Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October 2014, 16:06 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2000 - Austria

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 26 February 2001
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2000 - Austria , 26 February 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa94b.html [accessed 22 October 2014]
Comments This report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with sections 116(d) and 502(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, and section 504 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. The law provides that the Secretary of State shall transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, by February 25 "a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights, within the meaning of subsection (A) in countries that receive assistance under this part, and (B) in all other foreign countries which are members of the United Nations and which are not otherwise the subject of a human rights report under this Act." We have also included reports on several countries that do not fall into the categories established by these statutes and that thus are not covered by the congressional requirement.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Austria is a constitutional democracy with a federal parliamentary form of government. Citizens choose their representatives in periodic, free, and fair multiparty elections. In February a new right-of-center coalition came to power, comprised of the conservative People's Party (OVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO). 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.

The country'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. Inclusion of the FPO in the Government was met with widespread, generally peaceful protests in Vienna and other large cities throughout the country. Many human rights organizations and minorities feared that the country's general climate of tolerance and respect for ethnic and religious diversity would worsen. This resulted in a sharp increase in attention to and scrutiny of the country's human rights situation by foreign governments, the Council of Europe, other European Union (EU) member states, and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's). A number of reports published by such observers expressed concern about ambiguous racist and/or xenophobic comments of senior FPO leaders, which it was feared would legitimize intolerance aimed at minority groups. In September a group of 3 human rights experts selected by the President of the European Court of Human Rights, as accepted by the other 14 members of the EU, released a report on the situation of minorities, refugees, and immigrants in the country, which concluded that appropriate legal protection was available for these groups. The new Government passed a comprehensive prominority rights bill providing expanded constitutional protections for the six officially recognized minorities. Violence against women is a problem, which the Government is taking steps to address. Trafficking in women for prostitution remains a problem.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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 two drug-related deaths of foreign-born suspects while in pretrial custody temporarily revived a debate about police brutality. On May 3, a 26-year-old Nigerian asylum applicant, Richard Ibekwe, also known as Peter Weah Richard, died while in pretrial detention for suspected drug offenses. Witnesses reported that police officers beat Ibekwe in the course of his arrest 2 weeks prior to his death. On May 5, a 40-year-old Slovakian also died while in police custody. Official autopsies confirmed that both men died of drug overdoses. Due to allegations of police brutality, an internal investigation into Ibekwe's death was begun. The results were still pending at year's end.

In May 1999, 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.).

In March 1999, Franz Fuchs was convicted for killing 4 Roma in 1995 and injuring 15 other persons in a letter bomb campaign conducted between 1993 and 1997 (see Section 5).

A French appeals court is considering an Austrian government request for the extradition of the terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez (alias "Carlos the Jackal"). 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 Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) headquarters in December 1975.

b. Disappearance

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 1999 showed 365 complaints against federal police officials for "unjustified use of force," compared with 356 in 1998. Of the 365 complaints, 292 resulted in investigations, compared with 288 in 1998. Four officers were convicted of excessive use of force in 1999; one officer was convicted in 1998. Types of abuse ranged from slander to kicking and hitting, resulting mainly in bruising. Some of the violence appeared to be racially motivated. An Interior Ministry survey on the "ethics of police conduct" among policemen revealed that half of the 2,000 policemen interviewed stated that they would not report their colleagues in cases of misconduct.

In January two U.S. citizens involved in a dispute with a Viennese nightclub alleged mistreatment by the police. Injuries included wrist nerve damage and slight bruising. One of the men is HIV positive and was denied access to his medication during his approximately 12-hour incarceration. The two alleged that such mistreatment was directed against them because of their homosexuality and nationality. Investigation into this case was suspended by the public prosecutor's office due to lack of evidence. In a separate case, a drug suspect who was allegedly beaten during arrest later died in custody (see Section 1.a.).

In May 1999, 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.).

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 respects 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.

The Government does not use forced exile.

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.

