United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Hungary, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3b10.html [accessed 11 December 2013]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
HUNGARY Hungary is a parliamentary democracy with a freely elected legislative assembly. Prime Minister Gyula Horn, the leader of the Hungarian Socialist (formerly Communist) Party, heads a coalition government formed after the 1994 national elections. The state internal and external security services report directly to a minister without portfolio and the police report to the Interior Minister. There continued to be credible reports of police abuses. The Government has demonstrated through its macroeconomic policies and extensive privatization its commitment to the transition to a market economy. About three-fourths of foreign trade is with advanced industrial countries. The private sector generates about 70 percent of the gross domestic product; the Government's goal is 80 percent by the end of 1997. After a fitful start, the Government privatized over $3.5 billion in energy, telecommunications, and banking sector assets during the year. Living standards continued to fall for much of the population; real wages fell 10-11 percent in 1995. Official unemployment is approximately 11 percent, but close to 70 percent for the Romani community. Services, trade, and government employ about 45 percent of the labor force, and industry nearly 30 percent. Major exports include raw materials, semi-finished goods, and chemicals (40 percent); consumer goods (22 percent); and food and agricultural products (20 percent). An estimated 25 percent of the population live in poverty, with elderly pensioners, dependent housewives and children, and Roma being at greatest risk. Although the Government generally respects constitutional human rights and civil liberties, the law does not ensure due process in all cases. Prosecutors may request what amounts to unlimited pretrial detention. Police may enter private residences to check foreigners' identification without warrants. Although senior levels of the Interior Ministry and the National Police were more willing to address problems, police continued to use excessive force against suspects. Despite the print media's relatively high degree of independence, television and most radio stations are government controlled. This allowed the possibility of politically motivated interference in editorial content until a broadcast media law was passed in December. The new law insulates state-owned as well as private media from government interference. Social discrimination against Roma remains a serious problem, and police commonly harass and abuse the Romani population in particular. The number of anti-Semitic and racist attacks continued to fall. Spousal abuse of women is a serious problem, while discrimination affects women in most aspects of daily life.
Respect for Human Rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There was no evidence of any politically motivated killings. Police in Paszto reportedly beat a suspect to death in July. One of the officers was dismissed, three were suspended, and the police commander resigned. A criminal investigation is underway.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
No known incidents of torture occurred. However, a police officer severely beat a soldier who told a joke about police officers. Police also continued to harass and physically abuse Roma. In one incident in Marcali in January, police beat an 18-year-old and then severely beat his father when he came to complain. Police continued to use excessive force against suspects. In one incident in July, a person was pulled from his car and slammed repeatedly against it after being stopped for a traffic infraction. In another July incident, a person was beaten after complaining when stopped by the police. The National Police have stiffened internal controls over the past several years. Of some 36,000 officers, 158 were found guilty of misconduct and removed from the force in 1994. Of those, 38 were found guilty of physically abusing suspects. In the first half of 1995, 48 officers were removed from the force, of whom 8 were found guilty of physically abusing suspects. According to a report by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee regarding police misconduct, "...(it) takes place every day, though the public is only informed by chance, only in conspicuous cases. Guilty police officers are very rarely condemned, and the majority of the officers suspected of such crimes remain on duty." Though prisons are overcrowded, conditions meet minimum international standards and the government permits visits by human rights monitors.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Police must inform suspects upon arrest of the charges against them and may hold them for a maximum of 72 hours before filing charges. The law requires that all suspects be allowed access to counsel prior to questioning and throughout all subsequent proceedings. The authorities must provide counsel for juveniles, the indigent, and the mentally disabled. There are credible reports that police do not always allow access to counsel, particularly for minor crimes. There is no bail system; however, depending upon the nature of the crime, courts may release detainees upon their own recognizance. Pretrial detention, based on a warrant issued by a judge, is initially limited to 1 year while criminal investigations are in progress; it may be extended indefinitely on the prosecutor's motion (provided the judge concurs). The lack of a bail system gives tremendous leeway to the judge. In addition, foreigners are considered likely to flee Hungary, which means that they are usually held until the trial. One American citizen was released in 1995 after having been held in pretrial detention for over 18 months. Charges were ultimately dropped for lack of evidence. In such cases, the law provides for compensation where the accused is released for lack of evidence, but the procedure is rarely exercised as victims must file a complaint before a court and undergo a complicated legal procedure. The penal code does not provide for exile, and it is not employed.