COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION EXAMINES REPORT OF AUSTRIA
23 August 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined eighteenth to twentieth periodic report of Austria on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Introducing the report, Brigitte Ohms, Deputy Head of the Division for International Affairs at the Legal Service in the Federal Chancellery of Austria, said Austria employed a twofold approach in its fight against racism: prevention and provision of effective help for victims. The guiding principle of all measures of Austria’s anti-racism policy was the concept of sustainable social balance and dialogue. A tolerant social climate was highly influenced by public figures and the Government tried to set a good example by denouncing verbal radicalism. Austria wanted to empower people and offered a wide range of support to help members of minority groups enter and stay in the labour market. However, for historical reasons Austria refrained from holding a census since the representatives of ethnic minority groups strongly opposed the idea. Like most European countries Austria distinguished between ethnic minorities and migrant communities and aimed to respond to the needs of both groups in an adequate way.
During the discussion, Experts raised various concerns, in particular about alleged institutionalized racism in Austria, especially as to whether the police force was racist. The popularity of far-right political parties which espoused racist views towards Jews, Muslims, foreign nationals and other minority groups was another concern, as was the growth of skinhead and other far-right groups inspired by extremist national socialist ideologies and neo-Nazism. The continued over-representation of non-citizens in penal establishments was also raised, as was the continued implementation of ‘foreigner quotas’ to public places, reports of desecration of places of worship and cemeteries and memorials belonging to Jews and Muslims, and reports of overt forms of racist abuse of football players of African descent and the display of anti-Semitic banners in football stadia.
Speaking in initial concluding remarks Dilip Lahiri, Rapporteur for the report of Austria, said the report showed several steps taken to improve matters and take into account the Committee’s previous recommendations. The main concern related to the difficulty the Committee had in accepting the State party’s position that it could not provide disaggregated data. Furthermore, there seemed to be structural racism in some State and judicial institutions, which must be dealt with. Other concerns related to the need for awareness-raising and prevention of the preferential treatment still experienced by persons of different ethnicities.
In concluding remarks Ms. Ohms said Austria was eager for new ideas and was ready to change things. As the Committee said, change took time, but on an administrative level things were being brought forward, and time was not an argument not to try again and again to improve life for minorities living in Austria.
The delegation of Austria included representatives of the Federal Chancellery, Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Justice, Federal Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection, Ministry for Education, the Arts and Culture, Ministry for Science and Research, Legal Service of the Federal Chancellery and the Austrian Mission to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Austria towards the end of its session, which concludes on 31 August.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon to review the combined twentieth to twenty-second periodic report of Finland (CERD/C/FIN/20-22).
ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Chairperson, reminded the delegation and the Committee that today’s meeting – as with all country reviews conducted in public by the Committee – was being webcast live over the Internet, and anyone in the world could watch it. Hopefully Austria was watching! The live webcast can be accessed via the following link: http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.
Report of Austria
The combined eighteenth to twentieth periodic report of Austria can be read via the following link: (CERD/C/AUT/18-20).
Presentation of the Report
BRIGITTE OHMS, Deputy Head of the Division for International Affairs at the Legal Service in the Federal Chancellery of Austria, said Austria was highly committed to fulfilling its obligations under the Convention, and continued to strongly advocate for comprehensive solutions to racism, discrimination and intolerance at the United Nations, as well as to be actively engaged with the follow-up mechanisms to the Durban Conference. Austria employed a twofold approach in its fight against racism: preventing racism and effectively protecting against racism, and providing quick and effective help for victims of racism and law enforcement. The preventive approach was highly important as it served a peaceful society: thus the guiding principle of all measures of Austria’s anti-racism policy was the concept of sustainable social balance and dialogue. A tolerant social climate was highly influenced by public figures, including but not limited to politicians. Members of the Austrian Government tried to set a good example in particular by avoiding and denouncing verbal radicalism. Austria wanted to empower people and offered a wide range of support to help members of minority groups enter or stay in the labour market.