The Constitution provides that judges are independent in the exercise of their judicial office. Judges cannot be removed from office or transferred against their will. There are local, regional, and regional higher courts, as well as the Supreme Court as the court of highest instance. The system of judicial review provides for extensive possibilities for appeal. Trials have to be public, and have to be conducted orally. Persons charged with criminal offenses are to be considered innocent until proven guilty. While the Supreme Court is the court of highest instance for the judiciary, the Administrative Court acts as the supervisory body over the administrative branch, and the Constitutional Court presides over constitutional issues.

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.

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; however, stringent slander laws tend to discourage reports of police brutality, and foreign observers – including the European Court of Human Rights – have concluded that the use of libel procedures to protect politicians may hamper freedom of speech and the press. A conviction for libel by a criminal court cannot be appealed to the Constitutional Court. In most cases, judgments are handed down by a court of appeals, which does not rely on case law. Several FPO politicians have been accused of paying police officers to obtain confidential information in order to discredit opponents of the FPO. An investigation is underway under the auspices of an independent committee. A number of officers have been suspended pending the completion of the investigation. Since 1986 Joerg Haider, the former FPO leader and current governor of Carinthia, has engaged in over 350 libel suits against media outlets and individuals. Following the negative reaction to the FPO's inclusion in the Government, Haider called for the prosecution of deputies critical of the Government under a provision of the Criminal Code. Justice Minister Dieter Boehmdorfer (FPO) received extensive criticism for his initial support for this measure. 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 national radio has been dismantled. A 1993 law permitted licensing of regional private radio stations. There are currently 36 commercial and 9 community radio stations. By the end of 1999, 75.2 percent of citizens listened to state-run radio stations, and 17 percent listened to private stations. While a law establishing terrestrial frequencies for private television stations is expected to be passed in 2001, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) currently retains its monopoly on terrestrial television broadcasts.

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 would 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 associations.

Under the law, religious societies have "public 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. State subsidies for religious teachers, at both public and private schools, constitute one of the benefits provided to religious societies that is not granted to other religious organizations.

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 were not handled expeditiously by the Ministry of Education and Culture; in some cases, years passed before a decision was made. 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 and contracting for goods and services. 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.

The nine religious groups that have constituted themselves as confessional communities according to the 1998 law are: Jehovah's Witnesses, the Baha'i Faith, the Baptists, the Evangelical Alliance, the Movement for Religious Renewal, the Pentecostalists, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the Hindu religious community. After initially filing for confessional community status, the Church of Scientology withdrew its application from consideration. The Ministry rejected the application of the Sahaja Yoga group; in 1998 the group appealed the decision to the Constitutional Court. A decision was still pending on this case at year's end. 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 observation period is unconstitutional. A decision was still pending at year's end.

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 for more than 2 decades. A decision was still pending at year's end.

Religious organizations that do not qualify for either religious society or confessional community status may apply to become associations. This status is granted relatively freely, although associations do not have legal standing and are unable to purchase property, churches, or engage in other activities permitted to the other two legal categories.

The Government continued its information campaign against religious sects that it considered potentially harmful to the interests of individuals and society. In September 1999, the Ministry for Social Security and Generations issued a new edition of a controversial brochure that described numerous nonrecognized religious groups in negative terms, which many of the groups deemed offensive. This brochure includes information on Jehovah's Witnesses, despite its status as a confessional community. On April 6, the new Minster for Social Security and Generations, Elisabeth Sickl (FPO), announced plans to support the training of "specialists" among teachers and youth leaders in order to sensitize them to the dangers posed by some nonrecognized religious groups to the young. She also pledged to include representatives from provincial governments in an interministerial working group to decide on measures to "protect citizens from the damaging influence of sects, cults, and esoteric movements." These statements were interpreted in some circles as evidence that the Freedom Party's participation in government may strengthen efforts to curb the role of nonrecognized religious groups. Sickl left office in October. Her successor has made no public statements on this issue. The federal office on sects continues to collect and distribute information on organizations considered sects. Under the law, this office has independent status, but its head is appointed and supervised by the Minister for Social Security and Generations.