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision in practice. The judiciary provides citizens with a fair, though sometimes slow, process. Under the Constitution, the courts are responsible for the administration of justice, with the Supreme Court exercising control over the operations and judicature of all the courts. There are three levels of courts. Original jurisdiction in most matters rests with the local courts. Appeals of their rulings may be made to county courts or to the Budapest municipal court, all of which also have original jurisdiction in some matters. The highest level of appeal is the Supreme Court, whose decisions on nonconstitutional issues are binding. In the case of military trials, appeals may also be addressed to the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Court is charged with reviewing the constitutionality of laws and statutes brought before it. Citizens may appeal directly to the Constitutional Court if they believe that their constitutional rights have been violated. Parliament elects the Court's members to 9-year terms, which may be renewed. No judge or member of the Supreme or Constitutional Courts may belong to a political party or engage in political activity. Although the Government has alleged that judges' political attitudes have affected decisions, these charges are undercut by unanimous decisions in the most controversial cases, with judges appointed by the current Government siding with those appointed by the current opposition. The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and the authorities respect this right in practice. In selected cases, however, judges may agree to a closed trial to protect the accused or the crime victim, such as in some rape cases. There is no jury system; hence judges are the final arbiters. Military trials follow civil law and may be closed if national security or moral grounds so justify. In all cases, sentencing must take place publicly. Defendants are entitled to counsel during all phases of criminal proceedings and are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Judicial proceedings are generally investigative rather than adversarial in nature. Many human rights and Romani organizations claim that Roma receive less than equal treatment in the judicial process. Specifically, they allege that Roma are kept in pretrial detention more often and for longer periods of time than non-Roma. While this allegation is credible in light of general discrimination against Roma, there is no statistical evidence because official records do not contain the ethnic identity of offenders. In the absence of a law against hate crimes, skinhead assaults against minorities continue to be treated as hooliganism (a misdemeanor), and sentences are light. There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law provides that the prosecutor's office may issue search warrants independently. Police must carry out house searches in the presence of two witnesses and must prepare a written inventory of items removed from the premises. Wiretapping, which may be done for national security reasons and for legitimate criminal investigations, requires a court's permission. These provisions appear to be observed in practice.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. One Budapest daily is still partially state owned (the Government is trying to sell it and is not thought to interfere in its editorial content). The print media enjoy considerable freedom. Parliament passed a media law in December creating institutions to foster a free and independent electronic media. The law provides for privatization of major television and radio stations and removal of remaining public televison and radio from the direct control of the government. At present, there is one private national radio station and one national radio station in which the Government maintains a minority share. There are no private national television stations. In 1995 state-owned Hungarian Radio and Hungarian Television continued to enjoy a near monopoly of nationwide broadcasting, and the Prime Minister controlled their budgets. While some limited-range local television licenses were issued, partisan political wrangling and, less importantly, pressures from television and radio unions and employee associations continued to block the availability of national broadcast frequencies and the privatization of existing state channels. (However, over half of the country's households have access to satellite television, cable, or both.)
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
There are essentially no restrictions on peaceful public gatherings. In general, the Government does not require permits for assembly except in instances when a public gathering is to take place near sensitive installations, such as military facilities, embassies, and key government buildings. Police may sometimes alter or revoke permits, but there is no evidence that they abuse this right. Any 10 or more persons may form an association, provided that it does not commit criminal offenses or disturb the rights of others. Associations with charters and elected officers must register with the courts.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and members of all faiths are allowed to practice their religion freely. There is no officially preferred religion, but only officially approved religions receive state subsides. The Government distributed over $28 million in state subsidies among approximately three dozen religious groups. Religious orders and schools have regained some property confiscated by the Communist regime.