Several measures, which would have negative consequences for the rights of asylum-seekers and women, were adopted or discussed. A new law endangered the fairness of the asylum procedure. The authorities continued to deport rejected asylum-seekers to Afghanistan. The Committee of Petitions of the national parliament discussed two citizens’ initiatives that would restrict access to abortion.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
The number of asylum applications continued to decline. According to official statistics, 11,334 individuals applied for asylum between January and November; 11.81% fewer than in the same period in 2018.
Parliament introduced several legislative proposals that restricted the rights of asylum-seekers.
In June, it passed the law that establishes the Federal Agency for the Provision of Care and Support. This new governmental agency, embedded in the Ministry of Interior, will provide legal counselling to asylum-seekers as of January 2021, replacing independent civil society counselling. This change raised serious concerns regarding the fairness of the asylum procedure.
In May, Parliament passed the Fundamental Law on Social Assistance, which reduced social benefits for people with subsidiary protection status to the level of basic care provided for asylum-seekers.
In the first nine months of the year, the Ministry of Interior deported more than 200 Afghan nationals to Afghanistan, subjecting them to a risk of torture and ill-treatment. The authorities decided to deport several Syrian nationals to Syria, also in clear contravention of international law, although the decisions had not been implemented at the end of the year.
In June, asylum-seekers living in a return centre (Rückkehrberatungszentrum) in Fieberbrunn, Tyrol, went on a 46-day hunger strike to protest against the poor housing conditions and the remote location of the facility. The Ministry of Interior opened an inquiry into the human rights compliance of the centre’s living conditions. In November, findings of the inquiry were presented; families with school-age children were no longer accommodated in the centre.
Freedom of expression
In April, the Minister for the European Union, Art, Culture and Media introduced a bill in Parliament that would establish an identity verification system for users of online platforms. Companies would incur exorbitant fines up to EUR €1 million if they failed to comply. If adopted, the law would negatively impact the right to freedom of expression on the internet.
Excessive use of force
Authorities continued to fail to establish an independent mechanism to investigate cases of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials and to legally require them to wear identification badges.
In May, police used excessive force against several climate activists while dispersing a spontaneous assembly. At the end of the year, an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office was ongoing into the conduct of several law enforcement officials. The Ministry of Interior informed Amnesty International that an internal police investigation would be conducted once the Prosecutor’s Office had concluded its investigation. The Vienna Administrative Court ruled that several police conducts, including bag searches and the arrest of an activist, were unlawful.
Civil society organizations continued to report cases of police officers discriminating against people belonging to ethnic and religious minorities through the use of identity checks and by making discriminatory comments.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI)
Since January, same-sex couples can marry and heterosexual couples can enter registered partnerships. Intersex individuals who do not identify as either male or female can register their gender according to a third gender option following a 2018 Constitutional Court’s ruling.
In September, the Parliament passed the Protection against Violence Act. The law intended to improve the protection of survivors of sexual violence and strengthened cooperation between relevant institutions, more specifically between police and the courts.
At the end of the year, two citizens’ initiatives that sought amendments to abortion law were pending in Parliament. The initiatives proposed introducing a mandatory reflection period for women seeking abortion, an obligation of medical professionals to inform women about support and counselling services as well as repealing the decriminalization of abortion after three months’ pregnancy in case of serious risks for the foetus’ mental or physical health.