Iratkozzon fel heti hírlevelünkre!
HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS IN THE EUROPEAN UNION
2007. december 11.
The European Union is the watchdog of Human Rights all over the World. Except in one region: the European Union.
There has been a deep crisis of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Hungary (Member State of the EU) since September 2006 when mass demonstrations began against Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and his government’s neo-liberal, neoconservative, „profit-only” politics. On 19-21 September and on 23 October 2006 - following the instructions of the government and the prime minister himself - the police inflicted injuries on several hundred people, many of them became disabled for life.
Among the injuries were 14 eye-injuries (mostly caused by rubber bullets), in most cases resulting in full or partial loss of the eye-sight of the victims. On the same days app. 300 arbitrary arrests and detentions took place, dozens of arbitrary criminal proceedings have still been going on against innocent people. No comprehensive fact finding/investigation of these shocking and unprecedented events has taken place in the past year by the European Union, by the Hungarian government or by any state authority. So far no government official or high ranking police officer has been held responsible and no attempts have been taken towards establishing responsibility. Not a single policeman (high or low-ranking) has been suspended or removed from the Hungarian Police in connection with their role in the brutalities, the mass violations of Human Rights. Similarly, no other government/state official has been “fired” in connection with the tragic events of last Fall. The severely injured people have not received any help, assistance, rehabilitation or financial compensation whatsoever from the abundant resources of the European Union or from the Hungarian government. It appears that the European Union and the Hungarian government consider the loss of eye-sight and other disabilities as well as the torture suffered in arbitrary detention the “private affair” of the victims, even though these were caused by state action, by the mass violation of Human Rights. The recommendations of the UN CAT Committee (see Appendix) regarding the ill-treatment by the police and the need to establish responsibility and compensating victims have been almost fully neglected by the government.
Neither the European Union nor the Hungarian government have taken any effective steps towards the prevention of the repetition of similar mass violations of Human Rights in the EU in general and in Hungary in particular. Moreover, more than a year after the terrible events of last Fall, the suppression of Human Rights, in particular the right to the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression/opinion has been an ongoing, every day experience in Hungary, in the EU. Examples include the events of 22nd and 26th of October 2007 when thousands of riot police arbitrarily “occupied” the streets of Budapest in a most frightening manner, abusing their powers, demonstrating arbitrary, most exaggerated, disproportionate force against demonstrators as well as journalists on duty and simple pedestrians. On these two days alone over a hundred individuals were arbitrarily arrested and than released without any explanation or excuse – with the clear aim of keeping people in fear and “disciplining” those who might like to exercise their Human Rights and criticize the dictatorial government.
The same European Union who immediately raises its voice in cases of much less serious violations of Human Rights in other parts of the World has not taken any effective measures towards the protection of Human Rights within the EU, in Hungary.
It is high time now to take the issue of Human Rights in the European Union seriously. The EU must take all effective measures towards the immediate and full compensation of the injured and the arbitrarily detained Hungarians – as well as those foreign citizens who were among the victims. Moreover, the EU must take all effective steps towards establishing responsibility, prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators – including those government officials who ordered the police to violate the law and Human Rights. Furthermore the EU must ensure, with all possible means, that the ongoing arbitrary proceedings are immediately discontinued.
