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The Human Rights Committee considers the report of Austria

21 October 2015

The Human Rights Committee today finished the consideration the fifth periodic report of Austria on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The report was presented by Brigitte Ohms, Deputy Head of Constitutional Service of the Austrian Federal Chancellery. She noted that the promotion and protection of human rights was a firm priority for Austria. Austria had significantly scaled up protection and promotion of civil and political rights in the following areas: the prevention of violence against women and gender equality, and the inclusion of persons with disabilities. There was an ongoing structured dialogue with civil society on the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations. That dialogue was intertwined and intensified with the dialogue on the preparation of the Austrian National Action Plan on Human Rights. Many Ministries conducted their thematic dialogues with specialized civil society organizations, such as in the field of women affairs, rights of persons with disabilities, children’s rights, trafficking in human beings and the rights of minorities, particularly the integration of Roma. The Government was doing its outmost to safeguard the existing human rights standards, despite the ongoing difficult economic and budgetary situation. One of the greatest challenges for the Austrian Government was the high number of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. On average, 6,000 persons came to Austria per day.

In the interactive dialogue, Committee Experts raised the issues of ill-treatment of detainees and health services provided to them, involuntary detention, discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, the rise of right-wing ideologies in Austria and their effect on general politics, combating of radicalization and the amendments to the Islamic Law, the treatment of unaccompanied migrant minors and asylum seekers, granting of citizenship to asylum seekers, family reunification rules, violence against women and children. The Committee Experts also observed that it might appear that the Covenant was not given much attention by the State Party, judging from the lack of civil society representation. Experts expressed concern about the lack of a comprehensive mandate and the independence of the Austrian Ombudsman Board, and the lack of harmonization of domestic laws with international standards in the field of equal treatment and anti-discrimination.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Ohms reiterated Austria’s commitment to the rule of law. She noted that isolated reports on human rights violations were investigated by authorities, which could perhaps explained why no Austrian civil society organization attended the meeting.

In his concluding remarks, Konstantine Vardzelashvili, Acting Chairman of the Human Rights Committee, noted that sufficient information was provided by the delegation for future deliberation and reflection.

The delegation of Austria included representatives from the Federal Chancellery, the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection, the Ministry of Education and Women’s Affairs, Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defense and Sports, and the Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to consider the report of Suriname (CCPR/C/SUR/3).

Report

The fifth periodic report of Austria (CCPR/C/AUT/5) is available here.

Presentation of the Report

BRIGITTE OHMS, Deputy Head of Constitutional Service of the Austrian Federal Chancellery, noted that the promotion and protection of human rights was a firm priority for Austria. The Government attached great importance to the full compliance with international human rights obligations, which was demonstrated by Austria’s profound involvement in the Universal Periodic Review process. The country also attached great importance to the cooperation with non-governmental organizations on a wide range of human rights. Many Ministries conducted their thematic dialogues with specialized civil society organizations, such as in the field of women affairs, rights of persons with disabilities, children’s rights, trafficking in human beings and the rights of minorities, and particularly the integration of Roma.

The Government was doing its outmost to safeguard the existing human rights standards, despite the ongoing difficult economic and budgetary situation. One of the greatest challenges for the Austrian Government was the high number of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. On average, 6,000 persons came to Austria per day. Although most of the refugees and migrants wanted to continue their journey to other countries, the Government had to care for all of them as long as they stayed in the territory of Austria. From January to September 2015 more than 55,000 applications for asylum had been filed. More than 11 per cent of the total number of applications in 2015 had been submitted by unaccompanied minors, amounting to 6,100. The Government was struggling to bring them into a child friendly environment, to enable them to attend school, and to offer them adequate school places irrespective of their legal status. To promote the integration of refugees, a new form of apprenticeship was under preparation, the so-called “voluntary year of integration.” It allowed refugees over 17 to enter into agreement with a non-profit organization to work in the framework of those organizations to improve their professional and social skills, and at the same time become familiar with Austrian customs, society and values in a structured environment.

