The Hungarian vote at the election of the new Human Rights Council is not public

A new body established 9th of May 2006 will replace the UN Commission on Human Rights. The HCLU has inquired at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the ballots cast by Hungary and the criteria taken into account at the election. As it is known the Council also consist of countries which are responsible for grave human rights violations such as Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia.

In our request for data of public interest we have asked the following:

1. Which countries were elected by the delegation of Hungary in the first, in the second and in the third electoral turn in the General Assembly of the United Nations?

2. By what kind of criteria was evaluated the human rights situation of the candidate countries before the election?

3. Please, deliver for us the copy of the documents which contains this information, including records which were made by the competent officials of the Hungarian government before and during the process, if these are in connection what they considered and how they evaluated the human rights situation of the countries which were finally elected by Hungary.

Only our second question was answered reasoning by the diplomatic interests of Hungary. The ministry’s point of view is comprehensible if we read the following letter, it outlines a paradox of the freedom of information: sometimes our very fundamental right to obtain data of public interest jeopardise other democratic values.

Dear Mr President,

Dr. Ferenc Somogyi was delighted to have received your mail from the 18th May 2006 regarding Hungarian foreign policy relating to the election of the members of the Human Rights Council (HRC) of the UN. Do allow me to provide an answer to these questions on behalf of the Minister about the election, moreover about our consideration of publicising questions relating to this issue.

Prior to the vote, the Hungarian Diplomatic Delegation according to various aspects rated the human rights conditions in the designated countries and after having taken all of these into consideration made the final decision on which countries to support.

From the very beginning and together with countries regarding the issue of human rights a priority, we supported drafting a criteria that would have prevented states seriously violating human rights from becoming members of the HRC. Despite the fact that at the end of the day the International Community did not outline any prerequisites for members, Hungary - in accordance with the EU and other democratic like-minded member states - did not cast its ballot for countries that are either under some kind of sanction of the Security Council or if the UN Commission on Human Rights (including the 1 1503 confidential communications procedure) or the 3rd Committee of the General Assembly had passed a resolution against them in connection with human rights conditions in the past few years. Other countries including this group were those with a political system coupled with a human rights policy unacceptable for Hungary, moreover countries where the International Community could not record a positive change in the recent past.

In order to determine the conditions of human rights in the candidate states, charts provided by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (both worked according to the same criteria) were both a great help. These charts besides rating human rights in the given country also contained their undertakings (ratifying agreements, altering certain internal legislation, financial contribution to the budget of the UN Human Rights High Commissioner etc) as regards to human rights.

Considering that ensuring the presence of EU in the Council meant a priority for the members of the Union, we gave this issue an increased attention during the preparation of the voting. From Hungarian part we also regarded as a significant aspect that the countries providing presidency of the EU in the forthcoming period would be members of the HRC.

Besides those above you inquired in your letter about which countries Hungary voted in the election of the members of the Council and also asked us to provide internal documents considering the evaluation of the stance of human rights in these countries. To our pity we cannot fulfil these requests, since publishing the requested information in accordance with Article 19/A. para. (1) and (2) of the Act LXIII of 1992 on the Protection of Personal Data and Public Access to Data of Public Interest would unambiguously ‘endanger the lawful operational order or the performance of the sphere of tasks and powers void of unauthorized external influence’ of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

With respect to the foreign policy of our country it would be very disadvantageous if the lobby strategy followed by Hungary in the forthcoming elections in international organisations would get publicity. It is also worrisome that the publicity of our routine in these fields would negatively affect our position in negotiations and that would also put our diplomacy in a disadvantageous position over against other countries. Besides, the publicity of the inquired data might harm other countries’ vital interests and would easily lead them to avoid negotiations with Hungary and also bypass agreements proposed by us. As you might understand, all those above would limit the elbowroom of our diplomacy with regard to several international organisations and countries, and it would impede exercising our foreign affairs interests.

Furthermore, we are not alone with these considerations, not least of all due to these reasons has the UN General Assembly decided to elect Committee members by vote of confidence. In our opinion, assuming those mentioned, it would establish a quite negative precedent to publish the countries our country cast its votes for and the criteria – against the GA’s decision.

Please handle our position with regard of Hungary’s foreign affair aspirations, our commitment of human rights and our strong will of amelioration, in the same time in accordance with the age-long practice of the unwritten law of diplomacy. Let me take this opportunity to thank your attention towards this very case and also for your important work to enforce human rights, to that I can only wish good luck!

Budapest, 31 May, 2006

Best regards,

Dr. László Szőke
Deputy State Secretary



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