UN body ‘concerned’ at Hungary’s authoritarian slide

By Bernard Rorke

The Human Rights Committee called on the Hungarian Government to stop with the “Stop-Soros Package” of laws; expressed its deep concern at hate speech against Roma, Muslims, refugees and migrants in government-sponsored campaigns; condemned the prevalence of anti-Semitic stereotypes in the conspiracy theories related to George Soros nurtured by high-ranking officials; and called for measures to eradicate school segregation of Roma.

In its concluding observations, the UN body slammed the Orbán regime for its democratic backsliding. This report came on the eve of the Fidesz party’s third election victory in a row, and the news that it has secured a two-thirds majority. It’s a safe bet that the considered recommendations from the UN just won’t see daylight inside Hungary.

It is more than likely that the government will shrug off these criticisms as part of an elaborate international conspiracy, given that it ran a single issue anti-migrant election campaign targeting the EU, George Soros, and the UN for their alleged attempts to undermine the national sovereignty and ethnic homogeneity of the Hungarian people by flooding the country with ‘illegals’. 

Government propaganda poster: Hungary Decides, Not the UN!

As for the entirely reasonable recommendation that state officials responsible for discriminatory behaviour towards Roma and other minority groups be held accountable in all instances – the current political set-up begs the question – who will hold these officials accountable?

Roma exclusion

The Committee expressed its concern about reports that the Roma community continues to suffer widespread discrimination and exclusion, deep poverty, and segregation in housing and education. 

“It is particularly concerned that notwithstanding the Public Education Act (2012), segregation in schools, especially Church and private schools, remains prevalent and the number of Roma children placed in schools for children with mild disabilities remains disproportionately high”

The UN committee called on the government to ensure Roma can access all services and opportunities without discrimination”; and to adopt measures to eradicate school segregation so that all Romani children can access quality non-discriminatory education.

Rule of law, separation of powers

Considering Orbán promised to exact “moral, legal and political vengeance” on his opponents after the election, it’s hardly likely Fidesz will heed the UN call to “respect the separation of powers and institutional checks and balances between elected institutions and judicial institutions entrusted with protecting human rights, including minority rights.” 

Similarly UN concerns over the failure to allow sufficient transparency of draft legislation and sufficient time for deliberation, and the call to guarantee a transparent, inclusive and participatory process that includes opposition politicians, and civil society, will cut no ice with a regime bracing itself for an authoritarian push, as Orbán recently vowed that “the important task of the next years will be the ejection of the Soros Empire from Hungary.”

“Stop-Soros” Package

The Committee called for the complete rejection of the “Stop-Soros Package” of draft laws before the Parliament, which will seriously restrict the operations of civil society organizations. Further, by alluding to the “survival of the nation”, and alleging the NGOs are part of an international conspiracy, and imposing restrictions on foreign funding, the effect of this “Stop Soros Package” will not only be to stigmatize these organisations, but it “may be used to apply illegitimate pressure on them and to unjustifiably interfere with their activities.”

Hate crimes, racism and police brutality

The prevalence of hate crimes and the allegations that the number of registered hate crimes is low because of police inaction was a cause for concern as were reports of persistent practices of racial profiling of Roma by police. The Committee called on the state to regularly, publicly and effectively reaffirm that any advocacy of ethnic or racial hatred that constitutes incitement is prohibited by law and should act promptly to bring perpetrators of hate crimes to justice.

Allegations regarding the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials at the time of apprehension and during interrogations, and the very low number of prosecutions and convictions in such cases prompted the Committee to call on the state to ensure that “prompt, impartial, thorough and effective investigations are carried out into all allegations of excessive use of force, including torture and ill treatment by law enforcement officers, and that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished with appropriate sanctions.” 

Other concerns

The Committee also raised concerns and made concrete recommendations about the following

  • the acts of violence and the prevalence of negative stereotypes and prejudice against LGBT persons, particularly in employment and education sectors; 
  • the forced placement of large numbers of persons with mental, intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, reports of violence, cruel, and degrading treatment in closed institutions; 
  • the inadequate support and protection systems for victims of domestic violence; 
  • the conditions for migrants, including children and unaccompanied minors, detained in transit zones and noted with concern the 2016 push-back law, which enables summary expulsion by the police of anyone who crosses the border irregularly and was detained on Hungarian territory; 
  • the need to abolish laws and policies which criminalize homelessness at state and local levels, and to find solutions for the homeless in accordance with human rights standards; 
  • the current legislative framework and practices that restrict freedom of opinion and expression, and do not fully ensure an uncensored and unhindered press.

For the full text of the Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations on Hungary, see: https://bit.ly/2JvIjEy

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