U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Austria
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||25 February 2000|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Austria , 25 February 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa6b10.html [accessed 4 September 2015]|
Austria is a constitutional democracy with a federal parliamentary form of government. Citizens choose their representatives in periodic, free, and fair multiparty elections. The judiciary is independent.
The police are subordinated to the executive and judicial authorities. The national police maintain internal security. The army is responsible for external security. The police are generally well trained and disciplined, although some members of the police were responsible for instances of human rights abuses.
Austria's highly developed, market-based economy, with its mix of technologically advanced industry, modern agriculture, and tourism, affords its citizens a high standard of living.
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse. There were some reports of abuse by police, which involved occasional beatings but mainly involved verbal abuse and threats. Legislation went into effect to increase protection for women against domestic violence, which has been a problem and is considered to be greatly underreported. Trafficking in women for prostitution is a problem.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings.
In May an unsuccessful Nigerian asylum applicant died while being deported; his hands and feet were cuffed and his mouth was taped shut to control his violent behavior (see Section 2.d.).
On September 15, police shot and killed Horst Ludwig Meyer, a suspected member of the German terrorist group Red Army Faction, when he opened fire on them near Vienna. Meyer and an accomplice are believed to have killed a German diplomat, Gerold von Braunmuhl, and, in a separate attack, German businessman Heinz Beckurts and his driver, in 1986. Meyer and his accomplice also are accused of killing a Deutsche Bank spokesman, Alfred Herrenhausen, in 1989 and involvement in a 1988 attack against a NATO installation in Spain. His accomplice, Andrea Klump, was arrested and subsequently extradited to Germany on December 23.
In March Franz Fuchs was convicted for killing four Roma in 1995 and injuring 15 other persons in a letter bomb campaign between 1993 and 1997 (see Section 5).
A French appeals court was considering an Austrian government request for the extradition of the terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez (alias "Carlos the Jackal") at year's end. Austria formally has sought the extradition of "Carlos" since French authorities captured him in 1994. He is wanted on charges of manslaughter, kidnaping, and blackmail in connection with the terrorist attacks at Vienna's OPEC headquarters in December 1975.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the Constitution prohibits such practices, government statistics for 1998 showed 356 complaints against federal police officials for "unjustified use of force," compared with 321 in 1997. Of the 356 complaints, 288 resulted in investigations (compared with 339 in 1997). The number of suspensions dropped from 31 in 1997 to 22 in 1998. Four police officials were convicted of excessive use of force in 1998; two officers were convicted in 1999. Of the 158 cases pending in 1998, 44 have been dismissed due to lack of evidence; the other cases remain pending. Types of abuse ranged from slander to kicking and hitting, resulting mainly in bruising. Some of the violence appears to be racially motivated.
In May an unsuccessful Nigerian asylum applicant died while being deported; his hands and feet were cuffed and his mouth was taped shut to control his violent behavior. Two of the three police officers who accompanied him were suspended and a committee was created with the goal of ensuring that the police and gendarmerie respect human rights while carrying out their duties (see Section 2.d.).
According to some witnesses, in March a dark-skinned French citizen suspected of dealing drugs, known only as Mohammed S., allegedly was beaten by police officers during an arrest. Witnesses alleged that two officers kicked, hit, and sprayed the man with pepper spray after he had been immobilized. After a short period of time, additional officers and an ambulance arrived and the suspect was taken to the hospital. Minister of the Interior Karl Schloegl invited the witnesses to tell him personally what happened and stated that his Ministry, the district attorney, and police management would investigate the matter. Several other witnesses later came forward and contradicted the earlier testimony. Charges were filed against the police officers, but were dropped in July due to lack of evidence.
On March 16, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern regarding reports of serious cases of police brutality towards persons of foreign origin and ethnic minorities.
Prison conditions meet minimum international standards and the Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors. In individual cases, investigating judges or prison directors have jurisdiction over questions of access to the defendant.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and the Government observes this prohibition.
