Amnesty International: Devastating report on Hungary

A few days ago Amnesty International (AI) released its 2015-16 report “on the state of the world’s human rights,” which includes a scathing analysis of Hungary’s record. Since the refugee crisis dominated public discourse in the European Union during this period, AI paid special attention to Viktor Orbán’s policies regarding the refugees who gathered at the southern border of the country. AI describes Hungary as a country that “led the way in refusing to engage with pan-European solutions to the refugee crisis” and opted instead to seal its borders. The report stresses the anti-Muslim rationale for Hungary’s refusal to admit refugees.

AI’s report deals with four problem areas: (1) refugees, (2) freedom of association, (3) discrimination against the Roma population, and (4) freedom of religion. The space devoted to Hungary is fairly long. It begins with the statement that, according to a report compiled by the Eötvös Károly Institute, the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, “the replacement of judges of the Constitutional Court and the 2010 constitutional amendments undermined the Court’s independence.” Thus, the whole legal foundation of the country is flawed.

The report traces out the stages of fence-building and the amendments to the Asylum Law. AI comes to the conclusion that “the application of the law could lead to the violation of Hungary’s obligation of non-refoulement,” a practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they may be subjected to persecution.

The AI report also points to the fact that “NGOs critical of government policies faced harassment and threats of losing their registration.” The section on discrimination against the Roma lists several court cases, including the so-called “Numbered Streets” neighborhood in Miskolc, which is still pending because of the municipality’s appeal. As far as freedom of religion is concerned, the Hungarian government, although it should have changed the 2011 Church Law to comply with a 2014 European Court of Human Rights judgment, has done nothing and therefore “freedom of religion continues to be restricted” in Hungary.

It’s not a pretty picture, and Júlia Iván, director of Amnesty International Hungary, expanded the list of complaints by pointing out that the Hungarian government in the past six or seven years has done everything in its power to deny assistance to and protection of refugees. Moreover, the Hungarian government incited a level of xenophobia in its citizens that is becoming something of a record in the western world. “Trump, Orbán, Erdoğan, and other similar populists dehumanize whole groups of people and make them scapegoats,” says Salil Shetty, secretary-general of Amnesty International, as quoted in Magyar Nemzet.

I’m sure that those of us who are familiar with the refugee record of the Hungarian government could have anticipated the findings of AI. So I will move on to the Orbán government’s reaction to AI’s assessment.

No more than a couple of hours after the Hungarian media began reporting on AI’s analysis of the Hungarian situation Magyar Idők published an article about Amnesty International which, according to the Government Information Center, encourages “the violation of the law of illegal immigrants.” This is especially unacceptable because “the government is only trying to defend the rights of European citizens and Hungarian families.”

A few days later Magyar Idők continued its attack on Amnesty International. It repeated Fidesz’s accusation that George Soros, who helps fund AI, was behind the negative report on Hungary. It also speculated about another reason for AI’s negative view of the Hungarian situation. The bad report card was expected because the Hungarian parliament will soon debate the government’s new proposals on restricting the free movement of migrants whose status is still pending. Of course, this is a ridiculous accusation since such a lengthy report cannot be put together in a couple of weeks and the new government proposals are of fairly recent vintage.

Röszke, September 8, 2015 / Source: Magyar Nemzet / Photo: Béla Nagy

Today Magyar Idők once again returned to the topic of Amnesty International, arguing that last year the organization inundated the office of László Székely, the Hungarian ombudsman, with complaints. In one year the poor man had to deal with 7,500 complaints. Of that number 2,600 dealt with immigration. Only ten of these complaints came from Hungary, the rest arrived from abroad. Surely, Magyar Idők wrote, AI is behind this deluge of mail. Associates of the ombudsman’s office said that among the letters there were even some written in English, German, French, and Spanish. The associates proudly announced that all the complaining letters were answered in the appropriate language.

Reporters from the government paper confronted Áron Demeter, who deals with human rights violations for Amnesty International Hungary. Why does Amnesty International encourage its followers to write such letters? Demeter’s explanation was that HHC had asked the ombudsman to turn to Hungary’s Constitutional Court on the question of the government’s criminalization of irregular border crossings. They hoped that as a result of receiving so many letters the ombudsman would be moved to act. But the letters didn’t change the ombudsman’s mind. Magyar Idők’s reporter didn’t hide his disapproval of such “pressure tactics.” Demeter explained that ever since its foundation AI has undertaken letter-writing campaigns to authorities that keep innocent victims incarcerated. In many cases, he added, this tactic had proved to be successful.

