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There was an increase in calls to helplines from victims of domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdown. Afghan nationals continued to be deported to Afghanistan. The Federal Government continued to refuse child asylum-seekers. There was a rise in online abuse against Black people, Muslims and refugees.

Freedom of movement

In March, a nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19 was imposed and being in public spaces was generally prohibited. After restrictions were lifted at the end of April, the Constitutional Court ruled in July that a blanket ban regarding public spaces was not provided by law and was therefore unconstitutional.

Freedom of assembly

Under lockdown restrictions, all public gatherings and protests were banned by the relevant authorities. Public assemblies were permitted again from May, provided the necessary COVID-19 precautions were taken. However, the authorities continued to impose unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on some demonstrations for health reasons despite precautions being put in place by organizers. In September, a “Fridays for Future” march to demand action against climate change in Linz was restricted to a rally with a maximum number of 1,000 participants. In October, a regional administrative court ruled that these restrictions were illegal.

Economic, social and cultural rights

In July, concerns were expressed at the multiple bureaucratic hurdles that 24-hour care workers from other EU countries had to overcome in order to access benefits provided by the COVID-19 hardship fund.1

Rights of women and girls

Following the March lockdown, domestic violence helplines reported a 38% increase in calls from women seeking support and safety. According to media reports, there were 24 femicides in 2020.

In December, the Constitutional Court overturned a law prohibiting primary school children from wearing religious head coverings, finding that it breached the rights of Muslim girls who wear the headscarf, including their right to freedom of religion and non-discrimination, and could lead to their marginalization.

Rights of refugees and asylum-seekers

In February it was announced that contracts with civil society organizations providing legal advice to asylum-seekers were to be terminated at the end of the year and the responsibility given to an agency embedded in the Ministry of Interior. Concerns were raised by several organizations about the potential implications for the fairness of the asylum procedure.2

Between January and March, 37 Afghan nationals whose asylum claims had been rejected were deported to Afghanistan, in violation of the principle of non-refoulement which prohibits states from returning individuals to a country where they would be at real risk of serious human rights violations. There were no deportations to Afghanistan from April to November due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in December, Austria resumed deportations to Afghanistan and 10 further Afghan nationals were deported.

The Federal Government continued to refuse to accept asylum-seekers from the Greek islands, despite a resolution by the Vienna State Parliament committing to receive 100 asylum-seeking children for relocation.

Freedom of expression

According to civil society organizations, from the beginning of the pandemic there was a significant increase in abuse and attacks online, especially against Muslims, Black people and refugees. In December, a controversial bill regulating hate speech online was approved by Parliament. Several organizations raised concerns that the bill was overly broad.

Excessive use of force

In January, the newly elected government committed to establishing an independent investigation and complaints mechanism for allegations of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by police. In August, over 40 individuals and civil society organizations, in a joint letter to the responsible ministries, urged the creation of an independent and effective mechanism. They also expressed concern that the lack of identification badges for law enforcement officials was hindering access to justice.2

Counter-terrorism and security

Following a terrorist attack in Vienna in November, authorities dissolved a number of Muslim associations on the basis of problematic procedures. In December, the government proposed several law reforms related to terrorism which gave rise to concerns about how some of the new provisions may impact the human rights of particular groups of people.

  1. Kurzanalyse: Soziale Menschenrechte und COVID-19: Amnesty Fordert Verfassungsänderung in Österreich (Press release, 1 July, in German only)
  2. Austria: Human rights challenges persist – Amnesty International submission for the UN Universal Periodic Review, 37th Periodic Review (EUR 13/2855/2020)