ERRC Welcomes ECtHR Ruling Upholding Ban on Far-Right Group in Hungary
09 July 2013
Budapest, Strasbourg, 9 July 2013: The European Court of Human Rights ruled today that the decision by a Hungarian court to ban a far-right, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic group, the Hungarian Guard Association, is lawful. In its Chamber judgment, Europe’s highest court established in the case of Vona v Hungary that dissolving the association did not violate Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The European Roma Rights Centre intervened in the case as a third party and submitted comments to the case.
In 2007, the Budapest Chief Prosecutor’s Office started a court action seeking the dissolution of the Hungarian Guard Association. The Prosecutor argued that the Hungarian Guard Movement – which held regular marches in Hungarian villages, intimidating Roma – was an integral part of the Association. The Prosecutor claimed that this was an abuse of the right to freedom of assembly and these activities infringed the rights of the Roma. The domestic courts agreed with the Prosecutor that there were ties between the two organisations and found that the activities of the Hungarian Guard Movement violated the rights of others, and dissolved the association. Gabor Vona, the chairman of the Association complained to the European Court of Human Rights that the dissolution of the Association violated his freedom of assembly under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The European Court of Human Rights found that the activities of the Movement, which included a series of paramilitary rallies in several villages with large Romani populations across Hungary and advocacy for racially-motivated policies, intimidated the Romani population and violated their rights. The Hungarian authorities were therefore entitled to take preventive measures to protect democracy. The Court noted that a state party cannot be required to wait until a political movement takes action to undermine democracy, or has recourse to violence, before it intervenes. In particular, it ruled “The State is entitled to take preventive measures to protect democracy…if a sufficiently imminent prejudice to the rights of others undermines the fundamental values upon which a democratic society rests and functions. One of such values is the cohabitation of members of society without racial segregation, without which a democratic society is inconceivable.”
The Court noted the third party intervention by the ERRC that freedoms guaranteed under Article 11 of the Convention could be restricted in order to protect the rights and freedoms of minority communities.
The ERRC submitted that the Court must take into account attitudes towards racism in a democratic society and discrimination against Roma, among others, when it considers restricting freedoms of association and assembly, guaranteed under Article 11. The ERRC made reference to the body of international law which mandates the prevention of racial hatred by states, noting that consideration of Article 11 in respect of organisations which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form must be made in that context.
The ERRC submission also presented material on discrimination against Roma in Hungary and beyond,and called attention to the fact that minorities, in particular Roma, enjoy special protection under Article 14 of the Convention.
“Today’s decision reinforces the fact that Roma enjoy protection of their security, and that the activities organised to keep ‘Gypsy criminality’ at bay were racist in essence,” said Dezideriu Gergely, Executive Director of the ERRC. “We fully support the opinion in the judgment that the use of the expression ‘Gypsy crime’ - which suggests that there is a link between crime and a certain ethnicity - constitutes a racist form of speech intended to fuel feelings of hatred against the Roma.”
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Media and Communications Officer
European Roma Rights Centre