That explanation didn’t impress Magyar Idők’s reporter, who kept repeating that the behavior of AI was unconscionable. Their letter writers burden the already overworked ombudsman, who is supposed to represent those citizens who have grievances and who seek remedies from the offending authorities.

Finally, I would like to call attention to a short video that records complaints of police brutality along the Serbian-Hungarian border.

If the stories are true, and I fear they are, one can only be ashamed of what’s going on in the “center of Europe,” as Hungarians like to refer to their country’s geographic position.

February 25, 2017
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Guest
I have been listening to a BBC radio dramatisation called “The Underground Railroad”, about the escape of slaves from the US South, headed for freedom and the prospect of a better life in the Northern states. Each episode makes me think of migrants and refugees passing close to or through Hungary, and the nasty, violent and racist attitude of Orbán and his uncivilzed government. On their way North, slaves were often caught by vigilante groups, appointed by the Southern government, and who were enabled to exercise their blood-lust and newly-gained powers, and enhusiastically committed any number of unspeakable atrocities, almost as an afternoon’s entertainment, including raping women and children, torturing and murdering as they saw fit. The programme made me think of the Orbán’s selected vigilante groups whose purpose is to hunt down refugees and immigrants. Many of the migrants and refugees are escaping from their own unlivable countries and are now orphaned, without anyone to speak up for them. They are at the mercy of not just the police, some of whom are kindly, but some often brutal. You could argue that the police are just doing their job but the vigilantes show a different undercurrent of society here,… Read more »
Istvan
Guest
The BBC got it slightly wrong, fugitive slave laws were laws passed by the United States Congress in 1793 and 1850 to provide for the return of slaves who escaped from one state into another state or territory. So it really wasn’t a southern sponsored vigilante movement, but unfortunately a legally authorized bounty paid system supported by our federal government. The idea of the fugitive slave law was derived from the Fugitive Slave Clause which is in the United States Constitution (Article IV, Section 2, Paragraph 3). It was thought that forcing states to deliver escaped slaves to slave owners violated states’ rights due to state sovereignty and was believed that seizing state property should not be left up to the states. So there were legally authorized slave catchers in the north, they even had badges (see https://www.google.com/search?q=slave+catcher+badge&rlz=1C9BKJA_enUS618US618&oq=slave+catcher+badge&aqs=chrome..69i57.11858j0j8&hl=en-US&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8#imgrc=Rqm0jy_hgMxcCM: ) Probably unknown to Europeans is the fact that the USA to this day pays “rewards” to informers to provide information on the location of suspected undocumented aliens working illegally in the USA. Here is the form to fill out https://www.ice.gov/webform/hsi-tip-form at the bottom you can read the following “The information requested is being collected to initiate and/or support a law enforcement… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Morally and ethically I believe it can be said the leadership of the country has taken the country over a cliff. Some indeed no matter living in Central Europe look as if they might have fit in wonderfully with antebellum Southern culture particularly in the matter of that ‘peculiar institution’ called slavery. They seem as if they would ease into it like ducks to water. They in a sense in our modern age have picked up the mantle of Simon Legree, Stowe’s reprehensible slave owner in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’. An amoral and unfeeling human being and existing with a deficient conscience.

Guest

to wrfree
My sentiments exactly!

Guest

To István
Perhaps it was not the BBC dramatisation, but myself who is mistaken about exactly who enacted the laws regarding recapturing runaway slaves.
Thank you for the correction and the information.

Maggie
Guest

time4change wrote:”only one agenda, and that is to enjoy being cruel”
We’re ashamed of our own country’s standpoint and politics, a lot of us. Don’t even dare to think of the future…By the time the financial support of the EU will have finished, shall we’been out of it?
Now with Mr Trump in office…war again? Has humanity not changed at all? Is it true we seem to have the OLD AGENDA: war, peace, war again? For what? Oh, so many people are suffering wars, just by now, we’ve been lucky to have lived in peace. Thanks, Éva, for your blog. Saddened by all this: Maggie, Magdolna Lutring from Budapest, Hungary (A Hungarian scholar once wrote: he doesn’t like people hiding in comments, so I’m just making sure my name can be seen.)

