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World : Europe : Austria
 
Austria

Germanic Tribes were not the first peoples to occupy the eastern Alpine-Danubian region, but the history and culture of these tribes, especially the Bavarians and Swabians, are the foundation of Austria's modern identity. Austria thus shares in the broader history and culture of the Germanic peoples of Europe. The territories that constitute modern Austria were, for most of their history, constituent parts of the German nation and were linked to one another only insofar as they were all feudal possessions of one of the leading dynasties in Europe, the Habsburgs.

Surrounded by German, Hungarian, Slavic, Italian, and Turkish nations, the German lands of the Habsburgs became the core of their empire, reaching across German national and cultural borders. This multicultural empire was held together by the Habsburgs' dynastic claims and by the cultural and religious values of the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation that the Habsburgs cultivated to provide a unifying identity to the region. But this cultural-religious identity was ultimately unable to compete with the rising importance of nationalism in European politics, and the nineteenth century saw growing ethnic conflict within the Habsburg Empire. The German population of the Habsburg Empire directed its nationalist aspirations toward the German nation, over which the Habsburgs had long enjoyed titular leadership. Prussia's successful bid for power in Germany in the nineteenth century--culminating in the formation in 1871 of a German empire under Prussian leadership that excluded the Habsburgs' German lands--was thus a severe political shock to the German population of the Habsburg Empire.

When the Habsburg Empire collapsed in 1918 at the end of World War I, its territories that were dominated by non-German ethnic groups established their own independent nation-states. The German-speaking lands of the empire sought to become part of the new German republic, but European fears of an enlarged Germany forced them to form an independent Austrian state. The new country's economic weakness and lack of national consciousness contributed to political instability and polarization throughout the 1920s and 1930s and facilitated the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire played a decisive role in central European history. It occupied strategic territory containing the southeastern routes to Western Europe and the north-south routes between Germany and Italy. Although present-day Austria is only a tiny remnant of the old empire, it retains this unique position. Soon after the Republic of Austria was created at the end of World War I, it faced the strains of catastrophic inflation and of redesigning a government meant to rule a great empire into one that would govern only 6 million citizens. In the early 1930s, worldwide depression and unemployment added to these strains and shattered traditional Austrian society. Resultant economic and political conditions led in 1933 to a dictatorship under Engelbert Dollfuss. In February 1934, civil war broke out, and the Socialist Party was outlawed. In July, a coup d'etat by the National Socialists failed, but Nazis assassinated Dollfuss. In March 1938, Austria was incorporated into the German Reich, a development commonly known as the "Anschluss" (annexation). At the Moscow conference in 1943, the Allies declared their intention to liberate Austria and reconstitute it as a free and independent state. In April 1945, both Eastern- and Western-front Allied forces liberated the country. Subsequently, Austria was divided into zones of occupation similar to those in Germany. Under the 1945 Potsdam agreements, the Soviets took control of German assets in their zone of occupation. These included 7% of Austria's manufacturing plants, 95% of its oil resources, and about 80% of its refinery capacity. The properties were returned to Austria under the Austrian State Treaty. This treaty, signed in Vienna on May 15, 1955, came into effect on July 27, and, under its provisions, all occupation forces were withdrawn by October 25, 1955. Austria became free and independent for the first time since 1938. The 1955 Austrian State Treaty ended the four-power occupation and recognized Austria as an independent and sovereign state. In October 1955, the Federal Assembly passed a constitutional law in which "Austria declares of her own free will her perpetual neutrality." The second section of this law stated, "In all future times Austria will not join any military alliances and will not permit the establishment of any foreign military bases on her territory." Since then, Austria shaped its foreign policy on the basis of neutrality. In recent years, however, Austria began to reassess its definition of neutrality, granting over flight rights for the UN-sanctioned action against Iraq in 1991, and, since 1995, contemplating participation in the EU's evolving security structure. Also in 1995, it joined the Partnership for Peace, and subsequently participated in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia. Discussion of possible Austrian NATO membership intensified during 1996. OVP and FPO aim at moving closer to NATO or a European defense arrangement. The SPO, in turn, maintains continued neutrality is the cornerstone of Austria's foreign policy, and a majority of the population generally supports this stance.

 

ECONOMY

Austria has a well-developed social market economy with a high standard of living in which the government has played an important role. Many of the country's largest firms were nationalized in the early post-war period to protect them from Soviet takeover as war reparations. For many years, the government and its state-owned industries conglomerate played a very important role in the Austrian economy. However, starting in the early 1990s, the group was broken apart, state-owned firms started to operate largely as private businesses, and a great number of these firms were wholly or partially privatized. Although the government's privatization work in past years has been very successful, it still operates some firms, state monopolies, utilities, and services. The new government has presented an ambitious privatization program, which, if implemented, will considerably reduce government participation in the economy. Austria enjoys well-developed industry, banking, transportation, services, and commercial facilities.

Although some industries, such as several iron and steel works and chemical plants, are large industrial enterprises employing thousands of people, most industrial and commercial enterprises in Austria are relatively small on an international scale.

