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ACFC/SR (2000)1

Report submitted by Germany pursuant to Article 25, Paragraph 1 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities


(Received on 24 February 2000)



Article 1 Article 9 Article 17
Article 2 Article 10 Article 18
Article 3 Article 11 Article 19
Article 4 Article 12 Article 20
Article 5 Article 13 Article 21
Article 6 Article 14 Article 22
Article 7 Article 15 Article 23
Article 8 Article 16 Article 30

The following appendices (not available in electronic form):

Appendix A Legal regulations in the Federal Republic of Germany that serve to protect groups falling under the Framework Convention (German Texts)
Appendix B Exemplary legal regulations in the Federal Republic of Germany that serve to protect groups falling under the Framework Convention (in English translation)


Part I

Preliminary Remarks:

The members of the groups of German citizens protected under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities - i.e. the national minorities of the Danes, of the Sorbian people and of the German Sinti and Roma, and the ethnic group of Frisians in Germany (cf. the comments under Article 3, para. 1, no. 1, below) - have, with the exception of the German Sinti and Roma - their respective traditional settlement area only in certain Länder [federal states] of the Federal Republic of Germany. These are the Land of Schleswig-Holstein, the Free State of Saxony, and the Länder of Brandenburg and Lower Saxony. Due to this geographical distribution of minorities, the present State Report focuses on the information provided by these Länder on legislative acts and on other measures taken to enforce the principles established in the Framework Convention. In addition, specific parts of the Report deal with the German Sinti and Roma in the other Länder of the Federal Republic of Germany.


The members of the groups protected under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, as German citizens, enjoy all rights and freedoms granted under the Basic Law [Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany] without any restrictions. The ban on discrimination pursuant to Article 3, para. 3, 1st sentence of the Basic Law also includes the members of these groups. The principle of equal treatment and the prohibition of discrimination bind legislation, the executive, and the judiciary as directly enforceable law (Article 1, para. 3, of the Basic Law). The constitutional stipulations regarding the protection of these groups are put into concrete terms by laws, ordinances, statutes, and administrative action. The constitutional rules also apply directly in the Länder and are explicitly confirmed in the Constitutions of some of the Länder. The legislation of the Länder refers to national minorities who have their settlement area in the respective Land.

The relevant instruments of international-law instruments governing protection of minorities form an integral part of national law. Germany also actively supports the protection of minorities at the international level. (For details, cf. the full account given in Part II below regarding Article 1 of the Framework Convention.)


Under the Federal Act of 22 July 1997 ratifying the Framework Covention, the latter ranks, in Germany as a federal law which takes precedence over subordinate law, including Land laws [supremacy of federal law], and as a matter of principle [primacy of international law], is to be applied as the more specific law overriding other federal laws. Full compliance with the Convention at the national level is legally guaranteed. For details, cf. Part II below.


The Federal Republic of Germany is a federated state. The public authority established by the Basic Law is divided among the state as a whole - i.e. the "Bund" or federal level or Federal Government, - and its various constituent states, i.e. the Länder. The pertinent distribution of authority (division of responsibilities) derives from the Basic Law, which contains detailed provisions on the tasks for which the Bund has law-making power [either exclusive legislative power or concurrent power with the Länder] and/or which are subject to federal administration. Any intervention by the Bund in the jurisdiction of the Länder in the sense of federal "superordination" is only admissible in exceptional cases as defined in the Basic Law. For legislation (laws and ordinances having the force of law), the primary responsibility lies with the Bund, and implementation of laws, i.e. administration, with the Länder. The Länder execute federal laws in their own right, i.e. on their own responsibility. In addition, local governments are guaranteed the right to regulate all local affairs in their own right, within the limits prescribed by the laws; in particular, this includes their own responsibility for staffing matters, organisational jurisdiction, fiscal jurisdiction/financial sovereignty, right to make by-laws/ordinances, and local town and county planning.


