Austria urged to tackle police racism

9 April 2009

Austria's police and justice system are plagued by racism, according to an Amnesty International report.

The new research has found that non-white Austrians are more likely to be suspected of crime and ill-treated by police. Their grievances are also far less likely to be promptly and thoroughly investigated.

"A de facto two-tier justice system is an affront to the concept of justice. Common social prejudices and stereotypes regarding foreigners and different religious and ethnic groups can have no place in law enforcement structures," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's expert on Austria.

"The Austrian authorities must send a clear message to law enforcement officials and to the public in general that ill-treatment of detainees and racist misconduct are absolutely prohibited in all circumstances and will be investigated and sanctioned as appropriate."

There are no official statistics on the ethnicity of complainants of police misconduct but anecdotal evidence, plus the large number of cases reported to Amnesty International that have involved people from ethnic communities, raise the concern of overt racism in the law.

Complaints of police ill-treatment by members of ethnic minorities are often followed by an inadequate response by both the police force and the judicial system. Complaints are not properly investigated, while police officers are seldom prosecuted and lightly sanctioned.

Criminal statistics for 2006 reveal that while 898 complaints were filed with the Office of the Public Prosecution, only 20 cases were brought before courts.

Amnesty International took testimonies from citizens of various ethnic origins who had experienced discrimination and police brutality.

One man, of Polish origin, was kicked and punched to the ground by police after he tried to diffuse an argument between a group of Polish speakers in Vienna. Charges against the offending police officer were dropped.

Another man, a Gambian citizen, was taken to an isolated warehouse and beaten by police officers, following an attempt to deport him.

"The impact of the discriminatory practices of the police is such that the sense of injustice is not limited to individual victims but spreads contagiously throughout minority communities that come to perceive themselves as specifically targeted," John Dalhuisen said.

Amnesty International has called on the Austrian authorities to ensure that all allegations of racist misconduct by law enforcement officials are effectively investigated and appropriately punished. They should also ensure the effective investigation and prosecution of crimes reported by foreign nationals and members of ethnic minorities, including possible racist motivations.

"It is high time that political leaders and senior police officials acknowledge the existence of racism in the police force. Public confidence in the police cannot be maintained if police officers who are known to have committed serious human rights violations remain in office," John Dalhuisen said.

End institutional racism in the Austrian criminal justice system (Appeal for Action, 9 April 2009)

Austria: Victim or suspect - A question of colour: Racial discrimination in the Austrian justice system

Index Number: EUR 13/002/2009
Date Published: 9 April 2009
Categories: Austria

In this report Amnesty International documents cases of racist abuse and ill-treatment by the Austrian police as well as the failure of the broader criminal justice system to treat migrants and members of ethnic minorities as they would the majority population. Incidents of this kind occur neither rarely, nor exclusively as a result of the errant behaviour of a handful of individual officials. Rather, the persistence of such cases points to a structural failure on the part of the Austrian criminal justice system to fulfil its functions in all cases without discrimination.

This document is also available in:


How you can help