Austria has a strong labor movement. The Austrian Trade Union Federation (OGB) comprises constituent unions with a total membership of about 1.5 million--more than half the country's wage and salary earners. Since 1945, the OGB has pursued a moderate, consensus-oriented wage policy, cooperating with industry, agriculture, and the government on a broad range of social and economic issues in what is known as Austria's "social partnership." The OGB has announced tough opposition against the new government's program for budget consolidation, social reform, and improving the business climate, and indications are rising that Austria's peaceful social climate could become more confrontational.

Austrian farms, like those of other west European mountainous countries, are small and fragmented, and production is relatively expensive. Since Austria's becoming a member of the EU in 1995, the Austrian agricultural sector has been undergoing substantial reform under the EU's common agricultural policy (CAP). Although Austrian farmers provide about 80% of domestic food requirements, the agricultural contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) has declined since 1950 to about 2%.

Austria has achieved sustained economic growth. During the second half of the 1970s, the annual average growth rate was 3% in real terms, though it averaged only about 1.5% through the first half of the 1980s before rebounding to an average of 3.2% in the second half of the 1980s. At 2%, growth was weaker again in the first half of the 1990s, but averaged 2.5% again in the period 1997 to 2001. After real GDP growth of only 0.7% in 2002, the economy is predicted to grow 1.7% in 2003, 2.3% in 2004, 2.5% in 2005, and 2.3% in 2006, for an average rate of 1.9% in the period 2002 to 2006.

Austria became a member of the EU on January 1, 1995. Membership brought economic benefits and challenges and has drawn an influx of foreign investors attracted by Austria's access to the single European market. Austria also has made progress in generally increasing its international competitiveness. As a member of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), Austria's economy is closely integrated with other EU member countries, especially with Germany. On January 1, 1999, Austria introduced the new Euro currency for accounting purposes.

In January 2002, Euro notes and coins were introduced and substituted for the Austrian schilling. Economists agree that the economic effects in Austria of using a common currency with the rest of the members of the Euro-zone have been positive.

Trade with other EU countries accounts for about 63% of Austrian imports and exports. Expanding trade and investment in the emerging markets of central and eastern Europe is a major element of Austrian economic activity. Trade with these countries accounts for almost 15% of Austrian imports and exports, and Austrian firms have sizable investments in and continue to move labor-intensive, low-tech production to these countries. Although the big investment boom has waned, Austria still has the potential to attract EU firms seeking convenient access to these developing markets.

Total trade with the United States in 2001 reached $7.7 billion. Imports from the United States amounted to $4.0 billion, constituting a U.S. market share in Austria of 5.3%. Austrian exports to the United States in 2001 were $3.7 billion or 5.3% of total Austrian exports.

 

BELIEFS

During the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Habsburgs were the leading political representatives of Roman Catholicism in its conflict with the Protestantism of the Protestant Reformation in Central Europe, and ever since then, Austria has been a predominantly Roman Catholic country. Because of its multinational heritage, however, the Habsburg Empire was religiously heterodox and included the ancestors of many of Austria's contemporary smaller denominational groups. The empire's tradition of religious tolerance derived from the enlightened absolutism of the late eighteenth century. Religious freedom was later anchored in Austria-Hungary's constitution of 1867. After the eighteenth century, twelve religious communities came to be officially recognized by the state in Austria: Roman Catholic; Protestant (Lutheran and Calvin); Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Russian, and Bulgarian Orthodox; Jewish; Muslim; Old Catholic; and, more recently, Methodist and Mormon.

The presence of other communities within the empire did not prevent the relationship between the Austrian imperial state and the Roman Catholic Church--or the "throne and the altar"--from being particularly close before 1918. Because of this closeness, the representatives of secular ideologies--liberals and socialists--sought to reduce the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in such public areas as education.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Religious organizations may be divided into three different legal categories (listed in descending order of status): Officially recognized religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations. Religious recognition under the law has wide-ranging implications, such as the authority to participate in the mandatory church contributions programs, which can be legally enforced; to engage in religious education; and to bring in religious workers to act as ministers, missionaries, or teachers. Under the law, religious societies have "public corporation" status. This status permits religious societies to engage in a number of public or quasi-public activities that are denied to other religious organizations. The Roman Catholic Church is the predominant church in the country. Approximately 78 percent of the population belonged to this church. Small Lutheran minorities are located mainly in Vienna, Carinthia, and Burgenland. The law also allows nonrecognized religious groups to seek official status as confessional communities without the fiscal and educational privileges available to recognized religions. Confessional communities must have at least 300 members, and once they are recognized officially as such by the Government, they have juridical standing, which permits them to engage in such activities as purchasing real estate in their own names and contracting for goods and services.

 

CRIMINAL CODES

Early criminal codes merely listed crimes--their definitions were considered self-evident or unnecessary--and provided for the extreme punishments characteristic of the Middle Ages. The codes did not presume to list all possible crimes, and a judge was authorized to determine the criminality of other acts and to fix sentences at his discretion. The first unified crime code was enacted in 1768, during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa. Investigation, prosecution, and defense were all in the hands of a judge. The code contained illustrated directions for the application of "painful interrogation," that is, torture, if the judge entertained suspicions regarding a defendant. Torture was outlawed a few years later, however. The Josephine Code of 1787, enacted by Joseph II, declared that there was "no crime without a law," thus, an act not defined as a crime was not a crime. Although it was a humanitarian document, the code had shortcomings that were remedied to a considerable extent by the codes of 1803 and 1852. A modern code of criminal procedure adopted in 1873 provided that ordinary court proceedings had to be oral and open. Capital punishment, which was prohibited for a time after 1783, was reinstituted and remained a possible punishment until 1950. Imprisonment in chains and corporal punishment were abolished in the mid-1800s.

