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UN experts urge Hungary to uphold Constitutional Court decision to decriminalize homelessness

GENEVA (11 December 2012) – Two United Nations experts on extreme poverty and housing today urged the Government of Hungary to uphold the recent Constitutional Court decision decriminalizing homelessness, to amend the anti-homeless legislation and to adopt a national housing strategy, which will take into account the needs and views of the homeless and those inadequately housed, in conformity with international human rights obligations

The UN Special Rapporteurs on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, and on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, praised a recent decision of the Hungarian Constitutional Court, which struck down legislation criminalizing homelessness, and stressed again that Hungary is required to align its national legislation with its international human rights obligations.

The 2010-2011 legislation criminalized sleeping and other life sustaining activities in public spaces as a misdemeanor, punishable by incarceration or fine. It potentially affected more than 30,000 homeless persons in various municipalities in Hungary, including women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities

“We warned about the discriminatory impact of the legislation on those living in poverty and social exclusion,” said Ms. Sepúlveda, recalling that, in February 2012, both Special Rapporteurs had cautioned about the detrimental effects of this legislation on the rights of homeless people in Hungary.

“We also expressed our concern with the fact that the Hungarian Government chose to conduct costly policing operations to penalize homelessness, instead of seeking durable and adequate housing solutions for the poor, including those affected by the recent financial crisis,” Ms. Rolnik noted.

The Constitutional Court annulled the specific legislation provisions that criminalized habitual living in public spaces and empowered local authorities to confiscate property of homeless persons. These provisions were deemed by the Court as contradictory to the Constitution’s requirements for legal certainty, the protection of the right to human dignity and the right to property.

“The criminalization of rough sleeping and other life sustaining behaviours in public spaces is an infringement on the basic rights of homeless persons to liberty, privacy, personal security and protection of the family”, said the UN expert on extreme poverty, who in October 2011 presented a report* to the UN General Assembly on the penalization of people living in poverty.

“The Hungarian Government admits that there are currently not enough shelters in the capital to service the existing homeless community. It is therefore clear that homelessness in Hungary is not a choice, but a harsh reality,” stressed the UN expert on adequate housing.

“The recent decision of the Constitutional Court rightly highlights the fact that homelessness is a social issue, which needs to be addressed by the provision of adequate services and not by criminal proceedings,” she added.

(*) Read the 2011 report on the penalization of people living in poverty: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx

Magdalena Sepúlveda is the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights since May 2008. She is independent from any government or organization. She is a Chilean lawyer currently working as Research Director at the International Council on Human Rights Policy in Geneva. She has extensive experience in economic, social and cultural rights and holds a PhD in international human rights law from Utrecht University. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/SRExtremePovertyIndex.aspx

Raquel Rolnik was appointed as Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context by the UN Human Rights Council, in May 2008. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. An architect and urban planner, Ms. Rolnik has extensive experience in the area of housing and urban policies. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Housing/Pages/HousingIndex.aspx

OHCHR Country Page – Hungary: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/HUIndex.aspx

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Lidia Rabinovich (+ 41 22 917 9763 / lrabinovich@ohchr.org or write to srhousing@ohchr.org or srextremepoverty@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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