Austria had significantly scaled up protection and promotion of civil and political rights in the following areas: the prevention of violence against women and gender equality, and the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Women’s rights and gender equality had been an important focus of the Austrian Government for many years. To that end, combating and preventing violence remained high on the agenda. Many measures were bundled in the National Action Plan against Violence against Women, adopted in 2014. A 2015 amendment to the Criminal Code explicitly prohibited forced marriage. In addition, the displacement for the purpose of forced marriage abroad was included in the Criminal Code. The crime of “violating sexual self-determination” had also been introduced. To ensure effective policies for gender equality, the Government implemented gender mainstreaming and gender budgeting in the federal administration. Same-sex coupled were now entitled to take a maternity/paternity leave within the first three months of the birth or the first day of adoption, if the child was younger than two years.

As for the promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities, the Government aimed to enable them to lead an independent, self-determined life which was oriented towards their personal needs. Those requiring nursing care were granted a long-term care benefit in cash. The Government also offered a range of measures for the integration and inclusion of persons with disabilities in working life. In order to establish equal opportunities and support them to hold and maintain a job sustainably, the Government provided the following measures: individual funding, such as wage support and workplace adaptation, project support, such as professional assistance services, projects to help people obtain qualifications, and personal assistance at workplace. Austria’s disbursements of the European Union’s Social Fund were focused on getting more people into work by supporting education, training and job creation. In the period 2014-2020 those measures would focus on the young and older persons with disabilities.

Questions by Experts

The first issue raised by an Expert was related to the status of the Covenant under domestic law. The Covenant required that the rights protected by the Covenant were giving effect to domestically, and that victims were provided with effective remedy. Were there any instances in which domestic law was interpreted by courts in light of the Covenant? Was it necessary for the litigant to refer to the Covenant, or did judges have necessary competence to refer to it? How did the State party ensure that the Covenant rights were dully taken into account in the application of domestic law? Could the delegation name examples in which the Covenant had a real practical impact?

Another issue raised concerned the Austrian Ombudsman Board and the independence of that institution. Why was it necessary to leave it to the political parties to nominate the candidates?

The Expert also inquired about ill-treatment of detainees. It was surprising that the accused prison guard in the 2012 Suben prison had been offered an opportunity of settlement. Was the sanction that the prison guard received commensurate with the abuse? There were concerns in general about lenient sentences for ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.

As for statistical data, the Expert repeated that there was a need for disaggregated data on the basis of age, gender and ethnic origin and the number of actual convictions. Did the State Party have an effective system to gather statistical data on cases of torture and ill-treatment in prisons?

In addition, the Expert noted that there were shortcomings in the health care staffing levels in some prisons and a need for continued psychiatric care for prisoners. Was there an efficient 24-hour professional nursing care system in all places of detention? What were the steps taken to develop a valid nursing care system and regular medical examinations?

Many patients in the Sigmund Freud Psychiatric Hospital were not able to benefit from daily outdoor exercise, sometimes for prolonged periods. What steps were taken in response to serious concerns expressed in 2010 regarding the regime under which foreign nationals were held in detention. What steps were taken to prevent such de facto involuntary deprivation of liberty without the necessary legal safeguards?

Question was asked about the harmonization of laws with international standards in the field of equal treatment and anti-discrimination. In light of the Council of Europe guidelines and the European Convention on Human Rights, it would appear that the harmonization was not carried out. The State Party had previously explained that difficulties were encountered in that respect at the European Union level. How were those hampering the harmonization in practice? The tolerance hotline was set up in Austria in February 2015. How effective was that hotline?

An Expert inquired about measures to combat radical Islam and welcomed the fact that Austria had revised the investigative powers of the police. She asked about the effectiveness of the measures set up to assist people in recognizing threats and in creating de-radicalization environment. As for anti-Semitism and xenophobia, was the racist content on the Internet included in relevant legislation?

