AUSTRIA 2021Some bans on public assemblies disproportionately restricted the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Whistle-blowers lacked effective protection. There was insufficient support for women survivors of gender-based violence. Afghan nationals continued to be deported to Afghanistan until shortly before the Taliban takeover of the country in August. The regular use of facial recognition technology was introduced in law enforcement operations in August 2020. Failures to effectively investigate allegations of ill-treatment by the police persisted. Social assistance benefits in some states were inadequate. The right to adequate housing was not protected.
Freedom of assemblyThe authorities used laws enacted to counter the Covid-19 pandemic to ban some public assemblies. Courts found that, in some cases, the bans constituted a disproportionate restriction of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
Freedom of expressionCivil society organizations raised concerns over a decline in press freedoms. Fifteen civil society organizations described as excessive the criminal prosecution of Julian H., who played a key role in the making of the so-called “Ibiza video” alleging high-level corruption. His trial, which began in September, was ongoing at the end of the year. In February, the government put forward the Freedom of Information Bill, which contained measures to improve access to information, including by abolishing official secrecy. Concerns remained over the effectiveness of the procedure should the authorities decide to deny access to information, as well as the lack of an independent information commissioner and an effective mechanism for the protection of whistle-blowers. The bill was passed to the relevant ministry in April, but no revised proposal was presented to parliament by the end of the year. Reforms of the intelligence service, which entered into force on 1 December, fell short of ensuring protection for whistle-blowers and establishing an independent oversight mechanism.
Women’s and girls’ rightsThe number of femicides remained high and the authorities again failed to provide sufficient resources to improve access to women’s support services. Barriers in accessing affordable and safe abortion services persisted. Migrant women caring for older people in their homes received low wages, worked excessively long hours without adequate breaks and faced barriers in accessing social security benefits because of multiple discrimination.1
Refugees’ and migrants’ rightsBetween January and August, 64 Afghan nationals were deported to Afghanistan, despite a real risk of serious human rights violations upon return. In August, the government opposed the evacuation of Afghans fleeing the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The government also continued to oppose the relocation of asylum seekers from the Greek islands. In July, the Styrian Regional Administrative Court ruled that a group of seven asylum seekers had been illegally pushed back to Slovenia, noting that such illegal pushbacks were a recurrent practice.
DiscriminationIn July, the Anti-Terrorism Act was adopted. Civil society organizations and UN experts raised concerns that the newly introduced crime of leading or founding a “religiously motivated extremist organization” would stigmatize and discriminate against Muslims. In August 2020, the regular use of facial recognition technology was introduced in law enforcement operations. This raised concerns regarding its potentially discriminatory impact on ethnic and racial minorities, as well as the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The number of allegations of racial profiling by police remained high.
Detainees’ rightsIn May, the Ministry of Justice proposed measures to reform the system of preventive measures of detention for offenders with mental illness. However, their access to adequate healthcare was not addressed by the planned reforms.
Excessive use of forceFailures to effectively investigate allegations of excessive use of force by the police persisted. An independent investigation body, announced by the government in January 2020, had not been established by the end of the year. Impunity and lack of accountability were also worsened by the continuing lack of a requirement for police officers to wear identification badges.
Right to social securityIn July, six federal states implemented the Fundamental Law on Social Assistance which provided for caps on social aid benefits for adults rather than ensuring a minimum level of cash and in-kind benefits to ensure a life in dignity.
Right to adequate housingThe deferral of rental payments and the prohibition on evictions, agreed by the authorities in April 2020 to protect tenants unable to pay rent because of Covid-19 lockdown measures, ended in March. In the absence of government measures to continue to prohibit evictions, experts anticipated a wave of evictions.
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