From 21 to 22 November, the Conference of INGOs carried out a fact finding visit in Budapest with a view to assessing the participation of civil society in political decision making and to strengthening the connection with national NGOs in the Member States.
The fact-finding visit was made possible by the logistical support and close collaboration with Transvanilla – a community-based NGO, advocating for the interests of transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex (TGNI) people in Hungary. The diplomatic representation of Hungary to the Council of Europe provided valuable assistance for the meetings with public authorities. During the visit we exchanged with numerous NGOs and with Mr Miklos Soltesz, Minister of State for Churches and Minorities of the Ministry of Human Capacities, Mr Szabolcs Takacs, Minister of State for EU affairs of the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Zsolt Csenger-Zalan MP, member of the PACE delegation and Mr Pal Völner, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs of the Ministry of Justice.
We would like to thank all the interlocutors for their availability and professional exchanges. We noted and welcome several positives initiatives, especially the ongoing process aiming to simplify the registration of new NGOs. We also welcome the Human Rights Round Table and its thematic working groups under the Ministry of Justice which in fact represents the main policy consultation body between the authorities and NGOs. We noted that the authorities will take the necessary steps to revitalize and intensify the work of several of these groups allowing the NGO members to make a greater contribution to an enriched agenda. In all our democracies, it is indispensable to strengthen the participation of NGOs, independent from any political parties, and to ensure meaningful public consultation in the earlier stage of the policy or law-making process.
Freedom of association is not limited to the creation and registration of NGOs, but encompasses their freedom to function and carry out their activities. “NGOs should be free to solicit and receive funding – cash or in-kind donations – not only from public bodies in their own state but also from institutional or individual donors, another state or multilateral agencies …” (CM/Rec(2007)14, paragraph 50). We welcome the information that the Hungarian public authorities do not plan any measures aiming to categorize NGOs benefiting from foreign funding under a “foreign agent” status, which would only promote suspicion and divisions within civil society and not.
In the time of crisis in Europe, anti-discrimination policy and its enforcement should be a priority. This also requires stronger networks, awareness-raising and solidarity amongst the NGOs in order to empower local communities and propose healthy responses to counter discriminatory, populist or nationalist rhetoric. Hungary, in view of its location and the current lack of support for anti-immigration laws, has an opportunity to play a positive role for the access of refugees to human rights including humane treatment, security and respect for basic needs. We welcome the fact that some internationally recognized human rights organizations can and do monitor the situation and assist the refugees, especially as the situation of refugees in transit zones requires special protective measures. We invite the authorities to rely more on the expertise of NGOs in this fieldand to provide a supportive and enabling environment for them to work for the benefit of all.
The Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe is ready to support the measures and work together to strengthen the enabling environment for NGOs in Hungary and reinforce the rights of the persons threatened with discrimination. Our report will contain more information on possible common action.
Thanks for welcoming us in Budapest!