ERRC Action in Hungary Housing Discrimination Case
01 October 2003
European Roma Rights Center Legal Action at the European Court of Human Rights Challenges Housing Discrimination in Hungary1 October 2003
On 26 September 2003, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), together with the Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI), filed a pre-application letter against Hungary with the European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg. The submission concerns racially-motivated threats and discrimination in access to housing, perpetrated by the local government officials and the non-Romani residents of Gyure, and asserts violations of Article 3 (freedom from inhuman and/or degrading treatment), Article 8 (right to family and private life), Article 1 of Protocol 1 (right to peaceful enjoyment of ones possessions), Article 13 (right to an effective domestic remedy) and Article 14 (right to non-discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Ms. Bertalan Nagy is a Hungarian citizen of Romani origin with six children whose house was totally destroyed by floods in 2001. With the financial support provided by the Hungarian Government, she decided to buy a house in Gyure. On 27 July 2001 she signed a preliminary contract with the owners of the house, Mr. and Mrs. Kahlik, both Ukrainian citizens of Hungarian origin.
After it became publicaly known that Mr. and Mrs. Kahlik intended to sell their house to Ms. Nagy, several non-Romani inhabitants of Gyure as well as a number of local government officials resorted to threats and coersion to try to block the upcoming real estate transaction.
On 10 August 2001, despite the opposition, the purchasing contract was finally signed. Under Hungarian law, however, the sale required the approval of the County Office of Public Administration. More than two years later, this office is formally yet to decide on the matter.
On the same day, the mayor and the notary held a meeting at the local council office following which five men, driving a council-owned car, went to the Kahlik's family house and threatened them by saying that the whole village would rather gather and burn their house down then allow it to be sold to Roma. Later that day, Mr. Laszlo Herceg, the mayor of Gyure, spared no effort and came personally to ask the Kahliks to terminate the contract as "Roma cannot buy a house in Gyure" and "no Gypsy may live on the main street".
In the evening of 10 August 2001, an unknown person, whom the Kahliks could hear but not see as they were afraid to leave the house, caused damage to their gate with an axe, called them "dirty Russians", and even threatened to kill them. Ms. Kahlik reported the incident but the competent authority, namely the notary of Gyure, terminated the investigation stating that the perpetrator could not be identified.
On 15 August 2001, Ms. Nagy was called to come to the Council office for a meeting. The mayor of Gyure, the notary, a representative of the Ministry of Internal Affaires, the deputy mayor of Jand (the village affected by the by floods) and a representative of the Minority Self-Government of Gyure all took part. Ms. Nagy was told not to buy the house because the Kahlik family, being Ukrainian, could not sell the property. In addition, Ms. Nagy found out that, two days earlier, the notary of Gyüre had gone so far as to sequester the Kahliks family house based on a debt that subsequently turned out to be non-existent.
The Kahlik family and Ms. Nagy, assisted by NEKI as part of a joint litigation project with the ERRC, filed a criminal complaint and a civil complaint for damages. The criminal complaint was filed against the mayor and the notary as well as against an unknown perpetrator, respectively, for misuse of official power, infringement of constitutional rights, damage caused to the Kahlik's family house, using racist language, and finally threatening their very lives. Despite compelling evidence submitted by the applicants, including taped conversations containing threats, both lawsuits were ultimately rejected.
In view of the obvious inability and/or unwillingness of the Hungarian authorities to provide Ms. Nagy and the Kahlik family with a remedy domestically, ERRC and NEKI have decided to turn to the European Court of Human Rights on their behalf and request that international justice be served and their clients afforded adequate and comprehensive redress.
For further details on ERRC action in the case, please contact Ms. Ioana Banu, staff attorney at the European Roma Rights Center, at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Further information on the human rights situation of Roma is available on the ERRC internet web site at: http://www.errc.org.