Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban presents his annual state-of-the-nation speech in Budapest, February 22, 2013. The text reads: Hungary doing better.

(Budapest) – Brussels has done virtually nothing about Hungary’s problematic laws and practices concerning human rights since the European Commission in March 2014 created a “rule of law” measure to address serious abuses in EU member states, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The five-page Human Rights Watch report identifies a range of outstanding human rights concerns stemming from laws and practices enacted by the government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán since its election in 2010. The Hungarian government has introduced a raft of problematic laws and policies while international calls to amend them have gone largely unheeded.

“Hungary is exhibit A for the need for stronger European Union action to protect rights inside its own borders,” said Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The EU needs to stand up for its own values and protect the rights of Hungary’s citizens, including by activating the commission’s rule of law mechanism and putting the country’s record on the agenda of the European Council.”

Hungary’s laws and practices that cause concern include limitations on the powers of the country’s Constitutional Court; curbs on media freedom; and limitations on the rights of women, people with disabilities, members of certain religious groups, and homeless people. Since its re-election in 2014, the government has pursued a campaign against independent organizations that receive foreign funds, including smear campaigns and arbitrary financial inspections. International pressure has led only to minor, mostly cosmetic changes to laws and practices and major concerns remain, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch identified a series of reforms needed to bring Hungary’s laws and practices in line with its international and regional obligations, including to:

  • Cease its campaign against nongovernmental organizations that administer or receive foreign funds and publicly acknowledge the importance of independent groups in a European democracy;
  • Restore the powers of the Constitutional Court;
  • Ensure judicial independence, including by carrying out recommendations by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission on judicial appointments;
  • Establish a multiparty parliamentary nomination system for members of the Media Authority and Council to ensure its independence from government;
  • Reverse the constitutional amendment permitting criminalization of homelessness and repeal all legislation with the same effect;
  • Implement the European Court of Human Rights ruling on equality for religious organizations and ensure that eligibility for state subsidies by religious groups is determined by an independent body and subject to appeal in courts;
  • Ensure that every citizen is 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 provision 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.

“Every EU member state has room for improvement when it comes to human rights,” Gall said. “But faced with a Hungarian government that appears determined to deliberately undermine human rights protection, it is vital for Brussels to act.”