7 March 1996


7 March 1996

Press Release


19960307 GENEVA, 6 March (UN Information Service) -- Hungary's unique legislation on the rights of ethnic and national minorities and reports of attacks against members of the country's Roma (Gypsy) community were considered by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this afternoon.

As the panel began to examine a Hungarian Government report on implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, several of its members noted that the Act on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities favoured self-government and autonomy for minorities. In opting for the affirmation of the collective rights of minorities and the enshrining of a true regime of autonomy, Hungary diverged from countries which had elected to recognize only the individual rights of persons belonging to minorities.

The issue of autonomy was important, but it could be dangerous if not properly practised, one expert noted. It was very important that the exercise of that principle should never lead to the dismemberment of a country or imperil the territorial integrity or sovereignty of States. Committee members also expressed concern about reports of racist attacks against members of the Roma community, which had been allegedly met by a passive police response.

Also this afternoon, the Committee condemned the recent terrorist acts in Israel, which had resulted in "the indiscriminate killing of innocent people". The Committee joined the Secretary-General in calling on the international community to stand together and speak out against all acts of terrorism. It also expressed its resolute and full support for the Middle East peace process.

Statement on Terrorist Attacks in Israel

The Committee decision expressed "grave concern" over terrorist acts victimizing certain racial, ethnic and national groups. It condemned all forms of terrorism and stressed the necessity of strengthening international cooperation to prevent such attacks. In the same spirit, it condemned and denounced the recent terrorist acts in Israel resulting in the indiscriminate killing of innocent people.

The Committee joined the Secretary-General in calling on the international community to stand together, to speak out and to unite in action against all acts of terrorism. It reiterated that there was no justification whatsoever for such acts. "The Committee expresses its resolute and full support for the Middle East peace process and for what has been so painstakingly achieved by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the interest of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples", it stated.

Report of Hungary

Introducing the report, PÉTÉR NARAY (Hungary), said respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms had been a major driving force in the democratic transition of Hungary. The rights guaranteed by the new constitutional provisions adopted in 1989 were specified and given effect by a number of relevant enactments. The different legal codes had been modified accordingly. The establishment of the Constitutional Court had been a cornerstone in introducing the rule of law. The functions of the Court included reviewing the constitutionality of legislation and draft laws. In the area of human rights, Hungary had ratified all the important Conventions and incorporated them in its domestic law.

He said he was pleased to inform the Committee of several significant developments of particular relevance to the implementation of the Convention. The Ombudsman Act LIX of 1993 provided for the establishment of one general and two specialized ombudsmen posts -- Parliamentary Commissioners for human rights, for national and ethnic minority rights, and for data protection and freedom of information. Furthermore, on 19 November 1995, elections for minority local self-government had taken place. As a result of the elections, 61 local governments could be set up by Gypsies, 38 by Germans, 13 by Slovaks, 7 by Armenians, 6 by Croats, 5 by Poles, 4 by Greeks, 2 by Bulgarians and 1 each by Romanians and Slovenians.

The Government was aware that the solution of the complex problems of the Roma population required an integrated policy approach, he continued. In 1995, the Government decided to elaborate -- in coordination with the national Roma Minority Self Government -- a Programme of Action covering education, employment and measures on farming, social welfare and combating discrimination. The President had proposed an amendment -- now before Parliament -- to the Penal Code for more effective prosecution of acts committed with a racial motivation. Hungary also expected to be the first country in central and eastern Europe in which compensation and/or return of properties confiscated from the Jewish population would take place. The Government had endeavoured to enter into a meaningful dialogue with those of neighbouring countries with a view to conclude bilateral agreements on cooperation for the promotion of the situation and the rights of minorities.

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Discussion of Report

LUIS VALENCIA RODRIGUEZ, Committee rapporteur, expressed satisfaction at the fact that Hungary had recognized the competence of the Committee to examine communications from individuals or groups complaining of violations of the Convention. The new law on the rights of national and ethnic minorities was also to be welcomed. However, the law did not apply to what the report called "new minorities". The Government should study the possibility of normalizing the situation of these "new minorities" so as to put them on an equal footing with established minorities.

The expert recalled that the Constitutional Court had struck down an essential part of article 269 of the Penal Code, which made any "affront to the community" a criminal offence. This deserved special attention within the framework of Article 4 of the Convention, which enjoined States parties to sanction the spread of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred and incitement to racial hatred, among other forms of behaviour.

It seemed that the courts had treated rather benignly a number of persons involved in incidents apparently constituting clear violations of Article 4, he said. As for incidents of violence, both the report of the United States Department of State and that of Amnesty International highlighted acts of violence committed against Gypsies, including by the police. Cases had also been recorded of ill-treatment of foreigners at the hands of the police, including at a refugee camp in August 1993. Noting that Hungary had become a country of asylum, he requested information on asylum and immigration procedures and the possibility foreigners had to seek relief in the courts.

Other experts asked for more information on the rights granted to minorities and for clarification of Hungary's definition of the term "national minority". Given the delicate nature of the issue, the application of legislation such as the 1993 Act on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities required very strict criteria. Another member said the Act could have far-reaching repercussions. The Act put special emphasis on the right to preserve ties with the mother countries. The Act also aimed to create conditions under which the assimilation process of minorities could be halted and reversed. Rather than integrating them into the nation, the Act favoured self-government and autonomy for minorities.

The police had shown little zeal in prosecuting cases of attacks against Roma by "skinheads", a member said. The situation with respect to the Gypsies in Hungary was alarming, according to another member, who also asked whether there was a Bosnian minority in Hungary. With reference to the compensation paid to Jews, he said other groups had also had property confiscated during

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the Second World War. The Serbs, for example, had lost property, yet they had not received compensation.

The report stated that the Government had abandoned the policy of "homogenizing" minorities, an expert pointed out. But what was it doing in relation to those persons who had lost their self-identities as a result of that policy? The report seemed to minimize attacks on foreigners and dark-skinned persons. He shared the interpretation contained in Hungarian law recognizing the right of minorities in one country to maintain relations with people in other countries who shared their linguistic or ethnic identity. That was not a matter of double loyalty or insubordination.

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For information media. Not an official record.