In criminal cases the law provides for investigative or pretrial detention for up to 48 hours; however, in cases of charges of "aggressive behavior" an investigative judge may decide within that period to grant a prosecution request for detention of up to 2 years pending completion of an investigation. The grounds required for such investigative detention are specified in the law, as are conditions for bail. The investigative judge is required to evaluate an investigative detention after 2 weeks, 1 month, and every 2 months after the arrest.
Forced exile is not practiced.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision in practice. The judiciary provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution prohibits such practices, government authorities generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanction.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of the press, and the Government generally respects this right in practice, although stringent slander laws tend to discourage reports of police brutality. Publications may be removed from circulation if they violate legal provisions concerning morality or public security, but such cases are extremely rare.
The government monopoly in television and national radio is gradually being dismantled. A 1993 law permitted licensing of regional private radio stations, but legal challenges by unsuccessful applicants for licenses delayed implementation of the law. Rewritten radio frequency rules went into effect in April 1998. As of July, there were 51 private radio stations. Second quarter figures show that while 71.3 percent of citizens listen to the state-run radio stations, 20.1 percent listen to private stations.
Academic freedom is respected.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, except for Nazi organizations and activities (an exception stipulated also in the Austrian State Treaty of 1955). The Law on the Formation of Associations states that permission to form an organization may be denied if it is apparent that the organization will pursue the illegal activities of a prohibited organization.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion of individuals and the Government generally respects this right in practice. However, the status of religious organizations is governed by the 1874 "Law on Recognition" of churches and by a January 1998 law establishing the status of "confessional communities." Religious recognition under the 1874 law has wide-ranging implications, for example, the authority to participate in the state-collected religious taxation program, to engage in religious education, and to import religious workers to act as ministers, missionaries, or teachers. Although in the past nonrecognized religious groups have had problems obtaining resident permits for foreign religious workers, administrative procedures adopted in 1997 have addressed this problem in part. Officially, 75.3 percent of the population are Roman Catholic, and there are 11 other recognized religious organizations.
Religious organizations may be divided into three different legal categories (listed in descending order of status): officially recognized religious societies, religious confessional communities, and clubs.
Under the law, religious societies have "public law corporation" status. This status permits religious societies to engage in a number of public or quasi-public activities that are denied to other religious organizations. The Constitution singles out religious societies for special recognition. Among the many benefits provided to religious societies that are not granted to other religious organizations are state subsidies for religious teachers (at both public and private schools), and access of the clergy to hospitals, prisons, and the military chaplaincy.
Previously, some nonrecognized religious groups were able to organize as legal entities or associations, although this route has not been available universally. Some groups even have done so while applying for recognition as religious communities under the 1874 law. Many such applications for recognition have languished in the Education Ministry, in some cases for years. Following years of bureaucratic delay and an administrative court order instructing the Education Ministry to render a decision, in 1997 the Ministry denied the request for recognition of Jehovah's Witnesses. Jehovah's Witnesses appealed this decision to the Constitutional Court.
In January 1998, a law went into effect that allows nonrecognized religious groups to seek official status as confessional communities without the fiscal and educational privileges available to recognized religions. Religious confessional communities, once they are recognized officially as such by the Government, have juridical standing, which permits them to engage in such activities as purchasing real estate in their own names, contracting for goods and services, and other activities. To apply groups must have 300 members and submit to the Government their written statutes, describing the goals, rights, and obligations of members, membership regulations, officials, and financing. Groups also must submit a written version of their religious doctrine, which must differ from that of any existing religion recognized under the 1874 law or registered under the new law, for a determination that their basic beliefs do not violate public security, public order, health and morals, or the rights and freedoms of citizens. A religious organization that seeks to obtain this new status is subject to a 6-month waiting period from the time of application to the Ministry of Education and Culture. The new law also sets out additional criteria for eventual recognition according to the 1874 law, such as a 20-year observation period (at least 10 of which must be as a group organized as a confessional community under the new law) and membership equaling at least two one-thousandths of the country's population. Many religious groups and independent congregations do not meet the 300-member threshold for registration under the new law. Only Jehovah's Witnesses currently meet the higher membership requirement for recognition under the 1874 law.