Preventive measures used so far included the National Action Plan for Integration, established in 2010, which covered education and language, gainful employment, health and social issues and security and housing. Austria offered a high quality educational system independent of a child’s citizenship, origin, ethnicity or financial background. The Austrian labour market policy strove to avoid all forms of discrimination based on ethnicity and race. Workers were admitted exclusively on the basis of labour market policy criteria, irrespective of their ethnic origin or nationality. The Advisory Board for Human Rights and its Commissions was an independent body responsible for monitoring law enforcement officials from a human rights perspective, and earlier this year was transferred to the Austrian Ombudsman Board. An amendment to the Criminal Code, which came into force on 1 January 2012, tightened the law against discrimination in accordance with the Committee’s last recommendations. A section of the Employment of Foreigners Act that made various restrictions on foreign workers had been deleted, which had also helped reduce trafficking and improved employment options for foreign students and graduates of Austrian universities.
The Equal Treatment Act was under permanent review, for example recently the minimum claims for damages were raised. A long-standing request of the Committee was recently fulfilled, in setting up in the Carinthia region topographical signs in the Slovenian and German languages. Since 2008 Austria had produced a comprehensive set of statistical data on the composition of the Austrian society, giving an up-to-date overview on how many people came into Austria from Africa, Northern America, Asia and other European countries. However, for historical reasons Austria still refrained from surveying its ethnic minorities, since the representatives of those groups strongly opposed the idea of a census. Like most European countries Austria distinguished between ethnic minorities and migrant communities. Austria had strong commitments under international law, especially the Vienna Treaty of 1955, to support ethnic minorities, particularly in preserving their characteristics even for those who had been integrated for a long time. Whereas migrants had very different needs, primarily to settle and to integrate, Austria aimed to respond to the needs of both groups in an adequate way.
Questions from the Experts
DILIP LAHIRI, Committee Member acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Austria, welcomed the large delegation and expressed regret that no non-governmental organizations from Austria had spoken with the Committee, despite their involvement with the Government on the subject. Austria was surrounded by so many countries with contrasting languages and cultures that it had always been a multicultural society with a long history of openness to cultural diversity. The Austro-Hungarian Empire of 1867 to 1918 included Croatia and Hungary and officially recognized 14 languages: the Constitution of the Empire stated that “All races of the empire have equal rights”. Although most Austrians were Roman Catholics, Islam had been officially recognized in Austria since 1912. Today Austria was home to many cultural groups and interculturally orientated non-governmental organizations. Nevertheless racism and xenophobia also had a long history in Austria. Austrians’ traditional dislike for specific groups such as Turks, Serbs and especially Jews climaxed during World War II.
A surprisingly large number of Austrians currently voted for the two far-right political parties FPO (Austrian Freedom Party) and BZO (Alliance for Austria’s Future), which seem to be regarded by most Austrians as mainstream democratic parties. Both FPO and BZO were nationalistic in the sense that they defended the rights of ‘genuine’ Austrians and wanted to restrict the rights of ‘foreigners’. A ‘genuine Austrian’ was generally understood to be a member of a traditional Austrian family, while a ‘foreigner’ was understood to be someone who looked different (e.g. Africans and Asians), behaved and dressed differently (eg Muslims) and/or sounds different (speaks German with an accent), regardless of passport. The FPO was ‘socialist’ in the sense that it wanted to improve social services for ‘genuine’ Austrians and reduce or eliminate social services for ‘foreigners’. FPO and BZO were reminiscent of national socialism in that they encouraged ‘genuine’ Austrians to regard themselves as ‘victims’ of foreigners, who were perceived to be taking away their money and undermining their culture. In the 1930s in Germany ‘the Jews’ were accused of causing the depression; the Nazis were supported by ‘genuine’ Germans who considered themselves victims of the depression and hence victims of ‘the Jews’. Today the scapegoats had changed but the victim mentality, racially-orientated arguments and distortions of the truth had not. FPO and BZO voters did not like foreigners and considered themselves victims of an unfair political system that included globalization and immigration.