Germany has a population of some 82 million inhabitants (as of 31.12.1996), of whom about 7.49 million persons are non-citizens. Statistics based on ethnic criteria are not gathered. Consequently, only estimates are available as regards the number of persons protected under the Framework Convention. Everybody is free to acknowledge his or her affiliation with any of the groups protected under the Framework Convention [belonging to any of these groups is the personal decision of every individual, which is not registered, verified or contested by state authorities]. With the exception of some communities with a Sorbian or North Frisian majority, the members of the groups protected under the Framework Convention form the minority of the overall population in their settlement areas.

I.4.1 The Danish minority

The Danish minority, like the German majority population, live in their traditional settlement area in the German part of Schleswig, just as the German minority and the Danish majority population do on the Danish side in North Schleswig - Sønderjylland. Germans and Danes have been living together in this area for more than one thousand years. Today's border between the two countries was established in 1920 on the basis of the results of two plebiscites agreed upon in the Treaty of Versailles. The number of members of the Danish minority living in the Schleswig region of the Land of Schleswig-Holstein is estimated at some 50,000 persons who, for the most part, live in the city of Flensburg, in the Kreise [county-type administrative districts] of North Friesland and Schleswig-Flensburg, and in parts of the Kreis of Rendsburg-Eckernförde. The percentage of the members of the Danish minority in the population of the various towns varies greatly, and ranges from local communities where only single minority families live, to about 20 per cent in the town of Flensburg and some smaller places.

The members of this minority understand Danish, and most of them speak the language. In addition, all of them have a good command of German. Parts of the Danish minority – as well as the majority population - speak the regional Low German language; and in the immediate border area, the Danish minority as well as their German fellow citizens also speak Sønderjysk, a South Jutish dialect of Danish.

I.4.2 The Sorbian people

The Sorbs have lived in Lusatia since 600 A.D., when Slavic tribes settled in the area between the Baltic Sea and the Erz Mountains, which had been largely depopulated by the out-migration of Germanic tribes. Since King Henry I placed the Sorbs' settlement area under German rule in 929 A.D., and as increasing numbers of Germans settled there, the Sorbs – a West Slavic people – have been living together with the German population for about one thousand years. They have no mother country outside the borders of Germany.

The number of persons who consider themselves Sorbs is not known. The estimated number is about 60,000 Sorbs, of whom two thirds live in Saxony, and one third in Brandenburg. In some local communities in the Kreis of Kamenz, they account for up to 90 per cent of the population; in some other villages of the settlement area, the majority of the inhabitants are Sorbs. They make up about 10 per cent of the population of the overall settlement area, while in the towns they account for less than 2 per cent.

Approximately 35,000 Sorbs have a command of written and spoken Sorbian; all Sorbs speak German as well.

In the Middle Ages, the Sorbian language was spoken in a much more extended area than today. Sorbian is part of the West Slavonic language family. From the various dialects of colloquial Sorbian, two written languages developed: Upper Sorbian [more precisely: the Sorbian of Upper Lusatia], and Lower Sorbian [the Sorbian of Lower Lusatia]. The areas where Sorbian is spoken today are Upper Lusatia in the northeast of the Free State of Saxony, and Lower Lusatia in the southeast of the Land of Brandenburg. The Sorbs living in Lower Lusatia are also known as Wends.

I.4.3 The ethnic group of Frisians in Germany

The Frisians, as a people of the coastal region of the North Sea, have been known since about the start of the Christian Era. West Friesland - covering the contemporary province of Friesland in the Netherlands, and adjacent regions - and East Friesland have been the settlement area of Frisians since the times of the earliest historic sources. The settlement area of the East Frisians essentially covers East Friesland and the northern Oldenburg region up to the mouth of the Weser River on the North Sea. From the coastal region and from the islands, especially after the devastating storm surges during the Middle Ages, settlement also extended to more southerly inland regions where other people of non-Frisian origin already lived.

