Edtstadler Human rights democracy and the rule of law are

Human Rights Committee: Current problematic points dominate discussion with EU and Constitutional Minister Edtstadler (PK0145/02/21/2024)

Vienna (PK) – A wide range of topics – from the current situation in the Middle East, to the situation in Russia and the inclusion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the EU terrorist list – were discussed today in the context of a current discussion with the EU and Constitutional Minister Karoline Edtstadler at the National Council's Human Rights Commission for debate.

Human rights become more important in times of multiple crises and problematic situations, Edtstadler emphasized in his opening statement. It is the task of politics to protect this in Austria and Europe. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in serious human rights violations. In this context, Edtstadler referred to the “assassination” of Alexei Navalny, the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine that has been going on for almost two years, the “massacre” of more than 1,200 Israelis on October 7 by Hamas and the “dramatic” situation triggered by the Israeli offensive situation” in the Gaza Strip, as well as the situation in Afghanistan and Iran. In order to promote equal opportunities and justice, Austria supports projects in Afghanistan and Ethiopia for women. With regard to Austria, Edtstadler mentioned projects to combat child poverty.

The three proposed resolutions from the opposition parties that were on the agenda were again postponed by the ÖVP and the Greens.

Situation in Israel and Gaza

As regards the Gaza war, Austria can currently only support with humanitarian aid, the minister told Gudrun Kugler (ÖVP) and Alois Kainz (FPÖ). However, since there are serious accusations against employees of the United Nations refugee agency for Palestine, Austria has temporarily suspended payments. Within the EU, Edtstadler sees different assessments of the situation in the Middle East. Ireland and Spain would press for a ceasefire. But it should not be forgotten that when Israel was founded there was a promise to be a “safe haven” for the Jews. A two-state solution is currently a long way off, as there is currently no willingness on either side to talk about it.

Harald Troch (SPÖ) criticized Austria's voting behavior at the United Nations on a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. Israel has the right to self-defense, but the Palestinian civilian population must not suffer for the actions of Hamas.

Situation in Russia and Ukraine displaced people in Austria

Stephanie Krisper (NEOS) also spoke about murder in relation to the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Krisper asked about the implementation of the sanctions mechanism against human rights violators – the so-called Magnitsky Law – as well as about Navalny's team's demand to sanction supporters of Putin's upcoming “fake election” as president. This requires a comprehensive review, but Austria does not decide on individual names on the sanctions lists, the minister responded.

European solidarity with Ukraine must be maintained, the EU and Constitutional Minister emphasized to Georg Bürstmayr (Greens). The Green MEP asked about the medium and long-term prospects for people displaced from Ukraine after the relevant EU directive expires in 2025. According to Edtstadler, Austria and Europe reacted quickly in terms of protection and integration. She hoped that no extension of the directive would be necessary, but that would depend on the future course of the war. According to Stephanie Krisper (NEOS), the Ukrainian women and children who fled to Austria “are not doing so well in Austria”. The NEOS deputy asked for improvements because the federal government did not plan to stay there any longer.

Addition of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to the EU terrorist list

In response to Harald Troch's (SPÖ) demand to place the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the EU terrorist list, the EU minister stressed that, according to the Council's legal service, this was not possible. This was contradicted by Georg Bürstmayr (Greens), who also spoke in favor of inclusion on the EU terrorist list. Inclusion on the terrorist list would have “enormous geopolitical significance” as Iran is a strong supporter of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, Bürstmayr said.

EU supply chain law

Regarding the EU supply chain law mentioned by Peter Weidinger (ÖVP), Edtstadler said that he fundamentally supported the objectives, but that the way it was implemented was not a good solution, especially for small and medium-sized companies, and involved many bureaucratic effort. It is about ensuring a balance between better human rights standards and keeping Europe as a place.

Human rights violations in Austria

Peter Wurm (FPÖ) spoke about human rights violations in Austria, such as child marriages or genital mutilation, and asked about concrete measures to address them. This is a highly sensitive topic and Edtstadler advocated low-threshold advice. The federal government, therefore, supports highly specialized victim protection institutions in this area. With regard to the EU's plans for the digital euro mentioned by Wurm, it should bring added value to the population and should not replace cash, the minister explained the Austrian position.

