The European Commission must take action to ensure that Hungary’s new Constitution and media laws are brought into line with EU human rights standards, Amnesty International said today.
The new Constitution, which took effect on 1 January, may create barriers for citizens to complain to the Constitutional Court and discriminate against LGBTI people in Hungary, while restrictive media laws introduced in late 2010 threaten freedom of expression.
“The European Commission must do more to scrutinize Hungary’s Constitution and new laws, which we fear could have serious consequences for human rights in the country,” said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director
“All EU member states have an obligation to respect human rights.”
In December 2011, Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, raised concerns with the Hungarian government about specific portions of the Constitution.
But Amnesty International is concerned that the European Commission’s analysis has been too focused on technical shortcomings while ignoring the wider negative impact on human rights caused by the Constitution and the other new laws.
Access to the Constitutional Court
A new law on Hungary’s Constitutional Court appears to diminish ordinary citizens’ right to legal remedy.
Citizens are now required to have legal representation to make a constitutional complaint, and judicial authorities have the discretion to levy a €1,700 fine against complainants who “abuse of [the] right to submit a petition”.
LGBTI people in Hungary potentially face broad discrimination under the new Constitution, which defines a family as a unit “based on the marriage of a man and a woman, or linear blood relationship, or guardianship”.
“This restrictive definition of what constitutes a family discriminates against same-sex couples, and may prevent courts from extending the institution of marriage to them in the future,” said Nicola Duckworth.
Freedom of expression
A central criticism of the media laws is their concentration of the power over the media with the National Media and Infocommunications Authority. Human rights organizations have denounced the resulting lack of impartiality, saying it could lead to “arbitrary control over the tendering and licensing process.”
In December 2011, the authority decided not to grant a licence to Klubradio, an independent news radio station that has been critical of the government. The move will force the station off the airwaves after its current licence expires next month.
“A single government agency now has the power to silence critical media voices in Hungary, a situation that is already adversely affecting freedom of expression,” said Nicola Duckworth.
“The European Commission must act without delay to ensure that Hungary’s government upholds human rights and undertakes the necessary reforms to bring its media laws and new Constitution in line with EU norms.”