The Saterland Frisians are descended from those Frisians who, between 1100 and 1400, moved from the North Sea coast that had been devastated by storm tides, to settle, more to the south, in the Saterland where Westphalians had already settled. The Saterland Frisians live in the Saterland Community which comprises the villages of Strücklingen, Ramsloh, Scharrel and Sedelsberg, including many farmstead hamlets. The population structure of the Saterland, as well as that of all regions of Germany, changed as a result of the general mobility in this century and the in-migration of refugees and expellees after the Second World War. The share of Saterfrisians in the total population of the community has been reduced once again in recent years because of the arrival of many so-called "late repatriates" (Spätaussiedler) who, as former members of German minorities, especially in the former Soviet Union and in South Eastern Europe, returned to their ancestors' native country where they settled in places having sufficient housing available. The majority of the inhabitants of the Community of Saterland, however, (ca. 12,000) regard themselves as Saterlanders.

Since the times of the migration of peoples (Middle Ages population movements), North Friesland at first had not been colonised. The Frisians - presumably by the 7th and 8th centuries - were the first to settle in some areas of North Friesland. Another group of settlers came to the low-lying marshes in the 11th and 12th centuries. The old North Friesland was not a political entity, but consisted of loosely connected administrative districts. Until 1867, North Friesland was part of the Kingdom of Denmark, after that - until 1871 - part of Prussia, and subsequently, together with Prussia, part of the German Empire. The settlement area of the North Frisians is along the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein (Kreis of North Friesland, with the islands of Sylt, Föhr, Amrum and Helgoland). About 50,000 to 60,000 persons consider themselves North Frisians on account of their ethnic descent and their sense of personal identity. In their settlement area, North Frisians account for about one third of the population, while in some island communities they form the majority.

Frisian, as an autonomous and ancestral language, descended from the North Sea Germanic branch of the West Germanic subfamily, differs distinctly from Netherlandic (Dutch and Flemish) and Low German and, in terms of historical linguistics, is closely related to Old English. It has evolved in three subgroups: West Frisian, East Frisian, and North Frisian. West Frisian is spoken in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands. East Frisian is native to East Friesland in Lower Saxony. Both regions form the historical (geographical) centre of the Frisians.

By around 1500, the East Frisians had already replaced the Frisian language by Low German as the language used for drafting legal documents. By 1800, for the most part, they had relinquished their ancestral Frisian language with the language finally disappearing at the beginning of this century on the last of the North Sea Islands. North Frisian consists of two groups of dialects with nine local varieties: six of these [so-called Continental North Frisian] are spoken along the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein (including the holms, or Halligen), and three of them [so-called Insular North Frisian] on the islands of Sylt, Föhr/Amrum, and Helgoland. Despite the linguistic diversity brought about by the subdivision into dialects, the linguistic communality of North Frisian prevails. Of the North Frisian population, some 10,000 persons still speak North Frisian; another 20,000 persons understand this language.

Saterland Frisian, an Emsland-based dialect of the Old East Frisian language, continues to be used as the language of everyday oral communication by about 2,000 Sater Frisians. About twice as many people understand Saterland Frisian. Despite many Low German loan words, Saterland Frisian has preserved its linguistic independence. The Saterland Frisian language originally had superimposed itself on the Westphalian Low German of the first inhabitants of the Saterland. After East Friesland and the adjacent regions of Saterland had changed over to Low German, survival of Saterland Frisian was possible because the Saterland villages were located in a sandy river valley surrounded by extensive fens which provided a shield from contacts with the outside world and from its penetrating and shaping influence well into this century.

East Friesland is still inhabited mainly by people of East Frisian origin. Although the Frisian language is extinct in these parts, an East Frisian - cultural - identity continues to be preserved by the majority of the people in East Friesland, living in the area between the border of the Netherlands and the Weser River. However, it is not possible to give a precise estimate regarding the share of people in the population of East Friesland who identify themselves as Frisians.

The Frisians in East Friesland are united by the feeling of a common history and culture, which finds its expression in a regional identity. They do not consider themselves a national minority. The Saterland Frisians regard themselves as the Saterland Frisian language group. Nor do the largest group of organisationally associated North Frisians - the North Frisian Association (Nordfriesischer Verein) - consider themselves a national minority; rather, they regard themselves as a group having their own language, history and culture within Germany. A much smaller organisation, the Foriining for nationale Friiske (Association of National Frisians), sees the Frisians as a people in its own right and considers themselves a national minority in Germany. Nowadays, the two groups have agreed on to refer to themselves as the "Frisian ethnic group" and are thus designated in the Constitution of the Land of Schleswig-Holstein.

