In Dialogue with Austria, Experts of the Committee against Torture Welcome the Establishment of the Police Complaints Office, Ask about High Solitary…


The Committee against Torture today concluded its consideration of the seventh periodic report of Austria, with Committee Experts welcoming the establishment of the Police Complaints Office, and raising questions concerning high solitary confinement rates in prisons and support for unaccompanied minors.

Erdogan Iscan, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, welcomed the establishment of the Police Complaints Office. One Committee Expert asked how the State party ensured that the Office was independent of the Ministry of the Interior. Could the Office provide financial redress to victims of ill treatment?

Mr. Iscan said rates of solitary confinement in prisons seemed quite high in Austria and showed a constant increasing trend. Did the State party incorporate the Nelson Mandela and Bangkok Rules in legislation and training programmes? Were juveniles kept in solitary confinement?

Liu Huawen, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said unaccompanied minors were reportedly placed in mass housing facilities that were not child friendly. Were centres being established where the needs of unaccompanied minors could be adequately assessed by professionals? How would the State party support the automatic assignment of guardianship of unaccompanied minors to suitable caretakers?

Introducing the report, Christoph Wieland, Deputy Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, said the establishment of the new Police Complaints Office would contribute to more transparency and accountability for Austrian police. The delegation added that the Office could not receive instructions from police institutions. It could not provide redress to victims; victims needed to file indemnification claims with civil courts.

Prison guards undertook compulsory training on the Nelson Mandela Rules, intercultural ethics, gender issues and other human rights topics, the delegation said. They were required to visit at least once a day those convicts placed in solitary confinement to the extent they did not get visitors. Every juvenile convict kept in solitary confinement must be given the opportunity for a conversation at least twice a day. A bill proposing the abolishment of house arrest for juveniles was being considered by the Government.

On unaccompanied minors, the delegation said that safeguarding their special needs was regulated by law. The State party was stepping up financial investments in support services and facilities for unaccompanied minors, which could be visited unannounced by the national preventive mechanism. Finding relatives of the unaccompanied minors was a top priority. Two models for making custody decisions outside of guardianship courts were currently being considered by the State.

In closing remarks, Claude Heller, Committee Chair, said that the dialogue had been constructive and positive. Based on it, the Committee would devise concluding observations that the State party could implement within a year. The Committee hoped to continue to engage regularly with Austria.

Mr. Wieland, in his concluding remarks, said protection against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment was strong in Austria, but there was always room for improvement. The State party would strive to implement the Committee’s concluding observations, in cooperation with civil society, and make every effort to achieve further progress in the field of human rights in future.

The delegation of Austria consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Justice; Ministry of the Interior; Ministry of Social Affairs; Ministry of European and International Affairs; and the Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue concluding observations on the report of Austria at the end of its seventy-ninth session on 10 May. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, and webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public on Thursday, 18 April at 3 p.m. to continue its examination of the third periodic report of Honduras (CAT/C/HND/3).


The Committee has before it the seventh periodic report of Austria (CAT/C/AUT/7).

Presentation of Report

CHRISTOPH WIELAND, Deputy Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, said Austria attached high importance to the implementation of its international human rights obligations. It had a policy of zero tolerance towards any act of torture or ill treatment. Austria’s legal system contained comprehensive legal provisions for this purpose, including under criminal and administrative law. Austria had strong democratic, administrative and judicial institutions built to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. The Austrian Ombudsman Board was awarded “A” status by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions in March 2022. The three members of the Board exercised their important function in full independence. They were elected by the Austrian Parliament for a term of six years and could be re-elected once but could not be dismissed from office. The Board had its own separate budget, and its human and financial resources were recently increased to further strengthen its independence.

A new Investigation and Complaints Office for Allegations of Police Ill Treatment had been established in Austria, starting its work in January this year. The Office investigated alleged cases of police ill treatment. It was empowered to conduct its own independent investigations with its own personnel, acting on behalf of the Public Prosecutors of the justice branch. An independent Advisory Board was established to monitor the Office, to which individuals could address their complaints directly. The establishment of this new complaints’ mechanism would contribute to more transparency and accountability for Austrian police.

The terrorist attack in Vienna on 2 November 2020 showed the importance of continuing vigilance and further development of the State’s capabilities in the fight against terrorism. In response, an extensive package of counter-terrorism measures was implemented, including measures to prevent the spread of extremist ideas, more effective investigation methods, stricter laws to combat terrorism and religiously motivated extremism, and stricter weapons laws. The amendments of the Counter-Terrorism Act with judicial measures to this effect entered into force in 2021 and 2022. The respect for human rights and upholding human rights safeguards were guiding principles when drafting this new law.