Ethnic origin was still a frequent ground for discrimination. What was done to combat such discrimination, especially in light of the ongoing flow of migrants of different ethnic origin? What concrete steps were taken in assisting immigrants to integrate in the society? How was the disproportionately high number of immigrants in prisons to be explained? As for racial profiling, police officers had to attend relevant training. How were those affecting gender sensitivity? Female asylum seekers still did not have an opportunity to be interviewed by female personnel.

The Federal Ministry of the Interior had recently issued a decree on how to regulate complaints issued against the police. How many complaints had been filed since then? How effective was the Ombudsman Board in investigating the misconduct of law enforcement forces?

As for the protection of ethnic minorities, an Expert noted that there was still a gap between legislation and practice, especially in the case of Roma. What had been done to more effectively combat the discrimination against people from Africa, Latin America and Roma?

Regarding the implementation of bilingual signs in the Slovene language in Carinthia, the Council of Europe found that it was insufficient. What was done to amend the national legislation for comprehensive minority protection?

Another Expert asked for the clarification of figures on recent arrival of migrants and refugees.

An Expert observed that the Covenant had the status of a federal law, but it was not directly applicable because the Parliament attached a specific provision to it. The Covenant could play an interpretative role for domestic laws.

Another Expert inquired about the representation of women in decision-making positions. Vienna had adopted legal quotas to that end and the Expert wondered whether such quotas were adopted elsewhere.

As for the usage of net beds, she welcomed that the Health Ministry banned their use. Did the ban apply to all facilities and was it fully implemented? Were there any other forms of restraints used in medical facilities?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the Covenant indeed had the status of a federal law. Good part of international laws was not directly applicable in Austria; thus the Government sought to transpose them into the Austrian law. The fact that the Covenant was not directly applicable was not detrimental to the protection of people’s rights. Thanks to the very rich jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, those rights were upheld. A very comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation was present in Austria, and it was applicable to non-citizens. The rights enshrined in the Covenant were upheld by domestic legal provisions, which explained the lack of direct invoking of the Covenant, the Delegation underlined. The Austrian authorities were very flexible on how to prevent violations in the future. There was no formal procedure.

The Austrian Ombudsman Board was really the human rights institution of the country, and it dealt with human rights questions. One of the cases against Austria, for example, had led to the reform of the pension system. The nomination procedure for the Ombudsman Board was completely in line with democratic principles and, as such, political parties had to participate in the process. The Board’s mandate had been amended and enlarged. It was accessible free of charge to everyone. It was in charge of the monitoring of systemic failures and with its recommendations it was in a good position to persuade the authorities to improve human rights standards and get rid of failures.

Responding to concerns about ill-treatment in prisons and detention centers, the delegation noted that the case in the Suben prison was indeed regrettable. The sanction against the prison guard had been handed down by an independent legal body. Prosecutors were free in their decisions. Apart from court sanctions, there was also a disciplinary procedure at the Ministry of Justice.

As for the disaggregated data on victims, the delegation explained that those were not available because the Ministry of Justice did not collect them. With regard to the medical care for prisoners, 24-hour medical care was provided in two prisons, while in others there was no such service during night. Regarding the psychiatric care for prisoners, different hospitals would reply in cases of emergencies.

It was explained that in 2013 some 460 complaints had been submitted against law enforcement forces, and 670 in 2014. Only six of those cases had been pursued and three had been found guilty. There was no data on victims profile. As soon as the Prosecutor’s Office was informed of such cases, it would start an investigation. It was important to distinguish between two kinds of misconduct: the use of violence and the excessive use of violence. It was agreed that more photographic documentation of such cases should be used. There was a special programme to deal with mistreatment claims and it was coordinated by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice. The Office for the Prevention of Corruption existed within the Ministry of the Interior, but outside the police. It acted on its own behalf and any directive that it received had to be recorded. Its work was supervised by an independent legal body.

The delegation informed that there were three levels in combating against racist and xenophobic conduct: strategic, operational and prevention. An effort was in place to increase cooperation with international partners, for example in the cases of foreign fighters. At the prevention level, the authorities tried to act as widely as possible. Only the whole society could fight the tendency towards radicalization and extremism. A hot line existed to that end, and seminars were held to raise awareness of those problems.

