On June 13, 2013 the trial of the actio popularis against the Heves County Police begins at the County Court of Eger. The lawsuit was initiated by the HCLU against the Police for discriminating against the Roma in Gyöngyöspata based on their ethnicity and skin color during and following the extremist “patrols” of 2011. At stake: will the court hold the state responsible for the discriminative treatment of the Roma?
As it is publicly known, in the Spring of 2011, extremist, paramilitary, anti-Roma organizations (Civil Guard Association for a Better Future, Defence Force, and Scamp Army) were intimidating Gyöngyöspata’s Roma population in Heves County, while the Hungarian government watched this for weeks without any attempt to intervene and stop usurpation of the state’s monopoly to use force. Based on its experience from active fieldwork, the HCLU continuously and strongly criticized the failures of the government, the leadership within the Ministry of the Interior and the Police from the onset of the crisis until the Parliamentary Committee published its findings.
The Ombudsman for National and Ethnic Minority Rights also pointed out in his report, - published in April 2011 -, that the police failed to apply the relevant laws against the extremists.
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Meanwhile, the police began the practice of fining the Roma mostly for bagatelle traffic violations, while the extremists were never fined for similar minor offences, a practice that has increased tensions and exacerbated the fearsome and humiliating atmosphere that the Roma faced.
Following a group fight on April 26, 2011, the extremists left the areas populated by Roma, still the local Roma could not feel secure. The city elected a far-right extremist ( a candidate of Jobbik, the extreme right-wing political party in the Hungarian Parliament) as its mayor, while the police carried on with its ethnic profiling activities until the end of the year. Ernő Kállai, the Ombudsman for Minority Rights, analyzed this practice in a follow-up report, published in December 2011, and surmised violation of the law on equal treatment by the Police.
The HCLU sued the Heves County Police based on the reports of the Ombudsman and its own experience from fieldwork (given that the Gyöngyös Police is not a legal entity, only the County Police could be sued). The law on equal treatment enables civil society organizations to file a lawsuit on their own (an actio popularis) if all the victims of unequal treatment cannot be identified.
In our court filing, we state that the Police failed to protect the Roma community against the militant groups during the extremist patrols and thereby facilitated harassment of the Roma, violating the law on equal treatment. The police undermined the Roma’s sense of security and faith in law and order, while empathizing with the extremists, and did not guarantee public safety by crime prevention and maintening public order. The police exacerbated the atmosphere of fear, hostility, humiliation, and shame created by the extremists by labeling the Roma as criminals.
Article 10(1) of Act CXXV of 20031 on Equal Treatment and the Promotion of Equal Opportunities states that:
“Harassment is a conduct violating human dignity related to the relevant person’s characteristic defined in Article 8 with the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment around a particular person.”
The HCLU analyzed the police’s lack of action in detail in a legal assessment published in May 2011. We also produced a video in March 2011 demonstrating the atmosphere of fear, hostility, humiliation and shame facing the Roma.
The HCLU also states in its actio popularis that the police violated the Roma’s right to equal treatment with its practice on initiating minor offence cases against members of the Roma community and issuing fines between March 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011. The ethnically disproportionate fining practice, which the expert literature calls ethnic profiling, realizes direct discrimination and harassment according to the law on equal treatment.
The court filing by the HCLU can be accessed here in Hungarian.
The first date of the trial will be on June 13, 2013, at 1 pm at the County Court of Eger (Barkóczy street 1, Eger) in Courtroom no.58, on the first floor.
How might the authorities use and abuse the law to harass somebody? Imposing fines for minor offences is an easy way. Especially, if the person involved is underprivileged, therefore has little capability to enforce his rights.
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