In April 1999, the Conservative People's Party (OVP) convention formally accepted a decision made by the party's executive board in 1997 that party membership is incompatible with membership in a sect.

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.

The new coalition adopted the policy of the outgoing SPO-led cabinet that the Government needs to focus on integration prior to considering any new immigration. In June Economics Minister Martin Bartenstein (OVP) issued a decree liberalizing existing employment restrictions for certain groups of legal aliens, paving the way for their integration into the labor market. Also in June, the Constitutional Court rejected the current upper age limit of 14 for the visa category of family reunification as too restrictive. The Government did not decide on its response to this decision but is considering adopting the EU standard of age 16 as the cutoff for this category. In the first 6 months of the year, the number of illegal aliens seized by police was 20,606, an 18.4 percent increase over the same period in 1999.

The law includes provisions for granting refugee/asylee status in accordance with the provisions of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol; however, the Government 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 1999 ruling of the administrative court and again in a March 2000 ruling. In both cases the High Court reversed a denial of asylum made on the basis of the "safe third country" rule.

Making government care available to all needy asylum applicants until their claims are processed was a focal point of the year's agenda of the UNHCR regional office. In principle asylum applicants are entitled to federal assistance for food, shelter, and medical care. However, the Federal Care Provisions Act specifically states that there is no corresponding legal right for applicants. The result is that asylum applicants denied assistance have no legal recourse if denied these benefits. The Government grants assistance to only one-third of all asylum applicants who face financial hardship; one-third are forced to rely on charitable assistance, and the remaining applicants abandoned their applications and are believed to have left the country to apply for asylum elsewhere. Individuals found to be bona fide refugees by government authorities are not sent back to the countries from which they fled. Asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected by the Federal Asylum Office may appeal to the independent Federal Asylum Senate; 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. The Government's program of assistance for Bosnian war refugees in TPS expired on July 31. As of that date, approximately 300 Bosnian refugees formerly in TPS remained in the country and are now being supported by the social welfare system.

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. The Interior Ministry has agreed to extend the July 2000 deadline for the repatriation of approximately 1,200 Kosovar refugees in three categories: 1) those needing protection, 2) those supported financially by relatives residing legally in Austria, and 3) Kosovars who earlier were granted temporary protected status or asylum and already were integrated into the labor market. The Government has said that the 226 Kosovars in need of protection would be permitted to stay in the country for at least another year, whereas the other two categories are to be granted humanitarian residence status temporarily until new immigration quotas become formally available in 2001.

Preliminary figures for asylum applications during the year indicate a decrease by almost 10 percent from 1999 figures to 18,290. In 1999 there were 20,096 asylum applications, a significant increase over the 1998 total of 13,805. In 1999 3,434 applications were accepted and 3,573 were denied, compared with 500 approvals and 3,491 denials in 1998. The 1999 approval figure includes asylum seekers from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (2,953), Afghanistan (108), Iran (99), Iraq (80), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (26). The record 1999 approval rate of 49 percent (compared with 11.5 percent in 1998) is attributed to the Kosovo conflict. Improved border controls resulting from the 1997 full implementation of the Schengen Agreement have led to an increase in asylum applications. Aliens who formerly used the country as a transit point increasingly are filing asylum applications upon arrival.

In May 1999, an unsuccessful Nigerian asylum applicant, Marcus Omofuma, died while being deported to Lagos via Sofia, Bulgaria (see Section 1.a.). Because of Omofuma's violent, uncooperative behavior, accompanying Austrian police physically restrained him, including taping his mouth shut to silence his loud outcries. Omofuma lost consciousness during the flight and was pronounced dead upon arrival in Sofia. The incident prompted a complete review of internal procedures regarding deportations. Two of the three police officers who accompanied Omofuma were suspended. The Interior Ministry created the Human Rights Advisory Council, composed of representatives from the Justice and Interior Ministries, as well as NGO's, to ensure that the police and gendarmerie respect human rights while carrying out their duties. In addition, the Ministry announced a new policy requiring that all potentially violent individuals be deported via chartered aircraft, rather than on commercial flights. The investigation into the Omofuma case is ongoing. Civil charges, filed on behalf of Omofuma's daughter stating that Omofuma's human rights were violated, are also pending.