The Austrian criminal code and code of criminal procedure were riddled with Nazi amendments between 1938 and 1945 after the Anschluss, but each code was restored to its 1938 status when the country regained independence. Revisions of the criminal code in the mid-1960s, based on ten years of work by a legal commission, give strong emphasis to the principle of government by law and allow unusual latitude in determining appropriate punishment and its implementation. Austria attempts to distinguish among lawbreakers whose crimes are committed on impulse, those who are susceptible to rehabilitation, and those who are addicted to crime and are incorrigible. Further reforms of the criminal code in 1974 emphasized the importance of avoiding jail sentences whenever possible because of the potentially antisocial effects of even a short prison term. Vagrancy, begging, and prostitution are specifically decriminalized. In large communities, prostitution is regulated by health authorities, and prostitutes and brothels are registered. Individual local jurisdictions retain the authority to prohibit prostitution, however. Provisions in the 1974 law modified the punishment for business theft and shoplifting and restricted the definitions of riotous assembly and insurrection.

 

INCIDENCE OF CRIME

The crime rate in Austria is low compared to other industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Austria. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Austria will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 2001 was 1.96 per 100,000 population for Austria, 1.10 for Japan, and 5.61 for USA. For rape, the rate in 2001 was 7.12 for Austria, compared with 1.78 for Japan and 31.77 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 2001 was 85.84 for Austria, 4.08 for Japan, and 148.50 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 2001 was 2.59 for Austria, 23.78 for Japan, and 318.55 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 2001 was 1,035.60 for Austria, 233.60 for Japan, and 740.80 for USA. The rate of larceny for 2001 was 1,944.50 for Austria, 1401.26 for Japan, and 2484.64 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 2001 was 48.71 for Austria, compared with 44.28 for Japan and 430.64 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 3126.32 for Austria, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4160.51 for USA. (Note that Japan data are for year 2000)

 

TRENDS IN CRIME

Between 1995 and 2001, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder decreased from 2.19 to 1.96 per 100,000 population, a decrease of 10.5%. The rate for rape increased from 6.40 to 7.12, an increase of 11.2%. The rate of robbery increased from 50.72 to 85.84, an increase of 69.2%. The rate for aggravated assault decreased from 2.60 to 2.59, a decrease of 0.4%. The rate for burglary decreased from 1067.47 to 1035.60, a decrease of 3 %. The rate of larceny increased from 1494.37 to 1944.50, an increase of 30.1%. The rate of motor vehicle theft increased from 27.70 to 48.71, an increase of 75.8%. The rate of total index offenses increased from 2651.45 to 3126.32, an increase of 17.9%.

 

POLICE

The earliest urban police force was Vienna's City Guard of 1569, consisting of 150 men. By the beginning of the Thirty Years' War (1618-48), the City Guard consisted of 1,000 men organized as a regiment, individual companies of which took part in military campaigns. The soldiers of the guard were subject to the authority of the Imperial War Council, and the city was required to pay for their services. In 1646 the city set up its own Public Order Watch; serious frictions between the two bodies resulted in their replacement by a new service under a commissioner of police in 1776. Its personnel were still made up of soldiers, either volunteers or assigned, but they failed to meet the city's needs because of a lack of training and continuity of service. Police functions were organized in a similar form in other large cities of the empire. It was not until a series of reforms between 1850 and 1869 that military influence over the police force was finally ended with the introduction of an independent command structure, a permanent corps of police professionals, training of officers in police skills, and distinctive uniforms and symbols of rank. The Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie in German) was created by Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1850 after the disorder and looting that accompanied the uprising of 1848. Initially composed of eighteen regiments and part of the army, its operational command was transferred to the Ministry for Interior in 1860 and wholly severed from the armed forces in 1867. Nevertheless, training, uniforms, ranks, and even pay remained patterned after the army. A special Alpine branch was formed in 1906, mainly to protect the part of Tirol that bordered Italy. Alpine rescue operations and border patrols have remained an important Gendarmerie function.

As of 1993, the more important law enforcement and security agencies were organized under the General Directorate for Public Security of the federal Ministry for Interior. The directorate is divided into five units: the Federal Police; the Gendarmerie central command; the State Police (secret service); the Criminal Investigation Service; and the Administrative Police. Security directorates in each of the nine provinces are also under supervision of the General Directorate for Public Security. Each of these is organized into a headquarters division, a state police division, a criminal investigation division, and an administrative police division.

Contingents of the Federal Police (Bundespolizei) are stationed in Vienna and thirteen of the larger cities. As of 1990, approximately one-third of the population of Austria lived in areas receiving Federal Police protection. The Gendarmerie accounts for nearly all of the remaining areas. A few small Austrian localities still have their own police forces separate from the Federal Police or the Gendarmerie. The Federal Police are responsible for maintaining peace, order, and security; controlling weapons and explosives; protecting constitutional rights of free expression and assembly; controlling traffic; enforcing environmental and commercial regulations; enforcing building safety and fire prevention rules; policing public events; and preventing crime. A mobile commando group is organized in each city directorate, in addition to a four-platoon "alarm group" in Vienna and a special force to maintain security at the international airport. In early 1992, it was announced that 150 officials would be assigned to special units reporting directly to the Ministry for Interior to fight organized crime.

