ERRC Submits Written Comments Concerning Roma Rights Issues in Hungary to the UN Human Rights Committee

On March 22, 2002, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) conducted review proceedings concerning Hungary's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In the run-up to the meeting, on March 13, the ERRC sent written comments to the Committee for consideration during its review. On the occasion of the Human Rights Committee Review, ERRC Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova said, "Due to intense anti-Romani sentiment, post-1989 Hungary is a place where Roma are in a state of undue exposure to violations of their basic human rights. Protection provided to Roma by Hungarian authorities against human rights violations is often inadequate or unavailable, and the Hungarian Government has undertaken little to reduce anti-Romani sentiment. Indeed, Hungarian officials have tacitly or explicitly appealed to racist sentiments to garner support, arguably contributing to the creation of a public culture in which abuses of the fundamental rights of Roma are tolerated."

In its written comments on Hungary, the ERRC called attention to concerns with respect to the Hungarian government's implementation of the ICCPR, and in particular with respect to Articles 2, 6, 7, 14, 16, 20 and 26:

As to Article 2, notwithstanding the numerous breaches of the Covenant perpetrated against Roma in Hungary, protection is lacking or ineffective, and remedies non-existent or inadequate. In the overwhelming majority of cases monitored by the ERRC, the judicial system has rendered inadequate decisions. In particular, there are indications that Hungarian authorities do not investigate thoroughly the possibility of racial animus when crimes against Roma have taken place. As a result, many human rights abuses of Roma go without redress, or are redressed inadequately.

As to Articles 6 and 7, Roma are the victims of racially-motivated violence at the hands of law enforcement authorities, skinheads and others. Law enforcement authorities, meanwhile, systematically fail to provide effective protection to Roma.

As to Article 14, Roma suffer discrimination in the judicial system, both as victims pursuing justice for violations perpetrated against them (their complaints are not adequately investigated and prosecuted), and in the capacity of defendants (they are subjected to pre-trial detention more often and for longer periods of time than non-Roma, and receive disproportionately severe sentences). As a result, the Covenant's right to equal treatment before courts and tribunals rings hollow for Roma.

As to Article 16, in 2001 there were disturbing and well-substantiated reports that police officers had explicitly refused to accept criminal complaints by Roma who had suffered violent abuse.

As to Article 20, in failing to acknowledge and condemn widespread anti-Romani policies, practices and attitudes, Government authorities have not yet undertaken sufficient efforts to ensure effective implementation of legislation prohibiting the dissemination of racism and incitement to racial discrimination. Prominent public officials have in recent years disseminated racist speech targeting Roma, thereby encouraging racism rather than combating it.

As to Article 26, notwithstanding Constitutional provisions guaranteeing equality, the Government has failed to ensure Roma equal protection of the law. Roma suffer widespread discrimination in virtually all fields of public life, most egregiously and systematically in education, housing, employment, and access to public accommodations, while legal prohibitions against racial discrimination remain inadequate and provide for ineffective remedies. The problem of insufficient legislative provisions aimed at combating racial discrimination is further compounded by the failure to ensure effective implementation of those few legislative prohibitions which do exist to counter racial discrimination. A specialised institution on ethnic and minority rights – The Parliamentary Commissioner on Ethnic and Minority Rights (hereinafter the "Minority Ombudsman") – has no power to impose sanctions on perpetrators of human rights violations or to award damages to the victims. Additionally, the office of the Minority Ombudsman is severely understaffed.

The full text of the ERRC submission is available on the Internet at: http://errc.org/publications/legal/index.shtml.

In a press release issued shortly after the meeting, the UN Human Rights Committee indicated that it concurred with the ERRC's concerns. The UN press release states: "Provisions of the Covenant had indeed been integrated into Hungary's legal system, Committee members said. But, among the most serious concerns, "the stark and enormous problem of the Roma' loomed large, one expert said." Human Rights Committee Chairman Prafullachandra Natwarlal Bhagwati concluded the meeting by noting, inter alia, that discussions between the Committee and the Government "[...] had revealed a few concerns that should be immediately addressed by the Hungarian Government. Those included ensuring that the tenets of the Covenant were integrated into domestic laws, particularly on anti-discrimination. [...] There was also the issue of police misconduct and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials. The Government should move quickly to establish an independent body to examine complaints in that regard. Also on the minds of most Committee members was the situation of the Roma. Despite steps taken by the Government, that situation – particularly unemployment rates and access to adequate education – had remained troubling. Hungary must do its utmost to ensure that the rights of the Roma and other ethnic minorities were ensured and protected."

In its Concluding Observations, the Committee rendered clearly its concerns and recommendations with respect to Hungary, including:

6. While the Covenant is incorporated into the domestic legal order and is directly applicable before the Hungarian courts, not all Covenant rights are ensured in practice. The Committee is also concerned that, notwithstanding article 26 of the Covenant, there is no comprehensive legislative provision against discrimination.

The State Party is requested to take steps to enact comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation (article 26).

7. The Committee is deeply concerned at the situation of the Roma people, which, despite various steps taken by the State Party, remain disadvantaged in almost all aspects of life covered by the Covenant. The Committee particularly regrets ongoing discrimination against Roma with regard to employment, housing, education, social security and participation in public life. The excessively high number of Roma in prisons, reports of their ill treatment in police custody, and the continuing existence of separate schools, are also ongoing sources of concern to the Committee.

The State Party should strengthen measures for improving the situation of the Roma people. In addition to further legislative steps, the training of officials, in particular the police, is strongly recommended, as is a vigorous campaign to alter public attitudes vis-a-vis the Roma people. The State Party should also discontinue the placement of Roma children in special schools or special classes and give priority to measures that will enable them to benefit from regular schools and classes (articles 26 and 27).

The full text of the Committee’s Concluding Observations is available on: http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/CCPR.CO.74.HUN.En?Opendocument. Extensive documentation of the human rights situation of Roma in Hungary is available on the Internet at: http://errc.org.

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