In a decision issued in March 1998, the Constitutional Court voided the Education Ministry's decision on Jehovah's Witnesses and ordered a new decision based on the January law on the Status of Confessional Communities. In July 1998, Jehovah's Witnesses received the status of a confessional community. According to the 1998 law, the group is now subject to a 10-year observation period before they are eligible for recognition.
As of July 10, 1998, the Education Ministry had granted the status of "confessional community" to eight religious groups, including for example, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, and Seventh-Day Adventists. The Church of Scientology and the Hindu Mandir Association withdrew their applications. Later, the Hindu Mandir Association reapplied as the Hindu religious community and was granted confessional community status in December 1998. The Ministry rejected the application of the Sahaja Yoga group; in 1998 the group appealed the decision to the Constitutional Court.
Proponents of the law describe it as an opportunity for religious groups to become officially registered as religious organizations, providing them with a government "quality seal." However, numerous religious groups not recognized by the State, as well as some religious law experts dismiss the purported benefits of obtaining status under the law and have complained that the law's additional criteria for recognition under the 1874 law obstruct claims to recognition and formalize a second-class status for nonrecognized groups. Experts have questioned the law's constitutionality.
After the Education Ministry granted Jehovah's Witnesses the status of Confessional Community, the group immediately in 1998 requested that it be recognized as a religious group under the 1874 law. The Education Ministry denied the application, on the basis that, as a confessional community, Jehovah's Witnesses would need to submit to the required 10-year observation period. The group has appealed this decision to the Constitutional Court, arguing that a 10-year waiting period is unconstitutional. A decision is expected in 2000.
Also in 1998, Jehovah's Witnesses filed a complaint with the European Court for Human Rights, arguing that the group has not yet been granted full status as a religious entity under the 1874 law, despite having made numerous attempts over more than two decades.
Religious associations that do not qualify for either religious society or confessional community status may apply to become "clubs." This status is granted relatively freely, although clubs do not have legal standing and are unable to purchase property, churches, or engage in other activities permitted to the other two legal categories.
During the year, the Government continued its information campaign against religious sects considered potentially harmful to individuals and society. As part of the campaign, the Family Ministry established a new Federal Office on Sects, which is responsible for collecting and providing information on sects active in the country. While the law stipulates that the Office has independent status, the head of the Office is appointed and supervised by the Minister for Environment, Youth, and Family, and the Office is supported by public funds. In September the Family Ministry released a second edition of the brochure entitled "Sects: Knowledge Protects," describing numerous nonrecognized religious groups in negative terms found offensive by many of the groups listed. The brochure lists Jehovah's Witnesses, despite its confessional community status.
Members of the Unification Church and the Church of Scientology complained of discrimination and harassment by the police and the public.
In April the conservative Austrian People's Party (OVP) convention formally adopted a decision made by the party's executive board in 1997 that party membership is incompatible with membership in a sect. This policy led to the resignation of a local OVP official in 1997. Shortly after this decision, a member of the provincial parliament of Upper Austria called for a requirement that civil service applicants and employees sign a declaration that they are not members of the Church of Scientology and that they do not support the Church's goals. False statements would be grounds for disqualification or rejection from the applicants' employment pool. Any person who already was employed and found to be a member of the Church of Scientology would be dismissed. The requirement had not been made law at year's end.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Government does not restrict movement, including emigration. Citizens who leave the country have the right to return at any time.