As of 1990, the Federal Police had a personnel complement of 10,000 in the regular uniformed service (Sicherheitswache-- Security Watch) and 2,400 plainclothes police in the Criminal Investigation Service. Federal Police contingents are armed with Glock 17 9mm pistol and truncheons. These can be supplemented with the standard army weapon, the Steyr 5.56mm automatic rifle, as well as various kinds of riot-control equipment. A separate women's police corps serves in the cities, principally to oversee school crossings and to assist with traffic control. As of 1990, about twenty-four women served in the Gendarmerie and sixty-six in the Federal Police, mostly to deal with cases involving women, youth, and children.

The secret service branch of the Federal Police, the State Police (Staatspolizei; commonly known as Stapo) specializes in counterterrorism and counterintelligence. It also pursues rightwing extremism, drug trafficking, illicit arms dealing, and illegal technology transfers. It performs security investigations for other government agencies and is responsible for measures to protect national leaders and prominent visiting officials. Members of the State Police are chosen from volunteers who have served for at least three years in one of the other security agencies.

Numbering 11,600 in 1990, the Gendarmerie has responsibilities similar to the Federal Police but operates in rural areas and in towns without a contingent of Federal Police or local police. There is one member of the Gendarmerie for each 397 inhabitants in the areas subject to its jurisdiction; there is one member of the Federal Police for each 316 residents in the cities it patrols.

The Gendarmerie is organized into eight provincial commands (every province, except Vienna), ninety district commands, and 1,077 posts. A post can have from as few as three to as many as thirty gendarmes; most have fewer than ten. The provincial headquarters is composed of a staff department, criminal investigation department, training department, and area departments comprising two or three district commands. Basic Gendarmerie training is the responsibility of the individual provincial commands, each of which has a school for new recruits. Leadership and specialized courses are given at the central Gendarmerie school in Mödling near Vienna. The basic course for NCOs is one year; that for Gendarmerie officers lasts two years.

The Gendarmerie has its own commando unit, nicknamed Kobra, as do the separate provincial commands employing gendarmes with previous experience in Kobra. Alpine posts and high Alpine posts are served by 750 Gendarmerie Alpinists and guides. In 1988 more than 1,300 rescue missions were conducted, many with the aid of Agusta-Bell helicopters in the Gendarmerie inventory. Members of the Gendarmerie are armed with 9mm Browning-type semiautomatic pistols. They also have available American M-1 carbines and Uzi machine pistols.

The Administrative Police, in addition to maintaining the bulk of routine police records and statistics, work on import export violations, illegal shipments of such items as firearms and pornographic materials, and alien and refugee affairs. Customs officials are ordinarily in uniform; other Administrative Police dress according to the needs of their assignments.

The late 1980s witnessed a growing incidence of complaints alleging police misconduct and unnecessary use of force. The minister for interior reported that there had been 2,622 allegations of ill-treatment by the police between 1984 and 1989, of which 1,142 resulted in criminal complaints leading to thirtythree convictions against police officers. In addition, 120 disciplinary investigations were carried out, and disciplinary measures were taken against twenty-six police officers. However, victims of police misbehavior were liable to be deterred from pressing their complaints because of the risk of being charged with slander by the accused officers. A new police law that went into effect in May 1993 stipulates more clearly the limitations on police conduct and imposes restrictions on holding persons on charges of aggressive behavior without an appearance before a magistrate. In addition, leaflets are to be given to detained or arrested persons setting out their rights, including the right to call a lawyer and to have their own doctors if medical examinations are required.

In 1990 it was disclosed that the State Police had extensively monitored the activities of private citizens without sufficient justification. Security checks had been carried out for private companies on request. Of some 11,000 citizens who inquired whether they had been monitored, some 20 percent were found to have State Police files. These actions appeared to be in violation of laws protecting personal data collected by the government, public institutions, and private entities, as well as constitutional protection of the secrecy of the mail and telephone. These revelations gave rise to a restructuring of the State Police, including the reduction of its staff from 800 to 440. The new police law that came into effect in 1993 also introduces parliamentary control over the State Police and the military secret police, with oversight to be exercised by separate parliamentary subcommittees.

The police are subject to the effective control of the executive and judicial authorities. The national police maintain internal security, and the army is responsible for external security. The police are well trained and disciplined; however, there were reports that police committed some human rights abuses.

 

DETENTION

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observes these prohibitions.

In criminal cases, the law provides for investigative or pretrial detention for up to 48 hours; an investigative judge may decide within that period to grant a prosecution request for detention of up to 2 years pending completion of an investigation. The grounds required for such investigative detention are specified in the law, as are conditions for bail. The investigative judge is required to periodically evaluate an investigative detention. There is a system of bail.

The law prohibits forced exile, and the Government does not employ it.

