Despatch from Innsbruck | International

The far-right’s attack on human rights

Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl.

Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl.

The far-right Freedom Party, which is part of the Austrian government, triggered a new controversy when party leader and Interior Minister Herbert Kickl recently attacked the European Convention on Human Rights. Freedom Party is known for its controversial views on migration, Islam and policing, among other issues.

Mr. Kickl, who used to write the speeches of right-wing politician Jörg Haider, also created the “At home instead of Islam” slogan (‘Daham statt Islam’) of the Freedom Party and used to be one of the main organisers of the right-wing ‘Defenders of Europe’ conference that took place in 2016 and in 2018 in Austria.

Recently, Mr. Kickl called for harsher measures against refugees in an interview with ORF, Austria’s public television broadcaster. “The law has to follow politics, politics doesn’t have to follow the law,” he said.

In this context, the Interior Minister, who wants to deport refugees rather quickly, described the European Convention on Human Rights as consisting of “strange, legal constructs” that are “partly many many years old”. He added that these laws prevent the Austrian government from doing “what is necessary”.

Austrian Interior Minister and far-right Freedom Party leader Herbert Kickl’s attack on European Convention on Human Rights has triggered widespread criticism in the country

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Kickl’s comments provoked outrage. “The European Convention on Human Rights has been ranked in the Constitution of Austria for 59 years. Challenging this would be a termination of the basic consensus of the Second Republic,” said Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen on Twitter without mentioning the name of his Interior Minister.

According to Karl Weber, a veteran jurist who is focussing on constitutional law at the University of Innsbruck, Mr. Kickl spread “dangerous nonsense”. “What the Interior Minister is saying is not compatible with a state of law. If a student writes in an exam that the law has to follow politics, he or she would not pass,” Mr. Weber said in an interview with Austrian daily Der Standard .

Several jurists have also criticised Mr. Kickl’s “unbearable” and “unworthy” comments. Others called for his dismissal. Austria’s two main Opposition parties, the Social Democrats and the liberal NEOS, said they would introduce a motion of no-confidence against the Minister. Reportedly, Mr. Kickl already talked to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz regarding the issue. “It is clear that the Constitution, the basic principles of the European Union and basic and human rights are valid and that they are grounded in the government programme,” Mr. Kurz said in a statement. The talk between him and the Interior Minister has been described as “clarifying”.

 

At the same time, leading politicians of the Freedom Party, including Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, supported Mr. Kickl’s views and criticised the “bashing in media” against him.

Authoritarian state

“I never expected to face such a debate in a place like Austria. These are the first steps towards a fascist and authoritarian state, and history taught us that this has already happened in this country,” said Taseer Mohammad, a 24-year-old a refugee who lives in Innsbruck. He believes that it is dangerous that a person like Mr. Kickl controls the whole police force in the country. His Ministry is also responsible for many decisions that affect people like Mr. Mohammad.

“Since this government came to power, our situation is worsening day by day. They hate us, and they don’t even try to hide it. When Mr. Kickl talks about refugees, I notice that he doesn’t consider us as humans,” said Sahel Khan, 27, a refugee from Afghanistan.

Emran Feroz is a freelance journalist based in Stuttgart, Germany.


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Printable version | May 22, 2022 8:00:32 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/the-far-rights-attack-on-human-rights/article26100698.ece