Mario
Guest

A couple of weeks ago an EU citizen was arrested and detained after reporting the loss of his passport and personal documents to HU police officers at the Hungarian-Serbian border. The officers did not believe him when he said that he was from an EU country. Simply because of his slightly dark face he was wrongly identified as a Turk who had illegally entered the country. Only on his third day of detention was he granted chance to make a phone call to his country’s embassy in Budapest. When HU officers realised they had made a mistake, the man was released ( after five days, which means four sleepless nights.) No assistance was given to him,he got almost literally kicked out of the police station and was left in the middle of nowhere without money and without documents.
This happened in Hungary, EU member , in the year 2017.
Cheers.

Grant Boyd-Gibbins
Guest

The worst instincts of too many people are legitimized by right wing populist governments and too many ignorant bigots and bullies are emboldened to indulge their base impulses. The governments of supposedly great nations like Britain and the US are also contaminated with this regression from what had seemed like steady long term progress towards peace and improved human rights, and the reduction in poverty globally. As long as selfish and self serving politians are tolerated by a majority of voters (why does an absence of compassion afflicts so many?) the situation will continue to worsen and to sadden and shame people who dream of better, kinder and more tolerant times.

Observer
Guest

Hear, hear.
“The worst instincts of too many people are legitimized by right wing populist governments and too many ignorant bigots and bullies are emboldened to indulge their base impulses.”

Once such a system is created it can be easily used against any “enemy” the regime points at – today against alien migrants from far away, tomorrow against you.

Ferenc
Guest
Eva, a correction: Júlia Iván and Áron Demeter surely have friendly connections to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HCC), but are both working for Amnesty International Hungary (AI). Now the subject: regarding the ombudsman, apart from answering the letters (and puh puh, even in ‘appropriate languages’), what did his office do with the complaints? It seems NOTHING, and that’s what makes me very suspicious about the current Hungarian Ombudsman. From wiki I have understood that in 2012 the original four ombudsmen merged into one office of Commissioner for Fundamental Rights (Alapvető Jogok Biztosa). So how independent can (and/or does want) he/his office operate from the men/party in power? I have my doubts, but not any proof of non-independency. Regarding writing letters, that’s one of the main actions by Amnesty International, first of all they ask people to write to political prisoners and then to the relevant authorities in cases of prisoners. Personally I have written to Ahmed H. (through AI), when lest December I became aware of his case (aka.10 years for throwing things to Hungarian police). When watching the video in the post, it seems to me that some of them (the police and/or border hunters) should be taken responsible… Read more »
Guest

OT but rather interesting – the world’s a small place!

One of the owners of breitbart.com who has financed Trump’s campaign is also a friend of UKIP’s Farage and has financed and supported BREXIT.
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/us-billionaire-mercer-helped-back-brexit
there seems to be an international network of fascists here!

e-1956
Guest

There is a general confusion on both sides.
Moles in the right and left are working against the interest of the enlightened West.
We need Momentum type intelligent leadership to save us from the forces of the Active Measures.
Let us seek objectivity, and sensibility.
We can build a boat of reason to get out of the deep swamp.

Ferenc
Guest

In the refered Amnesty 2015-16 report is a quote from OV:

“We think all countries have a right to decide whether they want to have a large number of Muslims in their countries”, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in September (2015?).

In which context OV said this? In my opinion it can be considered discriminative, and not in accordance with the law. I mean if you put a limit to a certain number of people of a certain religion, it means that that religion is decisivein acceptance of individual people in a country, which is against basic human rights. Has this ever been checked in Hungary?

BTW, the 2015-16 report isn’t the latest, the 2016-17 has just been issued:
for 2015/16 go to https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/2552/2016/en/
for 2016/17 go to https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/4800/2017/en/

bimbi
Guest

There is in the Guardian today an article about the return of Nazi-looted artworks to Poland by the looter’s son. The article ends with the following:

As the son of a Nazi war criminal, (Otto Waechter, Governor of Galicia), it is perhaps unsurprising that his son, Horst, has a dim view of humanity, one which he says is confirmed by the rise of populist and racist movements across the Europe and the US.

“In difficult times there have always been leaders who convince their followers that the others – all those different from them in culture, language or faith – were responsible for their troubles and that their community has to get rid of them. The Nazi period is definitely doomed to repeat itself.”

Remind you of anyone?