Austria has signed the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, but subscribes to the "safe country" concept, which requires asylum seekers who enter illegally to depart and seek refugee status from outside the country. In response to continuing criticism by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations, the Government passed an amendment to the 1991 asylum law in 1997 designed to bring some improvements to the "safe country" rule and the appellate procedure. The Government cooperates with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. The UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations generally approve of the 1997 asylum law, but there is still some dissatisfaction with its implementation. A January amendment to the 1997 asylum law, which authorizes the Ministry of Interior to draw up a "white list" of "safe third countries," drew sharp criticism from human rights and refugee advocacy groups. There is widespread opposition to this concept based on the fear that it compromises the principle of individual investigation of claims. This principle was upheld in a February ruling of the Administrative Court, which reversed a denial of asylum made on the basis of the "safe third country" rule. Individuals found to be bona fide refugees by government authorities are not sent back to the countries from which they fled. In 1997 the Government established an appeal body for refugees – the Independent Federal Asylum Senate. Asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected by the Federal Asylum Office may appeal to this body; the Administrative Court is the court of last instance.
Of the estimated 95,000 Bosnian refugees who arrived between April 1992 and July 1993, the Government provided temporary protected status (TPS), similar to first asylum, to 47,000, which made them eligible to receive government assistance without having to file asylum applications. Most of the other 48,000 refugees were deemed to have other means of support, either from families already present in Austria or from nongovernmental organizations (NGO's). The overwhelming number of all Bosnian refugees has been integrated into the labor market. They now hold "gastarbeiter" status, which means that their residency permit is evaluated each year on the basis of the country's overall labor demand. Many of the refugees have chosen voluntarily to return to their homeland, a process that still continues. In 1997 4,200 Bosnians returned to their homeland; a similar number returned by the end of 1998. In December 482 Bosnian refugees still remained in the country in TPS, and still received public assistance. In July 1998, temporary residency rights for citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina were extended beyond the deadline of July 31, 1998 until the summer of 2000. TPS is reserved for those who cannot be absorbed readily as foreign labor or into the community, such as the elderly, the sick, traumatized persons, and illiterate persons.
During the Kosovo crisis, Austria accepted an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 refugees. A total of 5,080 Kosovar Albanians were evacuated directly from Macedonia and admitted to Austria under cover of TPS. Also, the immigration law was modified to allow Kosovar Albanians already in the country in a variety of statuses to extend their stay. In December approximately 1,593 Kosovar Albanians of the total of 5,080 refugees under TPS remained in the country. They receive public assistance under a care program similar to the one set up during the Bosnian crisis. In December the deadline for the end of TPS for Kosovar Albanians was extended beyond December 31 to March 31, 2000, or July 31, 2000, depending on the level of destruction of housing in the area of residence and other individual criteria. A new incentive program for voluntary returnees was developed. About 1,500 Kosovars are expected to stay in the country until March 31, 2000, while about 800 could extend their stay until July 31, 2000.
Asylum applications more than doubled in 1998, from 6,719 in 1997 to 13,805. In 1998 500 applications were accepted and 3,491 requests were denied, compared with 639 approvals and 7,286 denials in 1997. The 1998 approval figure includes asylum seekers from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) (6,647), Iraq (1,963), Iran (950), Afghanistan (467), and India (472). A majority of asylum seekers are male. In the first half of the year requests for asylum more than doubled to 9,830 from 4,526 in 1998. The increase is attributed to the Kosovo conflict: 80 to 85 percent of asylum seekers from the FRY are Kosovar Albanians; about 55 percent are Kurds from Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Improved border controls resulting from the Government's full implementation of the Schengen Agreement in April 1997 also have led to an increase in asylum applications. Aliens who formerly used the country as merely a transit point are now filing asylum applications.
