“The Hungarian Government bills submitted to Parliament last week comprising proposals to amend the Constitution and other legislative instruments may have serious adverse effects on human rights in the country”, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović today. “I fear that several proposals contained in the complex legislative package, submitted without prior consultation and relating to matters including the functioning of the judiciary, election law, national human rights structures, scrutiny over public funds, and the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people, could serve to undermine democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Hungary.”
A major reform of the national human rights infrastructure is being examined in Parliament, consisting of a proposal to merge the Equal Treatment Authority with the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman institution). While member states have some discretion to organise their national human rights structures as they see fit, it is crucial that in doing so they respect fundamental principles agreed on at international level, especially the need to guarantee and respect the independence and effectiveness of such bodies. I note that the Equal Treatment Authority is a well-functioning institution, which has rendered important decisions for the fight against discrimination over recent years, whereas the Ombudsman institution’s re-accreditation as a Status A Institution by the UN Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions was deferred in October 2019. Doubts remained about the appointment process of the incumbent and the adequacy of the Institution’s efforts to address all human rights issues and speak out in a manner that promotes and protects all human rights.
Some of the proposed amendments may also further undermine the independence of the judiciary, which has already been eroded over the last decade. The proposal to further enhance the powers of the President of the Kúria, Hungary’s Supreme Court, raises particular concerns, especially in view of recent changes to the appointment procedure. I refer in this context to my earlier recommendation on the need to strengthen collective judicial self-governance in Hungary, including the position and functions of the National Judicial Council.
Lastly, I am alarmed by the apparent escalation of the stigmatisation of LGBTI people and the manipulation of their dignity and rights for political gain. This includes proposals to impose further limitations on the possibility for all single adults or those in registered partnerships to adopt children by making such requests subject to the exceptional authorisation of the Minister for Family Affairs.
Such far-reaching legislative proposals, particularly constitutional amendments, should not be introduced during states of emergency, as was also pointed out by the Venice Commission, because opportunities for meaningful democratic discussion and public scrutiny are restricted during such periods. I therefore call on the Hungarian Parliament to postpone the vote until after the state of emergency is lifted and to engage in broad consultations with the Hungarian public, who will be the first to feel the impact of these changes. I also call for consultation with the Venice Commission prior to a careful reconsideration of the bills to ensure their human rights compliance.