In August the Human Rights Advisory Council released a report criticizing the conditions of deportation detention for minors as not meeting minimum international standards. The council's report to the Ministry of Interior lists 43 recommendations aimed at correcting the implementation of current legal provisions or at amending the law.

There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.

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 in October 1999, in which the Social Democrats (SPO) won 65 seats in Parliament; the Freedom party (FPO) 52; the People's Party (OVP) 52; and the Green Party 14. On February 4, the OVP and FPO formed a right-of-center coalition government, headed by the OVP.

Women play an active role but are underrepresented in government and politics. Approximately 27 percent of the Members of Parliament and 5 of 16 cabinet members are women.

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. There have been no reports of discrimination against organizations that report on human rights.

Following the inclusion of the FPO in the Government, several NGO's expressed concern that the country's climate of tolerance and respect for ethnic and religious diversity would worsen. During the summer, a group of 3 human rights experts, accepted by the other 14 EU member states, conducted a review of the rights of minorities, refugees, and immigrants in the country. Their report, published in September, concluded that appropriate legal protection was available for minorities.

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. There were allegations that police abused homosexuals (see Section 1.c.).

Women

Violence against women remains a problem. 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 Association of Houses for Battered Women estimates that one-fifth of the country's 1.5 million adult women has suffered from violence in a relationship. In July 1999, legislators passed an amendment to the 1997 Law on the Protection Against Violence in the Family, extending the period during which police can expel abusive family members from family homes. Between January and June, the injunction to prevent abusive family members from returning home was applied in 1,687 cases. The Government also sponsors shelters and help lines for 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 EU regulations. Legislation went into effect in January 1998, requiring that collective bargaining units take action by 2001 to eliminate restrictions on nighttime work for women.

In October the Freedom Party replaced Social Security and Generations Minister Elisabeth Sickl with FPO Member of Parliament Herbert Haupt. The Government received extensive criticism for replacing the head of this ministry, which oversees women's affairs, with a man. 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 continue to average 30 percent less than those of men.

In September the U.N. Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women released a report criticizing the new Government's treatment of women, including its decision to abolish the Federal Women's Affairs Ministry and fold its portfolio into the newly created Ministry of Social Affairs and Generations. The Committee was especially concerned about immigrant women's access to employment.

As of January 1, 1998, women were allowed to serve in the military voluntarily. On April 1, 1998, the first two 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 August, there were a total of 104 women serving in the military. This includes 6 officers, 2 of whom currently are serving in peacekeeping operations abroad, and 13 noncommissioned officers (NCO's). There are 7 women currently undergoing officer training and 52 training to be NCO's. The remaining 26 are training as high-level athletes. There are no restrictions on the type or location of assignments given to women.

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. Critics of the Government raised the issue of sexual equality in a proposed "objectivity law" on personnel appointments in the civil service. They are asking for provisions that provide parity between men and women on personnel appointment panels.

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. Despite fears of women's rights groups, the new coalition asserted that these groups would continue to receive government subsidies.

Children

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 awareness of child abuse has led the Government to increase its efforts to monitor the issue and prosecute offenders. 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. In 1999 the Ministry of Justice reported 690 cases of child abuse involving either intercourse with a minor (paragraph 206 of the Penal Code) or attempted intercourse with a minor (paragraph 207). Of these, 519 cases were investigated. In 1998 there were 745 cases involving the same sections of the Penal Code, of which 554 were investigated, resulting in 252 convictions.

