Human Rights Developments

Hungary maintained a generally acceptable level of human rights protection for many of its citizens in 1997. Despite Hungary's acceptance into NATO and a decision by the European Union to begin membership talks, both decisions reflecting the general perception that Hungary had made significant strides toward democracy and the protection of human rights, a number of human rights violations continued to plague the country during 1997. The Roma minority continued to face widespread discrimination, especially in housing, education, and employment, as well as ill-treatment by the police. In addition, reports of police brutality and violations of due process continued to surface during the year. The Hungarian government's efforts to address these violations were only minimally effective. In 1997, the Roma (Gypsy) continued to encounter both governmental and societal discrimination. Most Roma continued to live in ghettoized communities segregated from the majority of Hungarians. This situation reflects the consequences of housing and settlement policies during the communist era, but it is also the result of ongoing discrimination in housing and employment. The Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minority Rights reported that from July 1, 1995, until the time of this printing, about 68 percent of all complaints submitted to the ombudsman were complaints filed by Roma. Many of these complaints focused on housing discrimination by the local self-governments. Roma also continued to face pervasive discrimination in employment and education. In some areas of eastern Hungary, the unemployment rate among Roma men reached 80 percent. In many school districts, Roma children continued to attend separate classes. In June 1997, in the town of Tiszavasvári, Roma and Hungarian graduating students held separate graduation parties because the Roma children were considered by the parents to be lice-infested, misbehaved, and dirty. The minister of culture and education, Balint Magyar, initiated an investigation, but as of this writing had issued no findings. Numerous racially motivated attacks against Roma were reported in 1997. On April 26, 1997, thirty Roma teenagers accompanied by three adults were attacked by skinheads during a trip to Kismaros. One young Roma was hospitalized. The investigation by the Vác police turned up no suspects. In another incident in Satoraaljaujhely, in northeastern Hungary, the local authorities decided to force Roma to leave the town. Using euphemisms such as "certain people" who are "unable to live in towns" to denote the Roma, the local authorities announced that they would force these people to leave the town even if it required using illegal means. Jeno Kaltenbach, the ombudsman for minority rights, investigated the matter and, on September 26, 1997, asked the local authorities to withdraw their decision. The local authorities unanimously rejected his request. Roma continued to report being excluded from some public establishments. However, in a landmark case, the Hungarian courts for the first time found in favor of a Roma man who was discriminated against in a public establishment. Mr. Gyula Goma, a Roma man, who had been refused service in a bar because he was a "Gypsy," sued the owners of the establishment. In January 1997, he won both a criminal and civil case against the bar. At the time of this printing, the civil case was on appeal. In late July 1997, the government approved a comprehensive plan—developed jointly with Roma associations—intended to improve welfare and health conditions, provide work, and increase the number of young Roma in education. Police abuses remained a serious problem throughout Hungary. Despite the government's public condemnation of police brutality and its promises to prosecute such abuses, reports of physical violence by the police, of interrogation under duress, and of illegal arrests remained high. Although regulations applying to police lockups comply with European standards, the regulations were often ignored. For example, detainees were often denied adequate medical treatment, suspects were often not allowed to use the phone to call lawyers or families, and suspects' correspondence was monitored. Human rights organizations reported that Roma were particularly likely to be the victims of police abuse. There were numerous cases of Roma being subjected to longer periods of detention and sentenced for longer periods of time than non-Roma. Victims of police abuse were often unable to obtain an adequate remedy for such abuse. Only 3 percent of cases brought against the police led to a conviction. In those few cases in which the police were convicted, the penalty was usually a fine, probation, or a suspended sentence, and the police officer typically remained on the force. In May, the parliament passed a law on the processing and protection of medical and related personal data. This bill, which allowed the police to examine individuals' medical records in the name of crime prevention, was criticized by NGOs for violating the right to privacy.

The Right to Monitor

Human rights monitoring was generally unimpeded, although some human rights organizations reported attempted intimidation and harassment by the police. Police occasionally used their authority to search premises for illegal workers and to enter into the offices of human rights organizations and disrupt their activities.

The Role of the International Community


In recognition of the important steps Hungary has taken to build a strong democracy based on the rule of law and protection of human rights, it was admitted into NATO during the first round of expansion. In July, the European Commission also recommended starting E.U. membership talks with Hungary. The European Commission, however, also pointed out that in order for Hungary to become a full member of the E.U., it had to improve minority rights for the Roma population, including better judicial recourse for abuses. In December 1996, the Hungarian parliament ratified its treaty with Romania to permit the development of friendly relations and full respect for the minorities of each country. This was followed by the two countries exchanging consulates, numerous visits of high ranking officials between each country, and a growing atmosphere of cooperation and reduction of tensions between the two countries.

United States

Relations between Hungary and the United States remained good in 1997. The Hungary chapter of the U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996 was accurate, and the United States was a leading force behind Hungary's admission into NATO.
This report covers events of 1997

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