· Some further information about the victims who must be rehabilitated, assisted and compensated by the state and by the EU (the latter due to its commitment to Human Rights and due to its available resources)
The majority of the injured were not even demonstrators but people who wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution, on 23 October 2006. According to official hospital and ambulance statistics on this day alone 150 civilians were injured by the police to the extend that they needed medical help. This figure included men and women, young and elderly, priest, member of Parliament, elderly medical professor, full families, and on the whole a crowd of mostly middle class people who wanted to peacefully celebrate and who were attacked indiscriminately by the brutal police. Several foreign citizens were injured, too. Many of them were having their dinner in restaurants when the riot police broke into the place and physically abused everybody indiscriminately. At this point we know that lots of people did not seek medical help -or did so in private, non-registered ways - , due to the well-founded fear that the authorities would take revenge on them. The injuries were caused by rubber bullets that were shot at head level and body level from short distances into people; form tear gas grenades that were thrown into the masses of people - in a most unprofessional and illegal way - and exploded; by the back of the swords of mounted police (on horseback) who galloped into the mass of those who celebrated the National Day at the commemoration organized by the largest opposition party. Moreover injuries were caused by the rubber-sticks and the kicks of police who pushed people – indiscriminately – on the ground and brutally abused them. The scenes of the brutalities included the centre of Budapest, where the largest opposition party, FIDESZ organized its mass-meeting with 100 thousand participants, as well as other streets of the capital, staircases of private houses, restaurants. It is now established – even by the police itself – that less than one minute after the end of the meeting of the FIDESZ party the police attacked the participants with tear gas, rubber-bullets and by physical abuse. Two minutes later the extremely frightening mounted police attack took place, with policemen pushing people- including families with small children, even babies- against the wall of houses and on the ground, causing several injuries with the back of their swords, too. The police treated the people participating at and leaving the legal and peaceful commemoration as criminal participants of an unauthorised protest – and applied violent measures that are strictly forbidden even in those cases.
Previously, in the nights of 19th and 20th September 2006 almost a hundred people were injured, too. The injuries were caused by beatings and kicks, with tear gas grenades, with rubber bullets. Several streets of Budapest looked like a scene after a natural disaster or in war, with injured people all along the ground, covered with blood.
· “Man-hunting”, arbitrary arrests, detentions and criminal proceedings
Between 19-21 September 2006 more than two hundred people were arbitrarily arrested and many of them were also tortured in prisons. These people were victims of “men-hunting” that took place on the streets of Budapest by the police when demonstrators were on their way home. According to the investigations of the Independent Lawyers’ Committee (Civil Jogász Bizottság), - that was based on the hearings of over 60 witnesses, researching documents, and the observation of photos and documentary films - and the experiences of the lawyers of the Foundation for the Legal Defence of Hungarians’ Rights, who represent most of the victims of ill-treatment – the typical scenario of these nights was the following. The legal and peaceful demonstration in front of Hungarian Parliament had about ten thousand participants, who gradually left the scene around midnight. The police arbitrarily picked individuals and small groups
- among them many who did not even participate at the demonstrations -, pushed them on the ground, brutally kicking and beating them. Following the physical abuse the victims were put into police-cars (where the abuse was continued in the majority of cases) and were taken to the police station. The victims were “converted into perpetrators”; the police alleged that it was the victims who attacked the police and not the other way around. Several police stations were converted to torture-houses where the detained victims suffered a variety of forms of physical and psychological abuses by police. (Similarly, the premises of the Hungarian Public Radio in the centre of Budapest were converted into a police facility where people were brutally abused.) Some people were released within 72 hours but about 150 were put before the court that imposed pre-trial custody on them. These hearings (court proceedings) took 3-4 minutes on average and they lacked even the most basic standards of human rights safeguards. Pre-trial detention lasted two weeks in most cases. In two weeks time the second instance court released most of the imprisoned victims of the mass human rights abuses, upon their appeal. (The second instance court found that in 90 (!) percent of the cases the pre-trial custody was illegal and/or ill-founded. Sadly, the judges who released the innocent people were “punished” and were put into different positions within the court system.) It is now an established fact, that dozens of people were tortured in prisons while in pre-trial custody. Even though the majority was released after two weeks of arbitrary detention most of them were subjected to criminal proceedings for a further period of 6-8 months, on average.
Arbitrary, fabricated criminal proceedings were started against app. 200 people, most of them in the style of the 1950-s Stalinism, which is well known in our country. In many cases these proceedings are still in going on and many innocent people were sentenced to prison terms between 2-3 years. The vast majority of the people who have been charged have not taken part in any violent act, just stood by or walked peacefully in the area where the police attacks were performed. Most of the people who have been charged have not endangered the public order at all. Many people were arrested alone and later they found themselves charged as a “member of a riot group assaulting policemen”. In most cases the only incriminating evidence is the report and testimony of the policemen who attacked the victims. Oddly, the records of both the cameras of the riot police and of the cameras permanently used for the observation of streets had “disappeared” in the cases of those people who plead innocent. A large variety of forms of violations of the rights to a fair procedure have been violated.