The new article in the Criminal Code prohibited incitement to violence and hate speech against ethnic and religious groups. That meant that racist content on the Internet was covered by that legal provision. Amendments to the Criminal Code regarding the pre-trial confinement of non-nationals would enter into force next year. In the beginning of 2015, a task force for radicalization and sensitization was created. Further measures would be taken in the future. Accordingly, there was no data available on its effectiveness.

Good integration was the best tool to fight radicalization, said the delegation. Austria had adopted the National Integration Action Plan in 2010. Since then, huge efforts had been undertaken to strengthen integration outcomes. Currently 160 projects were under way and almost all of them were implemented by civil society. Two years earlier the so-called “welcome desks” had been established across the country and there migrants could get the first information about the country and its culture and language. Another project underway was the law on the recognition of professional qualifications gained abroad. The Extremism Center had been established in December 2014, comprising social workers, teachers, and family members who saw early signs of radicalization. The task of de-radicalization was the one for the whole of society.

Access to and supply of goods and services had been achieved with respect to gender and ethnicity, but goals with respect to age, sexual orientation and religion had not yet been achieved. A draft bill for leveling up had been prepared, but there was no agreement on it among the political parties. One of the reasons stated was that leveling up would restrict the right to private autonomy. It was not clear whether an agreement would be reached any time soon. Equal opportunity and anti-discrimination guidelines for institutions were envisaged.

It was true that migrants in general were in a weaker position when it came to information gathering. Ethnic origin was the most commonly claimed ground for discrimination. The empowerment of migrants was one of the main goal of the Public Employment Service, which provided mentoring and coaching programmes. Diversity policy was in general a priority for the Public Employment Service. Employ permits existed for asylum seekers. Asylum seekers could get those for seasonal work and there were vacancies in that field.

The gap between the reality and legal provisions that prevented discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin indeed existed. That was also the case for a gender equality. However, a lot of awareness raising and information campaigns had been conducted to that end. The Ombudsman could intervene as third party in court cases, which was a good measure to prevent discrimination.

As for the protection of Roma, there was a national strategy for their integration in the labour market. That was conducted in cooperation with the European Social Funds and civil society.

Austria strongly supported the European Union directive regarding female participation in decision-making positions on boards. Since 1996, a quota system had been in place for equally qualified women in Austria; the target was 50 per cent. A lot of federal and provincial level administration had that system. State-affiliated companies had a target of 35 per cent of women on boards. A project funded by the European Commission and carried out in cooperation with the University of Vienna collected best practices in companies on including women in decision-making positions.

The delegation stressed that the denial of access to public places had been clarified and further sharpened through a 2012 legal amendment. Now discrimination on the grounds of race, religion and ethnic origin constituted a punishable offence.

Regarding migration and asylum seekers, the Ministry of the Interior was expecting a big influx of migrants from Slovenia. It was important to make a clear difference between asylum seekers and those who transited. In 2014, 28,000 asylum applications had been received. More than 60,000 had been received in 2015 thus far. Those transiting the country amounted to 300,000 and were accommodated in temporary facilitates. As for the family reunification provisions, legal residents had the right to bring their core family members to Austria. A humanitarian admission programme for Syrian refugees allowed for online application for family reunification outside the core family. As for the same-sex interpreters and interviewers, they were provided in all cases when gender harassment was reported. It had been recently decided that the Austrian Armed Forces would render assistance in the handling of asylum seekers. They assisted in the provision of food and medical care, mostly helping the Red Cross in its duties.

As for unaccompanied migrant and refugee minors, access to schools was guaranteed to refugees and migrants irrespective of their legal status. Access to schools was very important for children and their families. There was no separation between Austrian and non-Austrian citizens at schools. Access to public schools was free of charge and pupils received free textbooks and transport to school. Language support classes were also provided. The Government discussed extraordinary measures to deal with the rising number of refugee and migrant children in schools. Teachers also received training in order to deal with everyday situations in schools.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

An Expert reiterated her question about the actual effect of the Covenant on the national legislation. All branches of the Government were bound by the Covenant, she stressed.

