UN Special Rapporteur on Hungary says government harassing civil society

February 17, 2016

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“Drastic constitutional changes in Hungary have resulted in the weakened constitutional court and the centralization and tightening of government’s control over the judiciary, the media, religious organizations and other spheres of public life directly or indirectly affecting human rights.”

United Nations Special Rapporteur Michel Forst just finished up a nine-day visit to Hungary, over the course of which he met Hungarian officials, judges, the ombudsman for human rights, members of parliament, diplomats and activists.

At a press conference held Tuesday to summarize his visit, Forst said “human rights defenders in Hungary are increasingly working in a rather polarized and politicized environment.”

According to Forst, the government is attempting to de-legitimize defenders and undermine their peaceful and legitimate activities through criminal defamation and excessive administrative and financial pressure.

Forst said the adoption or modification of a thousand laws over the past five years had debilitated “a well-functioning democracy and gradually removed important checks on the executive branch.”

He said “drastic constitutional changes in Hungary have resulted in the weakened constitutional court and the centralization and tightening of government’s control over the judiciary, the media, religious organizations and other spheres of public life, directly or indirectly affecting human rights.”

According to Forst, many of these infringements also impact the rights of human rights activists. Numerous individuals had informed him that civilians who raised awareness about human rights abuses were being labelled as “foreign agents and political activists.”

“In the context of the refugee crisis and the excessively manipulated fear of the ‘other’ in society, defenders face public criticism by government officials, stigmatisation in the media, unwarranted inspections and reduction of state funding,” Forst said.

The human rights expert regretted that “the scope of dialogue between civil society and decision-makers has been steadily shrinking, and authorities have displayed growing lack of interest in such dialogue, especially when it entails an exchange of dissenting views.”

Forst called on the Hungarian government to cease intimidating human rights activists and to start supporting the work of representatives of civil society. The government should act in the interest of facilitating a dialogue with civil society.

The full text of the report can be read here.