"Despite a well-established human rights system, Austria still needs to bridge some remaining gaps, in particular as concerns the rights of asylum-seekers, women and persons with disabilities" said Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, publishing a report based on the findings of his visit to Austria last 4-6 June. "Access of asylum-seekers to the labour market should be extended, including by granting young asylum-seekers permission to take up an apprenticeship and thus benefit from vocational training. The quality of free legal aid and representation could also be strengthened and made available during the entire asylum procedure and thereafter, including during deportation procedures."
Noting that the basic needs of asylum-seekers are satisfied, the Commissioner encourages the authorities to ensure adequate living conditions throughout the entire country. Increased attention should also be paid to the needs of unaccompanied and separated asylum-seeking children. "The best interests of the child should be the primary consideration in all decisions. The Austrian authorities should ensure that all unaccompanied minors are systematically and without undue delay appointed a guardian throughout their entire stay in Austria."
The current drafting of a National Action Plan for Persons with Disabilities aiming at further implementing the respective UN Convention is a welcome development. The Commissioner stresses that "it is particularly important to ensure that the applicable standards are adhered to in all Länder." The authorities should also further the system of inclusive education of persons with disabilities, reinforce measures for securing independent living and inclusion in the community as well as for providing access to the built environment and general services. The Commissioner furthermore encourages the Austrian authorities to pursue their efforts towards establishing a system of supported decision-making for persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities.
Despite measures taken to achieve gender equality, progress appearsto be rather slow. Women are still under-represented in politics and earn about 25% less than men. "Lack of quality full-time childcare and gender stereotypes remain major barriers to gender equality. These obstacles must be removed." The Commissioner is also concerned by the fact that violence against women, including spousal abuse, remains a problem in Austria, in spite of the continuous measures taken to combat this problem. "The authorities should monitor this phenomenon better and ensure continuous training of law enforcement officials to strengthen prevention, protection and prosecution."
Underpinning the necessary efforts to close these gaps is a well-functioning system for the protection and promotion of human rights. The Commissioner commends Austria's well-established system, which is being further complemented by a strengthening of the Austrian Ombudsman Board. In the field of combating discrimination, however, "there is still room for improvement: the Austrian authorities should afford the same level of protection across the different grounds of discrimination and ratify Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights", which provides for a general prohibition of discrimination.