On May 1, an unsuccessful Nigerian asylum applicant, Marcus Omofuma, died while being deported to Lagos via Sofia, Bulgaria. Omofuma's violent, uncooperative behavior led authorities to increase their normal escort from two to three immigration officials. Omafuma's hands and feet were cuffed so that he could not injure himself or others. Additionally, en route to Sofia, the officials taped his mouth shut to silence his loud outcries. Believing that the man had lost consciousness during the flight, the officials summoned a doctor after landing; the doctor pronounced Omofuma dead. A preliminary Bulgarian autopsy found that he had suffocated; a subsequent autopsy performed by an Austrian physician found that Omofuma's death was a result of a heart attack, brought on by extreme stress and a heart weakened by disease. The two doctors are expected to examine each others' reports in the hopes of arriving at an agreement as to the cause of death.
Interior Minister Schloegl promised to review thoroughly internal procedures regarding deportations and temporarily suspended any deportations of individuals expected to behave violently, and turned the case over to the state prosecutor. Two of the three police officers who accompanied Omofuma were suspended. In June Schloegl announced the creation of a committee, composed of representatives from the Justice and Interior Ministries, as well as from NGO's, with the goal of ensuring that the police and gendarmerie respect human rights while carrying out their duties. Schloegl also announced a new policy requiring that all potentially violent individuals be deported via chartered aircraft, rather than on commercial flights. The first such chartered flight took place in late June. Schloegl stated that deportees being returned by air should only be accompanied by properly trained officials. The investigation into the Omofuma case was continuing at year's end, and the police officers remained suspended.
Civil charges were filed on behalf of Omofuma's young daughter stating that Omofuma's human rights were violated. The case was first filed in the administrative appellate senate in the province of Lower Austria. The senate rejected the case, saying that it did not have jurisdiction, and that the case should be handled by the city of Vienna. The decision of the administrative appellate senate in Vienna was pending at year's end.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully. Citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. National elections were held on October 3, in which the Social Democrats won 65 seats in Parliament; the Freedom Party, 52; and the People's Party 52. Negotiations on forming a new coalition government were underway at year's end.
Approximately 32 percent of the members of Parliament and 4 of 16 cabinet members are women.
Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In some cases, they have been dissatisfied with the information that the authorities have supplied in response to specific complaints.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The law provides for protection against any of these kinds of discrimination in employment, provision of welfare benefits, and other matters, and the Government generally enforces its provisions effectively.
Violence against women remains a problem. In June the Minister for Women's Affairs reported that an estimated 300,000 women are abused annually. Police and judges enforce laws against violence; however, less than 10 percent of abused women are estimated to file complaints. Overall, the Women's Ministry estimates that one-fifth of the country's 1.5 million adult women has suffered from violence in a relationship. Many public officials and the media considered this to be an extremely high figure, and as a result, legislators in July passed an amendment to the 1997 Law on the Protection Against Violence in the Family. This amendment extends the period during which police can expel abusive family members from family homes from 7 days to 2 weeks; in special cases, a court order can extend the period for up to 3 months. Between May 1997, when the violence protection law entered into force, and March, the interdiction to prevent abusive family members from returning home was applied in 4,478 cases. The Government also sponsors shelters and help lines for women. A 24-hour women's help line, as the first point of contact for abused women and children, was established in 1996 and has been used by 12,550 women.
Trafficking in women is a problem (see Section 6.f.). While prostitution is legal, trafficking for the purposes of prostitution is illegal.
Most legal restrictions on women's rights have been abolished. In 1994 the European Court of Justice ruled that the country's law prohibiting women from working nights was not permissible and gave the Government until 2001 to adapt its legislation to gender-neutral European Union (EU) regulations. Legislation went into effect in January 1, 1998, requiring that collective bargaining units take action by 2001 to eliminate restrictions on nighttime work for women.
In addition to the federal Women's Affairs Ministry, a federal Equality Commission and a federal Commissioner for Equal Treatment oversee laws prescribing equal treatment of men and women. Sixty percent of women between the ages of 15 and 60 are in the labor force. Despite substantial gains, women's incomes average 30 percent less than those of men.
