Rough Justice

Of the 369 Police Officers Accused of Abuse, Only One Has Been Convicted

The first case of police torture in Austria since the end of Nazi Rule was recorded in April 2006 by the Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, an international, non-governmental watchdog organization.

A cancelled deportation of a Gambian citizen, Bakary J., from Vienna International Airport had triggered a series of events described unmistakably as torture carried out by three WEGA police officers, the report said.

According to the Helsinki Federation 2006 Annual Report, Bakary J, was escorted from the plane “to a police training facility, where several policemen verbally abused him, threatened to kill him, beat him, and knocked him over by driving a police car into him.”

At the same time, the Menschenrechtsbeirat, a governmental advisory body to the Austrian Ministry of the Interior, published its findings on the prevention of human rights violations by the police forces. This report not only cites the mentioned case but suggests that it might just be the tip of an iceberg.

Investigators of the Menschrechtsbeirat made unannounced visits to deportation prisons and lists numerous cases. Of 369 police officers accused of maltreatment, only one was convicted, the report states.

These incidents defy the 1984 United Nations Convention against Torture which Austria ratified along with the other EU member states in 1987. The convention is internationally binding and an official addition to the Declaration of Human Rights. However, Austria has not fulfilled its obligations in passing anti-torture legislation to implement the Convention. The lack of a legal framework makes prosecution of cases of torture difficult, as the criminal intent required under current Austrian Criminal law of the action is difficult to prove in court.

In case of Bakary J., the three police officers were charged with tantalizing a detainee and received eight months probation, while Bakary J was awarded only € 300 damages, in spite of multiple fractures in the facial area, a number of bruises and a mental trauma. The police’s disciplinary proceedings consequently acquitted the officers in the first instance, and they continued to serve on the police force.

This abusive treatment under the Austrian juridical system, heavily criticised by human rights monitors, is yet another violation of the UN convention, which calls for adequate compensation and formal apologies by the government. Action on the enabling legislation by the Austrian parliament is long over due, to prevent any further cases of torture in what seems to be a pattern of appalling abuse of public power.

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