ERRC Concerns: Race Crime in Hungary

19 May 2005

Authorities Urged to Make Public Standards on Investigating Crimes to Determine Whether They Are Racially Motivated

In the wake of the stabbing in Budapest of József Patai, a Romani youth, by armed perpetrators in extremist garb, on May 19, the ERRC sent a letter of concern to police and Interior Ministry officials urging that:

  • All persons guilty of crimes in connection with the assault be brought swiftly to justice;
  • Serious public debate by opened and led by authorities in Hungary as to the standards and criteria according to which Hungarian criminal justice authorities investigate crimes to determine whether they are motivated or otherwise animated by racial hostility.

The full text of the ERRC letter follows:

Honourable Dr. Lamperth and Dr. Bene,

On the occasion of the recent stabbing of a Romani youth in Budapest, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) calls upon your offices to make public the criteria according to which police and other criminal justice authorities investigate crimes to determine whether racial animus has played a role in their commission.

On 8 May 2005, according to reports now widely circulated in the Hungarian media, József Patai, a fifteen-year-old Romani youth, was stabbed in the stomach by one of a group of six persons shortly after he boarded a bus at Budapest's Moszkva ter with two non-Romani friends. The group of six persons in the company of the perpetrator, as well as the perpetrator himself, were reportedly dressed in uniforms, helmets and boots, and some were reportedly equipped with shields. Two of the members of the group were reportedly armed with swords. The attacker reportedly singled out József from among a bus full of persons who had taken notice of the group and stabbed him after shouting "What are you staring at?" When one of József's friends started shouting for help, the bus driver opened the doors of the bus, which was just about to leave, and the assailant as well as the five other persons with him exited the bus. As of the date of this writing, József Patai is still in the hospital as a result of wounds incurred during the attack. He is reportedly in stable condition. Leaders of the Hungarian parliamentary parties have reacted by expressing concerns about the growing number of actions of extremist groups. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány told the Hungarian Parliament "It is not possible to ignore in this case that this crime was motivated by racism."

To date, Hungarian police have not managed to identify or detain any of the alleged perpetrators. Additionally, authorities have reportedly stated that they have not yet clearly established that the crime was perpetrated out of racial animus. Ferenc Horváth, the lieutenant-colonel of the Budapest Police Department stated on a news programme on the television channel RTL Klub on 13 May: "Based on the testimonies of the witnesses, we think that the crime was not motivated by it. Although we can state anything concrete only if we find the perpetrator and he will tell us what he was motivated by."

The ERRC notes that the present case is not the only occasion on which police authorities have downplayed the role of race in a serious physical assault on Romani persons. To name only one particularly graphic example, on May 28, 1999, a Romani youth named Krisztián Mohácsi was found stabbed to death in the town of Göd, Hungary. A local inhabitant reportedly heard the boy shouting and ran to find him lying near a railroad crossing. The 14-year-old victim reportedly named his attackers before dying at the scene of the attack. Police stated only hours after the attack that they ruled out racial motivation in the attack since the suspects allegedly took 50,000 Hungarian forints (approximately 200 Euros) from the victim at the time of killing. The speed with which investigators discounted the possibility of racial animus gave rise to complaints by local right groups that the Hungarian Police would "deny first and investigate later".

This latest assault on Romani persons in Hungary highlights the need for Hungarian police now to make public the standards according to which they investigate crimes to determine whether they may be motivated or otherwise animated by racial hostility. It is entirely unclear whether the current criteria applied by police are capable of identifying race as a factor, and thereby pinpointing the particular and significantly aggravating role of race. Absent public debate on the methods and criteria police apply when evaluating crimes to assess whether they are racially motivated, a state of crisis of confidence reigns among significant sectors of the population as to the ability of the police to tackle the socially corrosive fact of racially motivated crime in Hungary. In addition, the public as a whole is denied a full accounting of this disturbing phenomena afoot in today's Hungary.

Honourable Dr. Lamperth and Dr. Bene, we urge your offices without delay to bring to justice all persons guilty of crimes in connection with the assault on József Patai. We further urge you to open serious public debate as to the standards and criteria according to which Hungarian criminal justice authorities investigate crimes to determine whether they are motivated or otherwise animated by racial hostility. We would kindly request to be apprised of any and all actions undertaken by your offices in this regard.

Claude Cahn
Acting Executive Director

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Dr. Mónika Lamperth
Minister of Interior
1903 Budapest
Pf.: 314

Dr. László Bene
Head of the National Police
1139 Budapest
Teve utca 4-6.


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