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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of Hungary

GENEVA (30 April 2019) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined eighteenth to twenty-fifth periodic report of Hungary on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Péter Szijjártó, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Hungary, said the Hungarian people had had to fight for their freedoms throughout their history, as well as for the effective enjoyment of human rights.  Hungarians were a nation of freedom fighters, and therefore no Hungarian would accept any governmental action that would diminish human rights or violate their rights.   At the same time, Hungarians did not like to be lectured about the way their country conducted its internal affairs.  Migration was the most important issue in the international sphere.  Picking a country and violating borders to get there was not a fundamental human right.  The right to live in peace in one’s home was, however, a fundamental right.  The State had to safeguard the borders and thus guarantee the safety of its citizens.  On national minorities, Mr. Szijjártó said they were encouraged to organize cultural events, to “stick to their identities” as it contributed to the nation’s success.  Last year, the support provided to national minorities by the Government amounted to 50 million euros.  The ruling party had a Roma representative in parliament, and it was the only party that did. 

On non-citizens, refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons, the Committee Experts raised two sets of concerns in the ensuing discussion.  First, they asked if there were any discriminatory practices at the border preventing entrance into the Hungarian territory, notably as a result of the 2017 amendments to the Act on Asylum.  Second, the Committee had received alarming reports on the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers who were already in Hungary’s territory.  Could the delegation provide more information about their access to education, social and psychological services and legal aid?  They asked the delegation to comment on the principle of the independence of the judiciary, as enshrined in the Constitution, in light of the upcoming changes to the judicial system in January 2020.  Between 2015 and 2018, there had been numerous instances of hate speech targeting migrants and refugees.  Statements that were clearly racist were made by the Government.  Questions were also raised about the discrepancy in the size of the Roma minority and the varying figures on the number of Roma children in education.

In her concluding remarks, Keiko Ko, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Hungary, thanked the delegation for its participation which gave the Committee the opportunity to better understand the human rights situation in Hungary.  She looked forward to receiving additional information in writing.

János Bóka, State Minister of Justice of Hungary, applauded the work that had been done by the Committee.  He highlighted that the core objectives of the Convention were shared by Hungary and the Committee.  The dialogue had been very fruitful and useful.  It was clear that the Committee had studied the Hungarian legal framework and reality with great care.  He reiterated that, as agreed, additional information would be submitted in writing.

Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for having worked through the questions posed by the Committee.  

The delegation of Hungary consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry for Human Capacities, the Ministry of the Interior, the Immigration and Asylum Office, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Hungarian Embassy in Switzerland, and the Permanent Mission of Hungary to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public today, 30 April, at 3 p.m., to consider the combined sixth to eighth periodic report of Lithuania (CERD/C/LTU/9-10).

Report

The Committee has before it the combined eighteenth to twenty-fifth periodic reports of Hungary: (CERD/C/HUN/18-25).

Presentation of the Report

PÉTER SZIJJÁRTÓ, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, said the Hungarian people had had to fight for their freedoms throughout their history, as well as for the effective enjoyment of their human rights.  Hungarians were a nation of freedom fighters, and therefore no Hungarian would accept any governmental action that would diminish human rights or violate their rights.   At the same time, Hungarians did not like to be lectured about the way their country conducted its internal affairs.  Regardless of attacks, Hungary was proud of its constitution.  In Hungary, predictability and political stability was a given: the current Government had won three successive elections.  Various national consultations had been conducted, and although they were not legally binding, their results were heeded and applied by the Government.  Turning to non-governmental organizations, in a context where Hungary was weathering attacks and combatting fake news, they played a political role.  Some of them were funded externally.  They spread fake news.  Non-governmental organizations had never run for office, he recalled.  Hungary would therefore never accept an approach that would suggest that they acted as representatives of the country. 

Migration was the most important issue in the international sphere.  Picking a country and violating borders to get there was not a fundamental human right.  The right to live in peace in one’s home was, however, a fundamental right.  The State had to safeguard the borders and thus guarantee the safety of its citizens.  The Government did not allow any illegal migrants to enter the territory of Hungary.  Furthermore, transit zones could not be considered detention centres, because one could exit them in the direction of Serbia.  It was true, however, that illegal entry into the Hungarian territory was not allowed.  Migrants had entered the country, occupying public areas, refusing to cooperate.  Ahmed H. had encouraged people to violently enter the territory of Hungary and attack the police.  He was rightly sentenced by Hungarian courts.

