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(Budapest) – The Hungarian government should heed and act on the clear message from the European Parliament on July 3, 2013, about the urgent need for rights reform, Human Rights Watch said today.

The European Parliament, convening in Strasbourg, adopted a much-anticipated resolution on Hungary, underscoring its serious concerns about Hungary’s rights record and urging specific steps to address them.

“The European Parliament has made clear just how troubling and unacceptable Hungary’s record is on human rights and rule of law,” said Lydia Gall, Eastern Europe and Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The onus now lies with the Hungarian government to take the steps the parliament calls for, and with the other EU institutions – the commission and the council – to back up the parliament.”

The resolution, adopted by a significant majority of 370 to 249, with 82 abstentions, finds that constitutional and legal changes made by the Hungarian authorities are “incompatible” with EU values and standards. It concludes that, “unless corrected in a timely and adequate manner,” Hungary’s trajectory “will result in a clear risk of a serious breach of the values referred to in Article 2 [of the EU Treaty].”

A finding of such a risk would trigger action under article 7 of the EU Treaty, which could lead to suspension of Hungary’s voting rights as an EU member. Human Rights Watch and others have repeatedly called for action under article 7 to press Hungary to change course. The European Parliament resolution asks the parliament’s president and leaders of its political groups “to assess the opportuneness of resorting” to such action if the Hungarian government’s intransigence persists.

“Hungary’s downward slide on rights is deeply troubling and calls for a strong response,” Gall said. “The European Parliament has done just that, by making clear that Budapest’s effort to deflect legitimate concerns by calling them factually wrong or politically motivated and its refusal to heed calls for reform won’t be tolerated.”

The resolution asks the Hungarian authorities to take a series of steps to address the parliament’s concerns, including removing from the constitution provisions the Constitutional Court has declared unconstitutional,reducing the use of cardinal laws– which can only be repealed by a two-thirds majority in parliament, and complying with the Council of Europe Venice Commission’s recommendations on the changes needed to bring Hungary’s legal framework into compliance with Council of Europe standards. The resolution also said that Hungary should ensure the widest possible participation of all parties in the constitutional process, fully guarantee the independence of the judiciary, and set up objective, legally binding procedures for appointing heads of public media and regulatory bodies.

The resolution further calls on the Hungarian authorities to “finally assume their responsibilities toward the homeless,” adopt a broader definition of “family”, and do more to integrate the Roma minority.

In a joint letter to members of the European Parliament ahead of the vote, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International urged parliament members to support the resolution “as an important contribution to the ongoing discussions on the appropriate response by European institutions to developments in Hungary.” The letter urged the parliament to “add[] its voice to those speaking out in defence of the rule of law and human rights in Hungary,” and “us[e] all the tools available to help ensure the Hungarian government takes the steps needed to bring its laws into line with European and international standards.”

“The European parliament’s vote was a test of its resolve to ensure that facts and principles prevail over political manipulation,” Gall said. “The next test is for Hungary’s partners, especially its peer EU member states in the council, to make it clear to Hungary that it needs to fulfill the parliament’s calls for reforms, or face the consequences.”

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