Hungarian Courts protect the rights of Roma in the largest anti-discrimination lawsuit

On 9 May 2019, the Court of Debrecen ruled on the second instance in favor of NGOs representing the interests of all Roma inhabitants of the third largest Hungarian city in an actio popularis lawsuit.

Miskolc, the third largest city in Hungary, has been openly hostile towards its Roma inhabitants for years. Discriminative measures have been carried out and the municipality’s communication was hostile and stigmatizing. The Hungarian Ombudsperson and various organisations found that the municipality discriminated against its Roma inhabitants. Still, the leadership of the city was not willing to change their methods.

Therefore, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (“HCLU”) and the Legal Defense Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities (“LDB”) filed the actio popularis anti-discrimination lawsuit in 2016 against the municipality of Miskolc, the mayor’s office and the municipality police.

Miskolc has approximately 170.000 inhabitants. Based on the census data of 2011 and complementary estimations, around 13.500 persons live in 13 different segregated settlements, which are the slums of the city. Eighty to ninety percent of the persons inhabiting these settlements are of Roma origin. The long-term unemployment rate among the population of the slums is very high. Moreover, the dwellings in the settlements are of extremely poor quality.

Between 2011 and 2015, the municipality of Miskolc was openly antagonistic towards the city’s Roma inhabitants. Instead of finding ways to solve the problem of extreme poverty and unemployment, the local government was taking discriminative measures and was hostile towards the Roma people. Amongst others, the Miskolc Municipality Police (MMP) frequently conducted raid-like inspections in the segregated neighborhood of the city as well as carried out illegal practices such as eradicating one of the slums called “Numbered Streets” without providing alternative housing for the inhabitants.

According to the HCLU and the LDB, the above-referenced measures, together with the communicational method of the municipality, are violating the right to equal treatment as well as demonstrating prejudice against minorities. These discriminative measures and hostile communications carried out by the Municipality and its police are not only harassing the people living in segregated settlements, but violating the principle of equal treatment. In the lawsuit, the Plaintiffs asked the court to state the violation of law and to impose a penalty of 10 million HUF.

In the first instance, the Court of Miskolc ruled in its judgment of 12 December 2018 that the complained of measures violated the right to equal treatment of the local Roma. The Court banned the municipality from similar rights’ violations in the future and imposed a penalty of 10 million HUF that has to be spent on integrative housing measures in the city. The Court underlined in its oral reasoning that this is the country’s largest anti-discrimination lawsuit covering a period of five years and affecting the rights of several thousands of people. The defendants appealed the decision.

The Court of Debrecen fully upheld the judgment in the second instance on the 9th of May 2019. The Court stressed that the municipality is responsible for direct discrimination and harassment, therefore the penalty of 10 million HUF is not excessive. The Court highlighted that the state and municipalities are only allowed to use lawful and non-discriminatory measures to address social tensions.

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