On national minorities, Mr. Szijjártó said they were encouraged to organize cultural events, to “stick to their identities” as this contributed to the nation’s success.  Last year, the support provided to national minorities by the Government amounted to 50 million euros.  This illustrated its approach to that issue.  The ruling party had a Roma representative in parliament, and it was the only party that did.  About 95 per cent of Roma children were integrated in the education system, which provided free meals and free books to pupils.  The percentage of Roma enrolled in universities had been doubled by the Government.  Furthermore, the Government was proud of its track record regarding the situation of Jewish citizens.  Hungary had a strategic relationship with Israel.  The biggest synagogue of Europe was in Budapest.  True, the Government was engaged in a vigorous debate with George Soros, but it had nothing to do with his religion.  In a democracy, it was more than natural to have a public debate about the future of the country.  The Government considered the Jewish community’s contribution to the national success to be very important.  Turning to the family policy, Mr. Szijjártó said the State had implemented a system of allowance to encourage young married couples to have children.  Massive amounts of money had been allocated to that end.  Mr. Szijjártó said he would not be able to stay for the whole duration of the debate, but insisted that it had been important for him to at least be present for the introduction.

The National Human Rights Institution said there were about 650,000 Roma in Hungary, the majority of whom lived in deep poverty.  The implementation of Hungary’s national social inclusion strategy of 2011 had led to developments in the field of social integration.  In Hungary, there were more than 1,000 settlements, mainly inhabited by Roma, where people suffered from unemployment, various social and health issues, as well as a lack of access to services.  In some areas, the number of trained and committed professionals was lacking - a serious and unsolvable problem.  The fight against extremist groups and hate speech targeting the Roma community had been successful in the past few years.  Latency was nevertheless still high in the case of hate crimes.  This was notably due to deficient investigations and inappropriate classification of cases.  However, the fact that the National Police Headquarters paid special attention to updating its curricula on hate crime was a positive development.  Cooperation with the Working Group against Hate Crime and non-governmental organizations providing assistance to victims would also be important in the long run.

Questions by the Committee Experts

KEIKO KO, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Hungary, recalled that the previous dialogue dated back to 2002, two years prior to Hungary’s inclusion in the European Union.  The Committee had then raised concerns about the persisting intolerance and discrimination which affected the Roma minority in particular, as well as xenophobic manifestations against immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Noting that there were 13 indigenous nationalities living in Hungary according to the State, she asked the delegation to provide further information on the population’s ethnic composition, disaggregated by ethnicity, national origin and language spoken, as well as social and economic indicators disaggregated by sex, gender and ethnicity.  Additional information on migrants that encompassed multiple years would also be useful.

The Committee noted that there was legislation combatting racial discrimination in Hungary.  Its concerns did not lie with the existence of legislation but rather the way in which it was applied.  Could the delegation provide more information on the concrete application of the Equal Treatment Act and other laws, as well as examples of cases, investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and compensation offered to victims?  She also asked for more information on the institutions responsible for the protection of human rights.  She notably sought to find out if they were properly funded, and whether they deployed outreach efforts.  

Turning to hate speech, the Rapporteur asked about the measures that were in place to prevent speeches and activities by public authorities or public institutions that may result in incitement to racial hatred.  Concerning the Roma community, while noting the numerous measures outlined in the State party’s report, she raised concerns about the worrying reports received by the Committee.  Discrimination was persistent, levels of segregation had increased and the Hungarian police committed ethnic profiling, according to these reports.  She asked the delegation to provide an update on measures put in place to prevent discrimination against Roma and the results they yielded.

On non-citizens, refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons, the Rapporteur raised two sets of concerns.  First, she asked if there were any discriminatory practices at the border preventing entrance into the Hungarian territory, notably as a result of the 2017 amendments to the Act on Asylum.  Second, the Committee had received alarming reports on the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers who were already in Hungary’s territory.  Could the delegation provide more information about their access to education, social and psychological services and legal aid? 

GUN KUT, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, recalled that the Committee would request the State party to provide additional information on certain topics within one year of the adoption of the concluding observations.  The Committee attached great importance to this procedure, as it allowed it to gauge political will to act on issues deemed of particular importance by the Committee.  He asked about the situation of human trafficking in Hungary, and if it involved certain ethnicities.

Another Expert said despite findings regarding the Government’s actions to combat hate speech, there had been lapses in its performance.  Between 2015 and 2018, there had been numerous instances of hate speech targeting migrants and refugees.  Statements that were clearly racist were made by the Government.  Did the delegation agree that it was racist to say that Hungarians would not allow their “colour” to be mixed with others?  Despite measures taken by the Government, there had been lapses, many at the highest rank of Government.  Regarding the Government’s efforts to address the situation of the Roma, she asked what the shortcomings had been.

