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Responding to a Stampede Disaster in Germany since July 2010

By: Norbert Klein Posted: December-01-2010 in
Love Parade Berlin
Norbert Klein

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 693

The deaths of many people as a result of a stampede – as it happened on 22.11.2010 in Phnom Penh – is not an unique tragedy. Some other examples, which also resulted in the loss of many human lives, are the following – all these relate to religious pilgrimages.

  • Baghdad/Iraq 2005 – More than 1,000 pilgrims died in panic over a possible suicide bombing
  • Mina/Saudi Arabia 2006 – At least 364 pilgrims died during the annual Haj pilgrimage
  • Wai/Maharashtra/India 2005 – Up to 300 Hindu pilgrims died on the way to a temple
  • Jodhpur/Rajasthan/India 2008 – More than 220 people died at a Hindu temple

But there was also a different stampede tragedy in the German city of Duisburg in July 2010, where 21 people among a crowd of about one million were killed and 342 people were injured – at a Love Parade music festival.

Love Parades had been almost annual events, since the first parade was organized in 1989 in Berlin just before the Berlin Wall was taken down, which had cut the city into a Western and an Eastern part, relating to the political division of Germany into East and West Germany. The Love Parade was organized as a political demonstration for peace and international understanding through love and music. It attracted every year more than one million participants, from all over Germany and from some other counties.

The 2010 event, held in the city of Duisburg, resulted in a stampede, where 21 people were killed at a narrow entrance, at a place where people also had started to exit from the venue. Like in Phnom Penh, when people started to move at a narrow place in both directions, chaos happened. As a consequence of the tragedy, Rainer Schaller, the organizer of the Love Parade 2010, declared: “The Love Parade has always been a peaceful party, but it will forever be overshadowed by the accident, so out of respect for the victims the Love Parade will never take place again.”

Instead, a foundation has been established to monitor the financial assistance provided to victims, so that it meets individual needs which are not the same for everybody affected – as there are people whose injuries may lead to permanent inability to be employed, or even to physical disability. Where necessary, the foundation will support legal action of individual victims, especially from among those who were injured.

But apart from bringing this history of two decades of Love Parades to an end, the tragedy resulted in a still ongoing struggle to clarify what happened, and to clarify the responsibilities for what happened.

By now, a number of documents from the time of planning, and from the time after the tragedy, are public.

Police, city officials, and the organizer of the event, had launched independent investigations into the reasons for the disaster – but these investigations did not come to the same conclusions. All sides presented their findings to the public.

As human life was lost, the state prosecutors have started their investigations, independently acccording to the law, which will lead to a variety of possible verdicts: either nobody can be identified as responsible; or there was negligence of responsible persons or agencies, which may lead to the verdict of inflicting bodily harm, of even of involuntary manslaughter.

Existing materials which are being considered are a Deployment Plan by the city security agencies, in the form of a computer presentation using the Powerpoint program, which showed where police was to be stationed with which tasks. And there are the written minutes about this general planning meeting, where the question was raised at the end: “Does anybody have any questions, objections, or want to make any suggestions?” – and the minutes show that nobody saw any problem.

But, on the other hand, there are also reports that weeks before the event, police warned of possible overcrowding, and they especially warned against publicity campaigns which tried to get even more visitors than in previous years. And later it was reported that the actual deployment of forces to regulate the movement of the crowd did not implement what had been decided during the planning phase; for example police vehicles were parked at different places from the locations assigned – which may have contributed to difficulties to implement the agreed procedures.

There were, understandably, calls in the public that the city officials responsible for planning should resign, as their plan and its execution were not achieving the set goals. So far, they refused to resign, denying that there was any negligent action.

As the judiciary is, according to the German constitution, independent from the administration, investigations to clarify who may be responsible for the loss of life continue by the state prosecutors, whatever organs of the administration say to absolve themselves from responsibility. The prosecutor has even sized the planning documents from the office of the mayor of the city of Duisburg.

Some of the insights which can be gained from a comparison with the situation after the Koh Pich tragedy:

  • In order to find out the truth, much more time is used in the German case; the Cambodian Main Committee and its three sub-committees with the participation of 4 ministers, 11 vice-ministers, and 26 additional members, are concluding their work after only one week.
  • Different actors have presented different reports independently in Duisburg – contributing to a fuller picture and a variety of aspects about the events.
  • Security measures for the future can be based on a variety of the presented experiences of different actors.
  • As human life was lost, the state prosecutors have the legal obligation to evaluate all available information – from the agency which took the initiative of planning the event and applying for a license, to the city giving the permission for the event, and to the city’s security agency responsible for maintaining order according to the plan. They are all equally under the law. They are all being investigated by 5 state prosecutors, assisted by 83 experts. – The organizer and the implementing institutions cannot be members of the investigating organs that care for the implementation of the law, and they have no say on how the legal procedures are implemented, as these are set by law to be followed in all cases where human life is lost.

Norbert KLEIN

Note:Please have a look at About-the-Mirror, where important changes are announced.

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 693 – Tuesday, 30.11.2010
Have a look at the last editorial - you can access it directly from the main page of The Mirror.

Norbert Klein is the Editor of The Mirror – The Mirror is a daily comprehensive summary and translation of the major Khmer language press - More about The Mirror

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