 

COURTS

The judicial system is independent of the executive and legislative branches. The constitution establishes that judges are independent when acting in their judicial function. They cannot be bound by instructions from a higher court (except in cases of appeal) or by another agency. In administrative matters, judges are subordinate to the Ministry for Justice. A judge can be transferred or dismissed only for specific reasons established by law and only after formal court action has been taken. The Austrian judiciary functions only at the federal level, and thus there is no separate court system at the provincial level. The Constitutional Court decides the legality of treaties and the constitutionality of laws and decrees passed at the federal, provincial, and local levels. Cases involving courts and administrative agencies or the Administrative Court and the Constitutional Court are heard in the Constitutional Court. Monetary claims against the state, provinces, administrative districts, or local communities that cannot be settled by a regular court or an administrative agency are brought to the Constitutional Court, as are claims regarding disputed elections. The court also decides questions of impeachment and hears cases charging the president with breaking a constitutional law or cases charging members of federal or provincial governments with breaking a law. The Administrative Court, located in Vienna, is the court of final appeal for cases involving administrative agencies. The court's specific purpose is to determine whether an individual's rights have been violated by an administrative action or omission. Individuals can also appeal to this court if an administrative agency fails to grant a decision in a case. The Administrative Court may not rule on matters that come under the competence of the Constitutional Court. Cases outside the jurisdiction of these courts are heard in special courts. For example, labor courts decide civil cases concerning employment. Employers and employees are represented in labor court hearings. Cases involving the Stock and Commodity Exchange and the Exchange for Agricultural Products are decided by the Court of Arbitration, which is composed of members of the exchanges. The Patent Court decides appeals of patent cases. The highest courts of Austria's independent judiciary are the Constitutional Court; the Administrative Court, which handles bureaucratic disputes; and the Supreme Court, for civil and criminal cases. While the Supreme Court is the court of highest instance for the judiciary, the Administrative Court acts as the supervisory body over the administrative branch, and the Constitutional Court presides over constitutional issues. The Supreme Court in Vienna heads the system of ordinary courts. This court is the court of final instance for most civil and criminal cases. It can also hear cases involving commercial, labor, or patent decisions, but constitutional or administrative decisions are outside its purview. Justices hear cases in five-person panels. Four superior courts, which are appellate courts, are located in Vienna, Graz, Linz, and Innsbruck. They are usually courts of second instance for civil and criminal cases and are the final appellate courts for district court cases. On a lower level are seventeen regional courts having jurisdiction over provincial and district matters. Boundaries of judicial districts may or may not coincide with those of administrative districts. Regional courts serve as courts of first instance for civil and criminal cases carrying penalties of up to ten years' imprisonment and as appellate courts for some cases from district courts. Vienna and Graz have separate courts for civil, criminal, and juvenile cases, and Vienna also has a separate commercial court. At the lowest level are about 200 district or local courts, which decide minor civil and criminal cases, that is, those involving small monetary value or minor misdemeanors. Questions involving such issues as guardianship, adoption, legitimacy, probate, registry of lands, and boundary disputes are also settled at this level. Depending on the population of the area, the number of judges varies, but one judge can decide a case. Civil and criminal matters are heard in separate courts in Vienna and Graz. Vienna further divides civil courts into one for commercial matters and one for other civil cases.

Ordinary court judges are chosen by the federal president or, if the president so decides, by the minister for justice on the basis of cabinet recommendations. The judiciary retains a potential voice in naming judges, inasmuch as it must submit the names of two candidates for each vacancy on the courts. The suggested candidates, however, need not be chosen by the cabinet. Lay people have an important role in the judicial system in cases involving crimes carrying severe penalties, political felonies, and misdemeanors. The public can participate in court proceedings as lay assessors or as jurors. Certain criminal cases are subject to a hearing by two lay assessors and two judges. The lay assessors and judges decide the guilt or innocence and punishment of a defendant. If a jury, usually eight lay people, is used, the jury decides the guilt of the defendant. Then jury and judges together determine the punishment.

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respects this provision in practice.

The Constitution provides that judges are independent in the exercise of their judicial office. Judges cannot be removed from office or transferred against their will. There are local, regional, and higher regional courts, as well as the Supreme Court as the court of highest instance. While the Supreme Court is the court of highest instance for the judiciary, the Administrative Court acts as the supervisory body over the administrative branch, and the Constitutional Court presides over constitutional issues.

The Constitution provides for the right to a fair trial and an independent judiciary generally enforces this right. The system of judicial review provides for extensive possibilities for appeal. Trials have to be public, and have to be conducted orally. Persons charged with criminal offenses are considered innocent until proven guilty.

There were no reports of political prisoners in year 2001.

 

CORRECTIONS

All prisons from local jails to maximum security institutions are regulated by the Ministry for Interior. Revisions to penal statutes adopted in 1967 emphasize rehabilitation, education, work, prison wages, and assistance to prisoners on their return to society. Programs stress the humane treatment and rehabilitation of inmates, but program implementation is often inhibited by restricted prison budgets and lack of facilities.

Regulations stipulate that all able-bodied prisoners will be put to useful work. If proceeds from an individual's work exceed the cost to the state of his maintenance, the prisoner is paid a wage. Part can be used for pocket money, and the remainder is paid to the offender after release. Where facilities are inadequate or the situation justifies work or education beyond what is available on the prison grounds, those not considered dangerous or likely to attempt to escape can work or attend classes in the nearby area.