There were many nuances attached to self-identification, an Expert said.  Were there any official minorities amongst the delegation?  Were there any people from the Roma community, the minority on which the Government seemed to focus?  She also asked how many Roma were in Parliament, the police, the army and other law-enforcement bodies.  She noted that there was segregation of Roma in housing, education, healthcare and so on.  That called for special measures.  Turning to human rights education, she asked what role the Government played and what its vision was for a future that was free from segregation and xenophobia.

An Expert asked about the prison population in Hungary.  How many people were in prison, and could that information be broken down.  Regarding the 13 languages spoken in the country, could the delegation provide more information about their use?  Where and how were they taught?  Were they taught in schools or were they only spoken in households.  How many cases of racial discrimination had been taken to court and how many had reached sentence stage?  He asked how human rights conventions were integrated in the fundamental law in Hungary.

What was the legal framework in Hungary that enabled the creation and operation of non-governmental organizations on racial discrimination?  The Expert asked about the portrayal of minorities in the media.  How were Roma and Jewish issues addressed in the media in Hungary?  Since January 2018, Hungary had shut down its borders to nearly every person seeking international protection.  Could the delegation provide more information on the number of decisions taken to send back asylum seekers or refugees?

More information was requested about perception surveys on racism and racial discrimination.  Had the Government carried any out?  If so, what had the results been?  If not, did it intend to do so in the future?  The Expert also asked whether Hungary had any policy on the International Decade on People of African Descent. 
   
The alternative to the independence of the judiciary was the rule of power, said an Expert.  He asked the delegation to comment on the principle of the independence of the judiciary, as enshrined in the Constitution, in light of the upcoming changes to the judicial system, in January 2020.

An Expert asked the delegation for more information about the phrase “the interest of future generations” which appeared in official documents and organizational charts.  What was the threshold for compulsory school age?  He also asked for more information on the delimitation of school boundaries. 

Concerning the minorities in Hungary, a Committee Expert said one speaker had said it was about six per cent, around 600,000 persons, but an older report by a non-governmental organization spoke of 800,000 persons, while the official report said this figure was only 50,000.  The Expert noted discrimination was always considered negative by the Committee, as per the Convention, and therefore did not use the phrase “positive discrimination”, preferring “positive action”.  He requested more information about varying figures on the number of Roma children in education.  The discrepancies in figures could be a sign of hidden discrimination.

The State report said refugee status had been granted to a number of Afghan, Syrian, Pakistani and other refugees.  That must have happened before 2018.  It was a commendable action carried out by Hungary to have given refuge to persons suffering from prejudices.  Unfortunately, persons in such a situation were not allowed into the country any more.  A law was passed in Hungary in 2018 that said a person’s application for asylum was inadmissible if the applicant arrived via a country where he or she were not subjected to a risk of persecution.  Hungary had common boundaries with seven States which were quite stable.  With the passing of that law, Hungary had obliterated the existence of new asylum seeks or refugees in the country.  While that was within the remit of the State and parliament, the Expert said that the result was very shocking.     

Turning to the national consultations, another Expert asked how they were organized and who participated in them.  The delegation said that fake news was spread by non-governmental organizations.  Could it provide examples of this, and how it addressed this issue?

Concerning the Roma population in Hungary, there were discrepancies about their numbers.  One study in 2017 said the Roma population was approximately 876,000 persons, but this morning, a speaker said it was around 600,000 persons.  Could the delegation clarify this?

Replies by the Delegation

JÁNOS BÓKA, State Minister of Justice of Hungary, said the delegation would provide in writing data on the human and financial resources allocated to the Office of the Commission for Fundamental Rights and the Equal Treatment Authority; individual complaints related to equal treatment; and practices of Hungarian courts related to hate crimes.  He recalled that nobody could be forced to declare his or her national or ethnic identity, except as a prerequisite for obtaining a special benefit or to exercise a right that was connected to this status.  While the State had statistics on the prison population, it did not have specific data on its ethnic composition.

The delegation said that fundamental law used the concept of nationality instead of ethnic minority to avoid any form of discrimination based on the size of the population.  The Roma or German populations were much larger than the Armenian population, for instance.  The Hungarian delegation included members of national minorities.  It was not possible to adopt decisions about national minorities without their involvement.  Elections were held regularly for their representative bodies, which the Government considered as partners.  Their approval was required for the issuance of education decrees related to the national minority they represented, for instance.  There were also over 500 national minority non-governmental organizations, which the Government considered to be partners and regularly consulted.

