U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Austria

AUSTRIA   Austria is a constitutional democracy with a federal parliamentary form of government and an independent judiciary in which citizens choose their representatives in periodic, free, and fair multiparty elections. The police are subordinated to the executive and judicial authorities. The national police maintain internal security. The army is responsible for external security. 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 fully respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with instances of individual abuse. There were occasional reports of abuse by police. The Government is taking serious steps to address violence against women.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

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 1994 showed 676 complaints against police officials for "unwarranted use of force" or "excessive use of force," an increase of 203 over 1993. Of the 19 officers who faced disciplinary or legal proceedings as a result, 2 were convicted, 1 pled guilty, 8 cases were suspended, and 8 are pending. Forty-three persons who had filed complaints were sued for slander or resisting the police. The Interior Minister who entered office in April stated that he had ordered prompt and unbiased investigations of police brutality complaints. Although he noted that Austria had sufficient instruments to protect citizens against illegitimate use of police force, he added that he was striving to strengthen police training on human rights. Prison conditions meet minimum international standards. The Government is a party to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which includes a provision for human rights monitoring missions. In individual cases, investigating judges or prison directors have jurisdiction over questions of access.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and the Government observes this prohibition. In criminal cases the law provides for investigative or pretrial detention for up to 48 hours, except that in cases of charges of "aggressive behavior" an investigative judge may within that period decide to grant a prosecution request for detention 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 at 2 weeks, 1 month, and every 2 months after the arrest.

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. Television and national radio are government monopolies, but they present diverse points of view. A law passed in 1993 permits regional private radio stations, but implementation of the law was delayed due to legal challenges by unsuccessful applicants for licenses. After the Constitutional Court ordered the revision of radio frequencies and after complaints against the law were dropped in Styria and Salzburg, two stations opened. The new text of the law, with rewritten radio frequency rules, is expected to be passed in 1996. 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

While the Constitution incorporates the Treaty of St. Germain, which restricts this freedom to religions deemed compatible with public safety and morality, no religions have been banned or hampered, and practitioners of all faiths worship free of governmental interference. To qualify as a recognized religious organization, a religious group must have enough members in the country to indicate the probability of a long-term presence (approximately 2,000 members according to practice) and must register with the Government. Thirteen organizations have qualified.

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. Provisions for granting asylum are generally in accordance with the standards of the 1951 U.N. Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other international refugee organizations criticize Austria's asylum policy as too restrictive, and likely to result in refugee applicants being sent back to third countries that are not safe. In August the Interior Minister instituted a new ruling that rape as an instrument of political, ethnic, or religious repression constitutes grounds for asylum. The increasing occurrence of rape cases in the war zones in the former Yugoslavia prompted the ruling. The Immigration Law was amended in April to facilitate procedures for residence applications and to remove several flaws that had caused hardship.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right peacefully to change their government. Citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. Prior to the 1995 election, approximately 23 percent of the members of Parliament and 6 of 20 cabinet members were 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 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 comprehensive 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.


Official data for 1994 (latest available) show 12,986 reported cases of violence against women, of which 546 were rapes and 266 other sexual assaults. Police and judges enforce laws against violence; however, only about 10 percent of abused women file complaints. The Government plans to expand police authority to enforce measures banning an abusive spouse from a previously jointly owned home or other places where the victim might be stalked. Most legal restrictions on women's rights have been abolished. Women are still prohibited by law from night work in most occupations. Although this ban is sometimes used as a pretext for not hiring women, it is supported by the Women's Affairs Ministry and women's organizations. (Nurses, taxi drivers, and a few other occupations are exempted from this ban.) According to a 1994 ruling by the European Court of Justice, a sex-based prohibition of nighttime work is not permissible. The Government has been granted a transition period until 2001 to adapt its legislation to gender-neutral European Union regulations, and is due to report in 1997 on its progress. 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 ages 15 and 60 are in the labor force. Despite substantial gains in women's incomes, they average 20 percent lower than those of men. Women are not allowed in the military. Although labor laws providing for equal treatment extend to women in the civil service, they remain underrepresented there. To remedy this, 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; but there are no penalties for failure 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 can also award compensation from employers to 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. There is no pattern of societal abuse against children.

