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A United Nations peer review of Hungary last week provided a rare opportunity to expose just how far the country has regressed on human rights. The full report of Hungary’s Universal Periodic Review, released today, offers a disturbing picture of just how low Hungary has stooped.

Migrants rest as a policeman watches them near Hungary's border fence on the Serbian side of the border near Morahalom, Hungary, February 22, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

Over a dozen nations condemned Hungary’s increasing hostility towards media and civil society. The United States expressed concerns over “steps that erode checks and balances.” Colombia called for human rights defenders to be allowed to practice their legitimate activities. Canada flagged reports of intimidation and reprisals against critics of the government. Japan called on Hungary to relax restrictions on the media.

The Hungarian government’s flawed response to the refugee crisis in Europe received similarly harsh criticism. Canada and Switzerland denounced how Hungary criminalizes those fleeing Syria, while Brazil and Sweden slammed restrictions on the right to seek asylum and urged Hungary to respect the principle of non-refoulement – the prohibition on sending a person to a place that they risk persecution or other serious rights harm. Uruguay, Canada, and Norway all deplored its systematic detention of asylum seekers.

The UN review also exposed the Hungarian government’s poor record on investigating racially-motivated crimes; the continued attacks on the independence of the country’s judiciary, including the Constitutional Court; and the government’s abysmal record on investigating domestic violence.

The fairly strong language used by a number of delegations – rarely heard during the review of a European nation – reflects the gravity of Hungary’s authoritarian backslide since its previous review in 2011.

It also highlights the contrast with just how muted the European Union’s response has been.

The European Commission should finally trigger its “rule-of-law” mechanism on Hungary and urge the government to respect its international obligations and bring its policies in line with Europe’s. The world is watching. 

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