Human Rights Developments
Hungary=s record on human rights was mixed during 1996. The Hungarian government undertook efforts to address some of its most serious human rights problems, especially regarding the protection of minorities. The Hungarian parliament introduced an amendment to the criminal code to allow more effective prosecution of those who commit crimes against individuals because of their national, ethnic or religious affiliation. Hungary also reached agreement with Romania and Slovakia over the mutual protection of minorities, after several years of difficult and controversial negotiations. However, there continued to be significant human rights violations, especially against the Roma minority. Police brutality and mistreatment in detention also continued to be of concern.
There were numerous reports of physical mistreatment of persons in detention during 1996. The European Committee on the Prevention of Torture issued a report in February criticizing the mistreatment of prisoners especially in Budapest, accusing police of beatings, and stating that conditions in some jails were inhuman. In particular, the report drew attention to the Kerepestarcsa Center for detaining foreigners in the country, arguing that they suffered brutal treatment and conditions which were inhuman and degrading. Hungary has since closed the Kerepestarcsa Center and moved those inmates to other facilities. Another twenty detention centers were closed and others were upgraded during the year, according to Interior Ministry spokesperson Moricz Miklos.
The Hungarian minister in charge of the civilian secret services, Istvan Nikolits, came under criticism from the chairman of the Hungarian parliament=s human rights committee for authorizing a wide-ranging program of surveillance of all minorities in Baranja county in the south of the country. Nikolits argued that the program, entitled AThe Protection of National and Ethnic Minorities@ was launched in light of the Yugoslav crisis to protect the county=s minorities such as Serbs and Croats from attack because of their nationality or family ties. However, the parliament=s human rights committee expressed concern that such extensive surveillance had continued after the danger had subsided and without judicial oversight.
Roma continued to face a discernible pattern of open societal and governmental discrimination in education, the workplace, housing and access to public establishments. In addition, private acts of violence were often openly supported or passively tolerated by the police and criminal investigators. When investigations did lead to criminal charges, the charges were usually significantly less than the facts would seem to warrant. Frequently prosecutors denied that violent attacks against Roma were racially motivated, thereby making the maximum sentence for conviction much less than would be the case if racism were recognized as the motivating factor. Human rights and Romani organizations in Hungary reported that Roma are especially likely to receive discriminatory treatment in the judicial process, with longer periods of pre-trial detention and higher sentences when convicted.
Although police abuses and discrimination against Roma continued to be frequent, Roma victims appeared increasingly willing to seek remedies for such abuse through the judicial system. In a landmark discrimination case, a Roma man who had been refused service in a restaurant because of his ethnicity won a libel suit against the owner of the restaurant.
The Right to Monitor
There were no reports of any attempt by the government to impede the work of human rights monitors during 1996.
The Role of the International Community
In general, Hungary was recognized by the international community as having made substantial progress in the area of human rights and democratic institution-building. Spanish Foreign Minister Javier Solana, the new secretary-general of NATO, identified Hungary as a serious candidate for NATO membership during 1996. In addition, Hungary was judged to have met the general requirements for admission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), including respect for human rights, democracy and an open market economy. Hungary also met the general requirements of European Union membership, including specific human rights requirements. However, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture issued a report in 1996 on the mistreatment of persons in detention, which was highly critical of ongoing police abuse and conditions in detention facilities. On September 16, Hungary and Romania signed a treaty designed to permit the development of friendly relations between the two countries and full respect for minorities as foreseen in particular in the European Stability Pact signed on March 20, 1995, in Paris at the initiative of the European Union.
The United States
The Hungary chapter of the U.S. State Department=s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995 was generally accurate in its analysis of human rights in Hungary, correctly emphasizing that Hungary had failed to prevent police brutality against Roma and crime suspects generally. The report also noted that due process rights, such as access to counsel and a speedy trial, are not consistently guaranteed in Hungary.