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UN expert urges Hungary not to stigmatise and intimidate human rights defenders

Hungarian version

BUDAPEST / GENEVA (16 February 2016) – United Nations independent expert Michel Forst today called on the Government of Hungary to refrain from stigmatising and intimidating human rights defenders, and ensure that they can conduct their work in an enabling legal and administrative environment.

“Human rights defenders in Hungary are increasingly working in a rather polarised and politicised environment,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders at the end of the first visit* to the country, while criticising attempts to de-legitimize defenders and undermine their peaceful and legitimate activities through criminal defamation and excessive administrative and financial pressure.

Mr. Forst commended Hungary for setting the foundations of democracy after a long period of authoritarianism, but he cautioned that over a thousand of laws in the last five years have debilitated “a well-functioning democracy and gradually removed important checks on the executive branch.”

“The drastic constitutional changes in Hungary have resulted in the weakened constitutional court and the centralization and tightening of government’s control over the judiciary, the media, religious organizations and other spheres of public life, directly or indirectly affecting human rights,” he stressed.

The UN expert pointed out that “defenders are exposed to serious challenges which, in some instances, appear to amount to violations of their fundamental rights and freedoms, as well as of their legitimate right to promote and defend human rights.” During his visit, Mr. Forst heard specific testimonies that defenders who criticise the Government or raise human rights concerns are quickly intimidated and portrayed as ‘political’ or ‘foreign agents’.

“In the context of the refugee crisis and the excessively manipulated fear of the ‘other’ in society, defenders face public criticism by government officials, stigmatisation in the media, unwarranted inspections and reduction of state funding,” the Special Rapporteur noted.

The human rights expert regretted that “the scope of dialogue between civil society and decision-makers has been steadily shrinking, and authorities have displayed growing lack of interest in such dialogue, especially when it entails an exchange of dissenting views.” He called on the authorities to instead “support the work of independent civil society despite disagreements or criticism of the Government, bearing in mind their invaluable role in advancing Hungarian society.”

The UN Special Rapporteur expressed his readiness for further dialogue to identify ways to strengthen democratic space and create an enabling environment for defenders to carry out their legitimate and important work in Hungary.

During his nine-day visit, at the invitation of the Government, the expert met with State officials, members of the judiciary, the parliament, ombudsman as well as human rights defenders, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic community.

Mr. Forst will present a final report with his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in March 2017.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end of mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17048&LangID=E

Mr. Michel Forst (France) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in 2014. Michel Forst has extensive experience on human rights issues and particularly on the situation of human rights defenders. In particular, he was the Director General of Amnesty International (France) and Secretary General of the first World Summit on Human Rights Defenders in 1998. For more information, log on to:

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Hungary:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/HUIndex.aspx

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