Posts Tagged ‘Hungary’

European MPs want EU to become serious about linking Corona virus payments to human rights

August 27, 2020

Political leaders in the European Parliament will insist that the EU’s massive budget payouts be dependent on countries meeting human rights and media freedom standards, they said on Wednesday.26 August 2020.  Targeted, but not named, were Hungary and Poland, countries that receive massive subsidies from the EU budget, but flout calls by Brussels to meet commitments on fundamental freedoms.

The time has come to accelerate the fight against the erosion of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in the very heart of the EU,” said the letter, signed by leaders from the centre-right, centre-left, centrist and green parties.

The letter was addressed to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, as well as Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the commission, the EU’s executive arm that hands out the cash. Unless there are changes, the European Parliament has already vowed to veto the multi-year, one-trillion-euro budget — along with a massive pandemic recovery fund — that was thrashed out between heads of government at a summit in July.

Parliament members are due to sit down with representatives from the member states on Thursday to seek a compromise, with MEPs insisting on stricter conditions around civil rights.  The summit deal in July was seen by some as not putting enough pressure on countries to respect core EU values, especially after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban hailed a “huge victory” against conditionality after the talks.

In their letter on Wednesday, the MEPs insisted that EU member states approve a parliament proposal from April 2019 which would firmly link EU spending to the rule of law, which they vetoed at the time. Without its formal approval, “it will be impossible for us to move forward” on the EU budget, the group leaders said.

The EU budget is deeply intertwined with the 750 billion euro post-virus recovery fund, that parliament does not have a say over.  But given the historic recession afflicting Europe, member states are under huge pressure to implement the plan and the budget as soon as possible, hopefully by the end of the year.

Recent events in Hungary and Poland suggest the countries have little intention of addressing EU concerns over attacks on media freedom, LGBTI rights and the independence of the courts. A day after the summit in July, the editor of Hungary’s top independent news site was fired, seen as another sign of the Orban government’s attacks on opposition media. In Poland, the UN’s AIDS programme this month voiced deep concern about the “intensifying persecution” of LGBTI people, as well as crackdowns on human rights defenders.

Top Euro MPs to Merkel: No EU budget without rule of law

Breaking: EU Court rules against Hungary’s foreign funding law

June 19, 2020

The EU Reporterof 19 June 2020 comes with the good news that on 18 June, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) recognized that Hungary’s 2017 law “on the Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad” (i.e. receiving foreign funds) unduly restricts the freedom of movement of capitals within the European Union (EU) and amounts to unjustified interference with fundamental rights, including respect for private and family life, protection of personal data and freedom of association, as well citizens’ right to participate in public life. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/]

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) welcomes this decision and hopes it will put an end to the Hungarian government’s constant attempts to delegitimise civil society organisations and impede their work.

It concerns decision (Case C-78/18, European Commission v. Hungary, Transparency of Associations).

This decision is more than welcome! It strongly asserts that stigmatizing and intimidating NGOs receiving funding from abroad and obstructing their work is not accepted in the European Union,” said Marta Pardavi, Co-Chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), member organisation of FIDH and of OMCT’s SOS-Torture Network. “Today’s ruling is a victory not only for Hungarian civil society organisations, who have campaigned fiercely against this law since its adoption, but for European civil society as a whole. It is a clear reaffirmation of the fundamental role played by civil society in a democratic State founded on the rule of law.”

Hungary should now withdraw this anti-NGO law and conform with the CJEU’s decision,” added OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.

https://www.eureporter.co/eu-2/2020/06/19/eus-top-court-rules-that-hungarys-anti-ngo-law-unduly-restricts-fundamental-rights

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: Civil Rights Defenders

April 10, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of these weeks. Here the one by Anders L. Pettersson, Executive Director of the Stockholm-based human rights organization Civil Rights Defenders (as published in the The Globe Post of 9 April 2020): “COVID-19 Is No Excuse for Governments to Abuse Human Rights”:

……But the COVID-19 pandemic is no ordinary struggle. The world is in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis with far-reaching political, economic, and social consequences. Basic human rights, such as the right to freedom of movement and assembly, are being suspended to contain the virus’ further spread. Put simply, drastic measures have to be taken, and we are entrusting our respective governments to take them.

