By: Anna Malinovskaya
A recent news report by Human Rights Watch calls attention to the critical political situation in Hungary and the resulting tensions between the state’s ruling party and a few European political bodies. According to HRW, Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party is “using its super-majority in the parliament, spent its two years in office ramming through a new constitution that includes discriminatory provisions and other new laws that undermine media freedom, judicial independence, and the rights of religious minorities.”
On March 20, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional affairs – the Venice Commission – published a scathing report on recent developments in the country. In particular, the report says that changes to judicial appointment procedures, moves to force judges into retirement, and vesting power to assign cases in a single individual, threaten judicial independence and the right to a fair trial itself. The Hungarian government did not offer any explanation except for saying that the translations of the laws may be incorrect. It ignored the Venice Commission’s criticism of Hungary’s new constitution last year.
Amnesty International reports that in December 2011, Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, raised concerns with the Hungarian government about specific portions of the Constitution. But this human rights organization is concerned that the European Commission’s analysis has been too focused on technical shortcomings while ignoring the wider negative impact on human rights caused by the new laws.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, a non-profit human rights watchdog, released a fact sheet that resulted from the meeting of Hungarian NGOs with the rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission in February. This document summarizes the concerns raised by the participants of the meeting, and presents in a well-structured and organized way the threats that the new laws and regulations pose for human rights in Hungary.
The facts sheet’s major claim is that new laws disrupt the system of checks and balances. It substantiates this statement by examining the impact of the new rules on the Constitutional Court, administration of courts and standing of judges, prosecution service, mandate of the Data Protection Commissioner, criminal policy, rights of members of the private pension scheme, protection of families and church freedoms. Notably, the fact sheet starts with accusing the ruling party of illegitimacy: “The Fundamental Law is the sole product of the governing political party and has been adopted by the governing majority without the support of any other political force. The governing majority has earlier removed the provisions from the old Constitution that would have forced them to seek consensus with the opposition in this regard.”
The Human Rights Watch pointed out that on January 17, the European Commission started legal action, known as ‘infringement proceedings’, against Hungary over the judicial appointments, the independence of the central bank, and data-protection regulation. The Hungarian government has until 7 April to provide further clarification or face action in the European Court of Justice.
Human Rights Watch
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union