JÁNOS BÓKA, State Minister of Justice of Hungary, said several people in the Jewish community identified as Hungarians with Jewish religious convictions.  There was no Hungarian majority and Jewish minority in Hungary, but rather Hungarians with Christian and Jewish religious and cultural backgrounds.  The delegation added that numerous Jews in Hungary did not identify as members of a minority; they considered themselves Hungarians of Jewish faith or Jewish religious and cultural background.

Turning to the upcoming changes to the judicial system, Mr. Bóka stressed that they had been already debated extensively in a number of international fora, and the proceedings of these meetings were public.  To put the changes in perspective, he recalled that the separate system of administrative courts had been existing for centuries in some European countries.  It had also existed in Hungary before being dismantled by the Communist dictatorship because it was too successful in defending of the rule of law.  For 30 years now, there was consensus in academia that this system ensured a better judicial review of administrative rulings.   The Hungarian Government itself had requested the opinion of the Venice Commission to ensure that the proposed system was adequate and in line with international standards.  The Venice Commission did not object to the fact that the establishment of the system could not be constitutionally objected.  It did not oppose the central administration of court included in the system if potential arbitrary decisions on the part of the Minister of Justice were prevented and appropriate checks and balances were put in place.  The Hungarian legislator had made a political decision to make these changes to the judicial system, and the Commission had acknowledged that it was an acceptable decision if appropriate checks and balances were put in place.  Requesting that the legislator’s decision be rescinded would change the nature of the dialogue: it would no longer be a legal discussion but rather a political debate which he wished to avoid.  The very successful dialogue with the Venice Commission was over, and the Government was focused on ensuring the harmonious implementation of the new system in January 2020.

On Roma inclusion, Mr. Bóka recalled that Hungary was one of the first countries that had elevated this issue to a European level.  Under the Hungarian presidency of the European Union, a framework strategy for Roma inclusion had been adopted in 2011.  Hungary was also the first Member State to submit its national inclusion strategy to the European Commission.  The Government reported every year on the results of the activities carried out in that context, and the reports were publicly available. 

The delegation added that the geographic distribution of the Roma population was uneven.  In the north-eastern part of the country, there were three counties where the Roma typically lived.  The Government published yearly reports on the projects it put together for the Roma population.  It also collected data and used a detailed and thorough system of indicators to monitor progress.  A social convergence strategy focused on early childhood, through targeted measures that sought to foster education.  Disadvantaged children, including Roma children, were encouraged and supported to ensure that they may finish primary and secondary school, as well as vocational training.  In 2015, a programme targeting Roma girls and providing them with mentoring had been launched, and it had now been extended.  The Government had put in place measures to identify factors that led to children dropping out of school in order the better address this phenomenon.  There were also cooperation and consultation mechanisms, such as the Roma Coordination Council, that operated under the guiding principle “nothing about us without us” to ensure the Roma were involved in all the decision that concerned them.  Turning to segregation, the delegation recalled that the act on Equal Treatment was adopted as a prerequisite to Hungary’s inclusion to the European Union.  Parents could freely choose their children’s school within the framework of school districting.  Furthermore, it was important for the Government that the persecution against the Roma and the Jews, as well as their genocides, be included in the national curriculum. 

JÁNOS BÓKA, State Minister of Justice of Hungary, said a clear distinction should be made between asylum and immigration and asylum seekers and migrants.  The objective of the international asylum system was to provide shelter for those fleeing legitimate fear of persecution, preferably as close to their home as possible.  In the Government’s opinion, it was an abuse of the international asylum system to use it to build and maintain global migration corridors.  While global migration had its causes which made persons leave home and travel thousands of miles, such pressing needs did not amount to legitimate fear of persecution.  The Government’s policy was to take help where it was needed rather than bring problems in the country— hence Hungary’s participation in United Nations and European Union missions in Kosovo, Cyprus, Afghanistan, Mali and Lebanon, amongst others.

