Demands of Austrian Non-Governmental Organisations to Establish a Structural Basis for Human Rights in Austria
- amnesty international Austria,
- Asyl in Not - Unterstützungskomitee für politisch verfolgte Ausländer,
- Boltzmann Institut für Menschenrechte,
- Bruno Kreisky Foundation for Outstanding Achievements in the Area of Human Rights,
- Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker,
- Homosexuellen Initiative (HOSI) Wien - 1. Lesben und Schwulenverband,
- "I 64"ECPAT Austria,
- Initiative Minderheiten,
- International Helsinki Federation,
- Internationaler Versöhnungsbund,
- Iustitia et Pax,
- Katholische Aktion,
- Katholische Sozialakademie,
- Österreichische Liga für Menschenrechte,
- Österreichisches Studienzentrum für Frieden und Konfliktforschung,
- Rechtskomitee LAMBDA,
- Reporter ohne Grenzen,
- Verein Frauenrechte-Menschenrechte,
- Wiener Appell,
- World University Service, Graz
- Initiative Volksbegehren Recht auf Arbeit
for further information contact:
Stefan August Lütgenau
Bruno Kreisky Foundation for Outstanding Achievements in the Area of Human Rights
Rechte Wienzeile 97
"Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings; their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of Governments."
(Vienna Declaration and Program of Action 1993)
Although Austria supports the comprehensive concept of the state's responsibility for the realisation of human rights at international conferences, its political practice has only partially lived up to those high standards. The Austrian non-governmental human rights organisations have pointed out many times in the past the shortcomings in the implementation of international human rights standards, particularly in the areas of asylum and protection against discrimination.
There are also a series of structural problems which hinder the realisation of human rights, problems which are only being solved sluggishly. Human rights are barely discernible in Austrian public opinion and human rights discourse in politics and society is thus marginalized. The Federal Government, Parliament, provincial governments, municipalities and political parties have not yet developed a systematic observance of human rights as their guide for all of their political actions. The concept of human rights is still limited in Austria, and basic human rights awareness is only weakly developed.
A more systematic and open human rights discourse in Austria
For this reason the Austrian human rights organisations present the following concrete demands to the Austrian government, the Parliament and the political parties. These institutions should address the question of the realisation of human rights in Austria and create the necessary framework for political decision-making at all levels. The catalogue of demands presented here aims to establish a structural base for discourse on human rights in Austria and at the same time offers a systematic approach, missing up to now, to meet the international responsibilities of the Republic of Austria. The core of these demands is a systematic prioritising of Austrian politics in favour of a structured, co-ordinated and lasting human rights policy. In many cases, existing staff, organisational and financial resources can be built upon to achieve a conscious focus on human rights discourse in Austria.
A sensible re-prioritising in favour of an open and broad human rights policy in Austria does not necessarily require much higher financial or personnel costs. A change in priorities in human rights policy, accomplished by means of targeted transfers and concentrations of competencies within already existing structures (federal ministries), would bring substantive progress without creating cost-intensive new structures. In the past federal and provincial governments have created foundations, usually in the realm of the fine arts. A common federal and local foundation for human rights is lacking; however, were it to be created, it could take on important assignments.
According to the Declaration of the World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna, 1993, the realisation of the civil, cultural, economic, political and social human rights for all must become a central topic of political activity. Also still to be implemented consistently in this country are the specific decisions from the World Summit for Children (New York, 1990), UN Conference on the Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995), the Fourth World Conference on Women (Peking, 1995), Second UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II, Istanbul, 1996) and the World Food Summit (Rome, 1996).
The Austrian non-governmental human rights organisations invite all institutions and groups addressed here to discuss the following demands and to develop together an open and ambitious human rights policy.
The realisation of human rights is the prerequisite for a life in dignity for every person. Human rights are indivisible and universal.
Human rights should be the basis of all state action, their protection and extension the cardinal concern of politics.
Austria should take all measures to achieve the realisation of all human rights for all. Everything the state does, both in domestic and in foreign policy, should orient itself on this aim.
1. Human Rights in Austria
Human rights in Austria have not yet been completely realised. Therefore, the Federal Government, Parliament, states and communities are requested, through appropriate legal, administrative and other measures to guarantee that all who live in Austria are able to enjoy , without reservations, all human rights, regardless of race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other convictions, nationality, national, ethnic or social origin, property, birth, physical or mental status, age or other status.
Especially the considerable deficits in the areas of asylum and foreigners' rights, protection of minorities, women's rights, rights of same-sex relationships as well as the rights of children and youth need to be overcome.
Institutionalisation of Human Rights
- Human rights and proposals for their realisation should be an integral part of the programme of each newly appointed government.
