ERRC Action as Hungary Goes Before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

07 November 2002

On August 15, 2002, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reviewed Hungary's compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). In the run-up to the meeting, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) submitted written comments to the Committee for consideration during the review. Additionally, representatives of the ERRC, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and the Roma Press Center travelled to Geneva to hold a joint briefing on Hungary's record on discrimination before Committee members.

The ERRC submission documents patterns of systematic racial discrimination against Roma in Hungary, as well as the failure of national and local authorities to protect Roma from violence and discrimination and to offer Romani victims of human rights abuse access to effective remedies. Discrimination pervades all aspects of life for Roma in Hungary, most egregiously in the fields of education, housing, and access to public services. ERRC concerns as they relate to specific articles of the ICERD and as described in its written submission to the CERD, follow in summary:

As to Article 2, according to documentation by the ERRC and that of other non-governmental organisations, Roma suffer widespread discrimination in virtually all spheres of public life. Legal prohibitions and other legal and administrative measures against racial discrimination and racially-motivated violence have to date been ineffective in prohibiting and bringing to an end racial discrimination. The Government has provided the Committee with no information concerning the extent of racial discrimination against Roma in Hungary. In its discussion of issues under Article 2, the reference in the Government's Report to concrete measures the authorities have taken to combat racial discrimination pertain to only a very limited number of cases – certainly not anywhere near the number of cases of racial discrimination reported – and information provided by the government to the CERD as to official action taken in those few cases is confusing and incomplete. The Government Report in general makes only very sparse reference to specific cases and/or concrete measures authorities have taken to combat racial discrimination against Roma and other minorities, and the information provided only serves to provoke the suspicion that the Government does not act adequately to implement its commitments under the Convention.

As to Article 3, the Government has failed "to prevent, prohibit and eradicate all practices of [racial segregation and apartheid]." A system of racially-segregated education in Hungary effectively denies equal education to Roma. Romani children are over-represented in schools or classes for the mentally disabled. Where Romani children are educated in the mainstream school system, they are frequently placed in so-called "catch-up classes" – separate classes originally designed as a temporary measure but which in effect function as a permanent form of racially segregated education – or in so-called "private student" arrangements, through which Romani children are effectively forced out of school altogether. Racial segregation of Roma is also widely reported in other areas, such as housing.

As to Article 4, public officials in Hungary have engaged in racist speech against Roma, promoting racial hatred and/or inciting discrimination, hostility or violence. These acts as a rule remain unpunished and frequently pass entirely without comment by those authorities charged with upholding the public good.

As to Article 5, Roma are frequently victims of racially motivated violence committed by law-enforcement officials as well as by non-state actors. In addition, Roma suffer racial discrimination with respect to the realisation of a broad range of rights to which all persons are entitled. Most egregiously and systematically, Roma suffer discrimination in the exercise inter alia of the right to equal treatment before the law, the right to adequate housing, the right to education, and the right to access to public accommodation and services.

As to Article 6, the Government does not ensure in practice that Roma in Hungary have access to effective protection and remedies against racial discrimination. The current remedies available to victims of racial discrimination are inadequate or ineffective and are not sufficient to act as a deterrent.

In its submission, the ERRC recommends that the Hungarian Government undertake the following measures:

  • Investigate promptly and impartially incidents of violence against Roma and prosecute perpetrators of such crimes to the fullest extent of the law, whether the perpetrators are law enforcement officers or private parties; make public guidelines to law-enforcement and judicial authorities on identifying racially-motivated crime; publish detailed statistics, at minimum annually and in a format readily understandable to a lay person, on the number of racially-motivated crimes occurring and prosecuted;
  • Adopt a comprehensive body of legislation prohibiting discrimination in all fields of public life and providing civil, criminal and administrative remedies for breach thereof;
  • Without delay, ratify Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights;
  • Establish an enforcement body empowered both legally and through the provision of adequate resources to secure full compliance with the country's international obligations and domestic legal provisions pertaining to racial discrimination;
  • Adopt effective measures to prevent, identify and, where occurring, punish manifestations of racial bias in the judicial system;
  • Abolish the practice of race-based segregation of Romani children in special schools, special classes, including remedial "catch-up" or "supporting" classes, and other forms of racial segregation in the school system;
  • Conduct systematic monitoring of access of Roma and other minorities to education, housing, employment, health care and social services, and establish a mechanism for collecting and publishing data in these fields;
  • At the highest levels, speak out against racial discrimination against Roma and others, and make clear that racism will not be tolerated.

The full text of the ERRC submission, as well as further information on the situation of Roma in Hungary, is available on the Internet at:

On August 15, ERRC representatives, together with the representatives of the Budapest-based non-governmental organisations Roma Press Center and Hungarian Helsinki Committee, held a briefing for the members of the Committee, providing specific information on Roma in Hungary, and answered the questions of the Committee members. The Government delegation, also present, presented its report, and outlined developments occurring after the April 2002 general elections, which had brought in a new Government in Hungary. One of the pressing issues highlighted during discussion of Hungary's compliance with the Convention was discrimination against Roma and the government measures to combat discrimination. The Government delegation pointed out the efforts to fight discrimination and announced a timetable for the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination law, which according to Government representatives should be in force by mid-2003.

On September 16, 2002, the UN Committee issued Concluding Observations on Hungary. In these,the Committee expresses its concern "at persisting intolerance and discrimination especially in relation to the Roma minority…". Specifically, the Committee "is concerned about the number of allegations of ill treatment and discrimination against the Roma and non-citizens by law enforcement officials, especially by the police". In spite of the measures provided for by the "Medium Term Package of Measures to Improve the Living Conditions and Social Position of the Roma Populations", the Committee notes that "[abuse and discrimination] practices have not ceased," and recommends that the Government of Hungary "consider recruiting more members of minority groups and especially of the Roma minority in law enforcement bodies and strengthening the existing legal aid system for alleged victims" and "pursue and extend training programmes for judges and prosecutors aiming at sensitising them to discrimination issues".

As regards the right to education, the Committee is "concerned about discriminatory practices resulting from the system of separate classes for Roma students and from private schooling arrangements" and recommends "that new programs integrate Roma children into mainstream schools". The report also states that "the Committee strongly recommends that the State Party reconsider allocating Roma children to schools and classes for mentally disabled."

As regards the right to work, "the Committee is concerned at the proportionately higher unemployment rate among the Roma population" and "recommends that the State Party strictly apply existing anti-discriminatory provisions in that field and ensure in particular fair access of Roma to professional training programmes and to professional activities."

As regards the right to housing, "the Committee is concerned that the Roma population is disproportionately subjected to discrimination in respect of housing, and in particular, to forced evictions" and "recommends that the State Party take further positive measures to effectively address the issue of discrimination with regard to housing."

Another area of concern for the Committee is "discriminatory practices against persons belonging to the Roma minority in respect of access to public places, such as restaurants, bars or cafés." In this area, the Committee "recommends that the State Party continue to intensify its efforts in combating such behaviour and raise awareness of the population of all aspects related to racial discrimination." The Committee further encouraged the government to "complete its efforts as soon as possible [...] on the elaboration of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law [...]".

The full text of the UN Committee's Concluding Observations .


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