Joe Simon
Guest

INTERNATIONAL BOUNDARY
DO NOT ENTER
This is what the sign says written in red at the US-Canada border.
Migrants turned down by the US try to enter Canada illegally.
Canada does not need fences, we have the snow and bitter cold.
Only a few hundreds make it, yet Canada already complains to the US about this illegal influx.
Hungary, a small country, had to deal with tens of thousands of migrants pouring freely across its southern border.

Istvan
Guest

Actually Joe, Canada has been appropriately processing asylum claims of these US undocumented aliens who have crossed their borders. For example see this story http://www.npr.org/2017/02/17/515662976/migrants-choose-arrest-in-canada-over-staying-in-the-u-s

bimbi
Guest

@Joe Simon, 8:52 a.m.
You wrote:
“Hungary, a small country, had to deal with tens of thousands of migrants pouring freely across its southern border.”

You should have written:

“Europe, a small country, had to deal with tens of thousands of migrants pouring freely across its southern border.

Europe did, but Hungary offers lock-down in accommodation no larger than that available for Hungarian prisoners in jail.

And the hate propaganda remains, Joe…

Ferenc
Guest

OT
djT will not / does not want to attend the Correspondents’ Dinner

So after first not letting certain media not be present at a pressbriefing, now djT does not attend a yearly press event.
What’s the best way to handle this?
My suggestion: let one of the emblematic fathers (e.g.Abraham Lincoln?) of US democracy take the place of the current PotUS. In ‘his’ speech he could evaluate the development of the democracy till today without even mentioning one time the current PotUS.

Istvan
Guest

Ferenc Trump understands the corporate nature of US media, he was part of it for years. Each reporter is in competition with the other reporter, even though he attacks every network except for Fox, all of the attacked networks want individual interviews with Trump because they drive ratings up. For example see http://deadline.com/2017/01/donald-trump-ratings-abc-news-top-wednesday-arrow-down-hunted-cbs-1201894693/ For a few interviews Trump’s audience share was lower than Obama’s, but over all he sells commercials for the networks.

With the exception of public broadcasting the media is dominated by for profit broadcasting in the USA. How many times has Trump publicly attacked the New York Times for not returning a solid profit, often calling it a failing newspaper. Trump fully understands the capitalist nature of our media and uses it to his advantage.

bimbi
Guest

Is this “déjà vu all over again”? This evening (Yurp-time) 26 Feb., the Guardian has a headline:

“Polish judges urged to ‘fight every inch’ for their independence
Supreme court president says plans to change how judges are appointed could turn courts into ‘plaything’ for politicians”

The Polish government wishes to “democratize” the appointment of judges. This is Polish for, “We, the government, want to appoint our own judges”. This is, of course, exactly what Orban did with Navracsics’s help shortly after 2010, thus, along with the appointment of the prevaricating prosecutor Peter Polt, ensuring no indictment of any (significant) Fidesz politician for more than a decade to come. This serious corruption of the Hungarian judiciary was carried out by stealth and deceit, i.e., by the typical Orban “Nacht und Nebel” methods.

This deliberate attack on democracy and the corruption of the vital rule of law was surely one of Orban’s most egregious acts as “Minister Elnök”. It remains as a festering sore in the government’s record. Amnesty International is right to point it out and remind us all.

Hungary has not forgotten, Mr. Orban.

bimbi
Guest
Ferenc
Guest

In the 2016-17 AI Report is an item about the Hungarian Supreme Court:
“JUSTICE SYSTEM: 2016 June the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found in ‘Baka v Hungary’ that terminating the mandate of the President of the Hungarian Supreme Court (HCS) on account of his criticisms of legislative reforms was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. It found a violation of Article 6 paragraph 1 (right of access to a court) and of Article 10 (freedom of expression).”
Didn’t know about this case, after searching I understand that it’s about the case of Baka András, till 2011.Dec.31 president of the HSC. He was ‘kicked’ out of that position for some official reasons, but in reality because he critisized policies of OV’s government. He had to go till the highest European court to get his rights in this case (against Hungary), only received it 4.5 years after all happened.
So it can be stated that OV could illegally do what he wanted to do!!
Best support these Polish judges in every way possible, so that similar UNLAWFULL things will not happen in another EU country!!

Guest
Ferenc
Guest

Monday 2017.Feb.27 was a hearing in the EU parliament about Human Rights in Hungary, here you can watch it (and choose the language you prefer): http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20170223IPR63709/committee-on-civil-liberties-justice-and-home-affairs

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