Goals unchanged, new challenges ahead, stronger HCLU

HCLU has a new leadership: Stefánia Kapronczay and Máté Dániel Szabó are together responsible for the professional work at HCLU since October. The new leadership will be in charge for providing a strong legal expertise background for the work of HCLU. The goals of HCLU shall remain unchanged but in the ever-changing environment strengthening of the professional work was necessary.

Personal freedom, human dignity and the protection of privacy – just few of the values ​​that were introduced by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union to the public discourse in the post-socialist Hungary.

Since its foundation in 1994, the HCLU has been acting as guardian against undue restrictions of fundamental rights that are not set in law, not justified by legitimate aims or not confined to the least restrictive measures. Even though at the time of the foundation the dictatorial communist state has already collapsed, those times were still alarmingly close when the state openly and continuously violated the fundamental rights of its citizens. After the democratic transition, the Hungarian society was freer than ever before, but old habits survived in the minds of government officials, politicians as well as in the hearts of the citizens.

We, the HCLU, were among the first ones standing up for the strong protection of patients’ rights, the right to privacy, freedom of information or the freedom of speech. We were amongst the first ones to offer legal aid in such important issues as the right of people with disabilities or people living HIV or AIDS.

At the forefront of protecting fundamental rights for two decades

HCLU has been protecting fundamental rights for nearly twenty years by fighting back the attempts of undue government restriction of rights and by publicly advocating the importance of freedom as a value. The strongest support for our work always came from our unshakable belief in the truth of these moral rights. We badly needed this belief as it was the only source of support we enjoyed at times. It is certainly true that constitutional institutions were in place for 20 years. However, the unceasing attempts of governments to restrict rights, coupled with the citizens’ ambivalence towards their own freedom, certainly did not support our work. Meanwhile, we could not expect from state officials (police officers, ministers, secret service officers or doctors) to be enthusiastic for a watchdog organization that constantly reminded them about what they are not allowed to do. Moreover, our public defence of unpopular minorities against the prejudices of the majority has seldom earned public acclaim to us.

No wonder that the protection of fundamental rights can hardly be described as a generally popular work. Despite all this, the HCLU has been defending rights in Hungary for more than two decades with large and small-scale successes. No such results could have been achieved without the dedication of the former leaders of HCLU, founders, former and current employees.  We are indebted to all of them for laying down the foundations of one of the most successful NGOs in Hungary. We promise to them and to everyone else that we will carry on working for the very same goals that the founders of HCLU had envisaged.

Systemic attacks against fundamental rights

Although the initial goals might be unchanged but the surrounding world is surely not.  The current government launched a deliberate and systemic attack on the value of freedom, it disregards the principle of human dignity and it limits or abolishes those constitutional institutions protecting rights that we took for granted for the last the recent decades. Unfortunately, the awareness of the importance of fundamental rights has not improved significantly, nor has the civil society strengthened dramatically so that it could effectively counter balance the governments. In this climate it has occasionally become necessary again to (re)explain the importance of protecting fundamental rights. At the same time we have less and less legal instruments available to us in face of the intensifying attacks on freedom.

Under these circumstances our commitment to uphold constitutional values cannot be exhausted by focusing on only single right problems. The preconditions of succeeding in defending these rights seem to be the maintenance or rather the restoration of constitutionalism and the protection of fundamental rights. At present time, this goal seems to take priority over issues of free speech, freedom of information, the right to privacy, the abolition of support services or the persecution of the most vulnerable members of society. The only way the HCLU can have an impact on politics is by applying the strictest standard of professionalism and expertise. Therefore, we should aim for being persuasive through professionalism towards all stakeholders be them the wide public, the smaller circles of experts or the surviving constitutional institutions.

Changing environment, new and stronger management

In the future two of us will work on coordinating the diverse portfolio of the organisation that ranges from the protection of fundamental rights and law reform activity till public advocacy. We want to ensure that the HCLU continues to live up to the highest professional standards in all aspects.

The dual nature of the management requires close collaboration from both of us in order to effectively coordinate the various programs’ work, though we will apply a natural division of labour between us that suits better our fields of expertise.

The HCLU programs dealing with the protection of the rights of vulnerable groups will be mainly coordinated by Stefánia Kapronczay who herself used to work as director of the patients’ rights program for years. Her portfolio will include the patients’ rights, rights of people living with HIV or AIDS, the rights of people with disabilities, questions of physical self-determination and self-autonomy, issues related to drug users and the protection of Roma minority in general. Besides this role, she will be the executive director (CEO) of the organisation in the future.

Máté Dániel Szabó, former director at Eötvös Károly Policy Institute, will be responsible for managing programs that fall into the category of political rights that aim at limiting the power of government. His portfolio will embrace freedom of speech and press, freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience and religion as well as information rights (right to privacy and freedom of information). As Director of Programs, he will also manage the HCLU’s activities related to the defence of the rule of law and rights-protecting institutions in face of the current attacks.

We will keep working with the same dedication, professionalism and consistency for the two fundamental goals of the organisation. On the one hand, we are working for a political community where fundamental rights operate as real legal rights. On the other, we are working for a community where rights are important enough for citizens to stand up in their protection. At the HCLU, an excellent team is working for these goals. It is our honour and pleasure to coordinate their work in the future.

Stefánia Kapronczay, Excecutive Director

Máté Dániel Szabó, Director of Programs

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