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are no restrictions on the movement of citizens within or outside Hungary, including on the rights of emigration and repatriation. The Government may delay but not deny emigration for those who have significant court-assessed debts or who possess state secrets. It requires that foreigners from countries that do not have a visa waiver agreement with Hungary obtain exit visas each time they leave the country, although blanket permission is sometimes available. The fighting in the former Yugoslavia resulted in a continued flow of refugees into Hungary. While approximately 8,500 refugees from the former Yugoslavia are registered in Hungary, the Government estimates that over 20,000 more are present in unregistered status. Most of the refugees are in private housing, with only 2,830 (as of September) housed in 4 refugee camps. Hungary is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and to the 1967 Protocol, with a caveat that it will grant refugee status only to European nationals. Prospective refugees who seek only to transit to Western Europe are encouraged to return to their countries of departure. For most of 1995, illegal aliens, mostly non-European, were housed at the detention center at Kerepestarcsa pending either deportation or qualification for resettlement in a third country. The determination is made by the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While police seek the timely deportation of detainees who do not qualify for refugee status, a shortage of funds and the detainees' lack of proper documentation, such as passports, often result in lengthy stays. As a result of extensive criticism from domestic and international human rights groups as well as the UNHCR, the Kerepestarcsa camp was closed in September. Foreigners denied refugee status, or who are simply in Hungary illegally, are either returned to their country of origin or held at border guard facilities throughout Hungary.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens age 18 and over have the right to change their government through national elections held at least every 4 years. The Parliament's members are elected through a complex voting procedure for individuals and party lists. In the 1994 national elections, Prime Minister Gyula Horn's Hungarian Socialist Party won an absolute majority and formed a coalition Government with the Liberal Alliance of Free Democrats. Four parties, ranging from moderate to conservative, constitute an active opposition in Parliament. There are no legal impediments to women's participation in government or the political process; 43 of 386 parliamentary deputies are women. There are few women in leadership positions in the Government or the political parties. Several minorities are represented in Parliament.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Numerous human rights organizations operate without government restriction or interference. Many nongovernmental organizations report that the Government is generally responsive to their requests for information. However, individual police units are reportedly uncooperative at times, particularly in cases involving Roma. There is also a 25-member parliamentary Committee for Human, Minority, and Religious Rights.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for individual rights, equality, and protection against discrimination, but in practice discrimination still exists, particularly against Roma.
Spousal abuse is believed to be common but the vast majority of such abuse is not reported, and victims who step forward often receive little help from authorities. While there are laws against rape, it is often unreported for cultural reasons. Police attitudes towards victims of sexual abuse reportedly are often unsympathetic, particularly if the victim was acquainted with her aggressor. According to women's organizations, the vast majority of rape and abuse cases go unreported. Rape within marriage is illegal, but proving it is extremely difficult in practice. According to the National Alliance of Hungarian Women, there were 414 reported rapes in 1995 and 271 reported cases of assaults on women (the latter is a 1994 statistic). Legally, women have the same rights as men, including identical inheritance and property rights. While there is no overt discrimination against women, the number of women in middle or upper managerial positions in business and government is low. Women are heavily represented in the judiciary and in the medical and teaching professions. The law does not prohibit sexual harassment in the work place. A report prepared under the auspices of the U.N. in evaluating Hungarian compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women termed sexual harassment in the workplace as "virtually epidemic." Women's groups report that making women aware of their rights is a major problem and specifically criticized state-owned television's only partial reinstatement of a program about women's issues.
The Government is committed to children's rights. Education is mandatory through age 16, and employment is illegal below age 16. There is no societal pattern of child abuse. According to the National Alliance of Hungarian Women, there were 528 reported cases of violence against children in 1994 (latest available), 190 of which took place within the family.
People With Disabilities
The Government does not mandate accessibility to buildings or government services for people with disabilities. Services for the disabled are limited, and most buildings are not wheelchair accessible.
There were few anti-Semitic incidents (almost all graffiti). There were no attacks by skinheads or neo-Nazi sympathizers against the Jewish community. In December, police arrested a man carrying a Molotov cocktail outside the main Budapest synagogue.