In the light of a number of unpleasant incidents in recent years the question was raised of whether or not the Austrian police force was racist. The Rapporteur cited the case of Marcus Omofuma from Nigeria who died when Austrian police suffocated him by taping his mouth and nose; the case of Seibani Wague from Mauritius who died after being pinned to the ground and stood on by Austrian police officers; and the case of Bakary J from the Gambia who was beaten up and seriously injured by Austrian police. In all three cases the responsible police officers were tried but not adequately punished, receiving only suspended sentences and being allowed to continue working. Unfortunately there was no comparative information to show whether any ‘genuine’ Austrians had undergone similar experiences. Foreign nationals and members of ethnic minorities continued to be more at risk of arrest than Austrian citizens for being suspected of having committed crimes, or be impacted by ethnic profiling, racially orientated stops and searches by the police which focused on foreign-looking individuals, particularly young men of African descent. Although the State party had since 2007 undertaken measures to increase representation of ethnic minorities in the police force, ethnic minorities remained grossly under-represented, which undermined the trust that ethnic minorities had in the police service. The Rapporteur welcomed a new policy that required public prosecutors to report to the Ministry of Justice all cases in which an aggravating circumstance such as racism was present.
Many Austrians seemed to believe that most drug dealers were people of African descent and that most people of African descent were drug dealers: that was due to misleading media reports. In fact there were less than 40,000 people of African origin and less than 25,000 people of Sub-Saharan origin in Austria. The truth, according to statistics, showed that the vast majority of drug dealers in Austria were white. Austria had declined to develop a National Action Plan Against Racism as called for in the Durban Declaration as it already had a National Plan of Action on Integration, but the measures to protect from discrimination under the latter were weak and ineffectual. Several reports painted a gloomy picture of the persistence of institutional racism in the criminal justice system and the State party’s approach to identification and response to misconduct by law enforcement officials. The reality of institutional racism in the institutions of the State party must be understood in light of the apparently widespread allegations of callousness and misconduct of law enforcement officials, and a lack of State intervention when appropriate, which promoted a climate of impunity.
‘Guest worker’ immigration was promoted by contract labour programmes since the 1960s and organized by State agencies in 1962 with Spain, Turkey and the Former Yugoslavia. When the ‘guest worker’ scheme ended in 1973 some 226,000 foreigners were working in Austria. Later, the opening of the borders to the Eastern European countries and an additional need of immigrant labour due to an economic upswing and a rise of asylum seekers led to more than doubling the foreign population. Since the enactment of the Asylum Law in 1992 and introduction of a yearly quota, net immigration into Austria was dramatically reduced, and in the 1990s did not exceed 10,000 annually. Today the number of foreign nationals legally resident in Austria stood at approximately 950,000 or 11 per cent of the population.
Today, according to the Eurobarometer survey, levels of racism and xenophobia in Austria were around the European average. However, there were a number of issues that needed to be discussed in a frank dialogue today. First, Austria’s reports continued to exclude the disaggregated data on its composition essential for the Committee to fulfil its mandate. In its presentation today the delegation referred to new statistics, but Committee members had not yet seen them. The delegation spoke about a theological reason for not gathering that data in reply to the Committee’s recommendation that it conduct censuses and exercise to collect data. Although the Committee recommended that those censuses be based upon mother tongue and other criteria, it was disconcerting that pseudo-historical reasons continued to be advanced as justification for failure to undertake efforts that were required for the discharge of treaty obligations.
It was reported that courts did not always impose penalties that were consistent with the gravity of offences that were actuated by racist malice and motivation. The continued over-representation of non-citizens in penal establishments was a further concern. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance in its March 2010 report recorded that in November 2008 about 3,348 of the 8,063 persons detained in the penal system were foreign nationals (about 41.5 per cent). Unfortunately no study had established the root causes of the over-representation of foreign nationals in the criminal justice system – could the delegate give any more information? Despite the long list of issues where improvement was necessary, Austria must not by any means be considered as among the laggards in Western Europe in combating racism and discrimination, the Rapporteur concluded, and Austria had demonstrated considerable willingness to counter racial discrimination.
Of late the State party had witnessed the resurgence of skinheads, far-right wing and other groups that were inspired by extremist national socialist ideologies and neo-Nazism, an Expert said. Austria’s history made that a matter of particular concern. How did Austria deal with those neo-Nazi groups that held rallies and even participated in international festivals? It was important because it was symbolic and because those groups could be very violent.