- The government should submit to Parliament an annual, comprehensive, analytical report on its policies to bring about human rights in Austria and abroad.
- Parliament should create a committee for human rights issues. This committee should consider all draft bills relevant to the realisation of human rights. The committee shall inform and consult with experts and representatives of non-governmental human rights organisations.
- Parliament should regularly examine the implementation of human rights obligations in Austria.
- In the exercise of its control function, Parliament should create the necessary institutional basis and work with external experts and non-governmental organisations, and it should also scrutinize whether judgements, decisions and recommendations from international bodies set up to supervise human rights treaties have been conformed with.
- Members of Parliament should observe their responsibilities as stated in the resolution of the Interparliamentary Conference for the Protection and Advancement of Human Rights (Cairo 1997).
- Parliament should address relevant current issues by carrying out campaigns, information days and other events together with non-governmental organisations.
- In its consideration of the Federal Government's annual report on human rights, Parliament should take into consideration opinions and information of non-governmental organisations.
National Committee for Human Rights
- The National Committee on Human Rights, created on the occasion of the Human Rights Year 1998, should be institutionalised.
- The National Committee, consisting of representatives of governmental and non-governmental institutions and organisations, should serve as a forum for the discussion of Austrian human rights policy, especially the annual human rights report of the Federal Government.
- The National Committee should deal with on the demands in this document.
- Each ministry should appoint a co-ordinator for human rights issues. These persons should work closely with external experts and non-governmental organisations.
- Each ministry should carry out an analysis, in its respective areas of work, concerning the relevance of that work to human rights.
- Political parties should review their political platforms with regard to their human rights aims, and make the appropriate changes and/or additions.
- Political parties should expand their human rights policies especially with respect to the concept of comprehensive human rights, and bring them into line with the current state of global human rights discourse.
- All political parties should appoint a spokesperson for human rights issues and/or strengthen his or her role. The human rights spokesperson should maintain contact with and consult with non-governmental human rights organisations.
- Political parties should guarantee women equal access to positions of decision-making, as was demanded at the World Conference of Human Rights.
Legally-Established Interest Groups and Trade Unions
- All legally-established interest groups and trade unions should examine their statutes and work programs with respect to human rights aims, especially concerning the economic, social and cultural rights; appropriate changes and additions should be made.
- All legally-established interest groups and trade unions should appoint a spokesperson for human rights from their own ranks. This spokesperson should maintain contact with and consult with non-governmental human rights organisations.
- The Federal Government should establish institutes of human rights within the university system, and should provide more funding for research, teaching and documentation in the area of human rights.
- The Federal Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Science and Transportation, as well as school officials, should ensure that in the education and in-service training of teachers and in the education of pupils, human rights education has an adequate and constant place in the curriculum at all school levels. Representatives of non-governmental organisations should be included in this process.
- Federal ministries should see to it that sufficient and on-going training in human rights is included in the education and further education of all employees for whom knowledge of and respect for human rights is of special importance. Representatives of non-governmental organisations should be included in this process.
Implementation of International Treaties in Austria
- The reports which are made at regular intervals by the Austrian government to international human rights monitoring bodies should be made public in Austria and presented to Parliament.
- Implementation of international human-rights standards in Austria should be systematically reviewed by the Federal Government. For this purpose studies should be commissioned to determine the extent of implementation of international human rights obligations in national law and in practice.
- The Federal Government should develop a national action plan for the implementation of the decisions of the World Conference on Human Rights. This should begin with an analysis of the current situation and contain concrete measures for the achievement of those human rights goals.
Human Rights in the Constitution
- International human rights treaties should either be incorporated into the constitution or implementing legislation at the constitutional level be enacted. Especially economic, social and cultural rights should be anchored in the Constitution.
- The Non-Discrimination Clause of Article 7 of the federal constitution should be expanded to conform to international standards. Additionally, comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation should be enacted.
- Human rights review by the Constitutional Court should be extended to decisions of the courts in civil and penal matters.
Support for non-governmental organisations
- Donations to non-governmental organisations which operate in the area of human rights should be granted tax-exempt status.
- The work of these organisations should be promoted through suitable measures, especially by provision of adequate funds.
- The Federal Government and the provinces should collectively establish an independent Austrian human rights foundation, which would carry out research and educational projects or entrust a third party to carry out such projects. The criteria for establishing such a foundation should be decided upon in conjunction with non-governmental organisations.
2. HUMAN RIGHTS IN AUSTRIA'S INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Austria has traditionally played a leading role in international organisations, taking important initiatives to strengthen the international protection of human rights. The Federal Government and Parliament are called upon to continue to play this leadership role in the field of human rights in the context of international organisations, and to strengthen their role in this regard in the European Union.
