Mixed Outcomes in Roma Rights Cases in Hungary
29 October 2003
Several cases relating to violations of Roma rights in Hungary were decided during the period, with mixed results. On March 4, 2003, the RSK reported that Mr György Sztojka, a Romani man illegally detained for seven months in 1992, was awarded nearly 1,000,000 Hungarian forints (approximately 4,070 Euro) in compensation by the Budaörs City Court; 600,000 (approximately 2,440 Euro) in non-pecuniary damages, 150,000 (approximately 610 Euro) for lost wages, plus the costs of litigation and accrued interest. Mr Sztojka and his friends had apparently been involved in a fight in a pub in Tárnok, near Budapest, in 1992, during which the pub sustained damage and minor thefts took place. Mr Sztojka was reportedly hit in the head with a chain during the fight and fell unconscious. The police detained him regardless and accused him of theft. While in detention, Mr Sztojka developed an ulcer and attempted suicide. The Budapest-based non-profit law organisation Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (NEKI) provided legal representation to Mr Sztojka.
In another case, on January 29, 2003, the Tolna County Public Prosecutor's Office in western Hungary decided not to bring charges against Ms Jószefné Mihályi, the mayor of Németkér. Ms Mihályi was found to have been acting in the best interests of the community when she persuaded town residents not to sell their properties to three Romani families whose homes and possessions in Bedőtanya, a farm in the suburbs of Paks, had been destroyed, according to the electronic news source Transitions On-Line (TOL) of February 3, 2003. Following the actions of Mayor Mihályi, local residents destroyed a home that had been purchased by one of the Romani families on September 19, 2002 (background information on the case is available at: Hungarian Villagers Enforce Mob Justice Solution to Prevent Roma from Moving in). According to TOL, the Prosecutor's Office based its unjust decision on the finding that the Roma who had been prevented from moving into the village lacked social mores. The ruling further stated that the destruction of the home that had been purchased by one of the Romani families had not been racially motivated because the villagers were not protesting against the entire Romani minority - the villagers had only been protesting against that particular Romani family. TOL reported that the Prosecutor's Office began an investigation in the case after Mr Kaltenbach reported Mayor Mihályi to the Szeksard Public Prosecutor's Office for abuse of official power. The Szeksard Public Prosecutor refused to bring charges against Mayor Mihályi, so Mr Kaltenbach appealed the decision to the Tolna County Public Prosecutor's Office. The decision of the Tolna County Public Prosecutor's Office is not subject to appeal.
In a number of cases, Roma have begun legal proceedings to claim their rights. Under its Joint Litigation Project, on February 11, 2003, the ERRC, in co-operation with NEKI, assisted Ms Vilmosné Pelyhe, a 55-year-old Romani woman, in filing a lawsuit against Budapest's Ferenc Jahn Hospital for discrimination based on both her ethnicity and her age. According to Ms Pelyhe, who had been an administrator at the hospital for three and a half years, she had been on a long-term contract that was renewed every six months, while her non-Romani colleagues were on open term contracts. Ms Pelyhe claimed that all of her non-Romani colleagues made more money. Ms Pelyhe complained to the managing director of the hospital, Mr Gábor Gerő, who, in a letter dated July 26, 2002, assured Ms Pelyhe that her contract and salary issue would be settled if her supervisors were satisfied with her job performance. According to Ms Pelyhe, on September 25, 2002, five days before the end of her contract, Mr Gerő called her to a meeting and informed her that her contract would not be renewed, allegedly due to the financial situation of the hospital. Ms Pelyhe stated that she offered to work in any open position in the hospital, but was refused. Instead, a 25-year-old non-Romani person was employed in Ms Pelyhe's position for an indefinite period. Ms Pelyhe is seeking to be reinstalled in her former position with an open term contract, payment of her wages beginning October 1, 2002, through the conclusion of the trial, in the amount of 52,200 Hungarian forints (approximately 210 Euro) per month plus legal interest, as well as 300,000 Hungarian forints (approximately 1,220 Euro) in compensation for non-pecuniary damages. At a June 23, 2003 hearing, the Labour Court found that the fact that Ms Pelyhe had been fired and reportedly replaced by a non-Romani woman was not proof enough to shift the burden of proof to the defendant. Ms Pelyhe is required to submit further proof at another hearing set for October 6, 2003.
(ERRC, RSK, TOL)