Another Expert asked about asylum procedures and children’s rights. So far the grounds for the restriction of children’s rights in the asylum provisions included public security, prevention of criminal rights and similar reasons. What was done to raise awareness to protect the interests of unaccompanied children? Austria had ratified international conventions on stateless persons, which required it to grant citizenship to stateless unaccompanied children.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the actual effect of the Covenant on Austrian legislation was very intensely discussed in thematic dialogues with civil society. It was not discussed among courts.

Regarding police violence against detainees, in August 2015 the Ministry of Health had issued instructions to deepen investigations by medical staff on whether injuries of detainees could have been result of violence perpetrated by law enforcement officers. Doctors were obliged to report on suspicious cases. As for the quality of health services provided to detainees, doctors had to treat patients in accordance with the state of the art and scientific standards. When such treatment was only possible in hospital, then detainees had to be transferred there.

Regarding the use of net beds in psychiatric hospitals, the delegation explained that it had been banned in 2015. The Association of Psychiatric Doctors was asked to propose alternatives to the use of constraints. As for compulsory hospitalization of patients in psychiatric hospitals without consent, the so-called “patient advocate” had the power to represent the interests of the patient. Patients were hospitalized only in cases when there was an immediate danger to themselves and others, and when there was no alternative to forced hospitalization. In all those cases, it was the Austrian Ombudsman Board that monitored the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture rules in Austria.

The delegation explained that the National Human Rights Action Plan had been asked for by civil society and many international human rights mechanisms. The Plan had been developed through a comprehensive approach. A group of human rights coordinators was introduced in every Ministry, as well as the Action Plan Steering Group which included civil society representatives. A big non-governmental organizations’ forum had been held in June 2015 to present the first draft of measures. The Action Plan was foreseen to be adopted in the beginning of 2016 and it was supposed to create a general framework for thematic national human rights plans, and to develop measures for the areas that were not yet covered.

Regarding the provision of topographical signs in the Slovenian language, the delegation informed that there was an agreement between high-level politicians and the representatives of organizations of the Slovenian minority in April 2011. According to that agreement, a law on the usage of minority languages had been adopted and stipulated that such signs had to be provided. Slovenian minority groups confirmed that the inter-cultural climate in Carinthia had significantly improved.

As for statelessness, it was explained that those who were granted asylum had a preferential possibility to obtain citizenship, whereas young people of 18 also received preference in receiving citizenship. Infants who were found also received Austrian nationality immediately.

In 2014 the Austrian Ombudsman Board had received 11 complaints of violence committed by police officers, out of which four were inadmissible due to previous court decision. In 2015 so far, it had received six complaints, out of which three had been proved not to be substantiated.

Questions by Experts

An Expert raised the issue of violence against women. He welcomed the 2015 amendment to the Criminal Code which prohibited forced marriage. He asked for more statistical data on domestic violence from 2011 until 2014, and on convictions of rape for 2013 and 2014. Were there many cases of violence based on harmful traditions, such as honour and female genital mutilation? How many shelters were available for women who suffered domestic violence?

More clarification was needed for the motivation behind the introduction of the amendments on the Islamic law. Was it true that the amendments stipulated that there should be only one version of the Koran? Were Islamic organizations regulated in the same way as other religious organizations? There were concerns that the amendments would hinder the freedom of religion and the freedom of association.

An Expert expressed concern that the age of 17 was too early for military service. He also drew attention to the fact that many employers in Austria considered prior completion of military service a prerequisite for hiring.

Another Expert inquired about concrete steps undertaken to counter the rise of extremist right-wing organizations which endorsed racist views and advocated that Austria needed to be protected from mass Islamization and migration. She deplored that their rise seemed to have had impact on politics, especially in nourishing neo-Fascism and neo-Nazism. She also asked whether there was explicit prohibition of racial profiling by police and how it was implemented.

