In light of the upcoming 75th anniversary of International Human Rights Day on December 10th, the Austrian League for Human Rights has underscored the need for enhanced independence in investigations against police officers and expedited support for unaccompanied minor refugees.
League president Barbara Helige, formerly the president of the Austrian Association of Judges, raised concerns about the revamped complaints office against police violence. This crucial body comes into play when allegations of police misconduct surface, ranging from excessive physical force during arrests to undue harshness against activists. Notably, a new independent complaints office was proposed in the turquoise-green government program. However, the recent redesign, unveiled in March after a significant delay, has drawn criticism for its lack of true independence. Helige concurred, stating, “No, the new position is not independent.”
During the developmental phase, the league advocated for complaints to be handled outside the police force, a suggestion that wasn’t implemented. Despite this setback, progress has been made with the decision to establish an advisory board external to the Ministry of the Interior, allowing independent communication with the public. This model is expected to be implemented next year.
Helige also addressed heightened tensions resulting from the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, expressing concern about a sometimes threatening environment for individuals identifying as Jewish or women wearing headscarves. She emphasized the importance of not forcing people to conceal symbols of their faith for protection.
The annual report from the Human Rights League delved into the plight of unaccompanied minor refugees. With over 80 such “children” in Traiskirchen’s initial reception center in October, these “refugee orphans” lack the same support as their Austrian counterparts growing up without parents. Wolfgang Salm, representing the “Together for Children’s Rights” platform, highlighted that seeking asylum is the only option for these minors to stay in Austria, a process often extending over several months. During this period, they reside in large facilities like Traiskirchen, exempt from custody despite legal requirements.
Salm emphasized the immediate need for custody from day one and advocated for each child to have a designated person advocating for their interests. While child and youth advocates typically handle legal, financial, and economic decisions for those without legal guardians, custody initiation is subject to state allocation and begins only when unaccompanied minor refugees are assigned to specific quarters in federal states.
The league’s critique extends to the states themselves, noting a lack of urgency in accepting underage refugees, often from Afghanistan or Syria. In numerous cases, months or even years pass before these children and young people receive a regular school education. The league asserts that this must change, urging a more expeditious and supportive approach to ensure the well-being and integration of unaccompanied minor refugees.