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“Wake up call”? Four convicted in Roma killings

Issues

The four defendants in the murder trial of six Roma citizens of Hungary were found guilty this morning in a Budapest court, with three receiving life sentences for their actions in what human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) hopes is a “wakeup call” to address hate crimes in the country. In a statement following the ruling, AI Europe and Central Asia Program Deputy Director Jezerca Tigani called out Hungarian authorities for a continued lack of commitment to protecting those of minority groups.

Zsolt Pető, Árpád Kiss, István Kiss and István Csontos were found guilty of six murders – including one child – and five assaults on Roma people in eight different towns between March 2008 and August 2009. Yet Tigani and AI feel as though the trial and sentencing hardly marks significant change: “Five years after these cold-blooded killings, Roma in Hungary still do not receive adequate protection from hate crimes,” Tigani said emphatically. “This horrific case should have been a wakeup call about the continuous, often violent, discrimination faced by the Roma community, but the perpetrators of such acts are still not being brought to justice.”

AI research finds that Hungarian law enforcement officials “lack the guidelines to thoroughly and effectively investigate” hate crimes and indeed may blatantly display apathy toward the Roma community. In the wake of the convictions, AI sought to remind media of an incident in Devecser about one year ago in which Jobbik members and supporters followed up a march by lobbing “pieces of concrete and other missiles” at Roma homes, while “the police officers present fail[ed] to intervene.”

A BBC News correspondent noted that some 56 hate crimes were reported in Hungary in 2011 compared to a whopping 55,000 in the United Kingdom, implying that the overwhelming majority of such acts simply go unnoticed by Hungarian officials and citizens. A Népszabadság editorial of May 2013 seems to affirm the assessment: After nine Roma were convicted in May 2013 after attacking an automobile holding nine alleged Magyar Gárda sympathizers in Sajóbábony, the editor commented that “per year, only about eight to ten convictions are made in hate-crime cases, and police procedure begins just a few dozen times … the vast majority of racist crimes [go unpunished]. Assuming, of course, that the accused is not Roma.”

“Today's verdict is a positive step,” said Tigani, but “The government needs to introduce new measures to tackle hate crimes, such as procedures that clearly outline how such crimes should be investigated, police officers trained to recognize and investigate hate crimes and disaggregated data on hate crimes collected and made public.”

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