As of January 1, 1998, women were allowed to serve in the military voluntarily. On April 1, 1998, the first women began training. On December 1, 1998, the first women, both doctors, were taken into the military. The long-term expectation is that women may make up about 5 percent of the military. As of June, there were a total of 73 female soldiers; in November there were 89. Of those, 12 women were pursuing the officer career track while 46 women were pursuing the noncommissioned officer (NCO) career track. The remaining 31 include 5 medical doctors (4 of whom are already officers) and 26 women who are in the military strictly to train as high-level athletes. There are no restrictions on the type or location of assignments given to women. It was expected that approximately 12 more women would enter the military before the end of the year. The first females to complete a course of instruction in the NCO academy graduated in December.
Although labor laws provide for equal treatment for women in the civil service, they remain underrepresented. To remedy this circumstance, a 1993 law requires hiring women of equivalent qualifications ahead of men in civil service areas in which less than 40 percent of the employees are women; however, there are no penalties for failing to attain the 40 percent target.
Women may be awarded compensation of up to 4 months' salary if discriminated against in promotions because of their sex. The Labor Court also can order employers to compensate victims of sexual harassment.
Women's rights organizations are partly politically affiliated, and partly autonomous groups. In voicing their concerns, they receive wide public attention.
Laws protect the vast majority of children's rights established in international conventions and in some respects go beyond them. Each provincial government and the federal Ministry for Youth and Family Affairs has an "Ombudsperson for Children and Adolescents" whose main function is to resolve complaints about violations of rights of children.
While 9 years of education are mandatory for all children, beginning at age 6, the Government also provides free education through the level of technical or vocational programs or university. Educational opportunity is equal for girls and boys. Comprehensive, government-financed medical care is available for all children without regard to gender.
There is no societal pattern of abuse against children, although heightened public awareness of abuse has led the Government to increase its efforts to monitor the issue and prosecute offenders. Reports of suspected sexual abuse of children in 1998 increased to 945, compared with 895 in 1997. The number of related convictions increased to 351 from 314. The rest of the cases remain pending or were dismissed. The growing number of reported incidences of child abuse is considered a result of increased public awareness of the problem. According to the Penal Code, sexual intercourse between an adult and a child (under 14 years of age) is punishable with a prison sentence of up to 10 years; in case of pregnancy of the victim, the sentence can be extended to up to 15 years.
Stricter regulations on child pornography went into effect in 1997. Under the new laws, any citizen engaging in child pornography in a foreign country becomes punishable under Austrian law even if the actions are not punishable in the country where this violation was committed. The laws also entail more severe provisions for the possession, trading, and private viewing of pornographic materials. For example, exchanging videos is now illegal even if done privately rather than as a business transaction.
In the context of its EU presidency, the Government advanced a multiyear plan to prevent misuse of the Internet. In February 1997 authorities set up a 24-hour "tip line" for citizens to report leads on child pornography on the Internet and to lodge complaints. In December 1998, the Government announced its action plan to combat the promotion of child abuse and child pornography through the Internet.
The Government cosponsored an international conference in Vienna from September 29 to October 1, on combating child pornography on the Internet. The conference aimed to establish international practices acceptable to law enforcement and justice officials, as well as to the Internet service provider industry, to purge child pornography from the Internet.
People with Disabilities
The law protects disabled individuals from discrimination in housing, education, and employment. In July 1997, Parliament passed an amendment to the Constitution explicitly requiring the State to provide for equal rights for the disabled "in all areas of everyday life." The law requires all private enterprises and state and federal government offices to employ 1 disabled person for every 25 to 45 employees, depending on the type of work. Employers who do not meet this requirement must pay a fee to the Government, and the proceeds help finance services for the disabled such as training programs, wage subsidies, and workplace adaptations. However, the law has received some criticism, since many observers believe that penalties are too low to discourage companies from bypassing the requirement. No federal law mandates access for the physically disabled; some public buildings are virtually inaccessible to those unable to climb stairs.