The penal system in Austria includes seven penitentiaries (Garsten, Graz, Hertenberg, Schwarzau, Stein, Suben, and ViennaSimmering ); three institutions of justice; two special institutions; and eighteen jails at the seats of courts of first instance. In spite of the rising crime rate, the prison population fell steadily from 7,795 in 1987 to 5,975 at the end of 1989. The average prison population of 6,318 in 1988 was composed of 6,054 males and 264 females. The rate of incarceration was seventy-seven per 100,000 population, typical for Europe as a whole but higher than some Scandinavian countries. Those on supervised probation numbered 4,930--2,762 adults and 2,168 juveniles.

The number held in investigative detention also declined, from 1,666 in 1987 to 1,466 in late 1989. This reduction was attributed to implementation in 1988 of the law easing the requirements for conditional release. According to Austrian authorities, the number of detainees had been reduced to a level corresponding to the European average.

Prison conditions generally meet international standards. Male and female prisoners are held separately, as are adults and juveniles. Pretrial detainees are held separately from convicted criminals.

The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors. In individual cases, prison directors or judges have jurisdiction over questions of access to the defendant.

WOMEN

As of year 2002, violence against women remained a problem. There are no accurate statistics available on the number of women abused annually, but it is believed to be a widespread problem. Police and judges enforce laws against violence; however, it is estimated that less than 10 percent of abused women file complaints. The Association of Houses for Battered Women has estimated that one-fifth of the country's 1.5 million adult women has suffered from violence in a relationship. In 1999 legislators passed an amendment to the 1997 Law on the Protection Against Violence in the Family, extending the period during which police can expel abusive family members from family homes. In 2000 an injunction to prevent abusive family members from returning home was applied in 3,354 cases. The Government also sponsors shelters and help lines for women.

Trafficking in women was a problem in year 2002. While prostitution is legal, trafficking for the purposes of prostitution is illegal.

Of the 850 cases brought to the Ombudsmen for Equal Opportunity in 2000, 142 were complaints of sexual harassment. The Federal Equality Commission, as well as the Labor Court, can order employers to compensate victims of sexual harassment.

The Government's coalition agreement contained a detailed section advocating the equal rights and opportunities for women. Most legal restrictions on women's rights have been abolished. A Federal Equality Commission and a Federal Commissioner for Equal Treatment oversee laws prescribing equal treatment of men and women. In October 2000, the FPO replaced Social Security and Generations Minister Elisabeth Sickl with FPO Member of Parliament Herbert Haupt. Haupt has been criticized widely for devoting Ministry resources to a new department dealing with discrimination faced by men. The Government has received extensive criticism for replacing the head of this ministry, which oversees women's affairs, with a man.

In 1994 the European Court of Justice ruled that the country's law prohibiting women from working nights was not permissible and gave the Government until the end of the year to adapt its legislation to gender-neutral EU regulations. In January 1998, legislation went into effect that required collective bargaining units to take action by the end of the year to eliminate restrictions on nighttime work for women, and on December 31, the legislation banning nighttime work for women expired. EU legislation is expected to take effect in 2002.

An estimated 60 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 60 are in the labor force; however, a report published by the European Commission in July found that women in the country on average earn 31 percent less than men. Women are more likely than men to hold temporary positions and also are disproportionately represented among those unemployed for extended periods of time. In September 2000, the U.N. Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women released a report criticizing the Government's treatment of women, including its decision to abolish the Federal Women's Affairs Ministry and fold its portfolio into the Ministry of Social Affairs and Generations. The Committee was particularly concerned about immigrant women's access to employment.

Although labor laws provide for equal treatment for women in the civil service, women remain underrepresented. To remedy this circumstance, the law requires hiring women of equivalent qualifications ahead of men in civil service areas in which less than 40 percent of the employees are women; however, there are no penalties for failing to attain the 40 percent target.

Female employees in the private sector can invoke equality laws prohibiting discrimination of women; the Federal Equality Commission may award compensation of up to 4 months' salary if women are discriminated against in promotions because of their sex. The Commission also may order legal recompense for women who are denied a post despite having equal qualifications.

Women are allowed to serve in the military voluntarily. At year's end, there were a total of 147 women--out of a standing force of approximately 51,000--serving in the military, including 7 officers. There are no restrictions on the type or location of assignments given to women.

Women's rights organizations are partly politically affiliated, and partly autonomous groups. They usually receive wide public attention when voicing their concerns. Despite fears of women's rights groups, the Government continued to provide government subsidies to these groups.

 

CHILDREN

The law provides for the protection of children's rights. Each provincial government and the federal Ministry for Youth and Family Affairs has an "Ombudsperson for Children and Adolescents" whose main function is to resolve complaints about violations of children's rights.

While 9 years of education are mandatory for all children beginning at age 6, the Government also provides free education through secondary school and subsidizes technical, vocational, or university education. The majority of schoolage children attend school. Educational opportunity is equal for girls and boys. Comprehensive, government-financed medical care is available for all children without regard to gender.

There is no societal pattern of abuse against children, although heightened awareness of child abuse has led the Government to continue its efforts to monitor the issue and prosecute offenders. The growing number of reported incidences of child abuse is considered a result of increased public awareness of the problem. In June the OVP and FPO reached a compromise agreement requiring doctors to report to the police suspected cases of child abuse and molestation. An exception may be made if the suspected abuser is a parent or sibling, in which case the report is not disclosed until an investigation is completed by the police.