Reports revealed that anti-Semitic prejudice remained a problem and there were reports of desecration of places of worship and cemeteries and memorials belonging to Jews and Muslims. Those actions were compounded by political statements by far right wing parties and their candidates, as seen in the campaigns for the 2008 general elections and the 2009 European elections, when politicians openly exploited prejudices against minorities, immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, Jews and Muslims. There had also been reports of overt forms of racist abuse of football players of African descent and the display of anti-Semitic banners in football stadia. Laxity in the prosecution of such incidents bred racial and ethnic stereotypes, social exclusion and prejudices that enjoyed impunity. In order to alleviate the negative impact on Muslims and foreign nationals there needed to be stronger safeguards on combating racism in Austria. For an immigrant to be totally assimilated into Austria did they have to abandon their own cultural traditions and learn fluent German?
The delegation was asked about measures taken to prevent discrimination against the Roma and Sinti people, which seemed to have been quite effective. It sometimes seemed that the violations suffered by the Roma people during World War II – the Nazis also sought to exterminate their race – were forgotten. An Expert said positive facts included increasing reports of Austria engaging with minority rights, which were very encouraging and helped move on from the memory of such political characters as Jörg Haider, and Austria was clearly a country committed to tackling racial discrimination. The Expert said he would like to hear more about case law, and also the Government’s dialogue with civil society on equality.
It was noted that Austria was part of the Convention on Prevention of Cyber Crime on posting racist comments on the Internet, and it had also adopted a Code of Ethics for the Austrian press. Was there any synthesis between the Convention and the Code in reducing racist expression? The State party said measures to combat anti-Semitism were particularly important, and it had been active in the United Nations programme to remember the Holocaust. Could they elaborate on what had been done?
The report had a lot of information about positive initiatives, an Expert said, but it did not really give a clear picture of legislation that prevented racial discrimination. Overall, however, it made a positive impression. However, the Expert asked why no non-governmental organizations were present at the meeting, particularly when non-governmental organizations from other countries, and continents, attended. Was it because of a lack of interest in the Committee?
A recommendation from the Committee’s previous concluding observations related to the frequent denial of access to places intended for use by the general public to persons of African or Latin-American origin and the Roma. The continued implementation of ‘foreigner quotas’ to public places whose managers only permitted a prescribed number of persons with migrant backgrounds was a serious concern. Another concern was the predominance of advertisements in the Austria media which categorically stated that applicants must be “Austrian only”. Those advertisements were considered to be only minor offences in Austria, and penalties were usually either a warning or a small fine.
Turning to asylum seekers, Austria’s asylum court grappled with a large backlog of complaints and appeals, an Expert noted. Delays ranged from six months to three and a half years. However, it was noted that the State party was making efforts to reform the structure of the Asylum Court system with a view to clearing that backlog. The Austrian Ombudsman Board had received complaints regarding the restrictive and harsh provisions of the Austrian Citizenship Act which made it extremely difficult for otherwise deserving persons, who had integrated into society and lived in Austria for a long time, to obtain citizenship. The Expert said he was disconcerted to learn that non-Austrian children adopted by Austrian parents did not automatically received citizenship by way of adoption. That raised issues of racial discrimination because the subject of the legal requirement trapped foreign children adopted by Austrian citizens.
Response from the Delegation
The delegation discussed in detail amendments to legislation which not only protected from racist discrimination but also raised awareness among the public. The protection by law was important, but the priority was awareness-raising among the public in order to change the mentality of the people. It was important to empower migrants and people in vulnerable positions to have the same opportunities as the majority of Austrians.
Austria did remember its historical background and would not forget it. That was why the law directly punished any act of denying, trivialising, condoning or justifying the national socialist (Nazi) crimes against humanity in print, any media or in any public manner accessible to many people. That was regardless of whether the criminal act was committed in writing, orally or by any other method. The only consideration was whether the punishable act had been committed in public and made to many individuals. The phrase ‘many individuals’ was defined as a group of about 30 individuals. Regarding racist statements, as identified by the Experts in the media and classified advertisements, the Government decreed that such a statement had to be seen by the public – which meant by at least 150 people – to be punishable by law.