Mentally retarded women can be sterilized involuntarily at the request of parents, in the case of minors, or, by request of the responsible family member or by court order, in the case of adults. One political party has called for restrictive legislation to make it more difficult to sterilize mentally retarded women; however, no legislative action has ever been taken on this proposal.
According to an Interior Ministry report on rightwing extremism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, in 1998 there were 244 reported rightwing incidents, 31 anti-Semitic incidents, and 8 xenophobic incidents. A total of 41 individuals were convicted. In 1997 the Ministry reported 279 rightwing incidents, 32 anti-Semitic incidents, and 11 xenophobic incidents; criminal convictions were obtained in 47 cases. In 1997 the Anti-Defamation League opened an office in Vienna for Central and Eastern Europe. The EU opened an office against racism and xenophobia in Vienna in July 1998. On March 16, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed concern regarding reports of serious cases of police brutality towards persons of foreign origin and ethnic minorities.
Legislation in 1997 provided law enforcement agencies with expanded investigative tools, such as electronic eavesdropping, merging of databases, and witness protection programs. Criminal investigations begun in 1995 against three Austrians for spreading fascist and extreme rightwing propaganda through the Internet were dropped in 1997 due to lack of sufficient evidence. Cases against two individuals accused in 1997 of spreading rightwing propaganda via the Internet were dropped in 1998, again due to insufficient evidence.
In October authorities arrested 69 suspected neo-Nazis in the province of Upper Austria. The group had contacts with neo-Nazis in several other countries. In a separate action in November, 17 skinheads in the same province were charged with violation of the law against neo-Nazi activities.
In March Franz Fuchs, the suspect accused of masterminding a xenophobic, deadly letter bomb campaign between 1993 and 1997, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The attacks killed four members of the Roma minority in Burgenland province in 1995 and injured 15 other persons in Austria and in Germany. Fuchs was barred from the proceedings after yelling xenophobic slogans at the start of the trial.
During the national election campaign, the Freedom Party (FPO) exploited the fears of many citizens that EU expansion and a continued influx of asylum seekers and refugees from the Balkans and other areas would result in uncontrolled immigration. The Vienna FPO chapter widely distributed placards carrying antiimmigrant slogans, including a call to stop "over-foreignization." In reaction, on November 12, several tens of thousands of demonstrators attended a Vienna rally against racism and xenophobia.
In March CERD noted a number of reported acts of anti-Semitism and hostility against certain ethnic groups. The head of Austria's Jewish community reported an increase in expressions of anti-Semitism in the course of the campaign leading up to the October 3 elections, as well as after the elections. Members of the community reported receiving threatening mail, being attacked verbally, and occasionally being shoved forcefully aside by pedestrians. The head of the Jewish community concluded that this reflected an increasing intolerance toward minorities and appealed for the cooperation of all political forces to combat xenophobia and racism.
The second suspect in the desecration of the Jewish cemetery in Eisenstadt in 1993 has not been apprehended, and the investigation is no longer being pursued actively.
Section 6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers have the right to form and join unions without prior authorization, under general constitutional provisions regarding freedom of association. In practice trade unions have an important and independent voice in the political, social, and economic life of the country. Fifty-two percent of the work force are organized into 14 national unions belonging to the Austrian Trade Union Federation (OGB), which has a highly centralized leadership structure. Individual unions and the OGB are independent of government or political party control, although formal factions within these organizations are allied closely with political parties.