According to the Penal Code, sexual intercourse between an adult and a child (under 14 years of age) is punishable with a prison sentence of up to 10 years; in case of pregnancy of the victim, the sentence can be extended to up to 15 years. Sex between a male ages 14 to 18 and an adult male are punishable with sentences ranging from 6 months to 5 years. In 2000 the Ministry of Justice reported 819 cases of child abuse, most involving intercourse with a minor. Of these cases, 249 resulted in convictions. Under the law, any citizen engaging in child pornography in a foreign country becomes punishable under Austrian law even if the actions are not punishable in the country where this violation was committed. The law also entails severe provisions for the possession, trading, and private viewing of pornographic materials. For example, exchanging pornographic videos is illegal even if done privately rather than as a business transaction.

 

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS

There is no single law covering all forms of trafficking in persons, although several laws contain provisions that can be used to prosecute traffickers; however, trafficking in women for prostitution and domestic service was a problem. Austria is a transit and final destination country for women trafficked from Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Balkans; the women are trafficked into Austria and other western European countries, primarily for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Women also were trafficked from Asia and Latin America to Austria for domestic labor.

Most women were brought to Austria with promises of unskilled jobs such as nannies or waitresses. Upon arrival they were coerced or forced into prostitution. There also were cases of women who came to Austria explicitly to work as prostitutes but who then were forced into states of dependency akin to slavery. Most victims were in Austria illegally and feared being turned into authorities and deported. Traffickers usually retained victims' official documents, including passports, to maintain control over the victims. Victims of trafficking have reported being subjected to threats and physical violence. A major deterrent to victim cooperation is widespread fear of retribution, both in Austria and in the victims' countries of origin.

There are no accurate statistics on trafficked persons specifically; however, the number of intercepted illegal immigrants, of whom some were trafficking victims, continued to increase. Police estimated that one-fourth of trafficking in women in the country is controlled by organized crime. Austria is particularly attractive to traffickers due to its geographic location and to the fact that citizens of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary do not require visas to enter the country.

The Interior Ministry works at the national and international level to raise awareness of human trafficking. Federal police units addressing organized crime and sex crimes also focused on this issue. Although prostitution is legal, trafficking for the purpose of prostitution is illegal, and can result in jail sentences of up to 10 years for convicted traffickers. In July 2000, the Government passed legislation implementing stronger penalties for alien smuggling including trafficking. The maximum penalty for the most serious offenses increased from 5 to 10 years' imprisonment. In 2000 the Interior Ministry, which is the primary government agency involved in antitrafficking efforts, reported that 125 complaints were filed under the law against trafficking for prostitution, of which 10 resulted in convictions. The Ministry of Interior estimated that most traffickers are prosecuted under criminal law provisions on alien smuggling.

In October in a high-profile case, the Government convicted the Carinthian "Porno King", Hellmuth Suessenbacher, and 10 others for trafficking in persons and other related offenses. Charges resulted from the trafficking of 50 Romanian women who were initially hired as dancers and subsequently forced into prostitution. Suessenbacher was sentenced to 21/2 years' imprisonment. The other defendants received sentences ranging from fines to up to 4 years' imprisonment. Suessenbacher appealed the sentence.

Some NGO's have called for an expansion of the legal definition of trafficking to include exploitation for domestic labor and coerced marriages. In March in response to a marked increase of illegal border crossings at Austria's eastern borders in the first half of the year, the Government set up a special task force to address trafficking.

The Government provides temporary residence to victims of trafficking who are prepared to testify or intend to raise civil law claims; however, victims still rarely agree to testify, due to fear of retribution. The temporary residency status allows victims to stay in the country only during a trial; no provisions are made for them to stay in the country following their testimony. Virtually all victims of trafficking are deported.

The Government funds research on the problem of trafficking as well as NGO prevention efforts, including antitrafficking brochures and law enforcement workshops. The Government also provides funding for intervention centers that provide emergency housing and psychological, legal, and health-related assistance to victims. There is one NGO center that provides comprehensive counseling, educational services, and emergency housing to victims of trafficking. The Government also is active in U.N. and Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe international efforts to combat trafficking.

 

DRUG TRAFFICKING

Austria is primarily a transit country for drug trafficking from the Balkans to western European markets. Illegal drug consumption is not a severe problem in Austria, and there is no significant production or cultivation of illegal substances. Organized drug trafficking is performed largely by non-Austrian criminal groups. New investigative tools were legislated in 1997 and 1998 to counter the growth of this crime. The passage of a new narcotics law in 1997 allowed Austria to ratify the 1971 and 1988 UN Drug Conventions in 1997. A November 1998 government report expresses concern over the continued rise of organized crime in Austria, which it attributes predominantly to mafia gangs from NIS countries. While not considered an important financial center, offshore tax haven or banking center, Austria remains an attractive site for drug-related money laundering. The government continues to implement measures to narrow avenues for money launderers and facilitate asset seizure and forfeiture. While cooperation with U.S. authorities is excellent, Austrian law enforcement authorities charged with combating narcotics complain about notorious underfunding and lack of personnel.

Although not a significant producer of illicit drugs, Austria remains a transit country for drug-related organized crime along the major European drug routes. Foreign-based drug crime by organized groups continued to grow in Austria in 1998. A November 1998 government report maintains that up to 30 percent of serious crimes in Austria in 1998 can be traced to organized crime groups, most of which originate in the NIS. Despite limited appeal of anonymous passbook savings accounts for criminal purposes, possibilities for money laundering through other, unmonitored transactions remain.

