Formally condemning abuse “would paint a false, negative picture of the police”, says Hungary

November 4, 2016

borosz

“It is unjustified to emphasize in an announcement that the police and those belonging to their ranks, as well as the prison system organization, comply with the most basic requirements governing their activities, and that any possible violations will bring penalties, since this completely goes without saying.” – Hungarian authorities

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published its report today on its most recent visit to Hungary between October 21-27, 2015. The CPT delegation visited several detention centers for foreigners, police detention facilities and a prison, as well as two so-called “transit zones” at the border with Serbia, in order to “examine the treatment and conditions of detention of foreign nationals deprived of their liberty as well as the legal safeguards offered to them.”

The delegation conducted its unannounced inspections during what the report calls “an unprecedented influx of foreign nationals in Hungary” in the summer and fall of 2015. The CPT report acknowledges the particular challenges faced by Hungarian authorities in the context of the migrant crisis, “but emphasises that the situation cannot absolve the authorities from their international human rights obligations as regards the treatment of foreign nationals deprived of their liberty.”

The executive summary of the report states that the delegation received generally good cooperation from the national authorities and from the staff of the facilities they visited, and that the majority of detained foreign nationals interviewed by the delegation said they had been treated correctly by police and prison officers and/or armed guards. However, the report notes that a significant number of foreign nationals, including unaccompanied minors, had reported physical ill-treatment by police during apprehension, transfer to police facilities and/or during subsequent police questioning. Verbal abuse and disrespectful behavior were also reported, as well as physical ill-treatment on the part of police or armed guards working in immigrant or asylum detention facilities.

The delegation made a formal recommendation to Hungarian authorities that “a clear message be delivered, through a formal statement from the relevant authorities, to all police officers and all armed guards working in asylum and immigration detention facilities that any form of ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty is unacceptable and will be punished accordingly,”

The Hungarian government, however, rejected the CPT’s recommendation to issue a formal statement condemning physical abuse of asylum-seekers, saying it was unjustified because “it would paint a false, negative picture of the police and of the organization of the prison system.”

“In addition,” continues the government’s lengthy written response to the report, “it is unjustified to emphasize in an announcement that the police and those belonging to their ranks, as well as the prison system organization, comply with the most basic requirements governing their activities, and that any possible violations will bring penalties, since this completely goes without saying.”

The CPT’s report includes further observations on the conditions faced by refugees and asylum-seekers in October of last year. For example:

  • Material conditions in ordinary police holding facilities were on the whole found to be adequate. However, the report makes recommendations for improving the equipment of the cells and the minimum amount of space allowed to persons being held overnight, especially in ad hoc detention facilities like storage containers and garages. The report also raises serious concerns that mothers with young children and unaccompanied minors were held in one of the garages under very cramped conditions for four days before the visit by the CPT, without being offered any outdoor exercise and without being able to take a shower.
  • Material conditions varied considerably in immigration and asylum detention centers. Most were found to be adequate but those at Nagyfa Prison Unit and Unit Kárpát 1 of Kiskunhalas Guarded Shelter raised serious concerns, and the CPT recommended that the Hungarian authorities carry out a complete overhaul of the detention conditions in these establishments.
  • Opportunities for outdoor exercise were severely limited in several of the detention centers, and the CPT recommended the development of regime activities for foreign nationals in all immigration and asylum detention centers.
  • While the CPT characterized its impression of health care at the immigration and asylum detention centers as “generally favorable,” it also found that psychiatric and psychological care was “clearly insufficient” if not non-existent. It recommended that all such care be arranged in all facilities, and made a specific recommendation for guaranteeing the confidentiality of medical examinations.
  • The CPT received complaints from detainees about a lack of information on the right of access to a lawyer, the inability to consult a lawyer before being questioned by the police or before a court hearing, and about a lack of information on the right of access to a doctor. Moreover, many foreign nationals complained about the quality of interpretation services and in particular that they were made to sign documents which they did not understand. The Committee formulated several recommendations to ensure the effective operation in practice of fundamental safeguards against ill-treatment.
  • While the delegation commended efforts to provide information and legal assistance to foreign nationals in immigration and asylum detention, a lack of information on their legal situation and on the future steps in their respective proceedings, and on the length of their detention was perceived by foreign nationals as a major problem in most of the establishments visited. The Committee recommends that all immigration/asylum detainees be fully informed of their situation and the stage of the proceedings in their case.
  • The report raised concerns about the risk of refoulement (forcibly returning detainees to potentially harmful circumstances) due to the legislative framework and its practical application. The CPT found it doubtful that border asylum procedures provided adequate opportunity for foreign nationals to present their case, and whether they involved an individual assessment of the risk of ill-treatment in the case of removal.

It is important to note that these observations were made over a year ago, in October 2015. Most reports of violent mistreatment of refugees, including beatings and use of attack dogs, have been made this year. Increasingly restrictive asylum procedures have left thousands waiting for months in “no-man’s land” between the Serbian and Hungarian borders, or illegally detained in detention centers where they are kept in degrading conditions.