“The Austrian Ombudsman Board is the Human Rights House of the Republic of Austria. It is also, where the Human Rights Advisory Council is based. We are responsible for the preventive monitoring of human rights in prisons, retirement and nursing homes, as well as institutions for persons with disabilities, and we are actively involved in the UN’s human rights monitoring, most recently in the country review of Austria within the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, said Ombudsman Bernhard Achitz. “We also work closely with civil society. In a scientific cooperation with the Austrian League for Human Rights, we have now developed an online monitoring tool that shows where Austria falls short in terms of human rights with just a few mouse clicks. It also shows that there is an enormous need for action.”
The Austrian League for Human Rights coordinates the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the status report of civil society in Austria. The UPR process is an instrument of the UN Human Rights Council, which was created to monitor the human rights situation in the member states. On 7 November 2023, the League submitted the midterm report of civil society regarding the UPR of Austria to the UN.
Austrian League for Human Rights: “Government’s balance sheet is sobering”
In the UPR process, the Austrian League for Human rights submitted a midterm report on the status of implementation of the recommendation to the UN Human Rights Council. The UPR is a cyclic process that takes a comprehensive look at the human rights situation every five years. Austria is in the middle of a current cycle, which allows both the Republic and civil society to submit midterm reports. The Austrian League for Human Rights coordinates more than 250 Austrian civil society organisations through their umbrella organisations.
“In its midterm report on 317 human rights recommendations for Austria, civil society has provided assessments on 45 thematic clusters. The balance sheet is sobering”, summarised Florian Horn who coordinated the midterm report. “A progress in various implementation stages was visible in only 18 out of these 45 thematic clusters, i.e. 40%; and in 27 clusters, i.e. 60%, there was no effective implementation at all.”
„Therefore, if Austria wants to have any chance to adequately close the current cycle, we must make considerable efforts over the next two years”, said Horn. This implementation is necessary at the federal and state level. Civil society is being increasingly involved in the current UPR cycle, which is encouraging. However, greater efficiency is needed for further improvement. Horn: “Civil society experts should, for instance, be involved in legislative initiatives at a much earlier stage.” Another long-standing demand of civil society and several UN member states alike, i.e. a strategic National Action Plan for Human Rights, still remains unfulfilled. The Austrian Ombudsman Board wishes for a strategic plan on human rights by the Government and would prefer that to the current "patchwork" situation.
Currently, there is no sufficient state initiative to implement an effective human rights monitoring. To improve this situation, the League brought to life an online monitoring tool within its website, in a scientific cooperation with the Austrian Ombudsman Board and partially financed by the Future Funds of the Republic of Austria. In future, this tool shall provide an up-to-date status of the implementation of the human rights recommendations in Austria at all times.
ZARA: United against racism: A National Action plan in sight?
There is also a lack of efforts on the part of the Republic of Austria to implement many demands of the UPR in the field of anti-discrimination, such as the still missing National Action Plan on Racism.
The non-profit organization ZARA – Civil Courage & Anti-Racism-Work, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and other civil society organisations in Austria have long recognised that structural racism is prevalent in every area of society, particularly in the working environment, education, health care and housing. “And yet a solution to reduce structural inequalities in all nine federal states is not in sights”, said ZARA CEO, Rita Isiba.
Since 2001, ZARA has been demanding from the Austrian Government to draw up a National Action Plan on Racism, containing goals and measures to fight racism on a structural and institutional level.
For 24 years, ZARA has been publishing its annual racism report in which racist attacks reported to ZARA and its underlying racist structures are analysed. The 23 racism reports published so far contain data on information received by ZARA, showing how many people have been affected by racism directly, how many witnessed a racist incident and how many were counselled by ZARA. Isiba said: “It is a mistake to think that racism only consists of individual cases per year. Racism is a deep-rooted problem that has always been there and that occurs everywhere in everyday life. ZARA wants to show that we cannot simply measure racism by numbers from one year to the next.”
Fighting racism requires an overall strategy, promoting the development and implementation of a strategic approach. Based on their experience in anti-racism work and systematic analyses, ZARA and various communities and civil society organisations have already done a lot of preliminary work on the goals and measures that should be included in a National Action Plan on Racism.
Source: The Austrian Ombudsman Board