Human Rights Developments

A new government, formed on July 8, 1998, and led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban of the Federation of Young Democrats/Hungarian Civic Forum, took responsibility for the continuing legacy of discrimination against Roma and routine police abuse that threatened to undermine Hungary's progress in guaranteeing human rights in the post-communist period. The persistence of these abuses in 1998 led domestic human rights groups to criticize both the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for concluding accession agreements with Hungary in the face of strong evidence of Hungary's failure to protect minorities and to hold police accountable for human rights violations. Official statements enforcing stereotypes about "gypsies" fueled anti-Roma sentiment in 1998. On January 30, 1998, seven Hungarian human rights groups addressed a public letter to parliament and then-Prime Minister Gyula Horn protesting a public appearance in which Horn accused Roma communities of embracing criminal elements. Addressing the congress of the Lungo DromNational Gypsy Interest Association in Szolnok on January 16, 1998, Horn had noted that Roma communities display strong internal solidarity but added, "It is undesirable...that this solidarity extends even to law-breakers. The gypsy community should also dissociate itself from crime." The protest letter criticized Horn for fostering prejudice against Roma and possibly even encouraging discrimination against them. The groups, including the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, claimed that "In democratic countries, this is called inciting racist sentiments." On April 2, 1998, the daily Blikk (Budapest) reported that Vera Pacs, mayor of Isaszeg, had ordered an eighteen-member Roma family to leave the town stating that there were two types of Roma: "the good-for-nothing type and the completely wretched type." The refusal to permit the family to remain came after the December 1997 stabbing of an ethnic Hungarian by a Roma man and amidst growing anti-Roma sentiment in the town. The family later moved. Official tolerance for discrimination against Roma gave some authorities license to take increasingly tough measures to keep Roma out of their communities. The forced relocation of thirteen Roma families who had been illegally occupying the "Radio Street 11" building in Szekesfehervar resulted in widespread anti-Roma rhetoric and action beginning in December 1997. The mayor of Patka, Karoly Hedlicska, reportedly gathered close to 1,000 signatures in support of keeping Roma families from Szekesfehervar—who had purchased or were interested in purchasing homes in Patka—out of the town. The mayors of forty-three Fejer County towns and villages in Hungary reportedly met and drafted a resolution that Szekesfehervar should keep its own "gypsies" and not export them to surrounding communities. On January 8, 1998, the Szekesfehervar government announced that the Roma families would be able to remain in the temporary accommodations they occupied after being removed from the Radio Street 11 building, and the mayor told Reuters that he hoped to find flats for the families. On April 9, 1998, the Roma Press Center reported that the practice of barring entrance of Roma to popular discos continued in many nightclubs in Bekescaba. In December 1997, the Local Gypsy Self-Government in Bekescaba complained to local authorities about the lack of access to public establishments. Officials responded that they could not restrict the operation of private enterprises without a valid court decision. Local police stated that while discrimination against Roma is against the law, they had no right to force the owners to serve Roma. In April 1998, Imre Furmann, the director of the Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities, announced that the police do have the legal means to act against club owners. Citing the Law on the Police, which states that the police can arrest a person who continues to commit a minor offense after being warned, and the Law on Consumer Protection, which requires local trade departments issuing licenses for the sale of alcohol to monitor the protection law's anti-discrimination clause, Furmann said that officials could halt discrimination against Roma in access to public establishments in Bekescaba. Police brutality remained a significant human rights problem in Hungary. A joint survey by the Constitutional and Law Policy Institute and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee released on December 22, 1997, concluded that detainees at police stations were often held in substandard conditions and subjected to physical and psychological violence. With cooperation from the Hungarian Interior Ministry, monitors from the two groups were permitted access to police stations without advance notice. The group concluded that physical mistreatment was common and that foreigners, minors, and Roma were increasingly exposed to police violence.

Defending Human Rights

Growing activism by domestic human rights groups on behalf of Roma has ensured that the Hungarian government will be held publicly accountable for its failure to secure rights guarantees for minorities. On July 2, 1998, Marton Ill, director of the Hungarian Centre for the Defense of Human Rights, was stopped on his way to a court appearance in Budapest. After producing his identity documents, Ill asked for a letter from the police explaining the delay to the court. The police colonel handcuffed Ill and placed him in a police car where he was reportedly beaten unconscious. Ill lodged an official complaint and planned on filing a criminal complaint against the colonel.

The Role of the International Community

United Nations

In June 1998, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child criticized the Hungarian government for its failure to eliminate discriminatory practices targeting Roma children. The committee's rebuke followed a condemnatory public statement on March 3, 1998, by the Hungarian Ombudsman for National and Ethnic Minority Rights Jeno Kaltenbach concerning the results of his recent study on minority education. Kaltenbach stated that minority education in the country was "professionally chaotic and legally hazy." Citing disparities in textbook distribution, segregation of minority students, and teacher apathy toward minorities, Kaltenbach's study concluded that "discrimination in educational institutions affects almost exclusively Roma at several levels."

European Union

The Accession Partnership Agreement between the European Union and Hungary, which was concluded on March 25, 1998, required Hungary to "ensure justice and protection for the Roma" for admission to the E.U. Although the agreement required Hungary to show improvement in the treatment of Roma by the end of 1998, discrimination and anti-Roma violence continued unabated.

NATO

On December 16, 1997, NATO concluded an accession agreement with Hungary. Hungary is expected to be admitted as a full member to the defense alliance under the current government. Accession talks continued as of November.

United States

The Hungary section of the U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1997 catalogued persistent problems with police abuse, including harassment, excessive use of force, and physical abuse of detainees; disparate treatment of Roma in the judicial process; lack of cooperation from police and prosecutors in cases involving Roma or police abuse; ongoing discrimination against Roma in housing, education, and employment; and general impunity for spousal abuse and sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The U.S. budgeted an estimated U.S.$19.3 million in assistance to Hungary for 1998, the majority of which was slated to finance upgraded military equipment and military training in anticipation of Hungary's accession to NATO. Human rights organizations expressed concern that this upgrade would leave Hungary with obsolete weapons that might then be sold to abusive regimes in other parts of the world.
Comments:
This report covers events of 1998

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