People with Disabilities

Disabled individuals are protected by law from discrimination in housing, education, and employment. 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. No federal law mandates access for the physically disabled; some public buildings are virtually inaccessible for those unable to climb stairs.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Interior Ministry issued a report on rightwing extremism, which showed that in 1994 the number of complaints and reports of incidents of rightwing extremism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism rose to 601, which was 14 percent higher than 1993. Sixty-one cases resulted in court sentences. The rise in the number of cases specifically related to the law against neo-Nazi activities was steeper: 38 percent higher in 1994 than in 1993. Members of several ethnic and racial groups were the targets of bombs that caused injury or death. For example, on February 4, four members of the Roma community were killed in Oberwart when they tried to take down an anti-Roma sign, triggering a bomb. On February 6, a bomb disguised as an aerosol can wounded a municipal garbage worker in Stinatz, which is mainly populated by Austrians of Croatian descent. On June 9, a letter bomb injured two women in Linz who worked for an agency that provides match-making services for East Europeans and Asians seeking Austrian spouses. That same day a colleague who opened a letter addressed to a black Austrian-born television moderator was also injured by a letter bomb. On October 16, letter bombs in Stronsdorf and Poysdorf wounded a Syrian-born Austrian citizen and the founder of a refugee aid agency. Security forces have not yet apprehended the perpetrators of these acts of violence. On December 11, two of a total of four letter bombs exploded in a public mailbox in the Styrian city of Graz. The letter bombs were addressed to the mother of a pro-foreigner activist, to an Indian-born Austrian couple, and to the Vienna office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Police could not decipher one address. A passerby suffered light ear injuries. Two Austrians accused of complicity in a 1993 letter bomb campaign were acquitted of the charges in December. They admitted neo-Nazi activities, for which they were sentenced to 3- and 5-year prison terms. The Interior Ministry described the rightwing extremist groups as not unified, but increasingly secretive and isolated. At the same time, they are increasing their use of computers and international electronic networks. In November, the Justice and Interior Ministries developed a joint proposal for legislation to expand the use of investigative tools, such as electronic eavesdropping and merging of databases, and to introduce protections for defendants and witnesses who cooperate with investigative authorities. The proposal is expected to be considered by the new Parliament in 1996. In addition to legislative measures to counter criminal activities, the Interior Ministry reported that it initiated interministerial cooperative educational programs aimed at students and teaching staffs.

Religious Minorities

One Jewish cemetery was vandalized during the year. The annual report of the London Institute for Jewish Affairs expressed concern over the progress made by neo-Nazi organizations in Austria and elsewhere in Europe, but also noted the resolve with which the Government and the opposition parties fight "attacks against the principles of democracy and against racial violence."

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to form and join unions without prior authorization, under general constitutional guarantees of 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 was organized in 14 national unions, all 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 closely allied with political parties. Although the right to strike is not explicitly provided for in the Constitution or in national legislation, it is universally recognized. Historically, strikes have been comparatively few and usually of short duration. The only strike during the year involved 60 metal industry workers, who struck for 2 days in protest over the firing of 2 shop stewards. 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. Wage and price policy guidelines are set by the Joint Parity Commission. 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 are required to reinstate workers. Labor and business representatives remain in 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 employer 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 chambers 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 is not practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum legal working age is 15 years. The law is effectively enforced by the Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Social Affairs.

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 $14,000 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 38 1/2 hours. Extensive legislation, regularly enforced by the Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Social Affairs, provides for mandatory occupational health and safety standards. A law that became effective on January 1, 1995, extends such protection to all workers. Workers may file complaints anonymously with the Labor Inspectorate, which may bring suit against the employer on behalf of the employee, but this option is rarely exercised, as workers normally rely instead on the Chambers of Labor, which file suits on their behalf.

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