· Racial, sex-based and homophobic discrimination/abuses by the police during the events
In addition to severely violating the fundamental Human Rights of people to the freedom of assembly, to bodily integrity, freedom from torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment the police exercised a large variety of forms of discrimination that are forbidden by binding UN conventions (e.g. CEDAW, Convention against Racial Discrimination) as well as by European Union equal protection/treatment standards. Examples include the case of a Peruvian gentleman who resides in Budapest and who was “hunted down” by police while he walked from his home to buy gyros in the centre of Budapest. He was so brutally beaten that his nose was broken, among other injuries. While he was beaten the police called him a “dirty Gypsy” and made other racist remarks “on the basis” of the colour of his skin. On 23 October 2006 Mr. P.R. a Jewish –Hungarian gentleman was among the hundreds of participants of the meeting of the FIDESZ party who were physically abused. When he identified himself as Jewish to the police he received several extra beatings and painful anti-Semitic remarks. Almost all women who were attacked by the police and/or arrested were called “whores” by the policemen and were threatened by rape. Many of the attacked/arrested people were handsome looking young gentlemen, mainly students. Almost all of them were called “fagots” by the police and they were threatened with rape by “strong Gypsy criminals” in prison cells – “creatively combining” racism with homophobia.
· Summary of the situation today (December 2007)
So far no effective measures have been taken towards holding any high ranking police officers (commanders) responsible. Even though 42 policemen have been prosecuted they are all low-ranking. Also, no political responsibility was taken. One year after the events the Prime Minister (Mr Gyurcsány) told to the press: „I hope that Hungarian people learned the lessons of last autumn …” letting Hungarians know that mass human rights violations can take place again, at any time.
The severely injured people, many of whom became disabled for life, and those who were arbitrarily detained and suffered from torture and inhumane treatment in prisons have still not received any compensation from the state, in spite of the recommendations of the UN CAT Committee. An unknown but significant number of fabricated criminal proceedings are still going on against innocent people. An example that illustrates the lunatic nature of these proceedings is that of an elderly interior architect lady, who wanted to visit her diabetic granddaughter in hospital and instead she found herself grabbed onto the ground by police, was taken into custody, first charged with physically attacking and beating up four policemen. She was prosecuted (finally “only” for physically attacking and beating up one policeman) and she is now facing trial.
Another example is that of a student, who was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment in summary proceedings for allegedly throwing a bottle and another item towards the riot police. (Not causing any injuries.) The student have been pleading innocent. He did not have a fair trial on the first instance, his second instance trial will take place in December 2007.
The United Nation CAT (Committee Against Torture) addressed the issue of the mass police brutalities, arbitrary detentions and torture in the Fall of 2006 in Budapest. Unfortunately the Hungarian Government almost fully neglected the concerns and recommendations of this important Human Rights body, thereby demonstratively undermining the role of the treaty-body system of the UN. The European Union has so far not warned its Member State to take international Human Rights institutions and instruments seriously – as it would have certainly done in cases of countries outside the EU and outside the Western World.
This report was based on the fact-finding investigations and full report of the Independent Lawyers’ Committee (Civil Jogász Bizottság, the full report is available on www.oktober23bizottsag.hu) and on the cases and experiences of the Foundation for the Defence of the Legal Rights of Hungarians (Nemzeti Jogvédõ Alapítvány, www.nja.hu).
The Independent Lawyers’ Committee was set up by seven Hungarian Human Rights lawyers, co-chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Miklós Völgyesi and Associate Professor of Law Krisztina Morvai. The Foundation for the Defence of Legal Rights of Hungary is a group of practicing Human Rights lawyers, who also represent the majority of the victims of the Human Rights crisis in Hungary. We would be pleased to provide any further information on request.
