Republic of Austria

Head of state: Thomas Klestil
Head of government: Viktor Klima
Capital: Vienna
Population: 8.1 million
Official language: German
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes

AI continued to receive allegations of ill-treatment of detainees by police officers. Most allegations involved non-Caucasian foreign and Austrian nationals. In some instances police officers were alleged to have used racist language. A foreign national died during his forced deportation after being gagged and bound by police officers.


Austrian citizens voted for a new parliament on 3 October, resulting in a significant swing to the main party of the far right. The elections saw the use of openly xenophobic campaigning by the main far right party, which included the use of election posters calling for a stop to an alleged influx of foreigners and to alleged abuses of the asylum system. As a result of the electoral gains made by the main party of the far right, the traditional coalition between the Social Democratic Party and the People's Party appeared to be on the verge of collapse towards the end of 1999.

Intergovernmental organizations

In the period under review, Austria was scrutinized by both the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ECPT) and the UN Committee against Torture. In September the ECPT carried out a 12-day visit as part of its third periodic visit to the country, the findings of which had not been made public by the end of 1999. In November Austria came before the Committee against Torture, which expressed concern that "allegations of ill-treatment by the police are still reported". The Committee recommended that "clear instructions be given to the police by the competent authorities to avoid any incident of ill-treatment by police agents. Such instructions should emphasize that ill-treatment by law enforcement officials shall not be tolerated and shall be promptly investigated and punished in cases of violation according to law".

Allegations of police ill-treatment

AI continued to receive allegations of ill-treatment of detainees by police officers. The majority of complaints came from non-Caucasian foreign and Austrian nationals, who alleged they were ill-treated by police officers, often when being asked for identification. Most reported that they were subjected to repeated kicks, punches, kneeing, beatings with truncheons and spraying with pepper after being restrained. AI expressed concern that investigations into allegations of police ill-treatment have not always been prompt or impartial, resulting in very few cases coming to trial.

  • On 1 November 1998 a black Austrian national, widely referred to in the Austrian media as Dr C., was stopped by the police after reversing his car into a one-way street and abusively asked for his identification. One of the police officers was alleged to have again racially abused Dr C. after he was unable to produce his passport, calling him names and saying that all black people were drug dealers. During the incident the police officers beat Dr C. unconscious. While he lay unconscious on the ground, the police handcuffed him, but continued to beat him after he regained consciousness. As a result of the attack, Dr C. spent 11 days in hospital suffering from injuries to his knees and elbows. After the incident Dr C. was charged with resisting arrest and physically injuring the police officers. In August a court rejected the counter-claim of the two police officers that Dr C. had physically assaulted them but upheld the charge that he had resisted arrest, sentencing him to a conditional four-month prison sentence. The judge found the two police officers guilty of intentionally injuring Dr C. and sentenced them to conditional six-month prison sentences. In October an Independent Administrative Tribunal found the police officers guilty of using excessive force against the detainee and reprimanded them for their use of racist language.

Racist police attitudes

In a number of cases of alleged ill-treatment, police officers were alleged to have verbally abused detainees, using racist language. AI also received information suggesting that racist attitudes among police officers were not confined to subordinate officers.

  • In October AI expressed concern about a senior police officer in the Vienna-Donaustadt Branch of Security who allegedly made racist comments to approximately 30 subordinate police officers during a training session at the end of August. He allegedly told police officers present at the training session that "Negroes deserve to be hit first, then asked their name".

Police counter-complaints

Detainees who lodged complaints of ill-treatment against police officers risked being threatened with criminal counter-charges such as resisting arrest, physical assault or defamation of the arresting police officers. In November the UN Committee against Torture stated "potential complaints of abuse committed by police authorities may be discouraged by the provisions enabling the police to accuse of defamation the person who lodges a complaint against them". Under Austrian law, conviction on a charge of defamation can result in a prison sentence or a fine, depending upon the severity of the allegations.

The threat of defamation was also used against witnesses, violating the principle that eyewitnesses should be protected against ill-treatment or intimidation.

  • In one case in March involving an alleged police assault on a French citizen of African origin, Mohammed Ali Visila, five people who had witnessed the incident were threatened by a leading police figure from the police trade union with being charged with defamation.

Death during deportation

Marcus Omofuma, a Nigerian citizen, died during his deportation from Vienna to Nigeria on 1 May. He allegedly suffocated on the airplane in the presence of three Austrian police officers after being gagged and bound. AI expressed concern that he may have died as a direct or indirect result of his treatment by the police. In November the UN Committee against Torture expressed its concern about "insufficient measures of protection in cases of individuals under an order of deportation".

The subsequent inquiry into the death revealed a considerable lack of clarity regarding the types of physical restraints which could permissibly be used during the expulsion of a deportee. AI was concerned that the Minister of the Interior, senior police officers and police officers of lower rank made contradictory statements about the permissibility of using mouth gags during forced deportations.

After the death of Marcus Omofuma the Austrian authorities created a Human Rights Advisory Council composed of representatives of both non-governmental organizations and the government to monitor and discuss a range of human rights issues in Austria. In its first report, published in October, the Council considered the human rights implications of forced deportations.

AI country visit

An AI delegate visited Austria in June and met representatives of non-governmental organizations, lawyers and victims of alleged police ill-treatment.

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