The amazing thing about Viktor Orbán is his ability to sound utterly reasonable, even though we all know that his behavior in the past months has been anything but exemplary. A good example of his dexterous handling of politically dangerous issues was the press conference that he and Manfred Webber, leader of the parliamentary caucus of the European People’s Party, gave this afternoon. His recent line of argument is that he and his government are obeying the rules laid down by the European Union. These rules require that asylum seekers be registered in the first EU country in which they set foot. The migrants who arrive in Hungary already reached the European Union in Greece, and the Greek government acted illegally when it let the refugees go without registering them. On the other hand, Hungary has been judiciously fulfilling its obligations to the letter of the law and has been trying to register everybody.
While Hungary is a law-abiding member of the European community, other countries and Brussels itself have changed the rules of the game without the approval of the European Council of prime ministers. It is basically Germany’s fault that Hungary is experiencing difficulties. And instead of being praised for its efforts, it is being maligned for its allegedly inhumane treatment of the refugees when in fact the Hungarian government is taking good care of them. Because of the failure of the EU to handle the crisis, Hungary, overwhelmed by the onslaught of migrants, must take extraordinary measures to defend its borders.
Doesn’t that sound reasonable? Eminently so, if we didn’t know that the Hungarian government has repeatedly been offered help in handling the registration of refugees at the border, which the Hungarian government has refused to accept. The reason for the refusal is most likely Orbán’s reluctance to allow outsiders to have any say in what Orbán considers an exclusively Hungarian affair. Letters from various agencies offering help were left unanswered, and the United Nation’s Refugee Agency had to wait for weeks for “permission” to send some badly needed tents. We also know that neither relief agencies nor human rights advocates can enter the premises of the registration centers where conditions are rapidly deteriorating. As is the physical and mental well-being of the refugees. An immense amount of money was allocated to Hungary from the EU budget to care for and process the asylum seekers, and only recently Orbán managed to receive another four million euros. Yet, as we know, the government has little to show for this money.
Instead, the Hungarian government is focusing all its efforts on keeping the refugees out of Hungary, not in protecting them. The law that makes illegal border crossing a criminal act took effect on August 1 is in contravention of the Geneva Convention’s rules, which apply in times of armed conflict and seek to protect people who are not taking part in the hostilities. And most likely as of September 15 the refugees will face an even worse situation because, from that date on, a state of emergency will be declared.
On September 4 Sándor Pintér, minister of interior, sent parliament the government’s proposals for the imposition of “a special legal order” to be introduced on September 15. A state of “special legal order” is a state of emergency in which “the exercise of fundamental rights with some exceptions can be suspended,” according to the Hungarian Constitution. These proposals–contained in a 12-page legal text–are available on the parliament’s website. We’ve already discussed some of the provisions, but there are more that should be highlighted.
First, a couple of non-judicial observations. According to the Hungarian police, yesterday Hungarian authorities caught 3,601 people who came across the so-called “green border.” Hungary will probably see similarly high numbers in the next couple of days, especially given the looming threat of the state of emergency with an entirely new set of rules applicable to those seeking refuge.
The 3.5-4.5 m fence is nowhere, although they are working on a gate across the railroad tracks which, I assume, will be closed except when a train is approaching. I understand that the army will not be sent to the border until September 22, perhaps because joint American-Hungarian military exercises will be held in the interim.
After September 15 everyone who is caught crossing the border illegally will be jailed and prosecuted. Justice will be summary. The emphasis will be on speed. All cases will be heard by the Szegedi Járásbíróság and Szegedi Törvényszék. The “járásbíróság” has 12 judges who handle criminal cases and the “törvényszék” has 14. All cases will have to be handled within 15 days if there was no eyewitness to the crime and within 8 days if there was. Of course, we have no idea how many people will run the risk of crossing the Hungarian border after the 15th. But the proposals are designed to cope with “hordes.” One way to speed up the process is not to bother with the rather lengthy, complicated hearings minors are entitled to. So, youngsters under the age 18 will be subject to the same procedural laws as adults. I assume that the 12-year-old who drifted away from his parents and got under the fence alone will be charged, prosecuted, and jailed.
I have no idea where those who are waiting for their day in court will be kept. Will the refugee camps be turned into holding cells? I wonder what the European Union will think of that idea.
Another time- and money-saving idea is that neither the refugees’ indictments nor the verdicts in their cases will be translated from Hungarian into either their mother tongue or English. During the proceedings they will have interpreters and court-ordered defense lawyers, but these “amenities” are expensive so the judges will make sure that the trials are speedy. János Lázár’s understanding is that hundreds of cases will be adjudicated a day. Apparently, again for the sake of speed, the courts will move out to the border and will hear the cases in trailers.
I do hope that the European Union will find a way to do something before this law takes effect because it is not only unconstitutional according to Hungarian law but also contrary to the stipulations of the Geneva Convention, to which Hungary is a signatory. The court proceedings are going to be a travesty of justice, which the civilized world shouldn’t tolerate.