Images of far-right protestors delivering Nazi salutes in Germany this week were "really shocking", the UN rights chief said Wednesday, warning against growing "amnesia" for the horrors of past European wars.
A knife killing Sunday in Germany's ex-communist eastern region of Saxony, which has long been a hotspot for xenophobia, sparked protests that degenerated into rightwing extremist mobs hunting down immigrants in the streets.
Images of the protests, including of protestors making the illegal Hitler salute, "were really quite shocking," Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein told reporters in Geneva.
He said it was easy to feel "dispirited" at the rise across Europe of "extreme-right political parties with seemingly complete amnesia" for what sparked the two world wars that began on the continent.
"We cannot simply concealed from our memories the traumas of the past, because it's frightening to see how the same devices are being used again," he insisted.
Zeid, who is set to step down from his position as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the end of the week, stressed that the UN could not be the sole voice speaking out against the dangerous development.
"I think it's fundamentally important that public officials throughout Europe denounce all of this," he said.
"We really need a concentration of voices now to say that when we have incitement to hatred, this is prohibited under international human rights law."
- 'Undercurrent of prejudice' -
After the fatal stabbing of a German man, 35, allegedly by a Syrian and an Iraqi, thousands of protesters marched in the eastern city of Chemnitz for two straight days, some chasing down people they believed were immigrants.
Police reported assaults by extremists against at least three foreigners on Sunday, while investigations were opened in 10 cases of the protesters performing the illegal Hitler salute.
At least 20 people were injured on Monday as pyrotechnics and other objects were hurled by both far-right demonstrators as well as anti-fascist counter-protesters in the city.
Zeid said Wednesday the focus on the immigrant origins of the alleged perpetrators of the initial stabbing was "disturbing".
While stressing that the perpetrators obviously needed to be punished, he pointed out that in many European countries, "the equivalent crime committed by a non-immigrant may get some coverage but not nearly the same coverage as an immigrant would receive."
"There is an undercurrent of prejudice that works its way into those media that are somehow connected to the extreme right wing," he warned.
Such coverage, he said, play "into the natural prejudices and bigotry that exist within every society around the world."
"But it's particularly I think worrisome to see it in Europe because of the enormous traumas that Europe itself witnessed during the 20th century."