Hate speech, particularly made by politicians during times of elections, was a punishable crime. Hate speech could also constitute the disparagement of religious teaching, incitement to break the law, incitement to and condoning of punishable acts, libel, slander and insult. For example, during the 2008 general election campaigns a political candidate made a speech suggesting that Mohammed, by today’s standards, was a child abuser, that Mohammed wrote the Koran during epileptic seizures and that Islam should be pushed back to where it came from, from beyond the Mediterranean. The politician was punished for hate speech and disparagement of religious teaching. Another example was a 2012 incident when investigations were launched for hate speech against the top candidate of a political party from the same political camp for municipal elections for the use of a campaign poster with the slogan (translated from German) ‘Love of the home country instead of thieves from Morocco’. That slogan was deleted very soon after the posters were launched because public opinion and civil society were so outraged and offended by it, a good example of Austrian society and politicians standing up to such behaviour. Investigations into that case were ongoing. A third example occurred in 2009 when a group of young people interrupted a ceremony of commemoration. They were subsequently prosecuted and imprisoned and also obliged to take courses about the ideology of the national socialists, as imprisonment alone was not enough of a solution; imprisoning young people could often start, rather than end, a criminal career. A most recent example was the publication of an offensive caricature on the Internet 10 days ago, which was causing protests throughout the country and in the media as it was seen to be unacceptable.
To prevent racism at football matches the authorities endeavoured to ensure respectful behaviour from the fans and the players and that any violence before or after the event would be impeached. Of course such violence was closely linked to racism, but specially-trained police officers accompanied the fans and remained in constant contact with them, with the football associations and clubs, as well as the relevant federal office. Further it was enshrined in law that in future big sports events people who had already committed several offences would be warned beforehand. One football association founded by a Viennese police office ‘Fair and Sensitive Police and African Women’ tried to go against existing prejudice and work in the field of human rights by holding panel discussions, discussion evenings and other public events, especially at football matches.
Turning to the large backlog in asylum claims, yes, that had indeed been a problem. In 2006 the court had over 29,000 open cases. By the end of 2011 the number of open cases was down to just over 13,000. There had also been long delays in family reunification and quotas, but the delegate asked the Committee not to generalise. The long delays were true, but the law had been changed in such a way that there were many cases where family reunification was not subject to the quota, and cases were looked at from both sides. For example, the case of an Austrian citizen or somebody from the European Union, wanting their family member to come from a third country, then there was no quota issue. If the person from a third country then wanted to bring another family member, from a third country, into Austria, that would depend on the person’s residency status. Cases took two years to process at the most.
Concerning neo-Nazi activities, Austria was a State composed of nine ‘Länder’ or provinces, and its administration was structured so that each province had a special office to fight against terrorism. One task of those offices was to be present at large events and ensure no racist or neo-Nazi activities occurred. If they did, the officials must stop it immediately. Every three months complaints were registered with the Federal Office of Protection of the Constitution, which put them into an annual report.
Every person in Austria has the right to directly file a complaint with the courts, but there was no legal basis for the courts to inform the Federal Office of Protection of the Constitution of the complaints. Therefore those figures in the annual report were indicative, not absolute.
If one or two Austrians adopted a non-Austrian child then it was true that they must launch a procedure for that child to be given citizenship status. The conditions for that were that at least one parent must be Austrian citizen, and that the family must have its main residence in Austria. However, in autumn this year the citizenship law would be amended and that provision may be updated.
A delegate turned to the question of how far the Austrian police were racist in nature. He referred to the three cases raised by Experts of individuals killed or abused by the police in racist crimes (Omofuma, Wague and Bakary) and explained that a few years ago basic police training was thoroughly updated. Today, one module on the police training course, which lasted 56 hours, exclusively dealt with human rights. Every other topic touched upon human rights, including intervention training in how to use the least possible violence. Human rights training was not complete with the basic training as there was further training available.