The new Narcotic Substances Act, which went into effect January 1, 1998, focuses on therapy for drug users while maintaining severe penalties for drug dealers. While drug dealers may face up to 20 years in prison, first-time users of cannabis may avoid criminal proceedings if they agree to therapy.

New legislation went into effect in July 1998, allowing technical surveillance of persons "strongly suspected" of having committed crimes punishable up to 10 years. The new regulations facilitate surveillance of persons on which there is "substantial suspicion" that they belong to a criminal organization.

A new police powers law submitted to parliament in November 1998 seeks to authorize investigators to obtain personal data from private telephone companies in clearly defined situations (including suspicion of organized crimes). A proposal to allow police to collect and analyze information about likely extremist/terrorist groups without judicial approval and prior to the establishment of "substantiated suspicion" was postponed until 1999.

During its EU presidency (July-December 1998), Austria sought to advance work on a second "EU Drug Action Plan" for the period 2000-2005 as well as to intensify cooperation with eastern European accession countries, including in the area of demand reduction. Austria actively participated in the "European Awareness Week on Drug Prevention" November 5-12, 1998. Under the auspices of the European Commission and the Vienna-based UNDCP, the city of Vienna hosted the "European Drug Conference 1998," which focused on "drug prevention and drug policy." Throughout 1998, Austrian experts participated in a series of anti-drug projects within the framework of the EU's Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

The overall number of drug-related criminal offenses in Austria in 1997 increased by 10.3 percent to 17,868. Serious drug-related crime rose by 25.4 percent to 2,712 over the same period. Authorities believe that one out of two criminal offenses is drug-related. In 1997, the number of seizures rose by 7.4 percent to 7,117.

An October 1998 penal-code amendment tightened regulations against bribery and corruption and allowed the GOA to join the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. Ratification is expected in early 1999.

The GOA has public-corruption laws that recognize and punish the abuse of power by a public official. The USG is not aware of any high-level Austrian government officials' involvement in drug-related corruption.

The US-Austrian Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, signed in 1995, was ratified by the Austrian parliament in June 1998. Exchange of the instruments of ratification is still pending. A new US-Austrian Extradition Treaty was ratified by Austria in mid-1998, approved by the U.S. Senate in October 1998, and is pending ratification. Austria ratified the 1988 UN Drug Convention as well as the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the Council of Europe Convention in 1997. Austria ratified the Europol Convention in early 1998. Austria is a party to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its 1972 Protocol. Vienna is the seat of UNDCP, and Austria is a UNDCP major donor. Austria participates in the World Health Organization, the Dublin Group within the EU, the Financial Action Task Force on money laundering (FATF) and the Council of Europe's "Pompidou Group."

The USG is not aware of any significant cultivation or production of illicit drugs in Austria.

Traditionally, the routes of the Balkan drug path have been the major venues for illegal import/transit of southwest Asian heroin through Austria. The illicit trade is dominated by Turkish groups, followed by traffickers from countries of the former Yugoslavia, by Romanian and Bulgarian nationals, as well as by Macedonian and Albanian dealers, who continue to use nearby Bratislava, Slovakia as a temporary depository for heroin. Cocaine is imported by couriers of South American drug cartels who increasingly rely on Eastern European airports.

Austrian authorities view drug addiction as a disease rather than a crime, a fact reflected in recent drug legislation (1997) and related court decisions. Demand reduction puts emphasis on primary prevention, drug treatment and counseling, as well as on "harm reduction." The use of heroin for therapeutic purposes is generally not allowed.

Primary intervention extends from preschool to secondary-school levels and relies on "educational campaigns" inside and outside school fora. Austria has syringe exchange programs in place for HIV prevention. AIDS cases declined in 1998, while the spread of Hepatitis B and C represents a new problem. Substitution programs, such as methadone, have been in place for over a decade.

Throughout Austria's EU presidency (July-December 1998), the U.S. sought to increase cooperation with the EU on narcotics issues. Under Austria's presidency, the EU pledged $31 million toward the Peru Donors Conference. The Austrian EU presidency also encouraged exploring the possibility of using the Caribbean Drug Initiative as a model of US-EU cooperation for fighting the illicit narcotics trade in other regions. Finally, the Austrian EU presidency has advocated that the EU pursue more ambitious counternarcotics efforts in Central Asia and has requested and appreciated information on U.S. counternarcotics assistance to the Central Asian republics.

Although Austria has no specific bilateral narcotics agreement with the US, Austrian cooperation with U.S. investigative efforts is excellent. In July 1998, Austrian authorities' cooperation with U.S. officials resulted in the seizure of 102,000 tablets of ecstasy. The U.S. has requested that all three individuals arrested in this case be extradited to the US. The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy Director, Barry McCaffrey, used his July 1998 Vienna visit to explain the goals of the "National Drug Control Strategy 1998" to Austrian and UN officials.

The U.S. will continue to support Austrian efforts to create more effective tools for law enforcement, as well as to work with Austria within the context of US-EU initiatives. Promoting a better understanding of U.S. drug policy among Austrian officials will remain a priority.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Internet research assisted by Terry Wesley and Rita Zois

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