Although the right to strike is not provided explicitly in the Constitution or in national legislation, it is universally recognized. Historically, strikes have been comparatively few and usually of short duration. In 1998 there was a strike by employees of the Finance Ministry. A major reason for the record of labor peace is the unofficial system of "social partnership" among labor, management, and government. At the center of the system is the Joint Parity Commission for Wages and Prices, which has an important voice on major economic questions.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Unions have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Almost all large companies, private or state-owned, are organized. Worker councils operate at the enterprise level, and workers are entitled by law to elect one-third of the members of the supervisory boards of major companies. Collective agreements covering wages, benefits, and working conditions are negotiated by the OGB with the National Chamber of Commerce and its associations, which represent the employers. The Joint Parity Commission sets wage and price policy guidelines. A 1973 law obliges employers in enterprises with more than five employees to prove that job dismissals are not motivated by antiunion discrimination. Employers found guilty of this offense are required to reinstate workers. Labor and business representatives remain in a longstanding disagreement over how to comply with the obligation under the International Labor Organization's Convention 98 to provide legal protection to employees against arbitrary dismissals in firms with five employees or fewer.
Typically, legal disputes between employers and employees regarding job-related matters are handled by a special arbitration court for social affairs. The OGB is exclusively responsible for collective bargaining. The leadership of the Chamber of Labor, the Chamber of Commerce, and the OGB are elected democratically.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced labor is prohibited by law and generally is not practiced. Trafficking in women for the purpose of forced prostitution remains a problem (see Section 6.f.). The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children and enforces this prohibition effectively.
Former forced laborers have filed suits against Austrian companies that used forced labor provided by the Nazi government. In October 1998, the Government set up a commission to analyze several Nazi-era issues, including forced labor.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum legal working age is 15 years. The Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Social Affairs effectively enforces the law. The Government has adopted laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the work place. The law prohibits forced and bonded child labor, and the Government enforces this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no legislated national minimum wage. Instead, nationwide collective bargaining agreements set minimums by job classification for each industry. The generally accepted unofficial minimum gross income is $13,000 (ATS 168,000) per year. Every worker is entitled to a variety of generous social benefits. The average citizen has a high standard of living, and even the minimum wages are sufficient to permit a decent living for workers and their families.
Although the legal workweek has been established at 40 hours since 1975, more than 50 percent of the labor force is covered by collective bargaining agreements that set the workweek at 38 or 38½ hours.
Extensive legislation, regularly enforced by the Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Social Affairs, provides for mandatory occupational health and safety standards. Workers may file complaints anonymously with the Labor Inspectorate, which may bring suit against the employer on behalf of the employee; however, this option is rarely exercised, as workers normally rely instead on the Chambers of Labor, which file suits on their behalf.
The Labor Code provides that workers have the right to remove themselves from a job if they fear "serious, immediate danger to life and health" without incurring any prejudice to their job or career.
f. Trafficking in Persons
There is no single law covering trafficking in persons generally, but several laws contain provisions that apply to this problem. Trafficking for the purpose of prostitution is illegal, and the law provides for a jail sentence of up to 10 years for convicted traffickers. (Prostitution itself is legal.) Another law covers trafficking in persons for purposes other than prostitution. NGO's report that enforcement is weak and that convicted traffickers generally receive sentences of less than 3 years' imprisonment. The country is both a significant transit and destination point, primarily for women from Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union, who are trafficked into prostitution and other forms of forced dependency. Organized crime groups from these areas also are involved in trafficking. The country is particularly attractive to traffickers due to its geographical location and the fact that citizens of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary do not require visas to enter the country.
A witness protection program granting temporary resident status to women willing to testify against their traffickers went into effect on January 1, 1998. In the past, because so few witnesses agreed to testify against their traffickers, prosecution was difficult and those trafficked often simply were expelled from the country. The witness protection plan is aimed at generating more support from witnesses; however, victims still rarely agree to testify, due to fear of retribution. The temporary resident status allows victims to stay in the country only during a trial; no provisions are made for them to stay in the country following their testimony. Virtually all victims are deported. Various NGO's, with the support of the Government, have begun to broaden their assistance and strong support for battered spouses to include those women seeking to flee from the prostitution traps created by criminal elements. There is one NGO center that provides comprehensive counseling, educational services, and emergency housing to victims of trafficking. In 1995 the Government established an interministerial working group on trafficking in women, which was disbanded in 1998.