A member of the military police wears a face mask as a preventive measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, as he patrols the streets in Bogota, on March 25, 2020. Photo: AFP

This, however, must not be understood as a blank cheque for authoritarian leaders to tighten their grip on power. While most national constitutions, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the U.N.’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allow for the derogation of certain human and minority rights during a state of emergency, it is “only to the extent strictly required by the situation.”

Across the world, though, numerous examples point to clear overreach of such emergency power and, more depressingly, the abuse of trust vested in governments from civil society.

Abuse of Emergency Powers

  • In Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev said in an address to the nation that his political opponents are trying to use the outbreak to destroy the country, and suggested that measures to “isolate” them might be required. The prominent opposition activist Tofig Yagublu has already been arrested and sentenced to three months of pre-trial detention. He faces up to six years in prison….
  • Meanwhile, Montenegro’s government made the inexplicable move of making public the personal data – including names and home addresses – of all those obliged to be in self-isolation, a gross infringement on the right to privacy.
  • Albania’s Prime Minister, Edi Rama, also wasted no time in flexing his newfound powers. Last weekend, he casually threatened his citizens by posting a video supposedly showing Spanish police beating and chasing people down the streets, with an outrageously inappropriate message “either respect social distancing… or you will also be running.” Except, the video was from a political protest, weeks ago – in Algeria, not Spain.
  • Speaking of “fake news,” we have received reports from partners in Cambodia that over a dozen people have already been jailed, or “re-educated,” for allegedly sharing false social media posts about the pandemic – a measure that we fear is prone to be replicated across the world, not least among E.U. states.
  • Namely, Hungary’s nationalist government recently passed legislation to parliament that would punish anyone who publicizes “fake news” that interferes with the “successful defense” of public health, with up to five years in prison. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/07/good-example-of-authoritarian-abuse-of-covid-19-emergency-hungary/]..

Civil society, therefore, finds itself in an incredibly delicate situation.

On the one hand, there is an understanding that the severity of the crisis calls for certain limitations on our fundamental rights. Only national authorities possess the legitimacy to enforce such constraints and the capacity to tackle the virus through strict health and safety measures. We have no alternative but to trust our respective governments to navigate us, and their intentions to save lives and minimize the virus’ impact. On the other hand, we have a responsibility to protect partners across the world, whose fight for democracy and fundamental human rights will be further strained as emergency powers, enforced curfews, and restrictions on free speech come into place. Some measures may be necessary, but others are clearly not – and all must be removed once this is all over. Further, using the pandemic to harass human rights defenders or abuse the rule of law for political gains, as we are already witnessing, is simply unacceptable. We will monitor your moves, keep you accountable, and call you out when the line has been crossed – this is our duty. Widespread trust that has been vested in governments – all governments – amounts to a historic responsibility. Civil society has reached out its hand; do not let us down.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post._

Good example of authoritarian abuse of COVID-19 emergency: Hungary

April 7, 2020

Hungary has defied calls by human rights defenders to respect human rights standards in tackling the COVID-19 outbreak.  Monday 30 March 2020, Hungary’s parliament passed a controversial Law on Protection against the Coronavirus, allowing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to rule by decree for an indefinite period [!], and to jail anybody deemed to be publishing ‘fake news’ by up to five years. In the days prior, Civil Rights Defenders condemned the bill on the grounds that it is an attack on the rule of law and democracy, and presents numerous threats to human rights in the country (see https://crd.org/2020/03/24/hungary-state-of-emergency-is-no-excuse-for-undermining-rule-of-law/).

In one of its first moves, the government tabled a bill outlawing legal gender recognition which is a serious and permanent attack on the rights of Trans people. The following day, on Tuesday, it hinted it would use emergency powers to push educational reform by perusing an appalling new curriculum that will rewrite history books by promoting national pride, and making anti-Semitic authors compulsory reading. Coupled with the restrictions on media freedoms, the freedom of expression and the indefinite emergency rule, these measures are a clear overreach of emergency powers and a grave threat to democracy.