In 2008 a large project was launched which focused on the fact that the police force was actually the biggest and most important human rights body in Austria. Representatives of civil society were strongly involved in the project, which was piloted by a core team. Acts of misconduct were regularly evaluated, as to whether they were an error of the system or individual misconduct, and the core team would then decide what could be done to prevent that misconduct happening again in the future. The Committee said that sometimes sanctions for police were too lenient and not binding, which was true. Of course the Government would like to see more ethnic minorities joining the police force, but they had to first be Austrian citizens, and often language problems were another preventative reason. However, today every police office was staffed with at least one person who had a migration background.
Moving to the Austrian prison system, a delegate spoke about the training of prison staff and measures to eradicate racism in prisons. Prison staff meant staff who worked in prisons under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. The prisons housed both pre-trial and sentenced prisons. Prison staff had to undergo training at the Prison Staff Academy which, for many years, taught about human rights in general and how to treat prisoners from different cultures and with different mentalities. To promote a better understanding of foreign cultures and of how to treat foreign prisoners in a respectful way, prisons offered lectures, working groups and film presentations to provide advice and information. Staff members with migration backgrounds helped raise the awareness of both other staff members and inmates. Regarding recruitment, applicants with a migration background were strongly encouraged to apply for prison staff vacancies, although in the last five years only five persons with a migration background had applied.
Austria had a high percentage of foreign inmates – around 50 per cent did not have Austrian citizenship, which was one of the highest proportions in the world. On 1 January 2012 over 8,000 people were detained in Austrian prisons, of whom over 4,000 did not have Austrian citizenship. One reason for that proportion compared to the overall population balance in Austria was the frequent use of pre-trial detention for danger of absconding. That was the danger that the defendant may try to avoid their imminent criminal proceedings or punishment. If a defendant had a permanent domicile in Austria under ‘orderly life circumstances’ with a legal employment then they were not considered to have a reason for absconding. However, if the person did not have a fixed address and earned money through illegal means then they were more likely to be in danger of absconding. A 2008 analysis tried to give more detailed information on the prison balance and concluded that the conviction rate evened out and therefore there was no greater likelihood that non-Austrian citizens were more likely to receive a conviction.
A delegate spoke about the Equal Treatment Act which provided very good damages for any person who had suffered discrimination. Until 2004 the Equal Treatment Act only dealt with gender, and it was true that most cases dealt with gender. However there had, since 2004, been several public cases of people who had been denied access to restaurants, clubs and bars for racist reasons and had been successful and the plaintiffs had been awarded typical damages of €1,400. Those cases demonstrated that awareness was rising among the population of the unacceptability of racial discrimination. The use of the notion ‘ethnicity’ rather than ‘race’ in the Equal Treatment Act was because the Austrian Government was eager to make it a very modern law. Race was a difficult notion in Austria because it could be seen in a biological sense, and so ‘ethnicity’ was used which could be taken in a more broad context and could encompass culture.
Multiple discrimination was a legal notion in Austria and was dealt with in the equal treatment act, which provided that if multiple discrimination occurred the claimant would be awarded higher material damages. Turning to affirmative action, or positive discrimination, it was possible under the Equal Treatment Act, and used in the public service which provided special services for migrants such as coaching or training.
Regarding education, Austria had several measures to prevent discrimination and ensure free access to primary and secondary education. The Austrian Constitution guaranteed free access to schools. Teaching in the mother-tongue was offered and was a very good example of affirmative action. A lack of German language skills – or ethnicity – should never be a reason for a child not to be enrolled in school. There had been a lot of specialist training for teachers and advisory instructions to local education authorities to recruit bilingual teachers.
Concerning the education of Roma, a delegate spoke about the improvement in success rates in one particular region of Austria in enrolling Roma children into school. That was achieved through a tutoring system run by local organizations and associations which were subsidised by the Ministry of Education and offered support in various ways. That support could be in the form of homework help, preparation for exams, tutoring and other areas. All of the tutors came from the Roma community so they knew the sensitivities of the group, which could be another reason for their success. The University of Graz was running a project on Roma language and dialect and recently brought out a dictionary, which would soon be available in schools. Furthermore, cultural work also subsidised by the Ministry of Education, taking the form of cultural events – such as a recent Hip-Hop music festival – which inspired children and helped with not assimilation but integration. The number of children from the Roma and other minority groups who needed special educational needs support had been decreasing, which was another success.
