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Hungary ‘hostile’ to human rights, says Amnesty

Amnesty International (AI) released its International Report 2017/18 about the state of the worldʼs human rights yesterday. Hungary is mentioned as a negative example in several areas, including its controversial law on NGOs, asylum and migration policy, and amendments to higher education legislation.

“Leaders of wealthy countries have continued to approach the global refugee crisis with a blend of evasion and outright callousness, regarding refugees not as human beings with rights
but as problems to be deflected,” says AI in the foreword to the report. “Most European leaders have been unwilling to grapple with the big challenge of regulating migration safely and legally, and have decided that practically nothing is off limits in their efforts to keep refugees away from the continent’s shores,” the report adds.

The regional overview of Europe and Central Asia observes that the space for civil society has continued to shrink. In Eastern Europe and in Central Asia, human rights defenders, activists, the media and political opposition have been frequently targeted by authorities, according to AI.

“In the east, a discourse hostile to human rights remained prevalent, frequently leading to the repression of human rights defenders, political opposition, protest movements, anti-corruption campaigners and sexual minorities,” says the report. “This hostile discourse also inched westward and found its first legislative expression in Hungary with the adoption of a law effectively stigmatizing NGOs that received foreign funding.”

Asylum and migrant policy is another area in which Hungary has drawn criticism from AI for its legislation. 

“Hungary reached a new low by passing legislation allowing pushbacks of all people found in an irregular situation in the country and by introducing the automatic detention of asylum-seekers, in blatant breach of EU law,” notes the report. “Hungary’s systematic flouting of the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants also included severely restricting access by limiting admission to two operational  border ʼtransit zonesʼ in which only 10 new asylum applications could be submitted each working day. This left thousands of people in substandard camps in Serbia, at risk of
homelessness and forcible return further south to Macedonia and Bulgaria.”

Another issue broadly described by AI refers to the adoption in an emergency procedure of amendments to the National Higher Education Law. The law, widely interpreted as targeting the operations of a particular educational institution, the Central European University (CEU) founded by Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist George Soros, introduced new requirements for foreign universities operating in Hungary under an extremely tight deadline – including the requirement of a bilateral state-level agreement – and thus put at risk the continued functioning of those institutions.

The same month, the European Commission took legal action against Hungary by launching infringement proceedings, AI recalls. In the Commission’s assessment, the law is not compatible with fundamental EU freedoms, including the freedom to provide services, the freedom of establishment, and academic freedom.

In addition, AI also draws attention to another infringement procedure pursued by the European Commission against both Slovakia and Hungary for “systematic discrimination and segregation of Roma children in schools.”