Council of Europe: Hungary faces human rights challenges

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović has said that Hungary faces many interconnected human rights challenges.

“The space for the work of NGOs, human rights defenders and journalists critical of the government has become very narrow and restricted,” said Mrs Mijatović at the end of a five-day visit to the country.

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 said. “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.”

The commissioner also noted the backsliding in women’s rights and gender equality in Hungary. Only 12.6 per cent of MPs are women and Hungary has the second worst record 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,” added the commissioner.

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. More than 28 per cent of women aged 15 or over in Hungary have experienced physical or sexual violence. “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,” said Mrs Mijatović.

The commissioner also expressed concern 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.

“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,” she said.

in the latest edition of the Freedom of the World report, published by Freedom House, Hungary was downgraded from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’.

“Hungary’s status declined due to sustained attacks on the country’s democratic institutions by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, which has used its parliamentary super-majority to impose restrictions on or assert control over the opposition, the media, religious groups, academia, NGOs, the courts, asylum seekers, and the private sector since 2010,” states the report.