The issue of the treatment of asylum seekers and their access to legal counsel was raised by an Expert. There were concerns that legal counseling was not effective as translation was not always provided. Did the legal changes adopted in that respect apply to children only or also to adult asylum seekers? Unaccompanied minors only got a legal representative and a guard in the initial phase.

Regarding the rules for family reunification, a question was asked on what happened when the family reunification quota was met. There was a concern that the ensuing three-year wait rule would damage families.

The Expert noted that pre-deportation detention could last up to ten months, depending on circumstances. The number of those held in pre-deportation detention was high and many were kept in police stations. What was being done to improve material conditions of detention?

Another Expert asked about the consultative process with civil society, including minorities and immigrants. Was civil society included in the dissemination of the recommendations and of the information about the Covenant?

An Expert raised the issue of violence against children and asked for statistical data on the number of cases of violence against and sexual abuse of children, and the number of investigations of such cases. What regulative framework for children’s welfare was developed?

The Expert welcomed the adoption of the national anti-trafficking plan and relevant training. The national referral mechanism for child victims of trafficking was elaborated. What was its current status? Was health care available to the victims of trafficking?

Another Expert inquired about the situation of sex workers in Austria. There were allegations of discrimination of sex workers, such as exclusion from inheritance and loss of custody over children. There were also reports of the lenient attitude of public authorities towards allegations of sexual exploitation and rape of sex workers.

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to the questions on violence against women, the delegation informed that the Ministry of the Interior had a special protection norm for persons who suffered domestic violence. The aggressor was prohibited from returning home for 14 days. Such prohibition had been issued in 7,587 cases in 2014. According to the Ministry of Justice there had been 102 rape convictions in 2012, 140 in 2103, and 126 in 2014; all offenders were men. The training for judiciary personnel on gender-based violence was provided and it was mandatory, especially on domestic violence, stalking and traumatization. The new National Action Plan for the Protection of Women against Violence was in place and the implementation report was expected to be issued in 2017. There were 30 shelters for women in Austria.

As for violence against children and sexual abuse of children, there were special legal provisions for such offences. Relevant preventive and awareness raising measures were also provided by the Ministry of Education. School authorities were obliged to check criminal records of employees.

The National Anti-Trafficking Action Plan for the period 2014-2017 set up goals in cooperation with the federal and regional authorities, raising awareness, strengthening the legal framework, victim protection, criminal prosecution, and evaluation and monitoring process. One of the working groups worked with the victims of child trafficking. The National Referral Mechanism provided for the identification of children victims and steps taken in the best interest of the child, and it involved the police, the youth and social welfare services.

Concerning the labour exploitation in human trafficking, in 2012 a working group had been tasked with that issue and comprised representatives from several Ministries. Its main duty was awareness raising and better cooperation between different authorities. One of the results had been the setting up of indicators for labour inspectors on how to identify victims of labour exploitation. Very few cases had been prosecuted in court. A compensation fund had been established for victims of trafficking.

Regarding the loss of inheritance and custody over children for sex workers, it was true that there was a possibility to exclude from inheritance persons whose profession was perceived to go against public morality. The loss of custody rights was imposed when the wellbeing of the child was deemed endangered. The court had to look into whether the child went to school regularly, ate regularly and whether the mother received customers at home. That measure was used only as last resort.

Turning to the new Islamic Law and its potential harm on the freedom of religion and the freedom of association, the delegation stressed that those rights had been upheld and constitutionally protected for decades. The new Islamic Law replaced the one from 1912 and was based on laws that regulated other religious societies. The new Islamic Law stipulated that Muslims had the right to exercise their confession publicly and to carry out their religious teachings. Funds for religious communities from abroad were restricted, and one-time funds had to be made within Austria. The provision for the mandatory translation of religious texts applied to all religious communities.

The civilian service lasted nine months, whereas the military service lasted six months. As for the recruitment age limit, it was noted that it fully complied with international standards. There was no realistic advantage for employers to employ those who had completed their military service.

Participation in elections by blind persons was facilitated through the use of a person of confidence to register their vote. In addition, voting ballots could be supplied in Brail.

