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24 August 2012

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination examines report of Austria

GENEVA/VIENNA, 24 August (UN Information Service) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined eighteenth to twentieth periodic report of Austria on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Introducing the report, Brigitte Ohms, Deputy Head of the Division for International Affairs at the Legal Service in the Federal Chancellery of Austria, said Austria employed a twofold approach in its fight against racism: prevention and provision of effective help for victims. The guiding principle of all measures of Austria's anti-racism policy was the concept of sustainable social balance and dialogue. A tolerant social climate was highly influenced by public figures and the Government tried to set a good example by denouncing verbal radicalism. Austria wanted to empower people and offered a wide range of support to help members of minority groups enter and stay in the labour market. However, for historical reasons Austria refrained from holding a census since the representatives of ethnic minority groups strongly opposed the idea. Like most European countries Austria distinguished between ethnic minorities and migrant communities and aimed to respond to the needs of both groups in an adequate way.

During the discussion, Experts raised various concerns, in particular about alleged institutionalized racism in Austria, especially as to whether the police force was racist. The popularity of far-right political parties which espoused racist views towards Jews, Muslims, foreign nationals and other minority groups was another concern, as was the growth of skinhead and other far-right groups inspired by extremist national socialist ideologies and neo-Nazism. The continued over-representation of non-citizens in penal establishments was also raised, as was the continued implementation of 'foreigner quotas' to public places, reports of desecration of places of worship and cemeteries and memorials belonging to Jews and Muslims, and reports of overt forms of racist abuse of football players of African descent and the display of anti-Semitic banners in football stadia.

Speaking in initial concluding remarks Dilip Lahiri, Rapporteur for the report of Austria, said the report showed several steps taken to improve matters and take into account the Committee's previous recommendations. The main concern related to the difficulty the Committee had in accepting the State party's position that it could not provide disaggregated data. Furthermore, there seemed to be structural racism in some State and judicial institutions, which must be dealt with. Other concerns related to the need for awareness-raising and prevention of the preferential treatment still experienced by persons of different ethnicities.

In concluding remarks Ms. Ohms said Austria was eager for new ideas and was ready to change things. As the Committee said, change took time, but on an administrative level things were being brought forward, and time was not an argument not to try again and again to improve life for minorities living in Austria.

The delegation of Austria included representatives of the Federal Chancellery, Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Justice, Federal Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection, Ministry for Education, the Arts and Culture, Ministry for Science and Research, Legal Service of the Federal Chancellery and the Austrian Mission to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Austria towards the end of its session, which concludes on 31 August..

Report of Austria: the combined eighteenth to twentieth periodic report of Austria can be read here: CERD/C/AUT/18-20

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