Despite their different positions regarding the description of their identity, the Frisian associations and organisations welcome the claim to the protection and promotion of their culture and language, which is afforded to them by the application of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

I.4.4 The German Sinti and Roma

The Sinti have traditionally lived in German-speaking territory since the 14th or 15th centuries. Roma settled in Germany at a later time. Again and again, in the course of history, Sinti and Roma suffered discrimination, were crowded out from various trades and driven out of towns or regions. In instances, even into this century, attempts made by Sinti to settle in their home region were thwarted. Despite these problems, the Sinti and Roma by and by managed to establish themselves locally, and in their respective home regions, they worked as manual workers, employees, civil servants, craftsmen, artists, small tradesmen and handicraftsmen, and other businesspeople. Due to the racist fanaticism under the National Socialist (Nazi) tyranny, the Sinti and Roma in Germany and in the areas occupied by German armed forces were subjected to persecution and genocide with the aim of their extermination. Hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Roma were murdered, and their cultural heritage was, for the most part, destroyed. Of the 40,000 officially registered German and Austrian Sinti and Roma, more than 25,000 were murdered by May 1945. This persecution, aimed at systematic and definitive extermination, left its mark on the survivors and also has an impact on the members of the generation born after 1945. The memories of those persecuted will, continue to decisively influence their consciousness and their identity. After 1945, many of the surviving Sinti and Roma, whose health had been impaired and whose material basis of existence had been destroyed, still had to struggle with discrimination; for instance, they were subject to local registration with the police and the criminal identification service. In this context, cf. also the comments under Article 4, para. 2, no. 2, below.

The German Sinti and Roma are estimated to number up to 70,000 persons. Some of the Sinti organisations put the numbers even higher. The majority of them live in the capitals of the "old Länder" of Germany [the 11 federal states that belonged to the FRG within its territorial boundaries up to German unification], including Berlin and its environs, and in the conurbations of the greater Hamburg area, the Rhine/Ruhr region with Düsseldorf and Cologne at its centre, the Rhine/Main and Rhine/Neckar conurbations, and the greater Kiel area. In some cases, major numbers of German Sinti and Roma also live in regions of geographically close, smaller towns. Thus, German Sinti and Roma populations are to be found, for instance, in medium-sized and small towns of East Friesland, Northern Hesse, the Palatinate, Baden and Bavaria. The German Sinti and Roma only represent a small, not quantifiable, share of the population in all of their settlement areas.

The Romany spoken by the German Sinti and Roma is the language of those members of this national minority who traditionally live in Germany. It is estimated that the Romany of the German Sinti is spoken by up to 60,000 persons. This is an autonomous language, deriving from Sanskrit, which is spoken by the Sinti in Western Europe, especially in German-speaking areas, and which differs from other Romany languages used in Europe. In addition, the Romany of the German Roma is spoken by an estimated number of up to 10,000 persons. Given the dispersed settlement area, there is no uniform speech area, confined to one particular Land, for the Romany language traditionally spoken in Germany. Instead, this language is spoken in most of the Länder of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Within the organisations of the German Sinti and Roma, there is – as in the case of the Frisians - no general agreement on the designation as either a national minority or an ethnic group. The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, with its nine affiliated Land associations, as well as other associations and institutions that belong to the Central Council consider the German Sinti and Roma to be a national minority in Germany, but at the same time part of the German people. This view is shared by other associations of German Sinti and Roma, or of German Roma.

