Annual Report: Hungary 2013

Report
May 23, 2013

Annual Report: Hungary 2013

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HUNGARY

Head of state János Áder (replaced Pál Schmitt in May)

Head of government Viktor Orbán

A new Constitution entered into force with concerns over its possibly discriminatory impact. Roma were subjected to harassment and intimidation by far-right groups on numerous occasions. Despite amendments, legislation continued to impose political control on the media.

Background

In January, a new Constitution came into force. It had been criticized for its potential to restrict human rights, notably the right to be protected from discrimination and the right to an effective remedy.

In November, the Court of Justice of the European Union held that Hungary breached EU law by lowering the retirement age for judges and prosecutors.

Discrimination

The new Constitution restricted the legal definition of a family to a union between a man and woman, raising concerns over discrimination against same-sex couples. In December, the Constitutional Court annulled the provision.

In July, a new Criminal Code was adopted which extended the definition of hate-motivated assaults to those committed on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. NGOs welcomed the change, but expressed concerns over how the new provisions would be implemented without effective guidelines for police and prosecution services on the investigation of such crimes.

Roma

Despite some commitments from the government to prevent intimidation, Roma continued to be subjected to racist abuse and violent assaults. The trial of the suspects accused of attacks against Roma in 2008 and 2009 (during which six people, including a child, were killed) was delayed. One of the defence lawyers resigned in October after it was revealed that he was the son of one of the judges involved in the case.

  • In March, a parliamentary Committee reported on the “vigilante” activities in the village of Gyöngyöspata in March 2011. However, the report failed to refer to the slow and inadequate response of the authorities to the intimidation, harassment and threat of violence suffered by the Roma in Gyöngyöspata, when the village was “patrolled” by three vigilante groups for almost a month.
  • On 5 August, the far-right party Jobbik and a number of vigilante groups held a march in the village of Devecser. Pieces of concrete and other missiles were reportedly thrown at the houses of Roma. Police officers allegedly failed to intervene to stop the attacks. Following these events, the government made a commitment not to tolerate and to prevent any kind of intimidation of ethnic and other minorities.
  • Vigilante groups reportedly intimidated Romani residents in the village of Cegléd on 18 August. People mostly dressed in black uniforms gathered in small groups in Romani neighbourhoods, chanted anti-Roma slogans and made death threats. The police advised the Romani families to return to their houses and did not intervene. The vigilantes remained in the town for two days. The NGOs alleged that the police addressed the incidents as public disorder and not as an “assault against a member of a community”.
  • Several thousand Jobbik supporters marched through a Romani neighbourhood in the town of Miskolc on 17 October. They were reportedly chanting anti-Roma slogans. Hundreds of Roma held a peaceful counter-demonstration. NGOs acknowledged that the police acted with due diligence to protect the Romani inhabitants from attacks.

Justice system

In January, the law on the Constitutional Court entered into force. Human rights organizations, including Eötvös Károly Institute, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, warned that the law introduced unreasonable obstacles – including mandatory legal representation – which would make access for citizens complaining of human rights violations to the Constitutional Court more difficult. The law also removed the provision for collective complaints.

Freedom of expression

In May, Parliament amended the media legislation, addressing some of the shortcomings identified by the Constitutional Court in December 2011. In particular, the amendments restricted the control of the authorities over the content of the print and internet media, and strengthened the protection of journalistic sources. However, the Council of Europe voiced concerns that some negative provisions, such as the obligation for printed and online media to be registered or face heavy fines, still persisted. Critics warned that media legislation continued to expose the media to political control.

  • In September Hungary's national news service, MTI, sued a journalist for defamation following his accusation that it was using taxpayers' money to misinform the public. The move was criticized by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media as likely to have an intimidating effect on independent critical journalists.

Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, criticized Hungary's treatment of asylum-seekers, reporting that conditions in reception centres and the increased use of administrative detention of asylum-seekers fell short of international and EU standards. Asylum-seekers returned to Hungary under the Dublin Regulation were usually issued with expulsion orders and detained, irrespective of their wish to seek asylum.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

More than 3,000 participants attended the Pride march in Budapest on 12 July. In April, the Chief of the Budapest Police decided to ban it on the grounds that it would disrupt traffic flows. The ban was quashed by the Budapest Metropolitan Court a few days later. According to the organizers, the police provided adequate protection for the march.

Amnesty International visits/reports

  • An Amnesty International delegate visited Hungary in July.
  • Hungary: Report into vigilante activities in Gyöngyöspata fails to address discrimination (EUR 27/001/2012)
  • New Hungarian Criminal Code: A missed opportunity to do more on hate crimes (EUR 27/003/2012)