“Hungary faces many interconnected human rights challenges,” said today Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, after her five-day visit to Hungary last week. “The space for the work of NGOs, human rights defenders and journalists critical of the government has become very narrow and restricted.”
Human rights defenders and civil society organisations have been subjected to smear campaigns and targeted legislation on foreign funding, the promotion of migration and punitive taxes, to curtail their activities. “Taken as a whole, the legislative package reducing NGO space exercises a continuous chilling effect on the human rights work of civil society organisations and discourages them from carrying out their regular activities,” the Commissioner points out. “The government should reverse its worrying course affecting the human rights protection system in the country, repeal the harmful legislation, and restore an enabling environment conducive to the valuable work of human rights defenders, NGOs and independent media as necessary in democratic societies,” she says.
The Commissioner also noted the backsliding in women’s rights and gender equality in Hungary. Only 12.6% of members of the Parliament are women and Hungary holds the second last place in the 2017 Gender Equality Index of the European Institute for Gender Equality. “Hungary should take positive measures to improve gender equality and increase women’s participation in decision-making in all sectors.”
Hungary has not yet ratified the Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women although it is in the process of extending the network of support services addressing the problem. 28% of women aged 15 or over in Hungary have experienced physical or sexual violence. While in Budapest, the Commissioner visited a shelter for women victims of violence and talked with its residents and staff. “There is an urgent need to raise awareness of violence against women in Hungary. The ratification of the Istanbul Convention would be an essential step towards a comprehensive response to violence against women and girls.”
Currently, it is extremely difficult to gain refugee status in Hungary. The Commissioner is concerned that very few asylum seekers are able to apply for international protection, and that applications are practically always rejected due to a new inadmissibility ground introduced through legislation in June 2018. Asylum-seekers, including children, are systematically detained with the exception of unaccompanied minors under 14 years of age. The Commissioner visited unaccompanied children in the Károly István Children’s Centre in Fót. She commended the important work carried out by the staff and encouraged the authorities to build on and expand the use of the positive approaches applied by the centre in the reception and personal development of vulnerable young refugees.
“In Hungary, asylum seekers are unable to exercise their right to apply for refugee protection guaranteed under international and European law. The government should open access to a regular asylum procedure, lift the unjustifiable ‘crisis situation due to mass migration’ and stop detaining asylum seekers in the transit zones at the border. The systematic detention of asylum seekers in Hungary raises issues about due process. I also urge the Hungarian authorities to refrain from using anti-migrant rhetoric and campaigns which fan xenophobic reactions among the population."
Hungary is in the process of setting up a new separate system of administrative courts which will rule on cases related to the public authorities. The Commissioner is concerned about the strong powers the executive will have in establishing and running the new administrative judiciary and stresses the need for further safeguards. “Hungary should seek means of reinforcing collective judicial self-governance as a safeguard for the independence of the judiciary,” says the Commissioner.
The Commissioner’s report on her visit to Hungary is forthcoming.