Other topics of discussion: LGBTIQ community, children's rights, Munich Security Conference

Faika El-Nagashi (Greens) spoke about the “persecution of the LGBTIQ community that is increasing around the world” and asked about actions at EU level to prevent the “worrying homosexual law” recently passed by Uganda. There is hope that the constitutional mechanism in Uganda will repeal the law, otherwise pressure from Europe will have to increase, Edtstadler said. In principle, it has already become publicly clear that such legislation is unacceptable.

Petra Wimmer (SPÖ) asked about the status of the evaluation of children's rights in Austria, which, according to the SPÖ's mandate, should be available by the end of 2023. The evaluation is well advanced. Publication is scheduled for the first half of 2024, said the minister.

As regards her participation in the Munich Security Conference, there were three priorities for her, the minister told Robert Laimer (SPÖ). These would have ranged from a general assessment of the security policy situation to a discussion on the security situation of Jewish life in Israel and discussions on the opportunities and risks of artificial intelligence.

SPÖ application for the development of the fundamental rights catalog

A renewed motion was postponed again, with which the Social Democrats call for the further development of the catalog of fundamental rights and the creation of fundamental social rights (3057/A(E)). They refer to the current government program, which contains the plan to further develop the federal constitution to strengthen fundamental and human rights.

This SPÖ application is now out of date and continuous work is being done on this issue, said Corinna Scharzenberger (ÖVP), justifying her request for a postponement. Austria has a catalog of fundamental rights that consists of several parts, said Georg Bürstmayr (Greens).

Harald Troch (SPÖ) referred to the “very clear statements” on work on fundamental rights in the government program. This is “something that has not been done”. Peter Wurm (FPÖ) signaled that his party would accept the invitation if, as envisaged in the government program, all-party negotiations on the development of a comprehensive Austrian catalog of fundamental rights were resumed, Peter Wurm (FPÖ) signaled the your group's willingness to speak.

FPÖ: Statistics on child marriage in Austria

A proposed FPÖ resolution on the issue of child marriage (1460/A(E)) was also taken up and postponed again. In Austria, people can only marry from the age of 18 or, in exceptional cases, from the age of 16, but it cannot be excluded that minors can also live together as spouses, according to the application. The number of minors who married abroad is not known due to lack of data. In order to effectively combat child marriages, the FPÖ calls for detailed statistics on child marriages in Austria.

In Austria, there are almost half a dozen criminal provisions that make child marriages punishable by the courts. Marriages at age 16 are only possible in Austria under very specific conditions. The Ministry of the Interior has the data available, so this topic should be discussed in the Interior Committee, said Georg Bürstmayr (Greens) and tabled the postponement motion.

Peter Wurm (FPÖ) emphasized his party's demand to collect figures, data and facts on this topic. Gudrun Kugler (ÖVP) responded that counting the cases was not enough. What is crucial is to ban child marriages and help those affected; these two points are not included in the FPÖ candidacy, she complained. However, government parties are already working on this.

NEOS: Software for automated and mass facial recognition

NEOS calls for a Europe-wide ban on the use of software for automated and mass facial recognition in public spaces with a renewed application, which has also been postponed again (1793/A(E)). The wording contained in the AI ​​Act, a law proposed by the European Union to regulate artificial intelligence, does not go far enough, criticized Nikolaus Scherak (NEOS).

There is currently no legal basis for using real-time automatic facial recognition and this is not planned, said Johann Weber (ÖVP) and therefore tabled the postponement motion.

However, it has already happened that an innocent person was unjustly imprisoned for two months due to faulty automatic facial recognition software because he was mistakenly mistaken for a criminal, replied Nikolaus Scherak (NEOS). Such mistakes would happen “now”.

There is a tension between privacy and security and privacy is being increasingly postponed, said Melanie Erasim (SPÖ). However, this security is “misleading” and a clear position is needed, but there is no clear line from the government, she criticized.

Human rights are a cross-cutting issue and a theme in all committees. Gudrun Kugler (ÖVP) emphasized that government parties have placed particular emphasis on the use of artificial intelligence in their work in recent months. (End) med/bea