Associations of German Sinti, which co-operate within the Sinti Alliance Germany (in the process of being founded), see themselves as an ethnic Sinti group within the German people, which wishes to be integrated without discrimination, but also without special privileges, and to cultivate traditional language and culture at the private level, without any governmental measures in this sector. These Sinti reject protection as a national minority. This position must be taken into account by the state to the same extent as the position taken by the Central Council. The obligation flowing from Article 3, para. 1, of the Framework Convention means for the state that the only choice is special protection and promotion. It is up to each individual concerned to avail him/herself of this offer of protection and promotion, or to reject it. The same approach must be taken to the designation of the German Sinti and Roma as a national minority. German Sinti and Roma who, on the basis of their sense of identity, do not consider themselves a national minority, must not, either by a third party or by the state, be seen as a national minority. On the other hand, however, it cannot be denied to any German Sinti or Roma that he/she should identify him/herself as an integral part of the German people and, at the same time, as a member of the national minority of German Sinti and Roma. There is agreement between both positions that the German Sinti and Roma are an inseparable part of the German people. The state acknowledges this common basic position.


In the Schleswig region, there are common settlement areas of various minorities (Danes and North Frisians, and a few Sinti and Roma) in some places. Here, the North Frisians are in the minority as compared to the Danes (but, in instances, depending on the local situation, Danes may also form the minority, with a North Frisian majority). Both groups co-operate, also politically in some instances (cf. the comments under Article 6, below). Frisian is also taught at some schools of the Danish minority. Difficulties regarding relations with one another, and/or discrimination against members of the smaller groups are not known.

As far as Sinti and Roma settling in areas where other groups live, there is no information on co-operation with other groups at the local level. So far, discriminatory action by other minority groups has not been reported.


In 1997, the gross domestic product at market prices amounted to 3,641.80 billion DM (change as compared to the previous year: +2.8 %), the gross national product (GNP) at market prices amounted to 3,612.20 billion DM (change as compared to the previous year: +2.8%), and the net national product (nnp) at factor cost (national income) to 2,746.70 billion DM. The national income is composed of the gross wage and salary income amounting to 1,906.60 billion DM, and the gross income from entrepreneurial activity and property to the amount of 840.10 billion DM. The gross income per inhabitant in 1997 amounted to 33,500 DM, and the gross income per wage earner to 81,100 DM.

In 1997, the gross domestic product, per inhabitant, at current prices amounted to 44,400 DM (change as compared to the previous year: +2.6%).


Following its entry into force, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has continued to be the subject of intensive media reporting both at the supraregional level and in the central settlement areas of the minorities concerned. The Federal Ministry of Justice published, and widely disseminated, a brochure on the Framework Convention, covering the Convention text, the Federal Act ratifying the Convention, and the pertinent memorandum, the Explanatory Report to the Framework Convention, and an introduction to the general subject-matter. The text of the Framework Convention has also been published, inter alia, in the collection of texts compiled by the Federal Centre for Political Education entitled "Human Rights - Documentation and Declaration". The Länder, too, have drawn attention to this international law instrument in various publications (brochures, press releases, Minority Report, etc.). The minorities, in particular, have informed their members in various ways.

Within the Federal Government, the Federal Ministry of the Interior has the overall responsibility for ensuring the implementation of the Framework Convention. Measures in support of the implementation have been, and continue to be, taken to elucidate the contents of this international law instrument, and its practical implications, by means of lectures and other contributions at conferences and seminars, in which both responsible government officials and representatives of the minorities concerned took part. One of the permanent tasks is implementation counselling for the various Länder and government departments, especially also through the sharing of practical experience gained in other Länder and foreign countries, study of the requirements of the minorities concerned, and advice provided to Länder and minorities.

In November 1998, the first Implementation Conference regarding the Framework Convention took place, which brought together representatives of the Federal Ministries responsible for the protection of minorities, similar representatives of the Länder of the Federal Republic of Germany, and representatives of the groups protected under the Framework Convention. The subject was the implementation status of the Framework Convention in Germany, the deficits still encountered in this respect, and the development of the German State Report. Such conferences are to be held at regular intervals. An implementation conference - of several days' duration - was also held on the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The Council of Europe instruments on the protection of minorities and their implementation status are also regularly the subject of discussions of bodies in which parliamentarians, government representatives and representatives of the minorities co-operate.

Before its final endorsement at the national level, the State Report has been sent to the central organisations of the groups concerned for their comments. Their feedback has, to a large extent, been embodied in the present State Report. After its submission to the Secretariat of the Council of Europe, this State Report will be published in Germany.



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