20 EU Member States have reacted in a joint-statement that they are “deeply concerned about the risk of violations of the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights arising from the adoption of certain emergency measures”. However, the statement’s authors did not call out countries by name, thus creating a loophole for Hungary to shamelessly became a signatory itself [SIC and SICK].

https://crd.org/2020/04/07/hungary-ignores-calls-for-respect-of-human-rights/

In memoriam Hungarian author György Konrád – age 86

September 15, 2019

Featured photo by Lajos Soós/MTI
MTI-Hungary Today reported on 14 September 2019 that Hungarian author, essayist and sociologist György Konrád died on Friday 13 September at the age of 86. He was one of the best-known representatives of Hungarian prose around the world, with works translated into many languages.

Born in Debrecen in 1933, Konrád survived the Holocaust in a safe house in Budapest. He graduated as a teacher from Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University in 1956. After serving in the National Guard during the 1956 revolution, he made his living through ad hoc jobs for a few years. In 1959 he got full-time state employment, working as a children’s welfare supervisor until 1965. The experience amassed during this time served as the basis for his first novel The Case Worker. He was working closely with urban sociologist Iván Szelényi with whom he wrote a book on the sociological problems of new housing estates.

Citing political reasons, the communist authorities banned the publication of his second novel, The City Builder. After losing his job in 1973, Konrád, together with Szelényi, wrote The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power, a sociological analysis of political history questioning workers’ rule in then Hungary. The political police, however, confiscated the manuscript and arrested the authors for incitement against the state. They were informed that they would be permitted to emigrate with their families. Szelényi accepted the offer, while Konrád remained in Hungary, choosing internal emigration.

He published in Hungarian samizdat and through western publishing houses. Virtually from this period until 1989, Konrád was a forbidden author in Hungary, deprived of all legal income. In 1987-88 he taught world literature at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

In the 1980s Konrád was member of the Democratic Opposition and in 1988 became a founder of the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ). In 1990 he was elected president of PEN International, holding the post full time until 1993. Between 1997 and 2003, Konrád was twice elected president of Berlin-Brandenburg’s Akademie der Kuenste. His long list of awards included the peace prize of PEN International (1991), the French Legion of Honour (1996), the Charlemagne Prize (2001) and the Franz Werfel Human Rights Award (2007).

 

Author György Konrád Dies Aged 86

 

UK joins small group of countries with specific guidelines on human rights defenders

July 19, 2019

The United Kingdom has recently published guidelines for the protection and support of rights defenders around the world. It joins a small group of countries such as Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria and Canada (although they differ – see the websites of these countries). There are also some mulitlateral ones such as the EU Guidelines.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/01/13/quick-reminder-of-the-eu-guidelines-on-human-rights-defenders/] and those of the OSCE.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/13/canada-joins-select-group-of-governments-with-guidelines-on-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/11/02/swiss-guidelines-on-human-rights-defenders-analyzed-by-civil-society/.

In the foreword to the publication Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for Human Rights, states: To demonstrate our commitment of continued support of human rights defenders globally, this document sets out why human rights defenders are important to us and acknowledges the risks they face in the pursuit of universal human rights. We hope it will give human rights defenders encouragement to know how we may be able to support them, including through our network of embassies and high commissions overseas. Whilst every situation may be different depending on local context, our values and commitments in providing support remain the same

Human Rights Watch was not impressed: While welcome, real support requires a willingness to speak out even when it carries political costs. The new guidelines praise the courageous work of human rights defenders in the face of risks including threats, intimidation, harassment, and detention. The guidelines rightly identify groups which are in greater danger, such as journalists, women, and LGBT activists, and express the UK’s commitment to support them “wherever they are in the world.” But when it comes to actually standing up for human rights defenders, the UK’s record is patchy. While it sometimes speaks out in private, it remains reluctant to do so publicly, even though doing so would raise the cost to states that seek to silence those who speak truth to power. The UK government has so far done very little about credible reports of the torture, sexual harassment, and assault of Saudi women activists currently on trial for defending human rights in their country. It has failed to hold Hungary to account for its efforts to clamp down on human rights groups and rule of law. And it has failed to criticize United Arab Emirates authorities for the unjust imprisonment of Emirati activist Ahmed Mansoor on his peaceful calls for reform. The UK hopes that by publishing these guidelines, defenders might be encouraged to understand that the British government might be able to support them. But if the UK is really serious about this, it should be willing to speak out publicly on their behalf when they are in trouble, including when their safety is at risk in countries that are UK allies. In short, the UK’s new Prime Minister should make it a priority to protect and support human rights defenders no matter where they are in the world.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/19/will-next-uk-government-stand-human-rights-defenders

