(Budapest) - The new Hungarian government should ensure that its laws and practices match its international and regional human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said in a letter today to Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Orban’s party, which heads the governing coalition, retained power after winning elections on April 6, 2014.
Human Rights Watch identified a range of concerns about legal changes introduced by the government during its previous term. Those include limitations on the powers of the country’s Constitutional Court, curbs on media freedom, and limitations on the rights of women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people; people with disabilities; members of certain religious groups; and homeless people. While the government amended some of those laws in response to international pressure, major concerns remain, Human Rights Watch said.
“Hungary’s new government should use its democratic mandate to improve the protection of human rights for everyone in the country,” said Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “That means taking concrete action to ensure that judicial independence, media freedom, and rights of minority groups are fully respected.”
Human Rights Watch identified a series of reforms needed to bring Hungary’s laws and practices in line with its international and regional obligations, and called upon the government to:
- Restore the powers of the Constitutional Court;
- Implement recommendations by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, its advisory body on constitutional matters, including with respect to interference in judicial appointments;
- Establish a multiparty parliamentary nomination system for members of the Media Authority and Council to ensure its independence from the government;
- Reverse the constitutional amendment permitting criminalization of homelessness and repeal all legislation with the same effect;
- Ensure that eligibility for state subsidies by religious groups is determined by an independent body and subject to appeal in the courts;
- Ensure that all citizens are entitled to vote regardless of disability and amend the constitution to reflect this;
- Take concrete action to protect the rights of the Roma minority and at the highest government levels publicly condemn anti-Roma and anti-Semitic speech, and;
- Ensure protection for domestic violence survivors by extending protection under the 2013 domestic violence law to all women regardless of relationship status after a single instance of violence, increasing shelter spaces, and ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence as soon as possible.
Human Rights Watch has documented a range of human rights problems in Hungary since 2011. In a May 2013 report, “Wrong Direction on Rights,” Human Rights Watch documented a number of human rights and rule of law concerns including curbs on the powers of the Constitutional Court, interference with judicial appointments, limitations on religious freedom and the political participation of people with disabilities, and interference with the rights of women, LGBT people, and homeless people. While some positive changes have been made to the constitution and laws, a number of these problems have yet to be addressed. A November 2013 Human Rights Watch report, “Unless Blood Flows,” examines obstacles to protection for women who experience domestic violence in Hungary.