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Full text of the press statement delivered by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mr. Githu Muigai, on 27 May 2011 in Budapest

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

I undertook a country mission to Hungary from 23 to 27 May 2011. During my visit, I travelled to Ózd, Gyöngyöspata, Pécs and Mohács. I held meetings with representatives of the Government, both at the national and local levels, members of the legislative, members of the judicial branches including the members of the municipal court in Budapest, as well as with political parties, representatives of civil society, lawyers, community members, academics and private citizens. During my mission I also visited a prison in Budapest (Fővárosi Büntetés-végrehajtási Intézet) and a school in Ózd.

I would like to thank the Government of Hungary for its invitation and for its cooperation and openness in the preparation and conduct of my visit. I am grateful to all the authorities for their time and for the rich discussion and exchange that I had with them. In particular I am grateful to the Mayors of Ózd, Gyöngyöspata, Pécs and Mohács for their cooperation and frank dialogue. I also thank the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice, the Ministry of National resources, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Parliament.

During my visit, I also met with the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information. I am thankful to these institutions for their cooperation. Civil society organizations have also been very helpful. I would like to reaffirm that I undertook my visit with an open mind and without any preconceived ideas also ensuring that all interested stakeholders were able to share their concerns and their experience in the areas pertaining to my mandate. I therefore came in Hungary with the desire to obtain a better understanding of the situation in the country, and formulate recommendations to help the Government to effectively address racism and racial discrimination.

My mission to Hungary has a particular significance since it occurs more than ten years after the first visit to Hungary of a previous Special Rapporteur on Racism and follows the visit in 2006 of the Independent Expert on Minorities Issues. It is also important to bear in mind that my visit is undertaken while Hungary is facing important challenges both at the international and national levels. The adoption of a new Constitution early this year and the EU Presidency held until 30 June 2011 are important circumstances to consider in this context. I would like also to remind that all the issues addressed during my mission must be understood in the context of the history of Hungary, in particular the impact of the fall of the Communist regime on disadvantaged groups, particularly the Roma minority.

Key legislative, institutional and political achievements

Since the last visits of the Special Rapporteur on Racism in 1999 and the Independent Expert on Minorities Issues in 2006, Hungary has made significant efforts to fulfill its international human rights obligations and commitments with respect to the situation of national and ethnic minorities and the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The Government has taken further steps in this direction during the Universal Periodic Review of Hungary at the Human Rights Council in 2011 by reaffirming its commitment to intensify efforts and measures to combat all forms of discrimination; to make effective the equality of opportunities and treatment among all inhabitants in its territory; to tackle extremism and discrimination against ethnic minority group; and to actively combat anti-Semitic rhetoric. I would like to commend the Government for these efforts.

While undertaking the assessment of the situation of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in Hungary, I have noted that key legislative, institutional and political measures have been taken by Hungary. In this regard I would like to welcome the 1993 Act LXXVII on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities, and the 2003 Act No. CXXV on Equal Treatment and the Promotion of Equal Opportunities, which both provide a comprehensive and valuable legislative framework on anti‑discrimination.

At the institutional level, the unique Hungarian system of Minority self-governments and the key role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the National and Ethnic Minorities Rights should be welcomed and strengthened. I would also like to express my appreciation for the adoption by the Parliament of the resolution on the Decade of Roma Inclusion Program Strategic Plan in 2007; the newly adopted agreement between the Government and Roma leaders at the national level; and the elaboration of the European Roma Strategy initiated by the Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

I also note with appreciation that the new Parliament has adopted a new regulation stipulating that in addition to the 200 parliamentary representatives, a maximum 13 representatives can be elected to ensure the parliamentary representation of national and ethnic minorities. The Police and the Ministry of Interior have also developed initiatives to fight against racism and racial discrimination and better address issues related to ethnic and national minorities, such as trainings and specific recruitment policies for Roma within the police.

Much has been achieved by the Government in the past few years. However challenges remain, including in relation to the implementation of the measures taken. In this regard, I would like to highlight key areas that deserve specific attention and determined action from the Government.

