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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses anti-discrimination efforts In Hungary with non-governmental organizations

GENEVA (29 April 2019) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an informal meeting with representatives of non-governmental organizations from Hungary, whose report on the implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination will be considered this week.  The reports of Lithuania and Zambia will also be reviewed this week by the Committee but there were no civil society representatives present from those countries.

Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the speakers and reaffirmed the importance of a dialogue with civil society.

During the discussion, representatives of non-governmental organizations from Hungary said that the European Court on Human Rights had recognized that the Hungarian police had failed to properly respond to hate crimes.  Latency was also a problem: victims did not tend to turn to authorities.  The Roma population in particular did not have any trust in the police, as surveys conducted had confirmed.  What was more, the Government had spent over 50 million euros in overtly xenophobic campaigns.  The campaigns were still ongoing.  There was a fear-mongering atmosphere, which fostered hatred with clear xenophobic aims.  The situation of segments of the population that benefited from international protection had deteriorated.  The State had suspended all funds allocated to the provision of social assistance services to them.

Speaking on Hungary were Working Group against Hate Crimes in Hungary and Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

The Committee will next meet in public today, 23 April, at 3 p.m. to consider the report of Hungary (CERD/C/HUN/18-25).

Opening Statement

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the representatives of non-governmental organizations from Hungary, and said no non-governmental organizations representing Lithuania or Zambia were present.  

Statements on Hungary

Working Group against Hate Crimes in Hungary said there were systematic problems regarding the way in which the Hungarian police dealt with violent acts against Roma.  The European Court on Human Rights had recognized that the Hungarian police had failed to properly respond to such attacks.  Latency was also a problem: victims did not tend to turn to the authorities.  The Roma population in particular did not have any trust in the Hungarian police, as surveys conducted in the country had confirmed.  In addition, in most cases, authorities disregarded bias motivations when addressing and prosecuting hate crimes.  In multiple instances, legal provisions against hate crimes were invoked for the benefit of extremist organizations when they were attacked by the Roma population, even though the latter were acting out of fear, or defending themselves.  Such enforcement of hate crimes-related legal provisions for the benefit of extremist organizations sought to protect racist organizations.  On prosecution, it was important to note that, in Hungary’s 21 counties, a person responsible for the prosecution of hate crimes had been appointed.  They lacked adequate funding, however, and only carried out hate crime-related tasks on a part-time basis.  This did not change the fact that frontline officers did not receive appropriate training and continued to misqualify hate crimes, thus preventing their proper referral to the county authorities.  To address this issue, the Working Group against Hate Crimes in Hungary had worked to prepare a list of bias indicators.  A protocol on the prosecution of hate crimes was still lacking, and while negotiations aiming to establish one were held, representatives of the police had recently decided to walk away.  The Working Group against Hate Crimes in Hungary had provided training to judges, but the Government had recently cancelled training sessions.  The Government’s statements on the provision of training that had been included in the official report did not, therefore, reflect the reality.

Hungarian Helsinki Committee, drawing the Committee’s attention to the Roma population’s situation in the country, said it had included contributions of other Hungarian non-governmental organizations in its report, as they had been able to provide more acute insight on this issue.  The challenges impeding the inclusion of the Roma people were not recent; several administrations had failed to genuinely address this issue.  Multiple extremist organizations harassed Roma by notably conducting patrols.  There was Roma self-government in Hungary at the local level, but their requests were rarely channelled to local authorities.   There were several non-governmental organizations active at the local level, but they mostly focused on educational, cultural and social programmes.  The organizations that used to represent Roma people at the national level had suspended their activities in 2016 due to financial constraints, amongst others.  According to surveys, a majority of Roma people believed discrimination against them was widespread, but a small percentage of them knew which organizations they could turn to for support if they wanted to seek legal remedy.

The Government had carried out an advertising campaign urging foreigners to respect Hungarian culture.  It had spent over 50 million euros in overtly xenophobic campaigns.  The campaigns were still ongoing.  There was a fear-mongering atmosphere, which fostered hatred with clear xenophobic aims.  The situation of segments of the population that benefited from international protection had deteriorated.  The State had suspended all funds allocated to the provision of social assistance services to them.  There were also arbitrary and massive detentions of asylum seekers in transit zones, where fundamental services were clearly lacking.  For instance, while some people were held there for over 16 months, medical issues requiring attention were not properly treated as no interpreters were present.  Systematic refoulement and collective expulsions were taking place in Hungary.  Regardless of personal circumstances, people were put in cars and driven out of the country without having been given the opportunity to apply for asylum.  According to official statistics published by the Hungarian police, since 2016, about 50,000 such expulsions had been conducted while fewer than 35,000 people were allowed to apply for asylum.  

Questions by Committee Experts

KEIKO KO, Committee Rapporteur for Hungary, asked about the campaign targeting George Soros.  Had it fuelled anti-Semitic sentiment in the country?

An Expert asked the non-governmental organizations to comment on the parallel court system that the executive branch had created, and which cemented its control over the judiciary.

Concerning statistics, another Expert asked about the number of Roma living in Hungary and the reasons why there were discrepancies between official and other records.

Answers by Non-Governmental Organizations

Hungarian Helsinski Committee explained that there were clearly anti-Semitic posters, rehashing anti-Semitic tropes, that were put up next to the official posters that attacked George Soros.  And yet, the Government’s campaign continued unabated, which suggested a form of connivance.

The Venice Commission had provided a detailed analysis of the parallel judicial system, and according to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s assessment, the Government had failed to comply with the recommendations outlined in the report.

One possible explanation for discrepancies in figures on Roma was the fact that the last census that took place in Hungary was in 2008.  Then, people had the possibility, but no obligation, to identify as minorities. 

Concerning the parallel judicial system, Working Group against Hate Crimes in Hungary pointed out that, in the transition period, it would be staffed with judges with no experience.  Judges were worried that the new system would ignore or eradicate the jurisprudence they had carefully created over the years.  They were hesitating to join this system, as they did not know whom they would report to and under which conditions they would work.

Questions by Committee Experts

An Expert asked if the Committee should understand that the absence of non-governmental organizations, notably non-governmental organizations representing Roma, was due to fear of reprisal.

Answers by Non-Governmental Organizations

Working Group against Hate Crimes in Hungary said it had not received any information that led to that conclusion.  There was no non-governmental organization that had the capacity and resources to represent the Roma with a broad mandate.  

Hungarian Helsinki Committee added that Hungary was the only European Union Member State that was mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals last year.  It was important to understand the broader political context; it had become difficult to address certain issues.  On the judicial system, there were numerous issues related to discrimination, such as school segregation, that would be placed under the jurisdiction of the new parallel system, the judges of which would be appointed by the Government itself.  

Concluding Remarks  

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, thanked non-governmental organization representatives for their participation.

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For use of the information media; not an official record