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Title:  Austria Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State 
Date:  March 1996 
 
 
 

                                   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. 
 
  Women 
 
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. 
 
  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.  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. 
 
(###)

[end of document]

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