Local government in Hungary taken to court by Roma

On February 24, trial began in a case brought against the local government of Karcag, Jász-Nagykun County, Hungary, for allegedly making Romani residents carry out community work in order to receive social security benefits. The 135 Romani residents bringing the case claim that between 1992 and 1996, applicants for social security were sent to the government-owned city maintenance office where they had to "volunteer" to do community work. They were reportedly not given their social benefit money unless they could show a certificate proving that they had carried out at least five days "voluntary work".

In 1997, the Karcag Gypsy Minority Self-government contacted the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minority Affairs, asking for an investigation into the case. The investigation established that the practice was against the law, and proposed that a criminal legal procedure be started against Mayor Sándor Fazekas for abuse of power. The investigation was dropped by the county prosecution, who justified their decision with the finding that the authorities had not acted intentionally. However, they did find that the local government had acted unlawfully when they made community work a condition of benefits. The Ombudsman for National and Ethnic Minority Affairs Jenő Kaltenbach recommended that the local government pay wages for the work done by the Roma, but the mayor refused.

Legal representatives engaged in May 1998 by the Roma concerned first demanded that local authorities pay 1.5 million HUF (approximately 6000 euros) total to the victims in remuneration for the work. Local representatives however refused to make the payment on the basis that the work had been carried out voluntarily. The Roma then took the case to court. According to the Roma Press Center, local authorities in the south-western Hungarian town of Kaposvár also engage in the practice of linking benefits to community work.

(Roma Press Center)

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