The 1993 law on ethnic and minority rights establishes the concept of collective rights of minorities and states that minorities need special rights in order to preserve their ethnic identities. It explicitly permits organized forms of limited self-government in areas where ethnic groups constitute a majority and states that the establishment of self-governing bodies must be made possible in localities where an ethnic group constitutes less than a majority of the population. Further, this law permits associations, movements and political parties based upon an ethnic or national character and mandates unrestricted use of ethnic languages. Only those ethnic groups which have lived within the country's present borders for at least 100 years and whose members are citizens may obtain recognized status under this law. On this basis, the law specifically grants minority status to 13 ethnic or national groups. Other groups may petition the Chairman of Parliament for inclusion if they comprise at least 1,000 citizens and have their own language and culture. In December 1994 Hungary held its first elections for minority local self-governments, which resulted in the formation of over 600 minority local bodies. With funding from the central budget and logistical support from local governments, these bodies have as their primary responsibility influencing and overseeing local matters affecting the minorities. In 1995 these groups elected national minority self-governments, whose effectiveness has varied. Some have been aggressive and effective, while some have been without purpose and moribund. The non-Roma minorities appear to be the most satisfied, while Romani leaders express frustration with the self-governments' lack of clear authority, responsibility, or resources. The greatest value is that it gives a platform for minorities to address local and national government organizations. The greatest weakness is that the Government is compelled to listen, but not to act. In 1995 Parliament appointed an Ombudsman--currently an ethnic German--specifically charged with defending minority rights. The office, however, does not include any Roma, the largest minority group. Roma constitute at least 4 percent of the population, and Germans, the second largest minority group, about 2 percent. There are smaller communities of Slovaks, Croats, Romanians, Poles, Greeks, Serbs, Slovenes, Armenians, Ruthenians, and Bulgarians, all of which are also recognized as minorities. Education is available to varying degrees in almost all minority languages. There are minority-language print media, and the state-run radio broadcasts 2-hour daily programs in the mother tongue of major nationalities, i.e., Slovak, Romanian, German, Croatian, and Serbian. State-run television carries a 30-minute program for the larger minority groups, complemented by 5-minute weekly news bulletins. Conditions of life within the Romani community are significantly poorer than among the general population. Roma suffer from discrimination and racist attacks and are considerably less educated, with lower than average incomes and life expectancy. The Romani unemployment rate is estimated to be 70 percent, more than six times the national average of 11 percent. With unemployment benefits exhausted and inadequate social services, there are reports that Romani families, including young children, are forced to resort to stealing food. Roma also constitute a majority of the prison population. The Government sponsors programs both to preserve Romani languages and cultural heritage and to assist social and economic assimilation. Nonetheless, widespread popular prejudice continues. Police commonly abuse Roma. The Martin Luther King Organization (MLKO), which documents assaults on foreigners of color, recorded 7 such incidents in 1995, down from 16 in 1994, 20 in 1993 and 78 in 1992. MLKO sources commented, however, that they believe many cases go unreported and that the decline in attacks is primarily due to the lower number of foreign students in Hungary.
Section 6 Workers Rights
a. The Right of Association
The 1992 Labor Code recognizes the right of unions to organize and bargain collectively and permits trade union pluralism. Workers have the right to associate freely, choose representatives, publish journals, and openly promote members' interests and views. With the exception of military personnel and the police, they also have the right to strike. Under a separate 1992 law, public servants may negotiate working conditions, but the final decision on increasing salaries rests with Parliament. There are no restrictions on trade union contacts with international organizations, and unions have developed a wide range of ties with European and international trade union bodies. The largest labor union organization is the National Confederation of Hungarian Trade Unions, the successor to the former monolithic Communist union, with over 800,000 members. The Democratic League of Independent Unions and the Federation of Workers' Councils have around 250,000 and 150,000 members respectively.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The Labor Code permits collective bargaining at the enterprise and industry level, although the practice is not widespread and is actively discouraged in the growing private sector. There is a willingness among labor organizations to cooperate with one another, and this is particularly evident in their relationship in forums such as the National Interest Reconciliation Council (ET), which provides a forum for tripartite consultation among representatives from management, employees, and the Government. The ET discusses issues such as wage hikes and the setting of the minimum wage, which is centrally negotiated within the ET in order to control inflation. Individual trade unions and management may negotiate higher levels (but not a lower one) at the plant level. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for drafting labor-related legislation, while special labor courts enforce labor laws. The decisions of these courts may be appealed to the civil court system. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against unions and their organizers. The Ministry of Labor enforces this provision. There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and the Ministry of Labor enforces this prohibition.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The National Labor Center enforces the minimum age of 16 years, with exceptions for apprentice programs, which may begin at 15. There does not appear to be any significant abuse of this statute. Education is compulsory through age 16. Roma are far more likely than non-Roma to stop attending school before age 16.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The ET establishes the legal minimum wage, which is subsequently implemented by Ministry of Labor decree. The current minimum wage, $95 a month (12,200 forints), is insufficient to provide an adequate standard of living for workers and their families. Many workers, therefore, supplement their primary employment with second jobs. The Labor Code specifies various conditions of employment, including termination procedures, severance pay, maternity leave, trade union consultation rights in some management decisions, annual and sick leave entitlement, and labor conflict resolution procedures. Under the Code, the official workday is set at 8 hours; it may vary, however, depending upon the nature of the industry. A 24-hour rest period is required during any 7-day period. Labor courts and the Ministry of Labor enforce occupational safety standards set by the Government, but specific safety conditions are not generally up to internationally accepted standards. Enforcement of occupational safety standards is not always effective in part due to the limited resources the Ministry of Labor is able to commit to enforcement. In theory, workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.