Over the last few years, the international context for the protection of human rights has changed dramatically. The crucial role of human rights for peace and security, the link between human rights, democracy and development as well as the important role of Non-Governmental-Organisations are increasingly being recognised. Austria should take these developments consistently into account and involve Non-Governmental-Organisations in its foreign policy initiatives aimed at the realisation of human rights.
Human Rights as a crucial element of foreign relations
- In its foreign policy, Austria should give highest priority to the realisation of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, in regards to both its bilateral relations and in its multilateral activities within the European Union and international organisations.
- The Federal Government should, in its annual human rights report, provide information to Parliament about its foreign policy approaches and activities related to human rights.
Foreign Trade and Development Co-operation
- The Federal Government should orient its foreign trade and development co-operation policies in such a manner that they contribute to the realisation of human rights world-wide. The Federal Government should thus analyse the impact of its foreign trade and development co-operation policies on the promotion and protection of human rights in the respective partner countries.
- The Federal Government should critically evaluate its trade relations, especially with states in which grave human rights violations continue to occur. Economic interests should not be given priority over the protection and promotion of human rights.
- The Federal Government should orient its instruments of development co-operation towards the improvement of human rights in partner countries. The realisation of economic, social and cultural rights should be given equal priority to civil and political rights.
- The Federal Government should ensure that the affected populations as well as local Non-Governmental-Organisations are consulted regarding the planning and implementation of development projects.
- Programmes regarding the promotion of human rights and democratisation should not only include support for elections but also projects aimed at improving access to information, strengthening the rule of law and to supporting civil society.
- The three-year programme and yearly plans of Austrian development co-operation should pay increased attention to the promotion and protection of human rights. In particular, the programmes should contain concrete measures on how to implement human-rights related objectives.
- The Federal Government should continue to call, in relevant international fora, for the implementation of the declarations and programmes of action adopted at UN World Conferences, especially the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at the second World Conference on Human Rights.
- The Federal Government should continue to support the efforts of the UN-Secretary-General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the mainstreaming of human rights within the UN-system. The Government should also support increased co-ordination among the different international actors with regards to their activities aimed at the promotion and protection of human rights.
- With regards to the implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the Federal Government should advocate and contribute to efforts assuring the provision of sufficient financial and personnel resources for the work of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In particular, the operational activities of the High Commissioner should be supported through the provision of financial means and human rights experts.
- The Federal Government should continue to support efforts within the UN regarding the strengthening of the thematic human rights mechanisms as well as follow-up to their recommendations. During its presidency of the EU, the Federal Government should take a leadership role within the EU in this regard.
- The Federal Government should support efforts to disseminate and implement the Beijing Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference on Women. It should give special support to the integration of women's rights into the work of the UN system and the drafting of a optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
- The Federal Government should advocate that increased attention is paid to economic, social and cultural rights within the United Nations. It should support the elaboration of an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which could take place within the context of a working group of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
International Criminal Court
- The Federal Government should continue to support steps by the international community to fight impunity for those responsible for gross human rights violations and grave breaches of international humanitarian law and continue to actively participate in efforts towards the establishment of an effective permanent International Criminal Court.
- The Federal Government should continue to insist that the possibility of inflicting the death penalty should not be included in the statute of such an International Criminal Court.
International Financial Institutions
- The Federal Government should encourage the international financial institutions to increasingly orient their work along human rights considerations, based on a comprehensive concept of human rights.
- The Federal Government should call upon the international financial institutions to assess the impact of their policies and programmes on the promotion of human rights.
- The Federal Government should advocate that the European Union consider the protection and promotion of human rights as an integral part of its policies within the EU and of its relations with others.
- The Federal Government should promote and support EU policies and approaches which are coherent and consistent with regards to their impact on human rights.
- The Federal Government should continue to call for the EU's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.
- The Federal Government should fulfil its role as the host of the Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia by an increased commitment, at the international and EU levels, to fight against racism and hostility against foreigners.
- The Federal Government should support efforts to give the European Court obligatory competence with regards to decisions taken in the context of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and within the framework of co-operation on judicial and policy matters in criminal proceedings.
- During its presidency of the EU, the Federal Government should not only support the inclusion of human rights clauses in agreements with third countries but also the establishment of effective mechanisms to monitor the implementation of such clauses.
- The Federal Government and the Parliament should work towards the development of a coherent common asylum policy of the EU, in accordance with international norms of refugee law and avoiding harmonisation at the lowest common denominator.
Consultation with, support for and protection of NGOs
- The Federal Government should advocate and support the increased access of Non-Governmental-Organisations to the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe and other inter-governmental organisations.
- The Federal Government should advocate and support concrete measures regarding the implementation of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and regarding the establishment of monitoring mechanisms.