Main challenges

Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants

The situation of refugees asylum seekers and migrants is a matter that call for some attention. According to statistics Hungary currently hosts approximately 700 refugees (mainly Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis and persons originally from the former Yugoslavia) and some 3,200 beneficiaries of subsidiary protection. In 2010, a total of 2,104 asylum-seekers were registered, mainly from Afghanistan, Serbia and Kosovo, Somalia, Georgia, Turkey, Iran and Iraq, which represents a decrease of 55% compared to 2009. Reports received during the mission indicate that asylum-seekers and refugees strongly complain about xenophobia, racism and intolerance encountered on a daily basis especially when it comes to access to employment, housing and education. I would like to express my concern about the harsh conditions of detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants, including women, elderly persons and children. It is important for the Government to ensure that it complies with its international human rights obligations.

National and Ethnic Minorities

Efforts undertaken by the Government to address the needs of, and problems faced by national and ethnic minorities ought to be highlighted. However, it is important to ensure that the recent constitutional changes will not weaken the current legal and institutional framework for the protection of minorities’ rights. I am fully convinced of the need to ensure an effective empowerment of members of minorities. In this regard transparent and participatory consultations with all interested stakeholders should be ensured. Their effective representation in public institutions, including the Parliament, and the financial support to national minority institutions are major issues to be considered.

The Roma, who represent the largest minority group in Hungary, have been the most affected by Hungary’s difficult transition period from socialism to a market-based economy. All the stakeholders that I met, including Government officials recognized that the situation of Roma individuals had not improved in the last years but rather worsened.
According to the various interlocutors, racism and racial discrimination faced by Roma is particularly blatant in the areas of employment, education, housing and health. Concerns were particularly expressed about the segregation of Roma children in education. Reports of violence and abuse against Roma by the police, and discrimination in the judiciary, including in the criminal system, were also brought to my attention. Some interlocutors also indicated that Roma people are still excluded from the public and political life in Hungary as they remain underrepresented in the public administration and in political parties.

During my visit to Ózd, I went to a school where the vast majority of the children were Roma, and I met with Roma families living in public social houses lacking basic services and infrastructures including running water and electricity, located in remote area. I also met three generations of Roma who have not been to school. I am aware that the situation of Roma has historical roots and that it is not easy to fix. This justifies even more the urgent need for a strong political will to address the situation of Roma that will be matched with all the necessary resources and appropriate actions. If we do not act now, there may not be a tomorrow on this issue. There is a great urgency to reinvigorate the education of Roma with all the necessary resources of the Hungarian Government. It is essential that Hungary develop a comprehensive approach for Roma and elaborate a consolidated and coordinating programme of implementation at all levels, starting at the local levels. The gap between Hungary’s engagement at the international level and the commitment of local governments must be filled in this regard.

Anti Semitism

Immediate action is required to tackle anti-Semitism in Hungary. The Government must be vigilant and the necessary mechanisms to address this issue should be set up.

Extremist political parties, movements and groups

Hungary is a young and dynamic democracy, which as any others democracies is expected to provide the opportunity to all people to participate in public affairs, discuss and even criticize the system in place, and to put forward ideas for change and progress, including those deemed as radical. Nonetheless it is also essential to introduce safeguards against activities of extremist political parties, movements and groups that flout democratic principles and human rights, including the principles of non-discrimination and equality. Therefore, I call upon the vigilance of the Government vis-à-vis the resurgence of extremist political parties, movements and groups, some of which are alleged to have racist platform and I draw the attention of the Government about the recurrence of hate speech. It is important to prevent such behaviour and ensure that those responsible for racist acts are held accountable and the victims provided with appropriate legal remedies.

Concluding remarks:

Important steps have been made by Hungary in the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, including by acceding to international human rights instruments relating to the issue of racism. Furthermore legislative, institutional and policy measures have been developed by the Government. However major challenges remain. In particular Hungary has to ensure that all these measures lead to an effective outcome that will cover the situation of all the individuals who experience racism, racial discrimination in Hungary. I do believe that Hungary is an open and democratic country and that it can achieve equality for all the persons living in its territory. An important criteria in measuring the Government success in this endeavor, will certainly be the remove of Roma individuals from poverty, lack of education, unemployment.