Sabine Mandl, senior researcher at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute
Sabine Mandl is a senior researcher at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights (BIM), Vienna, working in the field of children’s and women’s rights with special emphasis on “access to justice” and “violence”.
She studied Political Science, Journalism and Communication Science and holds a Trainer Certificate for Adult Education. At the BIM, she is currently responsible for the EU funded project “Improving Juvenile Justice Systems in Europe – Training for Professionals”, which is led by IJJO (International Juvenile Justice Observatory).
From 2013 to 2015 she was the coordinator of the EU-Daphne project on “Access to specialized victim support services for women with disabilities who have experienced violence”, carried out by four European countries – Austria, Germany, United Kingdom and Iceland.
Additionally, she has been engaged in several projects focussed on, for example, the “integration of refugee and asylum seeking children in the educational system in Europe”, as well as “children’s view on engaging in European and international decision-making”.
Apart from her work at the BIM, she has been a lecturer at the University of Vienna since 2002. Working within the faculty of history and political science, she lectures on women’s rights, media and politics, the political system and qualitative empirical methods.
The Institute works to enhance respect for Human Rights at a national, European and international level. What are your current research projects focused on?
The Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights (BIM) is doing basic and applied research related to relevant human rights issues in the following fields of society; Human Dignity and Public Security, Human Rights in Development Co-operation and Business, Women’s Rights, Child Rights, Anti-Trafficking and Anti-discrimination, Diversity and Asylum.
In particular, regarding the political crisis towards the situation on refugees and migration in Europe, BIM is going to strengthen its research activities by contributing with analyses and recommendations from a human rights perspective. In this regard, recently a study has been published: “A new asylum policy for Europe?! Opting for a rights-based approach".
I am currently working on children’s rights in the area of the justice system and in the counter-terrorism context (project launch: November; led by IJJO). Besides that, I am engaged in women’s rights and the rights of persons with disabilities. In autumn a project will start focussing on violence against persons with disabilities living in residential institutions in Austria. I believe that especially vulnerable groups in society like children, women, persons with disabilities, need to get more attention and a voice to express their concerns and suggestions in order to combat violence and discrimination against them more effectively.
Regarding the current state of juvenile justice in Austria, what are your thoughts on which domains need the most improvement?
I think in general the standard of the juvenile justice system in Austria is relatively high, especially after some reforms have contributed to improvements in (pre-trial) detention and alternative measures in recent years. The area in which efforts are still needed is definitely prevention.
The rights of children have to be an integral part of the education and training for all professionals. Many children need very intensive support and guidance by one professional, instead of being handed over from time to time to other persons and institutions.
Another challenge is the need for more networking, exchange and coordination among institutions responsible for children such as child and youth welfare, Ombudsman for children and young people, youth judges and organisations on children’s rights.
When a child gets in conflict with the law, their effective access to an advocate is of utmost importance, however in Austria at the moment it is not guaranteed in all cases. This is especially the case during the first contact with the police, in which children often don’t get information fully accessible for them. In the area of pre-trial detention it must be ensured that separate rooms for youth are available. In this regard, Austria’s juvenile detention facilities have improved a lot, but there are still concerns.
In Austria, unaccompanied minors face a difficult situation, with no access to the labour market and often no institution that feels really responsible for them (legally in the competence of the child and youth welfare). There is a huge demand to make more efforts regarding integration and intensive support for unaccompanied minors.
You are a partner of the "Improving Juvenile Justice Systems in Europe: Training for Professionals" project, led by the IJJO. As an academic institution, how do you see your place in this project focused on the training of professionals?
We, as a human rights institution, emphasise the importance of education and training of professionals but also the empowerment of persons concerned, the so called rights holder. One must assist them to claim their rights and to be able to stand up for their rights. States are obliged to implement human rights standards. This project is linked with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on procedural safeguards. These standards include the right to be heard and the right to information, which are crucial elements of a human rights based approach.
Human rights education must not only focus on rights and on the contents of the rights, but rather, how the rights are implemented. In this context, communication and the relationship, for example between the police and young people, play a vital role. Therefore we appreciate such initiatives, like this project, aiming at raising awareness, sensitiveness and at improving communicational skills.
One of the products of this ongoing project has been the development of a training package on child-friendly justice: what could this training package contribute to the development of juvenile justice in Austria?
We presented the manual and toolkit, including the video with Gareth’s story from Ireland at a workshop on juvenile justice in which 50 key professionals from the police, the justice system, socials workers, and psychologists attended. There was an overall consensus that better training is needed as a precondition in order to improve child-friendly justice in Austria.
During the workshop three professional fields (police / juvenile judges / prison guards) introduced their training curricular with the aim of learning from each other and identifying gaps and challenges for improvement. Although certain elements of the IJJO training package were already part of their curricular, others were not, in particular, child-friendly communications skills, such as interview techniques, active listening, use of child-friendly language, etc.
Besides that, the participants (lawyers, policemen, social workers, etc.) appreciated the clear and compact overview of International and European Standards in the manual and the focus on communication and participation. From the participants’ points of view, these two areas often haven’t been regarded as important elements of their daily work.
As a consequence, the participants, who were key experts and often responsible for education in their institutions, were keen on getting the manuals for training purposes. During the workshop we already distributed 100 copies and we are now going to reprint more in view of the strong demand. Following on from this, we have made the manual and video as well as the workshop documentation available on the BIM website, which has also been well received by the target group.
I am convinced that the training package will contribute to greater awareness of the obligations public authorities have to guarantee a child-friendly justice system. At the same time, they are guided how to do this with specific recommendations and practical instructions. This is the added value of the training package from my point of view.
One of the objectives of the project is to create national coalitions on juvenile justice in each participating State. Such a coalition already exists in Austria: how do you think this project could help it to achieve its objectives?
Yes, in Austria a national coalition already exists as a result of abusive incidents at the prison “Vienna-Josefstadt” in 2013. Since then the national coalition, which was set up by the Ministry of Justice, organized several meetings consisting of various professionals working with juveniles such as lawyers, judges, prosecutors, police officers, psychologists, representatives from civil society, social workers, as well as child and youth welfare staff members, etc. to discuss how the situation for juveniles in detention, including also pre-trial, can be improved. One outcome of these discussions has been the creation of the social-network conference.
However, in the last 1 ½ years the national coalition has not been very active. To this end, one of the goals of the Workshop was to stimulate the process again by bringing in issues for discussion which were generated during the Workshop. Although a revival of the national coalition was not the result, the Ministry of Justice, together with the experts, concluded to set up a new coalition.
The rational behind this decision was that there was already high commitment from the participating experts to work further on these issues. The representatives from the Ministry of Justice agreed to initiate a new coalition and promised to organise the next meeting with all interested and involved experts. In Austria, the amount of key experts working in the field of juvenile justice is rather small and therefore limited. Most of them were part of the Workshop and will be part of the new established national coalition. I think Austria will benefit by the project a lot, especially by the new impetus gathered through the discussions in the working groups.