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(New York) - Hungary should address the human rights concerns linked to its new constitution that the Venice Commission raised in its June 20, 2011 report, Human Rights Watch said today. In addition, Hungary should guarantee that people with disabilities will retain the right to vote under the new constitution, Human Rights Watch said.

The new constitution, the Fundamental Law of Hungary, was signed into law on April 25, and will go into effect on January 1, 2012. The constitution includes provisions that could lead to discrimination against women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people, and people with disabilities, Human Rights Watch said.

"Hungary's new constitution, as written, puts it at odds with many of its human rights obligations," said Amanda McRae, a Europe researcher for Human Rights Watch. "The Hungarian authorities should immediately make the changes suggested by the Venice Commission, before the new constitution comes into force."

The Venice Commission, otherwise known as the European Commission on Democracy through Law, is a Council of Europe advisory body consisting of experts on constitutional issues. Its report addresses a number of human rights concerns raised by the new constitution, including:

  • The inclusion of a right to life for the fetus from the moment of conception. This could lead to administrative action and legislation to overturn Hungary's abortion law and result in restrictions on abortion that would put a number of fundamental rights for women at stake, the commission said;
  • The provision on the media, which grants the government extensive  power to control the media without sufficient protection against arbitrary interference and abuse, the commission said; and
  • The absence of a specific prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation. This could create the impression that discrimination based on sexual orientation is "not reprehensible" and could put Hungary out of line with its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, the commission said.

The Venice Commission also expressed concerns about the exclusion of civil society and opposition groups during the process of drafting and reviewing the constitution. The Commission raised similar concerns in a legal opinion to the Hungarian government on March 28, but the government did not hold any further consultations or delay the passage of the constitution to respond to those concerns.

Numerous groups inside and outside of Hungary, including Human Rights Watch, had called for essential changes and more time to debate and review the document. But the constitution, which was introduced for public debate in mid-March, was passed by Parliament and signed by the president on April 25 with little amendment.

"The process of drafting and passing the constitution effectively excluded the voices of many who would have stood up for human rights," McRae said. "The Venice Commission rightly pointed out that this exclusion raises serious questions about the document's legitimacy."

Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the constitution's restriction on the right to vote for people with "limited mental ability," which is likely to exclude many people with intellectual or mental disabilities from political participation.

Although the Venice Commission has stated that a judge can strip people with disabilities of the right to vote in some circumstances, to do so based on disability is contrary to Hungary's human rights obligations as a party to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

"People with disabilities should not be denied the right to participate in politics on the grounds of disability, in Hungary or anywhere else," McRae said. "Instead of taking away this right, Hungary should make sure that people with disabilities have support to exercise the vote and to have their voices heard in politics."

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