On a meeting held on 16 February, Kerstin Lundgren (Sweden) and Jana Fischerová (Czech Republic), co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), met the representatives of five Hungarian NGOs: the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Eötvös Károly Institute, the Legal Defence Bureau for National and Ethnic Minorities and Transparency International Hungary.
Following a motion signed by 24 members of the PACE in January 2011, the two co-rapporteurs were appointed to assess the request for the opening of a monitoring procedure with respect to the setbacks of the rule of law and human rights Hungary. The co-rapporteurs paid an initial visit to the country in July 2011, and following their fact-finding visit on 16-17 February 2012, will prepare for the PACE Bureau an opinion containing a draft decision proposing to open or not a monitoring procedure with respect to Hungary. In the course of their visit, the co-rapporteurs consulted state representatives, NGOs and media representatives.
NGOs participating at the meeting on 16 February intended to provide an overview of the legislative steps leading to the disruption of the system of checks and balances and the rule of law in Hungary, with special regard to the cardinal laws adopted in the second half of 2011. NGOs claimed that the Constitutional Court’s jurisdiction had been limited and the protection of fundamental rights had been weakened, and criticized certain legislative changes affecting the justice system, such as the centralization of the administration of courts and the constitutional provision allowing the Chief Public Prosecutor to reassign cases to courts other than the legally designated ones. Representatives of the Eötvös Károly Institute, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union expressed their view again that the removal of the Data Protection Commissioner of Hungary violates relevant EU directives. It was submitted that as a result of the new law on freedom of religion, several already established churches lose their status and rights and that same sex couples and single parents and their children are excluded from the notion of family. The NGOs voiced their concerns regarding the criminal policy of the Government, such as the introduction of the so-called “three strikes rule”, the possibility of actual life-long imprisonment enshrined in the Fundamental Law, and amendments allowing for the confinement of juveniles for petty offences. Furthermore, NGOs addressed the discrimination of members of private pension funds and the curtailment of the pension of former police officers, along with the termination of the separate Ombudsman for national and ethnic minorities and issues related to corruption.
On 21 February, the representatives of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Eötvös Károly Institute and the Transparency International Hungary consulted the rapporteurs of the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters, which was requested both by Hungarian authorities and the Monitoring Committee of the PACE to give opinions on certain Hungarian laws. (The opinion of the Venice Commission on the Fundamental Law of Hungary is available here.) Accordingly, NGOs submitted their concerns related to the recent laws on the Constitutional Court, the judiciary, the Prosecution Service, the laws on freedom of religion and the protection of families, along with concerns related to the termination of the Data Protection Commissioner’s mandate. The Venice Commission plans to adopt its opinions on the laws concerning the judiciary and the freedom of religion mid March.
The fact sheets prepared for the meetings above are available here.