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Rampant discrimination was at the forefront of human rights concerns as a group of Hungarian Roma took grievances to the European Court of Human Rights, drawing attention to the government's failure to address discrimination against Roma as required by its European Union accession agreement. The ill-treatment and detention of refugees remained a serious concern. Progress on religious freedom suffered a setback as Hungary promulgated a tax law that threatened to marginalize further minority religious groups.

Human Rights Developments

Most of the objectives in the Hungarian government's medium term plan for Roma rights were unmet at the end of 2000, resulting in continued discrimination in employment, housing, and education and police abuse of Hungarian Roma. In July 2000, a group of Roma families from Zamoly traveled to Strasbourg seeking political asylum in France. The Roma also lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights seeking compensation for human rights abuses suffered in Hungary, including persecution and discrimination. The complaint charged that families' homes had been destroyed illegally by the Zamoly municipal government. The families were evicted from temporary accomodation in the local cultural center after six months, and although new homes were built for them in 2000, the Roma said they did not occupy them because they feared racially motivated attacks. In August, Roma representatives from Ozd traveled to Strasbourg to consult with the Zamoly Roma. The Ozd Roma said that fifteen families from that region wanted to emigrate as well due to persecution suffered in Hungary. On August 9, 2000, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a letter to Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban protesting a spate of discriminatory Roma evictions in Ozd. The ERRC also expressed concern that new legislation, in effect since May 2000, permitting a notary public to order evictions expands the power of local officials to remove Roma from their homes. Although judicial review of a notary's eviction order is possible, injunctive relief is not provided by the new law, leaving families homeless while they challenge evictions.

In January 2000, the government established the Office for Immigration and Naturalization (OIN)-a central authority for asylum and immigration matters. The OIN began drafting substantial amendments to the laws dealing with asylum and aliens in June but did not invite consultation with nongovernmental organizations. In December 1999, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees warned third countries against the indiscriminate return of asylum seekers who had previously transited Hungary, noting deficiencies in the Hungarian asylum system-in particular, poor conditions of detention for asylum seekers. Hungary continued to deny refugee status to conscientious objectors from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) who fled to Hungary to avoid military service in the Kosovo conflict. Many of the conscientious objectors were granted "authorization to remain" status, valid for one year and renewable annually. Refugee advocates claimed that such status created a high degree of insecurity in the group and prohibited them from full integration into Hungarian society. In a March 2000 judgment on an appeal lodged by a FRY conscientious objector whose application for asylum was rejected, the Budapest Central Court ruled that OIN's decision was not "well-founded" and ordered the authority to recommence an assessment of the individual's claim. The court held that OIN did not consider the evidence that the claimant could face persecution based on his political opinions and conscientious objector status if returned to FRY. In August 2000, the OIN denied the claimant refugee status once again, but he was granted authorization to remain.

A May 2000 amendment to Hungary's tax laws threatened to newly marginalize minority religions. The amendment confirmed sales tax exemption only for Hungary's six "historical" churches and for nonprofit organizations, thus preventing 98 percent of registered churches (for example, Methodists, Adventists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and all Eastern religions) from reclaiming sales tax, although most of them sponsor charitable programs of "public utility." Human rights groups charged that the law signaled an increasing tendency in Hungary to privilege certain religions over others.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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