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TITLE: AUSTRIA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DATE: FEBRUARY 1995 AUSTRIA Austria is a constitutional democracy with a federal structure, a bicameral parliament, a directly elected head of state, and an independent judiciary. The police and security organs are subordinated to the executive and judicial authorities. Austria's highly developed market-based economy, with its mix of technologically advanced industry and modern agriculture, affords its citizens a high standard of living. Human rights are highly respected in Austria; individual rights and political freedoms are provided for in the Constitution and generally protected. However, there continued to be occasional reports of abuse by police. 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 abductions. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Torture is banned by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which is incorporated into the Constitution. There were occasional allegations of police brutality in 1994, as in previous years. Amnesty International accused the Government of inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment of foreigners in 1992 and 1993 while they were in detention pending deportation. The Interior Minister rejected the accusations as "referring to cases that occurred years ago (sic) and have since been invalidated." In one of these cases the accused police officer was charged, found guilty, and fined under the Penal Code, which prohibits tormenting or neglecting a detainee. Authorities could not verify other accusations or were unable to determine culpability. Amnesty International continues to look into judicial investigations of the complaints. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The Constitution prohibits arbitrary detention or exile. 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 (if any) 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. A January 1994 reform of the law requires the investigative judge to evaluate an investigative detention at 2 weeks, 1 month, and every 2 months after the arrest. In the first quarter of 1994, the reform led to a 30-percent decrease of persons held in detention pending investigation, compared with the same period in 1993. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The judiciary is independent of the executive and legislative branches. Judges are appointed for life, and may not (in principle) be removed from office. Jury trials are prescribed for major offenses, and convicted persons have the right of appeal. Written charges must be presented to the accused, who has the right to be represented by a lawyer. Accused persons are presumed innocent, and trials are public. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The law provides for the protection of personal data collected, processed, or transmitted by government agencies, public institutions, or private entities. The Constitution protects the secrecy of mail and telephone communications. A 1991 law introduced permanent parliamentary control over the state police and the military secret service. Parliamentary subcommittees to oversee these organs were established in September 1993. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press These freedoms are provided for by the Constitution, and are generally respected, although stringent slander laws tend to discourage reports of police brutality. Austria has a free and independent press, ranging from conservative to Communist. Publications may be removed from circulation if they violate legal provisions concerning morality or public security, but such cases are extremely rare. A 1992 law that lowered the minimum sentences for public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of Nazi crimes has had the desired effect of increasing the conviction rate of accused neo-Nazis. Austrian radio and television are government monopolies but they present diverse points of view. There have been no known complaints of either direct or subtle censorship. A law passed in July 1993 allowed for establishment of private radio stations. Austrians have wide access to international broadcasts via radio and cable television. Freedom of academic expression 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). Public demonstrations require a permit from the police authorities, who are limited to considering only the public-safety aspect of the proposed demonstration, not its political purpose. Permits are routinely issued. The Law on the Formation of Associations stipulates 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 under Austrian law, a religious group must register with the Government. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation The Government does not restrict movement within or out of Austria (including emigration). Citizens who leave the country have the right to return at any time. As a result of a tightening of asylum regulations, applications continued to drop in 1994. A report by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) designates Austria as one of only two Western European nations that are "not a safe third country," on the grounds that the Austrian Government denied asylum to persons charged with crimes carrying the death penalty, and that it incorrectly interpreted the 1951 Convention on Refugees with regard to victims of civil wars. Human rights organizations continue to criticize a 1993 law establishing a quota system for foreign residents, because it makes no distinction between new immigrants and those already resident as guest-workers, and it limits and delays family reunification. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government The Constitution requires that national elections be held at least every 4 years. Suffrage is universal for citizens over age 19, and balloting is secret. The 183 members of Parliament's lower house, the National Council, are directly elected for 4-year terms, while the 63 members of the upper house, the Federal Council (whose powers are mainly advisory), are elected by the legislatures of the nation's nine provinces for terms of 4 to 6 years. The president (head of state) is elected by direct popular balloting. The chancellor (prime minister and head of government) is usually the leader of the strongest party in Parliament. The two are usually from different parties and are not necessarily elected simultaneously. The Government is a coalition. Women candidates did not fare as well in the 1994 elections as previously, and the number of women in the National Council decreased from 46 to 40. In the Cabinet, women occupy 4 of the 16 ministerial positions. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights The Government does not interfere with discussions or investigations by the media, public groups, or private individuals regarding allegations of improper activities on the part of the authorities. International and local human rights groups operate freely. Austria recognizes the competence of the European Human Rights Commission in Strasbourg to implement the European Convention on Human Rights. 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. In October four letter-bombs were mailed to widespread targets in Austria, three of which have foreign connections: a German/Slovene publishing company; a church-run home for refugees; and an advisory board that assists foreigners. It is generally assumed that rightwing extremists were the perpetrators. Police have been investigating intensively, but at year's end had made no identifications of suspects. Women Most legal restrictions on women's rights have been abolished. Women are still prohibited by law from night work in most occupations, and this ban is sometimes used as a pretext for not hiring women. (Nurses, taxi drivers, and a few other occupations are exempted from this ban.) Austria will enter the European Union (EU) in 1995, and is to harmonize its law with relevant EU guidelines by 2002, beginning in 1997. Sixty percent of women between ages 15 and 60 are in the labor force, and their numbers are continuing to grow. Despite substantial gains in women's incomes in private industry, these average 20 percent lower than those of men. Women are not allowed in the Austrian military; suggestions by politicians that women do mandatory civilian service, as do men, were rejected by the Women's Affairs Ministry and women's organizations. Although labor laws providing for equal treatment extend to women in the civil service, they remain underrepresented there. To remedy this, the Women's Omnibus Law which went into effect in January 1993 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 gender. The Labor Court can also award compensation from employers to victims of sexual harassment. Laws prohibit violence against women, but enforcement is often difficult. In cases of domestic dispute in which a woman has been physically abused, police may arrest the perpetrator only if he is caught in the act or the woman files a complaint. A court order forcing a man to stay away from his wife or from any specified woman generally takes 3 to 6 weeks to obtain. Official data for 1993 show 12,377 reported cases of male violence against women, 529 of which were rape cases, and 142 prison sentences for rape. Rape is punishable by 1 to 10 years' imprisonment. Women's organizations estimate between 3 and 10 percent of women become victims of male violence each year. The Government has committed itself to combating family violence, under a campaign publicly supported by the Chancellor. Children The Government has also declared itself committed to protecting children's rights and welfare. Austrian 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. People with Disabilities Disabled individuals are protected by law from discrimination in housing, education, and employment. Austrian 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. 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, Austrian trade unions have an important and independent voice in the political, social, and economic life of the country. In 1994, 53 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. Strikes have been comparatively few and usually of short duration. A major reason for Austria's 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-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 fired for union activities. Austrian 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. Austria has 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. 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. A worker whose annual income falls below a poverty line (approximately $900 a month for a married couple) is eligible for social security benefits. The average Austrian 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 38.5 hours. Extensive legislation, strictly enforced by the Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Social Affairs, provides for mandatory occupational health and safety standards. A law effective 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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