The Ministry of Education also funded a scheme where victims and witnesses of the national socialism (Nazis) of the first half of the twentieth century went into schools, gave lectures, shared memories and painted a lively picture of what happened during that time. Teachers would prepare the pupils about the background and history, and then hold follow-up class work afterwards. About 450 lectures were given per year by 20 volunteers to approximately 20,000 pupils, and those witnesses included three Roma who suffered during the Nazi period and gave their memories of that. School pupils paid regular visits to war memorials and particularly the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria, as well as the Auschwitz concentration camp, and many schools participated in those visits on a regular basis. Other events marked in schools were 21 March, which was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and 5 May, which was the Austrian National Day against Violence and Racism in Memory of the Victims of National Socialism. An association was dedicated to educating children about the sufferings of the Roma by the Nazis and worked closely with schools. Another association which dealt with the Holocaust and national socialism produced literature and textbooks for schools, while another group raised awareness of racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.
A broad-based African image campaign called ‘African Now’, organized and initiated by the African network platform in Austria and supported by the Austrian Development Agency, was launched in 2011. The campaign consisted of film and literature festivals, musical events, workshops, discussions on the image of black people in Austria and public debates on racism and discrimination. School children learnt about Africa and African culture, and many other activities ran throughout the country. The campaign would continue to run and had seen many successes.
Follow-Up Questions by Experts
An Expert referred to a controversial computer game in which players shot down minarets, which was used by a politician in his campaign. The Court acquitted the politician and found he had done nothing wrong in using that computer game. The misuse of certain symbols by public and political figures in public discourse was a concern that must be addressed.
How were neo-Nazi groups surveyed by the authorities in every region, an Expert asked? How were neo-Nazi groups – even if they did not use that name to describe themselves – prevented from presenting themselves as official organizations? The policies of Austria in tackling those issues were especially pertinent to the Committee in light of next week’s Day of General Discussion on the Issue of Hate Speech. If Austria’s policies were working, they could be an example to the rest of Europe.
Response by the Delegation
Neo-Nazi groups were monitored by the Office of the Protection of the Constitution and the Prevention of Terrorism, and this was one of the office’s main tasks. Furthermore, Austria deemed freedom of expression a core value of a democratic society, which was one reason why pre-censorship was prohibited. When hate speech and dissenting speech occurred they were dealt with directly by the Criminal Court. The most useful tool however was the self-regulatory body of the press, which worked with journalists and applied the media’s Code of Ethics (which applied to offline and online media). For example, a recent case was educating the media on why the use of the word ‘nigger’ was wrong, which was publicised.
There had been a broad discussion in Austria about the computer game on shooting down minarets, as many believed that that game could not possibly be legal. The question went to court, which decided that it was not shooting of minarets, rather the player ‘clicked’ on a minaret which made it disappear. So the court decided that as the minarets were not being shot down with guns it was not hate speech, although it was close to hate speech. Although the public thought differently, everybody had to accept the decision of an independent court.
DILIP LAHIRI, Committee Member acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Austria, said the Committee welcomed the regularity, thoroughness and seriousness shown by the State party of its reporting obligations. The current report showed several steps taken to improve matters and take into account the Committee’s previous recommendations. The main concern related to the difficulty the Committee had in accepting the State party’s position that it could not provide disaggregated data. There seemed to be structural racism seen in some State and judicial institutions, which must be dealt with. Other concerns related to the need for awareness-raising and prevention of the preferential treatment still experienced by persons of different ethnicities. On the whole it had been a rewarding and interesting discussion.
BRIGITTE OHMS, Deputy Head of the Division for International Affairs at the Legal Service in the Federal Chancellery, agreed that Austria was eager for new ideas and was ready to change things. As the Committee said, change took time, but on an administrative level things were being brought forward. If there was a need for new legislation, that would also take time, but that was not an argument not to try again and again to improve life for minorities living in Austria.
For use of the information media; not an official record