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United States. Office of the US High Commissioner for Germany / A program to foster citizen participation in government and politics in Germany

4. Civil liberties,   pp. 14-16 PDF (2.1 MB)

Page 14

German constitutions customarily contain an
adequate bill of rights. The provisions of such bills
of rights, however, are not understood, asserted
or enforced in Germany in the sense in which we
understand them. Officials' interference with some
constitutional rights is frequent. Legislation often
appears to violate constitutional provisions. To
date there have been few appeals to the constitu-
tional courts for correction. Provisions for judicial
review are not altogether satisfactory.
In addition, because of the German tradition of
subordinating individual interests to the state and
of providing machinery designed to enforce the
decisions of the state and its officials rather than
to protect the individual, certain rights of citizens
not specifically covered by constitutional protec-
tion are frequently infringed by official action.
Therefore, the field of civil liberties in Germany
is not limited solely to protection of rights set forth
in the constitutional bills of rights, but includes
protection of the individual from capricious or il-
legal official action.
To aid German leaders and groups who
(1) Seek to achieve public understanding and ap-
preciation of the meaning of the constitutional bills
of rights, the public and individual importance of
protecting these rights against any kind of infringe-
ment, and practical methods of assuring such pro-
(2) Extend assistance to citizens who have suf-
fered a violation of constitutional rights from capri-
cious or illegal official action, even if it does not
involve a constitutional violation;
(3) Review legislation and regulations for con-
sistency with constitutional provisions and seek
whatever amendment is necessary to further the
protection of civil liberties.
Active civil liberties' groups exist in Munich,
Frankfurt, Heidelberg-Mannheim, Stuttgart and
Berlin. Each of these renders legal advice and assist-
ance to persons whose basic rights have been infring-
ed by government action and such cases have been
handled in administrative agencies and carried
to the highest courts. Each group maintains an
educational and publicity program involving pub-
lic meetings, lectures, radio speeches and press
releases. A considerable number of civil liberties'
associations have been established in the French
and British Zones, and in the US Zone additional
groups have been or will be organized in a dozen
more cities. The various local groups are rep-
resented in a central coordinating association, the
League for Citizens' Rights in Frankfurt. The
Union publishes a periodical affecting the activities
of the local associations.
The Bavarian group has published a report,
based upon exhaustive research, on arrests,
searches, and seizures. It is used as a basis for
lectures, discussions and pamphlets. The police
schools in North Rhine Westphalia have adopted
it as instructional material, and the Minister of
Interior in that Land has drafted a law based on
the study.
The Bavarian group has also completed a pam-
phlet (Schmutz und Schund) which deals with the
threat to freedom of the press in laws now under
consideration to regulate the printing and sale of
indecent and trashy literature. The proposed laws
do not merely prohibit pornography; they author-
ize individual ministers to determine what is and
is not suitable to be printed and sold.
The Bavarian group is also preparing a study
(Beamtenbeleidigung) on the so-called insult laws
which give privileged protection to officials against
criticism by the public, and another on the viola-
tion of civil liberties and the treatment accorded
persons suspected of insanity.
Similar research projects are planned by other
civil liberties groups.
The League for the Protection of Citizens (Buer-
gerschutzbund) in West Berlin is an organization
of slightly different character. While it seeks the
protection of constitutional rights, its primary
activity is assistance to citizens who have suffered
from arbitrary or illegal official action.
German newspapers have not only published a
considerable amount of information on civil lib-
erties furnished them by the various associations,
but they have shown an encouraging interest of
their own in the subject and have conducted ef-
fective campaigns on particular cases in their local-
In a limited number of instances, public interest
and support have been aroused for the correction
of a violation of constitutional rights, but it must
be said frankly that in general the public still ap-
pears to be apathetic.
While the constitutions of the Laender of the
U.S. Zone and the Basic Law all provide for the
establishment of constitutional courts, experience
indicates that their existence- is generally unrec-
ognized and they arenot much used. In some cases it
is unduly difficult to bring individual cases before
them, and generally appeal procedure facilitates
the review of governmental and public con-
troversies rather than violations of individual
One consultant came to Germany from the U.S.
in 1949 and spent three months in discussions with
leaders of the civil liberties associations in West-
ern Germany and Berlin.
Six German leaders have gone to the U.S. where
they will spend three months working with the
Civil Liberties Union, observing methods followed
in the U.S. to protect individual rights and varia-
tions in practice related to the different types of
violations which arise.
(1) General
Civil liberties is a subject which may be used to
enlist the interest of organized citizens' groups in
public affairs because it so frequently presents
cases of current local interest. Groups will be en-
couraged to undertake discussions generally or in
relation to a particular case. Simple material will
be made available which will explain how, if they
wish, they may take action independently or in co-
operation with the Civil Liberties groups to correct
violations of constitutional rights or other official
denial of the citizen's rights.
The German associations plan a meeting for all
of Western Germany in September, and four large

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