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.

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.

Religious Minorities

Members of various nonrecognized religious groups complained of discrimination and harassment by the public. The head of the Lutheran Church in Burgenland, Gertrude Knoll, who spoke out against intolerance and xenophobia at a February political demonstration, was subjected to hate mail and threats against herself and her family. It was widely assumed, but never proven, that FPO supporters were behind the hate campaign.

The leader of the country's Jewish community reported that persons within the community who took a stand against racism and xenophobia (including himself) were subjected to verbal and written threats. The FPO's attitudes against foreigners and minorities reportedly led some members of the Jewish community to consider leaving the country.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

While statistics for the first half of the year showed a marked increase in the number of official complaints of neo-Nazi, rightwing extremist, or xenophobic incidents, the Interior Ministry estimates that figures for the calendar year indicate a slight overall decrease compared to 1999. In 1999 the Ministry recorded 311 rightwing incidents, 15 anti-Semitic incidents, and 52 xenophobic incidents, which led to a total of 25 convictions. In 1998 there were 244 reported rightwing incidents, 31 anti-Semitic incidents, and 8 xenophobic incidents, with 41 convictions. The Government expressed concern over the activities of extreme-right skinhead and neo-Nazi groups, many with links to organizations in other countries. Despite ongoing budgetary austerity, the Government retained the previous year's funding levels for ethnic minorities in the 2000 budget.

In August the domestic media reported that the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) issued a confidential report to the Government recommending the swift implementation of additional measures against racism, xenophobia, discrimination, and intolerance. Members of the Commission reportedly expressed "deep concern about the extensive use of racist and xenophobic remarks by Austrian politicians."

In July the Government passed a comprehensive prominority rights bill providing expanded constitutional protections for the country's six officially recognized minorities. In response to a longstanding demand by minority representatives, the governing coalition committed to "honor and promote its historic minorities" as a constitutionally anchored policy goal. In a related development, the Government approved the placement of bilingual town signs in Croat- and Hungarian-speaking areas of Burgenland province, an action pending since 1955. The Government also agreed to continue funding, albeit at lower levels, privately run minority radio stations. In Carinthia Governor Haider promised to fulfill a longstanding demand by the resident Slovene minority for a dedicated seat in the provincial assembly. Haider also promised to implement additional prominority measures in the province's preschool system. Minority representatives acknowledged all these measures, but some critics contend that the recent spate of prominority measures is clearly a result of EU sanctions.

In October 1999, 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 1999, 17 skinheads in the same province were charged with violation of the law against neo-Nazi activities.

In March 1999, Franz Fuchs was convicted of conducting a xenophobic, deadly letter bomb campaign between 1993 and 1997. He was sentenced to life imprisonment but committed suicide in February.

During the national election campaign, the Freedom Party 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 anti-immigrant slogans, including a call to stop "over-foreignization."

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 13 national unions belonging to the Austrian Trade Union Federation (OGB), which has a highly centralized leadership structure. Association of national unions with the OGB is voluntary. 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. 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 an agreement was signed between the Government, attorneys representing former forced and slave laborers, and representatives of foreign governments, providing for compensation for former forced and slave laborers. In July Parliament unanimously passed legislation authorizing the payment of $418 million (6 billion ATS) for victims of forced and slave 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 $11,200 (168,000 ATS) 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 381/2 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. A leading domestic NGO reports that the country has shifted from being a transit country to a major final destination, 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. Convictions for trafficking in women and children increased by 162 percent. Police estimate that one-fourth of trafficking in women in the country is controlled by organized crime. Austria is particularly attractive to traffickers due to its geographic location and to the fact that citizens of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary do not require visas to enter the country. On March 24, the Interior Ministry announced draft legislation to enact stronger penalties against alien smuggling. The maximum penalty for the most serious offenses would increase from 5 to 10 years' imprisonment. In the first 6 months of the year, the authorities arrested 133 smugglers of persons.

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.

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