Austria’s violence protection policy was based on the Istanbul Convention, which the State ratified in 2013. The Protection against Violence Act 2019 introduced significant improvements in victim protection and an increase in preventive measures. Violent perpetrators could now be prohibited to approach victims and to enter their homes, and conferences were now held on individual cases with the police and victim protection facilities. Most of the budget increase for women’s affairs, which had tripled since 2019, was dedicated to the prevention of violence against women. Anti-violence programmes were also offered to raise awareness among men, neighbours and health care providers, and special trainings were conducted for law enforcement officers, judges and public prosecutors.

From 2015 until January 2024, Austria received 410,000 asylum applications and granted international protection in 195,000 cases. As of 1 February 2024, 1,637 unaccompanied minors had received basic welfare support in specialised facilities. The principle of non-refoulement was considered ex-officio at every stage of an asylum and return procedure. Austria established the Joint Operational Office in Vienna in 2016, a permanent police investigation office where European authorities cooperated on combatting human trafficking. The Office was also an early warning system and served as an international investigation platform.

In 2020, the Austrian law enforcement authorities introduced a comprehensive recording system for hate crimes and hate speech, which included the motives for these crimes. Ninety-five per cent of the Austrian police force had received compulsory training on how to deal with victims of hate crimes and hate speech. Since 2021, Austria had published annual reports on hate crimes, receiving wide public attention.

Austria placed a strong focus on human rights training courses for law enforcement, judiciary and penitentiary personnel. Since 2012, over 2,600 judicial guard officers had received training with a focus on human rights, and annual follow-up events were held. Around 26,000 employees of the Ministry of the Interior had received training since 2002, being sensitised to all forms of discrimination, especially racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

Austria had made important progress during the last years in implementing the Convention but there were areas where more remained to be done. The Committee’s review was an essential element in the prevention of and protection against torture and ill treatment, encouraging critical scrutinization of provisions and increased efforts for improvement where needed.

Questions by Committee Experts

LIU HUAWEN, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that there were many good practices and progress concerning the prohibition of torture in Austria, including the assignment of the Austrian Ombudsman Board as the national human rights institute and national preventive mechanism, and the establishment of the Police Complaints Office. Regular, comprehensive training was provided for the judiciary and law enforcement, particularly for prison staff and police officers, in upholding human rights standards. Austria had also established enhanced protections to align juvenile detention practices with international standards and reduce pre-trial detention durations. Specific regulations prevented pre-deportation detention for underage minors and ensured separate detention from adults. Further, the State ensured that European Court of Human Rights judgments and treaty body recommendations were implemented promptly.

The Austrian Ombudsman Board was very professional and well-resourced and it conducted an impressive number of visits every year. No specific information was provided regarding how effectively the State was implementing the Board’s recommendations. The Board had appealed to politicians to enact laws and provide budgetary funding to create general conditions that safeguarded human rights in Austria in the long term. What progress had been made in implementing this recommendation? Did the Board announce visits in advance and did it collaborate with non-governmental organizations?

Accused persons had the right to have defence counsel present during questioning. Questioning needed to be postponed until defence personnel had arrived, which could lead to pre-trial detention extending beyond the 48-hour deadline. How was the State party addressing this issue? Could accused persons challenge decisions to refuse the participation of defence lawyers in interrogations? What measures were in place to support persons who could not afford a lawyer to access one?

Despite reforms, challenges persisted in the detention system, with overcrowded facilities and inadequate care for mentally ill detainees. The Austrian Ombudsman Board had called for earlier review mechanisms and specialised care for such detainees. What measures were in place to implement these recommendations? How would the State party guarantee quality standards regarding preventative custody? The ratio of psychologists to detainees was too low in prisons, with the recent increase in occupancy rates. How was the State party addressing this?

The asylum system reportedly did not identify or sufficiently consider the needs of asylum seekers with disabilities. Persons with disabilities were often placed in unsuitable facilities and lacked sufficient support. Was the State party considering developing a formal mechanism for identifying asylum seekers with specific needs, including victims of torture and persons with disabilities? Would it establish a protocol for sharing information on asylum seekers’ vulnerabilities with responsible authorities? How would it ensure that asylum seekers with serious impairments were not detained?

Unaccompanied minors were reportedly placed in mass housing facilities that were not child friendly. Were centres being established where the needs of unaccompanied minors could be adequately assessed by professionals? The conditions of housing facilities placed unaccompanied minors at risk of abuse. How would the State party support the automatic assignment of guardianship of unaccompanied minors to suitable caretakers? Was the State party developing models to support the integration of unaccompanied minors into society?

Did the State party have data on the number of expulsions of asylum seekers conducted and their grounds? Few asylum seekers reportedly had access to legal counsel. How many appeals to asylum decisions had been made, and what were their results? The Constitutional Court had decided that there were insufficient guarantees to ensure that legal aid officers appointed to asylum seekers were independent from the State. Would the State party consider revising legislation to ensure that legal aid for asylum seekers was truly independent, and increase staff to extend first instance legal aid to all asylum seekers? What measures were in place to improve material conditions in asylum facilities and the training of staff in those facilities?

