Amnesty International: Hostile attitude towards human rights inched westward with legislation in Hungary

February 24, 2018

Migránsok a Röszkei határátkelőnél
Migrants at Hungary’s southern border barrier in September 2015 | Photo:árton Magócsi

The systematic crackdown on the rights of refugees and migrants in Hungary continued, while foreign-funded universities and NGOs faced new restrictions, according to Amnesty International’s 2017/18 State of the World’s Human Rights report.

In the report, the international human rights watchdog recalls the European Commission launched and moved forward with four formal infringement proceedings against Hungary in 2017.

More than a quarter of the Hungarian population remained at risk of poverty and social exclusion and 16% were severely materially deprived.

Treatment of migrants and asylum-seekers 

The report notes that the government continued to severely restrict access to the country for refugees and asylum-seekers, limiting admission to its two operational border “transit zones”. As a result, between 6,000 and 8,000 people were left in inadequate conditions in Serbia, in substandard camps and at risk of homelessness and of refoulement further south to Macedonia and Bulgaria. The report also recalls that the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the confinement of asylum-seekers in “transit zones”, essentially heavily guarded container camps at Hungary’s external land borders, amounted to arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Hungary failed to provide adequate protection against a real risk of inhuman and degrading treatment due to the poor conditions and lack of available legal remedies in “transit zones”.

Despite nearly 500 asylum-seekers being unlawfully detained at the border at the end of 2017, authorities denied or provided extremely limited access to human rights monitors and NGOs providing legal aid.

Abuse by authorities

The report highlights that last year more than 20,000 people were summarily and sometimes violently returned to Serbia or otherwise prevented from entering Hungary without access to fair and efficient asylum processes and an examination of their protection needs.

Citing conservative print daily Magyar Nemzet, the report states that more than 40 investigations had been launched into instances of excessive use of force by police at the border over a period of 18 months, but that most of the investigations were closed without further action.

The report also sums up the events of the Ahmed H. “terrorist-trial” highlighting how Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt appealed the decision of the appeals court ordering retrial after the first-degree court had sentenced the Syrian defendant to 10 years imprisonment for allegedly committing “acts of terror”.

Freedom of association

The report notes that, according to the European Commission, the modification of the higher education law (also known as “lex CEU”), which introduced new requirements for foreign universities operating in Hungary under an extremely tight deadline, is incompatible with fundamental EU freedoms, including the freedom to provide services, the freedom of establishment, and academic freedom.

Regarding the similarly controversial “NGO law” that obliges NGOs receiving more than HUF 7.2 million (USD 28,300) of foreign donations in a given year to register themselves as “foreign-funded”, the report recalls that according to the European Commission, the measures are at odds with the right to freedom of association and unjustified and disproportionate restrictions on the free movement of capital, and raised concerns in relation to the obligation of protecting private life and personal data.

Violence against women 

Although the report does not cite exact figures about domestic violence in Hungary, it does note that the #metoo campaign sparked a national debate on the recognition and prosecution of rape and other forms of sexual violence. The report also notes that Hungary had yet to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, and prosecutions of these crimes remained limited.