New Amnesty report exposes racism in Austrian police and justice system

Racist abuse and ill-treatment by the Austrian police, together with wider discrimination against ethnic minorities and migrants in Austria’s criminal justice system, are exposed in a new Amnesty International report launched today (9 April) in Vienna.

The report, Victim or suspect: A question of colour - Racist discrimination in the Austrian justice system, reveals that non-white Austrians are more likely to be suspected of crime and ill-treated by police. Their grievances are far less likely to be promptly and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators to be brought to justice. Amnesty is calling for urgent reforms to combat institutional racism, and to address the failure to properly investigate complaints of police ill-treatment.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s expert on Austria, said:
“It is high time that political leaders and senior police officials acknowledge the existence of racism in Austria’s police force. Public confidence in the police cannot be maintained if police officers who are known to have committed serious human rights violations remain in office.
“Austria’s de facto two-tier justice system is an affront to the concept of justice. Common social prejudices and stereotypes regarding foreigners and different religious and ethnic groups can have no place in law enforcement structures.

“The Austrian authorities must send a clear message to law enforcement officials and to the public in general that ill-treatment of detainees and racist misconduct are absolutely prohibited in all circumstances and will be investigated and acted upon as appropriate.

“The impact of the discriminatory practices of the police is such that the sense of injustice is not limited to individual victims but spreads contagiously throughout minority communities that come to perceive themselves as specifically targeted.”

Amnesty International is concerned that the majority of complaints of police ill-treatment by members of ethnic minorities are met with an inadequate response by the police force itself and by the judicial system. Complaints are not properly investigated, police officers are seldom prosecuted and lightly sanctioned.

Amnesty International is calling on the Austrian authorities to:
- Ensure that all allegations of racist misconduct by law enforcement officials are effectively investigated and appropriately punished;
- Improve the identification of, and institutional response to, patterns of racist misconduct on the part of law enforcement officials;
- Increase the awareness of all law enforcement officials of their duty not to discriminate;
- Ensure the effective investigation and prosecution of crimes reported by foreign nationals and members of ethnic minorities, including possible racist motivations.

While there are no official statistics on the ethnicity of complainants or of proven victims of police ill-treatment, anecdotal evidence and the fact that the overwhelming majority of such cases reported to and taken up by Amnesty International have involved members of ethnic minorities raises the concern of overt racism on the part of law enforcement structures.

Read the full report (PDF)

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