The delegation assured that people who wished to apply for asylum could do so without facing any discrimination.  Hungary sought to tackle the root causes of migration and to prevent the entry of migrants into the European Union without proper identification.  In 2015, almost 400,000 people had entered the territory of Hungary illegally.  Since the implementation of the new asylum system, application for asylum had to be made in transit zones.  The goal was to prevent people from entering the territory of the European Union illegally.  Transit zones were created in 2017 to accommodate people who did not have documents to enter Hungary legally.  The living conditions in these zones were compliant with domestic and international laws and were not comparable to detention.  Education was provided to children aged 3 to 16.  Community activities were organized by social workers and health care services was offered.  General practitioners and paediatricians regularly travelled to the transit zones.  Playgrounds, sports equipment and wireless internet connections were installed in the zones, following complaints made by non-governmental organizations, which were heeded by the Government.  Three non-governmental organizations, including the Hungarian Red Cross, regularly visited the zones.

Hungary fully respected the non-refoulement principle.  All applications were duly processed.  Applicants benefitted from legal support and could use the language of their choice.

Second Round of Questions by Committee Experts

KEIKO KO, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Hungary, thanked the delegation for its detailed responses.  She asked for more information about the Government’s efforts to combat hate speech.  Concerning law 62/2001, on Hungarians living in neighbouring countries, she asked about its potential discriminatory effects.

Another Expert asked about domestic workers, who were often immigrants.  Were there any measures in place to address their situation, given that they were often discriminated against?

Another Expert said that a separate administrative court system did not contravene the Constitution.  Could they provide more information about the checks and balances?  He asked the delegation to comment on the possibility that non-judges would be appointed to courts under the new system.

Another Expert asked about the institutional representation of Roma women.  Were there any Roma women in parliament, the judiciary, the police or the army?  She still had concerns about social inclusion in primary schools.  Could a wealthy family prevent their children from attending a school where there were Roma children?

What mechanisms prevented political appointments to courts in Hungary?  The Expert said racism in political discourse was rampant and there were populist politicians that used their platforms to stoke racism and xenophobia.  And yet, there were institutions in Hungary to deal with these issues.  He asked for more information on their work to counter racism and xenophobia in political discourse.

Replies by the Delegation
           
JÁNOS BÓKA, State Minister of Justice of Hungary, said there was a comprehensive legal framework in place to address hate crimes.  The criminal code explicitly included incitement to violence and hatred.  It even granted protection before an actual attack took place.  It also required that access to data be rendered impossible in matters relating to online hateful content.  The Government had changed the definition of anti-Semitism in 2019 and instructed cabinet ministers to examine potential ways in which this change could be implemented.  Hungary was not in a position to take a leading role in the Decade on People of African Descent, but supported the work of the European Union in that regard.  Domestic workers were not common in Hungary, and when there were any they were not characteristically from minorities.   The Hungarian legislation was, however, in line with international norms on domestic workers.

Turning to the new court system, Mr. Bóka reiterated that the Government had sought the opinion of the Venice Commission.  Judges in the new administrative court system would also have the same status as other judges.  Their tenure would be the same.  The appointment procedure required that applications be evaluated based on a set of criteria, 80 per cent of which were objective.  The 20 per cent subjective criteria would be assessed by a body primarily comprised of judges.  

On the representation of Roma women, the delegation said Roma women played various roles in political life in Hungary.  One Roma female member of parliament had been elected in Hungary.

Third Round of Questions by Committee Experts

An Expert asked about more details on the way in which children were taught about the Holocaust and the training provided to police officers on hate crimes.

Another Expert asked for more information on the Constitutional Court.  Could the delegation provide more information on the recent changes, which notably narrowed its remit?

An Expert asked for information about the situation of stateless people.  How about people at risk of statelessness?

Replies by the Delegation
           
JÁNOS BÓKA, State Minister of Justice Hungary, said that more information on Holocaust remembrance would be submitted in writing.  Turning to the Constitutional Court, he referred the Committee to the opinion of the Venice Commission.  

The delegation said the police had achieved significant progress on hate crimes.  Indicators were now used to better identify hate crimes.  These indicators had been drawn up with international partners, such as the United Nations, and Hungarian non-governmental organizations.  

Concluding Remarks  

KEIKO KO, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Hungary, thanked the delegation for its participation which gave the Committee the opportunity to better understand the human rights situation in Hungary.  She looked forward to receiving additional information in writing.

JÁNOS BÓKA, State Minister of Justice Hungary, applauded the work that had been done by the Committee.  He highlighted that the core objectives of the Convention were shared by Hungary and the Committee.  The dialogue had been very fruitful and useful.  It was clear that the Committee had studied the Hungarian legal framework and reality with great care.  He reiterated that, as agreed, additional information would be submitted in writing.

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for having worked through the questions posed by the Committee.

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