ERDOGAN ISCAN, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, welcomed that Austria was a co-sponsor of the recent resolution on torture adopted at the fifty-fifth session of the Human Rights Council. The Committee commended the State party for its forthcoming policy regarding the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations. In the event of incompatibility between national law and an international treaty, which took precedence? What happened when disagreements arose between the regions (Länder) on the implementation of an international treaty? Would the State party consider ratifying the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families?

Could the State party provide information on rules on interrogation practices and arrangements for custody? How frequently were these rules reviewed? What was the total capacity and occupancy rate of all detention facilities, and the number of remand and convicted prisoners at each facility? How many deaths in custody occurred during the period under consideration? What alternatives to detention were offered? What was the current capacity of prisons? Newly admitted detainees did not always have access to comprehensive medical examinations by a doctor within 24 hours of admission. Why was this? Rates of solitary confinement in prisons seemed quite high and showed a constant increasing trend. Did the State party incorporate the Nelson Mandela and Bangkok Rules in legislation and training programmes? Were juveniles kept in solitary confinement? Did the State party maintain an incommunicado detention regime and was it considering abolishing incommunicado detention?

Reportedly, investigations into allegations of ill treatment by public officials were not always carried out impartially by an independent authority. There was a high number of allegations of ill treatment but a low number of convictions. In the first half of 2019, 174 allegations were made, but 36 cases were not investigated and investigations were discontinued in 105 cases. Did the Public Prosecutor’s Office have competence to initiate an ex officio investigation into ill treatment? Were alleged perpetrators automatically relieved of their duties and prohibited from making any further contact with alleged victims? The Committee welcomed the establishment of the Police Complaints Office and asked for data on its work. Had there been allegations of unnecessary and excessive use of lethal force against protesters in recent years? What sentences had been handed down to perpetrators?

Had there been complaints regarding the use of tasers in prisons? How had these been addressed? The use of tasers against pregnant women and persons with cardiac damage was not allowed. How did law enforcement officers and officials of the penal service system detect, prior to using tasers, whether a woman was pregnant or had a risk of cardiac damage? Would the State party consider eliminating electrical discharge weapons from the equipment of custodial staff in places of deprivation of liberty?

How was the Counter-Terrorism Act amended in 2021 and 2022? Did the State party have strategic plans for combatting radicalisation leading to terrorism and a counter-terrorism strategy? Was the State party considering signing the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism?

Persons who were sentenced to more than two years imprisonment in Liechtenstein were transferred to Austria to serve their sentences due to the limited prison capacity in Liechtenstein. Which State authority was responsible for ensuring fundamental legal safeguards, including access to a lawyer, family visits and medical examination, for the transferred inmates? In cases of alleged violations of the Convention obligations, which State authority carried out investigations, convicted perpetrators, and provided redress to victims? Did the Austrian Ombudsman Board have authority to inquire into allegations of violations against transferred inmates? Which State would respond if an individual complaint related to this practice was lodged with the Committee?

Another Committee Expert said that if there was a threat to public security, border police gained the authority to remove asylum seekers. Could asylum seekers appeal removal decisions by border police?

One Committee Expert asked how the State party ensured that the Police Complaints Office was independent of the Ministry of the Interior, within which it was placed? Could the Office provide financial redress to victims of ill treatment?

A Committee Expert asked whether treaty body recommendations were binding. How did courts apply the principle of non-refoulement ex officio?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said the Police Complaints Office had 30 staff investigating allegations of ill treatment by police officers. One hundred and twenty-three cases had been lodged with the Office, most of which were still under investigation. The Office was set up within the Federal Bureau of Anti-Corruption, outside of the “regular” hierarchy of the security agencies. It could not receive instructions from police institutions. All staff underwent special training on human rights and interrogation. The Office could not provide redress to victims. Victims needed to file indemnification claims with civil courts to receive redress. The Office investigated both criminal offences with the Public Prosecutor and disciplinary matters with supervisors.

If necessary medical treatments could not be provided in prisons, inmates were escorted to hospitals to receive treatment. A new act was passed in 2022 amending regulations on forensic therapeutic centres. Juveniles could only be detained in such centres for offences carrying prison centres of 10 years or more. The Code of Criminal Procedure had also been amended to provide alternative treatments outside of forensic therapeutic centres and to increase psychiatric assessments for inmates. The law required that experts in psychiatry needed to be present throughout trials. Forensic therapeutic centres needed to be physically separated from other prisons and should be represented by “patients’ advocates”. The State party was working to improve post-rehabilitation support and create the necessary conditions for the release of juveniles tailored to the individual needs of detainees.

