obama’s remarks also highlighted counterterrorism efforts in the United States and Europe. The United States has learned important lessons, often painfully, since 9/11 on how to counter terrorism and violent extremism without sacrificing human rights and civil liberties. As European allies confront threats of violent attacks, Obama’s remarks today should be followed by intensified efforts to promote a rights-based approach to CVE initiatives. The U.S. government should persistently urge its European partners to respect the rule of law even in the face of serious threats, to resist the temptation to establish indefinite “state of emergency” status, and to craft responses that don’t stigmatize or further isolate minority populations.

Disappointingly, today’s remarks did not directly address the fundamental question of how refugees in Germany will be supported to integrate into society. President Obama should commit to bolstering U.S. government support for civil society organizations in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, which have already made tremendous efforts to assist refugees with basic needs and aid them in integrating. These NGOs are faced with daunting needs and limited resources, and the U.S. funding mechanisms need to be nimble enough to respond. The United States should commit to helping Germany successfully integrate refugees and combat hate violence to set a positive example for the rest of Europe.

For more information, please see Human Rights First’s fact sheet on antisemitism, xenophobia, and far-right extremism in Germany, available here.


Published on April 25, 2016


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