The human rights situation in Austria is being scrutinized by various international and European mechanisms, within the United Nations as well as the Council of Europe. 2011 Austria was first reviewed through the Universal Periodic Review at the UN-Human Rights Council (HRC).
What is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)? How does it work?
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique instrument which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations. As one of the main features of the Council, the UPR is designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed.
The UPR was created through the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 by Resolution 60/251 which established the Human Rights Council, founded in 2006, itself. Each state is supposed to be reviewed once in a 4-years-cycle. Basis for the review are three reports about the human rights progress in the country, its problems and challenges, which are to be given a comprehensive overview of the human rights situation overall. These reports include the State Report submitted by the government itself, the Summary of UN Information compiled by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of information contained in the reports of treaty bodies, special procedures, and other relevant official UN documents and finally a Summary of Stakeholders' Information prepared by Civil Society, NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions and compiled by the OHCHR. The actual review takes place in Geneva before the UPR Working Group of the Human Rights Council. The review consists of three hours of questions and answers in an interactive dialogue between the concerned state and other countries. Afterwards the Working Group drafts an outcome document, which summarises the discussions and sets out recommendations made during the review, the responses to these by the state and any voluntary commitments made. Then the state has to identify those recommendations it can accept and those it rejects. The UPR will recur on a four year cycle, after which the state is being reviewed again. At that time, the Government will be held to account for how it has implemented the recommendations that it accepted from the initial review and will also be expected to address human rights issues that have emerged in the meantime.
The UPR process is a very transparent one (live-transmission through the UN , webcast, publication of all reports on the OHCHR website) and fosters close cooperation between states and civil society.
The ultimate goal of UPR is the improvement of the human rights situation in every country with significant consequences for people around the globe through dialogue, exchange of views and implementation of recommendations. The UPR is designed to prompt, support, and expand the promotion and protection of human rights on the ground.
The first review cycle took place from 2008 until 2011 in which all states (48 a year) have been reviewed. Since 2012 the second cycle is under way, which is to be finalized beginning of 2016.
Second Universal Periodic Review of Austria
The second Austrian Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council took place on 9 November 2015 in Geneva. Federal Minister of Justice Wolfgang Brandstetter headed the Austrian delegation.
During the dialogue 229 recommendations (EN) have been submitted. Austria has accepted 135 recommendations and rejected 23. The decision concerning the other 71 recommendations was postponed. The report will be adopted during the 31st session of the UNHRC in March 2016. The full report of the Working Group will be available on November 20th.
Like in 2011, the review took place on the basis of three reports: the State Report, submitted by the Austrian Federal Government, the compilation of all relevant recommendations of UN and regional Human Rights mechanism (EN), submitted by the UNHRC and the contributions of NGO’s that have been summarised by the UNHCR (EN).
The new Austrian State Report (German and English) was again prepared by the Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs (BMEIA) in close coordination with the Austrian Federal Chancellery and with the participation of the Human Rights Coordinators of the other Federal Ministries and the nine Provinces (‘Länder’). In a transparent process, civil society organisations were provided with the opportunity to present their positions with regard to the State Report. The State Report was adopted by the Federal Government on July 7th 2015, it was submitted to the UNHRC within the prescribed period.
Taking into account the guidelines for the second review cycle, the emphasis in the report was put on the implementation of the recommendations accepted by Austria during the first UPR 2011. Both, new legislative developments and accompanying measures as well as new policies, projects and initiatives are included in the report.
A first draft report was sent to the Federal Ministries and the Länder in January 2015 with an invitation to comment and further contributions. The draft report and consequent information on the UPR process were published on the website of the BMEIA, while inviting the public for comments. At the same time the report was distributed widely among civil society. The possibility to comment was taken up by numerous organisations (whose statements can be found in the download section on the right side of this page). Subsequently the State Report was revised a last time in view of the statements received. The regular and comprehensive open dialogue with civil society on the UPR (see Chapter II.D), which hast been carried out for several years now, will be continued after the second review of Austria by the Human Rights Council.
First Universal Periodic Review of Austria
The first Austrian State Report (D, EN) was drafted on the basis of a so-called „Roadmap“, with the participation of all competent Federal Ministries as well as representatives of the nine Provinces (Länder). The report was submitted to the OHCHR on 18 October 2010. The presentation of the report in the framework of the oral review in Geneva took place on 26 January 2011.
Inclusion of Civil Society during Austrian’s UPR
According to the UPR guidelines, the inclusion and participation of civil society when drafting the national report is of utmost importance. Austria took this task very seriously and held two round-tables for NGOs and representatives of civil society in Vienna and Graz, co-organised with two important human rights institutes, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institut für Menschenrechte and the European Training and Research Center for Human Rights and Democracy. Following the roundtables a first report was drafted by the Government, and subsequently sent out for comments to all stakeholders involved. Where possible, comments were taken into consideration during the finalization of the state report, which was then presented to civil society once again. Finally the report was formally adopted by the Austrian Government and sent to the OHCHR.
The Austrian civil society submitted various “shadow-reports”, which were compiled by the OHCHR and together with the OHCHR summary on recommendations of UN-and regional monitoring mechanisms for Austria published on the OHCHR website. The dialogue with civil society was continued also after the oral review, such as in regular meetings of a UPR steering-committee the status of the implementation of the recommendations is being discussed since then.
Oral UPR review of Austria at the UN-Human Rights Council in Geneva
The oral review of Austria took place on 26 January 2011 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Austrian Delegation was led by then Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, who highlighted in his introductory speech the Austrian efforts in the promotion and protection of human rights.
During the interactive dialogue 54 states took the floor, asked questions and made recommendations. The report of the UPR Working Group (D, EN) about the Austrian review was adopted in the Plenary of the HRC on 7 June 2011. In the 1-hour discussion, 4 states and various NGOs and representatives of civil society took the floor. Out of the 161 recommendations given to Austria in total, 131 have been accepted and 30 have been rejected by the government. Those 54 recommendations that have been left open at the moment of the adoption of the report of the Working Group Austria has made extensive comments later on (D, EN).
Midterm report of Austria to the HRC about the implementation of the recommendations
On 13 August 2013 the Austrian Government adopted the voluntary midterm report of Austria about the implementation of the accepted UPR recommendations, which was published on the OHCHR website on 23 September 2013.
The report was the result of the ongoing consultations and meetings between different Austrian Federal Ministries and representatives of the nine provinces and civil society, where the status of the implementation was being reviewed and discussed among all stakeholders.
The next Austrian UPR in the framework of the second cycle is due in October/November 2015. The new Austrian state report has to be submitted to the OHCHR by July 2015.