United Nations committee criticises disproportionate number of Roma in detention in Hungary

20 November 1998

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) welcomes the Conclusions and Recommendations on Hungary issued this week by the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT), particularly the concerns expressed regarding the disproportionate number of Romani detainees. Upon the Conclusions' release, Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the ERRC, stated, "The Committee's conclusions underline the numerous shortcomings in Hungary's police and detention practices, many of which negatively affect Roma. Urgent action is required to bring Hungary into compliance with its obligations under the Convention against Torture."

The CAT is the United Nations treaty body charged with overseeing compliance with the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Convention was ratified by Hungary in 1987. Composed of ten internationally-recognised experts, the CAT reviews state implementation of the Convention through a procedure which obliges governments to submit written reports on a periodic basis. The November 1998 session marked the first time since 1993 that the Committee has reviewed reports submitted by the Hungarian government.

In its Conclusions concerning Hungary, the CAT expressed "concern" about what it termed "persistent reports that an inordinately high proportion of detainees is roughly handled or treated cruelly before, during and after interrogation by the Police and that a disproportionate number of detainees and/or prisoners serving their sentence are Roma." The Committee was "disturbed" by the reported failure of prosecution authorities to initiate investigations in a number of cases involving allegations of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment. The Committee further noted with concern "reports on conditions in prisons, detention centres and holding centres for refugees such as [...] overcrowding, lack of exercise, education and hygiene."

In view of these serious deficiencies, the Committee recommended that the Hungarian government take "all necessary measures" to prevent and punish official ill-treatment of detainees. Among its recommendations, the Committee requested the government to:

  • ensure prompt access to defence counsel;
  • provide improved training to law enforcement officials to prevent and eradicate torture and all acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • include in its next report "all relevant statistics, data and information" on the number of complaints about ill-treatment, the proportion they represent in relation to the total number of cases investigated, and, in particular, the proportion of detainees and prisoners of Romani origin, and the proportion of complaints made by Roma; and
  • provide information concerning the number and proportion of cases discontinued by prosecutors involving allegations of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment; the reasons, if any, for such discontinuance; and the measures taken to ensure the complete impartiality and effectiveness of investigations of such allegations.

Earlier this month, the ERRC submitted written comments concerning Hungary to the CAT. This document, together with the full text of the CAT's Concluding Observations, is available from ERRC upon request.


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