Click to access UK-Support-for-Human-Rights-Defenders.pdf

Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award 2019 goes to Hungarian Márta Pardavi

April 5, 2019

Hungarian human rights lawyer Márta Pardavi has been awarded the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award 2019. As an outspoken critic of the Hungarian government and its policies, Márta is often smeared and her work discredited. The award is a recognition of her work of many years, fighting against the attempts to systematically dismantle democracy, normalisation of xenophobia and hate crimes in Hungary.

Márta Pardavi is the Co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, one of Hungary’s leading human rights organisations. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee is a watchdog organisation that protects human dignity and the rule of law through legal and public advocacy methods. Being both vocal and successful in its activities, and particularly because of their work to support asylum seekers, the organisation has become a prime target of the government’s toxic campaigns.

“Democracy is under threat all over the world and now we see what authoritarians do when they get to power. They target critics, human rights defenders and treat marginalised groups as threats to society. We see this happening in Hungary, but also in other countries such as Poland. This award sends a very strong message, that our work is recognised, and that we as civil society organisations will continue to defend democratic values”, said Márta Pardavi.

Márta Pardavi, Civil Rights Defender of The Year 2019

“For many years, human rights lawyer Márta Pardavi has courageously defended civil and political rights in Hungary. She is leading the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s work in the field of refugee protection, and with dignity and professionalism, confronts those who attempt to systematically dismantle civil society and normalise xenophobia and hate crimes. For her dedication and exceptional contribution to resist inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable, Márta is awarded the Civil Rights Defender of the Year 2019”, , said the Board of Civil Rights Defenders in its motivation.

During the first two decades of Hungary’s post-communist history, the country was a young but stable democracy, and a role-model of successful transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Today, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been in power almost a decade, a period during which Hungary has undergone dramatic changes. Too many posts in this blog have been devoted to this, see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/hungary/.

….But despite this climate, human rights defenders and human rights organisations continue to challenge state policies and propaganda, and the public support for their activities is growing.

“Many civil society organisations are working to address this and while it was probably both unwanted and unintended, the Hungarian government’s pressure has made us better at working together, making us stronger. And the same is true for the government’s anti-NGO campaigns – we have seen that civil society support is growing as an unintended consequence of the state propaganda”, said Márta Pardavi.

For  more on the Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/civil-rights-defender-of-the-year-award

https://crd.org/2019/04/04/civil-rights-defender-of-the-year-2019-marta-pardavi/

 

Annual Werner Lottje lecture in Germany on 21 February 2019

February 15, 2019

Hungary: civil society and human rights defenders under pressure, is the topic of the upcoming Werner Lottje Lecture in Berlin on 21 February. Werner Lotte was one of the most outstanding human rights leaders in Germany who is rightly honoured with an annual event.

[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/11/16/and-a-lot-more-about-werner-lottje-the-great-german-human-rights-defender/]

Organised by Bread for the World and the German Institute for Human Rights (two of the organisations that Werner played a crucial role in developing) the event covers Hungary’s slide away from human rights respect which has been documented often [also in this blog, see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/18/excellent-background-piece-to-hungarys-stop-soros-mania/].  With the European elections coming up it is a timely meeting.  See also: https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/hungary-should-address-many-interconnected-human-rights-protection-challenges

 

Programme

18:00    Greetings: Dr. Julia Duchrow; Human Rights, Bread for the World

18:10    Lecture: Marta Pardavi; Co-Chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee

18:30    Panel Discussion, moderated by Dr. Wolfgang Heinz; German Institute for Human Rights.