Regarding concrete preventive measures against right-wing extremism, it was explained that the Austrian security forces took the issue very seriously. Events were organized in schools, judiciary and police forces to create awareness and provide training. A constitutional protection report was proposed to fight right-wing extremism. Some 300 workshops on the issue of radicalization and extremism had been conducted in 2015. Political education had become part of the regular history curriculum in schools. As for the prosecution of hate speech, there were objective criteria in that respect and it applied to everyone, except those with political immunity.

Austria was expecting 85,000 asylum applicants in 2015, which could be considered as an emergency situation. Pre-deportation detention was implemented as a measure of last resort. Only 75 deportation decisions had been issued. As for family reunification, everyone who was granted asylum status in Austria was immediately granted the right to bring their family. Counseling services were expanded to include information about basic welfare support. Legal counseling was done by civil society organizations.

In 2015 so far, there were 6,171 unaccompanied minors who had applied for asylum status in Austria. Unaccompanied minors had separate accommodation facilities where they could pursue language courses and receive social services. They also had a possibility to attend school. The legal counsel for unaccompanied minors also acted as a guardian. There were also family-tracing services in cooperation with the Red Cross.

In accordance with international recommendations, the Ministry of the Interior tried to adapt conditions in the pre-deportation facilities. In rare cases it was necessary to use a closed system, in particular if there were sanitary or security reasons. Since the number of asylum seekers had risen so quickly, there were problems in finding proper accommodation for them. Racial profiling was not allowed to be used by the security services and courts in Austria.

It was true that civil society had not participated in the consultative process of the country report preparation. However, regular dialogues were held civil society through various other for a.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

An Expert asked about the efforts undertaken by the State to try to change mindsets and prevent radicalization of young people by extremist groups. He expressed concern over the case of two teenagers of Bosnian origin recruited for Jihad in Syria and then denied return to Austria even though they were Austrian citizens.

Another Expert asked about human trafficking and support for male victims. How many housing units were available for them? To what extent was compensation for human trafficking sought and recovered?

In addition to the Islamic community, there were 14 other registered religious societies in Austria. What were they? Was it possible to access the original Islamic Law of 1912? The new Islamic Law seemed to pose problems in public exercise of religion.

Another Expert inquired whether it was true that sex work could constitute legal grounds for divorce. Children could be taken away from sex workers because of “immoral profession” of their parents. A landlord could evict a tenant on the same grounds. In that light, was sex work indeed a legalized profession?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that every Austrian citizens was allowed to return to the country. However, if there was suspicion of criminal act, especially terrorism, the security authorities were obliged to interview those persons and apprehend them.

There was a list of religious communities on the Internet. The English version of the 1912 Islamic Law was also available online.

Freedom of religion had to be viewed in the light of difference between individual and group rights. The Islamic Law had to be in line with Austria’s Basic Law. Additional rights were given to a religious society in line with certain criteria regulated by the Islamic Law.

Male victims of trafficking still did not have their own accommodation, but everyone who needed accommodation would get it. There was a steady increase in the number of applications for the compensation by victims of human trafficking.

Prostitution as such did not constitute a reason for divorce. However, it could be a reason for divorce when it undermined marital status. Sex work was not sufficient to revoke custody rights for children. They were only revoked when the rights and best interests of children were endangered.

Concluding Remarks

BRIGITTE OHMS, Deputy Head of Constitutional Service of the Austrian Federal Chancellery, noted that Austria was committed to the rule of law. There were isolated reports on human rights violations and authorities were investigating such allegations. Perhaps that explained why no Austrian civil society organization attended the meeting. Austria would remain committed to strengthening and protection of human rights at the national and international level.

KONSTANTINE VARDZELASHVILI, Acting Chairman of the Human Rights Committee, thanked the Austrian delegation for their participation in the meeting, noting that it was a useful opportunity for the State Party to analyze critically its achievements in the promotion and protection of human rights. He noted that sufficient information was provided by the delegation for future deliberation and reflection.

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