Governmental attacks against Hungarian NGOs discussed at OSCE human rights meeting

Hungarian NGOs and international organisations voiced concerns about the Hungarian government’s fierce crackdown on NGOs at the international human rights event of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Warsaw.

At the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2014 the measures taken by the Hungarian government against the country’s NGOs were also discussed. The event, which takes place in Warsaw and commenced on 22 September, is attended by the representatives of OSCE’s 57 member states and those of the European Union, and is the most important human rights event in Europe.

In her keynote speech, Elisa Massimino, President and Chief Executive of Human Rights First stated that “the crackdown on civil society that works to protect the rights of the vulnerable” is a symptom of and leads to “broader insecurity”, while governmental attempts to intimidate and silence NGOs endanger security and stability within the region. In that regard, she harshly condemned treating Hungarian NGOs that express criticism over the government’s actions as “foreign agents” and their harassment by authorities. J. Brian Atwood, U.S. Head of Delegation also considered this a hostile step. Furthermore, already before the conference, on 18 September, another representative of the United States raised objections against the increasing intimidation of Hungarian civil society. In a speech delivered at the Warsaw event, Ambassador Thomas Greminger, Swiss Chairperson of the OSCE Permanent Council, stressed “the crucial role of civil society to support participating States in the full protection and promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law”.

The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting was also attended by four Hungarian NGOs: the Eötvös Károly Institute (EKINT), the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) and Transparency International Hungary (TI). In their presentation delivered on 23 September, they outlined the decline of democratic institutions in Hungary, the governmental steps taken against NGOs and current developments related to corruption.

In their presentation on the Hungarian state of affairs and the current state of democracy, HCLU and EKINT described the process of dismantling constitutionality. “Disrupting the system of checks and balances resulted in that even though Hungary has a new Fundamental Law, it has no constitution as understood in a modern sense” – stated Máté Dániel Szabó, Director of Programs at HCLU, adding, “building the illiberal state as currently announced has already been realized by eliminating constitutional institutions”.

Although the NGO was not subjected to an audit by the Government Control Office affecting NGOs that received grants from the EEA/Norway Grants NGO Fund, the HHC recently left the government-operated Human Rights Roundtable in protest against the steps taken against the civil society. The co-chair of the HHC, András Kristóf Kádár presented developments regarding the government’s attack on the civil sector, saying it is “an extremely dangerous development” that “the Hungarian government continually increases pressure on ‘inconvenient’ NGOs, after it did not succeed in discrediting them through accusations that they are politically positively prejudiced with regard to the opposition”.

Miklós Ligeti, legal director of TI described the scandalous re-distribution of tobacco kiosk licenses and the tricky way of how savings cooperatives were nationalized and re-privatized to an interest group with ties to the government, thus brought examples on  how the government abuses its power to ensure undue advantages to certain favoured groups via law-making. According to the expert “the performance of the government in battling corruption is disappointing”. In addition, “if its momentary interests require so, the government is ready to limit the fundamental freedoms of citizens, as happened for example with regard to the right to information, which was restricted by the government to a considerable extent in order to being able to conceal the details of the tobacco retail scandal”.

The Open Society Foundations supported the four Hungarian NGOs participation at the OSCE event.

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Factsheets on the Hungarian situation on the following topics are available here:

1. Undermining constitutionality

2. Disrupting the system of checks and balances; weakening independent institutions

3. The violation of particular human rights 

4. Free but not fair elections

5. Media regulation; distorting the market

6. Building crony capitalism; opening the door to rent seeking

A longer version of the timeline of governmental attacks against the Hungarian NGO sector are available.

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