Efforts had been made to address the shortage of doctors, psychiatrists and nursing staff, including detention facilities. New training had been developed for these professions and financial incentives had been implemented to make these professions more attractive. Training for the judiciary on human rights was offered on an ongoing basis and was constantly improved. Prospective judges had an obligation to undergo further training on combatting racism and interculturalism. Around 96.7 per cent of prison guard posts were filled, and the State party was endeavouring to fill the remaining posts by making positions more attractive. It aimed to increase the proportion of women and persons with migrant backgrounds within prison staff. The prison academy organised regular online recruiting days.

The Ministry of Justice had worked to reduce the occupancy rate of prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic, but occupancy rates had increased after the pandemic. The State party was exerting efforts to address this issue, implementing measures such as electronically monitored house arrests. Further reform to address prison overcrowding was planned.

In 2023, Austria had received around 59,000 asylum applications and about 25,000 protections were granted. The average duration of asylum procedures was around 5.5 months in 2023, below the legally required six months deadline. The backlog of asylum applications had been reduced in recent years, especially from over 44,000 at the beginning of 2023 to 28,000 at the end of the year. All officials of the Federal Office for Immigration and Asylum had to go through compulsory pre-service and in-service training, provided notably by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration Austria, the European Union Agency for Asylum and civil society organizations, including on vulnerability, for example of women and lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer plus persons, intercultural competence, the best interests of minors, and the Asylum Interview Method.

When a treaty entered into force in Austria, it was directly applicable. Parliament could decide that treaties that were not specific enough had to be implemented through national provisions. Several provisions of United Nations human rights conventions were included in the Constitution. Austria took its obligations under international law very seriously. After a treaty body View was issued, Austria examined if and what measures had to be taken in order to remedy a violation found. If necessary, not only administrative but also legislative measures were taken. While Views were not legally binding, they were thoroughly examined and taken seriously by the Austrian authorities and served as a benchmark for interpreting domestic law in conformity with international law.

The Ombudsman Board as the national prevention mechanism could issue recommendations, and the authority concerned had to either conform or state in writing why not. Within the Ministries, emphasis was placed on providing and safeguarding conditions for complying with recommendations. There were representatives of civil society on the Advisory Board for the national preventive mechanism, which had unrestricted access to all detention centres, public events and demonstrations, and conducted almost all visits unannounced. Under its mandate to monitor the conduct of large police operations the mechanism found in most visits that police were operating in accordance with the law. Recommendations of the national preventive mechanism made a significant contribution to improving prison standards and police work.

Every arrested person had the right to notify a trusted person and a freely chosen lawyer, and to call in an additional doctor of their choice if a medical examination by a police doctor was required. Legal information was provided verbally and in an information sheet in several languages. An accused person who did not have defence counsel was provided with information on their ability to contact private or public defenders on standby. Accused persons bore the costs of intervention by public defence counsel, which was around 180 euros per hour. However, the State party was required to bear costs for persons who could not afford them. The Ministry of Justice spent more than four million euros per year on the stand-by defence counsel service.

From 2014 to date, there had been 11 deaths in police detention centres. Five cases were suicides, while the other six were sudden, health-related deaths. In all cases, a medical examination and investigation was carried out. The Public Prosecutor had not found evidence of ill treatment in any of these cases. In 2023, there were 12 suicides in the prison system. A specialist group for suicide prevention had been set up to analyse suicide incidents and make recommendations for prevention. Law enforcement officers had the option to undergo three months of paramedic training. Only then were they allowed to provide medical treatment to detainees in police detention centres.

Incommunicado detention did not exist in Austria. Inmates were not kept in cells alone at night if there was reason to believe that there was a risk to their health. Penitentiary staff were required to visit solitary confinement inmates at least once a day and to talk twice a day with juvenile inmates in solitary confinement. House arrest was issued for no more than four weeks, and only for one week for juveniles. A bill proposing the abolishment of house arrest for juveniles was being considered by the Government. There was permanent monitoring of house arrests. Security measures were subject to the principles of proportionality and necessity.

The prison occupancy rate was being continuously examined to prevent overcrowding as much as possible. Renovations had reduced the capacities of some prisons. As of March this year, three per cent of inmates were serving sentences through electronically monitored house arrest. Austria had sufficient capacities in forensic therapeutic centres.

Applicants for international protection were covered by health insurance in Austria to the same extent as Austrian inhabitants and emergency medical care was provided at any time. The admissions procedure included standardised, comprehensive medical checks. There were three federal reception facilities providing health services to asylum seekers with disabilities. As of today, around 57 asylum seekers with disabilities were receiving special care at the federal level.

/Public Release. View in full here.