Krisztina Morvai J.D. LL.M Ph.D
Co Chair of Independent Lawyers’ Committee
Foundation for the Defence of Legal Rights of Hungarians
Appendix: Relevant parts of concerns and recommendations by CAT – regarding Human Right abuses in Hungary, particularly in the Fall of 2006.
PARTS OF CAT REPONSE TO HUNGARY’S PERIODIC REPORT RELEVANT TO THE EVENTS OF SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2006
23 November 2006
COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE
6-24 November 2006
ADVANCE UNEDITED VERSION
CONSIDERATION OF REPORTS SUBMITTED BY STATES PARTIES
UNDER ARTICLE 19 OF THE CONVENTION
Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee against Torture
1. The Committee considered the fourth periodic report of Hungary (CAT/C/55/Add.10) at
its 738th and 741st meetings (CAT/C/SR.738 and 741), held on 15 and 16 November 2006, and
adopted, at its 748th and 749th meetings (CAT/C/SR.748 and 749), the following conclusions and
Ill-treatment and excessive use of force
14. The Committee notes with concern some allegations of excessive use of force and illtreatment
by law enforcement officials, especially in the course of or in relation to apprehension.
In this respect, the Committee is particularly concerned at reports emerging of alleged excessive
use of force and ill-treatment by the police during the demonstrations in Budapest in September
and October 2006. (articles 12 and 16)
The State party should give higher priority to efforts to promote a culture of human
rights by ensuring that a policy of zero tolerance is developed and implemented at
all levels of the police-force hierarchy as well as for all staff in penitentiary
establishments. Such a policy should identify and address the problems, and should
include the new Code of Conduct for Police Interrogations and introduce a code of
conduct for all officials as well as regular monitoring by an independent oversight
body. The State party should take measures to ensure that law enforcement officials
only use force when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the
performance of their duty.
15. The Committee is concerned at reports that law enforcement officers did not carry
identification badges during the Budapest demonstrations which made it impossible to identify
them in case of a complaint of torture or ill-treatment. (article 13)
The State party should ensure that all law enforcement officials be equipped with
visible identification badges to ensure the protection against torture, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment.
Prompt and impartial investigations
16. The Committee is concerned at the number of reports of ill-treatment by law enforcement
agencies, the limited number of investigations carried out by the State party in such cases, and
the very limited number of convictions in those cases which are investigated. (articles 12 and 16)
The State party should:
(a) Strengthen its measures to ensure prompt, impartial and effective
investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment committed by law
enforcement officials. In particular, such investigations should not be undertaken
by or under the authority of the police, but by an independent body. In connection
with prima facie cases of torture and ill-treatment, the suspect should be subject to
suspension or reassignment during the process of investigation, especially if there is
a risk that he or she might impede the investigation; and
(b) Try the perpetrators and impose appropriate sentences on those convicted in
order to eliminate the de facto impunity for law enforcement personnel who are
responsible for violations prohibited by the Convention.
Compensation and rehabilitation
17. While noting that the Act on Assistance to Victims contains provisions regarding the
right to compensation for victims of crimes and supporting services available for such victims,
the Committee regrets the lack of a specific programme to safeguard the rights of victims of
torture and ill-treatment. The Committee also regrets the lack of available information regarding
the number of victims of torture and ill-treatment who may have received compensation and the
amounts awarded in such cases as well as the lack of information about other forms of
assistance, including medical or psychosocial rehabilitation, provided to these victims (art. 14).
The State party should strengthen its efforts in respect of compensation, redress and
rehabilitation in order to provide victims with redress and fair and adequate
compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible. The State
party should develop a specific programme of assistance in respect of victims of
torture and ill-treatment. Furthermore, the State party should provide in its next
periodic report information about any reparation programmes, including treatment
of trauma and other forms of rehabilitation provided to victims of torture and illtreatment,
as well as the allocation of adequate resources to ensure the effective
functioning of such programmes.