  •             Marta Pardavi;
  •             Manuel Sarrazin; member of parliament, German Greens
  •             Dóra Kanizsai-Nagy; Kalunba, refugee organisation from Hungary

20:00    Reception

Place: Caroline-Michaelis-Straße 1 10115 Berlin Room: O.K.06. There will be English German interpretation

Registration: https://info.brot-fuer-die-welt.de/termin/ungarn-zivilgesellschaft

For last year’s event see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/08/5th-werner-lottje-lecture-in-berlin-focuses-on-cambodia/

26 February: lecture on populism and human rights by Michael Ignatieff in Geneva

February 10, 2019

The populist upsurge in the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and in established democracies like the United States has exposed the political vulnerability of rule of law as a cornerstone of liberal democracy. It is not just in authoritarian populist states that the independence of judges and the authority of law have come under attack in the name of a majoritarian conception of democracy. This suggests that the rule of law has always stood in a relation of tension with other principles of democracy, including majority rule and an independent media. The lecture explores these renewed political pressures on rule of law using contemporary examples drawn from the US, the UK and Hungary. [for some of my posts on populism, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/populism/]

Tuesday 26 February 2019, 18:30 – 20:00 in the Auditorium IVAN PICTET | Maison de la Paix, Geneva

Michael Ignatieff is the Rector and President of Central European University in Budapest. His major publications are The Needs of Strangers (1984), Scar Tissue (1992), Isaiah Berlin (1998), The Rights Revolution (2000), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (2004), Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics (2013), and The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World (2017). [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/08/11825/]

The lecture will be moderated by Shalini Randeria, Professor of Social Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute, Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy and Rector of the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen Institute (IWM) in Vienna.

This event is organised by the Graduate Institute’s Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy.

To register: http://graduateinstitute.ch/home/research/centresandprogrammes/hirschman-centre-on-democracy/events-1/past-events.html/_/events/hirschman-centre-on-democracy/2019/law-populism-and-liberal-democra

 

Some FACTS about refugee flows (which Hungary seems not to know)

July 26, 2018

UNHCR just published its Global Trends Report 2017 (see link below) and it contains some interesting facts, some myth-busting:
Fact 1:  85% refugees are hosted in the developing world (many of which are desperately poor and receive little support to care for these populations). At the end of 2017, Turkey continued to be the country hosting the world’s largest number of refugees, with 3.5 million. Lebanon continued to host the largest number of refugees relative to its national population, where 1 in 6 people was a refugee under the responsibility of UNHCR.

 Fact 2: Two-thirds of all refugees come from just five countries. Altogether, more than two-thirds of all refugees worldwide came from just five countries, namely:
1. Syrian Arab Republic (6.3 million)
2. Afghanistan (2.6 million)
3. South Sudan (2.4 million)
4. Myanmar (1.2 million)
5. Somalia (986,400)

Fact 3: Four out of five refugees remain in countries next door to their own. About 2.7 million people were newly registered as refugees during 2017. Crises in South Sudan and Myanmar caused new refugee numbers to grow. Most of them fled to neighboring countries or elsewhere in their immediate region. Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to 31 per cent of the global refugee population.

Still, Hungary found it necessary to pass legislation that criminalizes individuals and groups deemed to be supporting asylum-seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants. On 21 Jun 2018 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said: “Parliament’s decision is an attack on fundamental human rights and freedoms in Hungary. The constant stoking of hatred by the current Government for political gain has led to this latest shameful development, which is blatantly xenophobic and runs counter to European and international human rights standards and values.” …“To target those dealing with the most vulnerable, simply because they are foreigners, is truly disgraceful.”

The new legislation criminalizes a range of activities, including distributing information on migration-related matters, providing advice to migrants and refugees, and conducting human rights monitoring at borders. The authorities will be able to arrest, charge and immediately remove from Hungary’s border area with non-Schengen countries any lawyer, adviser, volunteer or legally resident family member suspected of helping a person to make an asylum claim or obtain a residence permit, or of providing other legal or humanitarian assistance. Under the legislation, individuals could face up to one year in prison and organisations could be banned. In addition, foundations that provide funding for NGOs that work on migrant issues could face charges. Hungarian authorities also announced this week that they would introduce a 25 per cent tax on funding for NGOs which “support immigration”. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/18/excellent-background-piece-to-hungarys-stop-soros-mania/

——-

http://www.unhcr.org/statistics/unhcrstats/5b27be547/unhcr-global-trends-2017.html?utm_source=NEWS&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Opening_Global+Trends+report&utm_campaign=HQ_PS_EN_NEWS_B-JULY_180725_PROS_5

https://reliefweb.int/report/hungary/