Hungary must tackle 'virulent' hate of Roma, says UN rights panel
Friday, October 29, 2010
A top U.N. human rights panel on Thursday called on Hungary to tackle widespread and "virulent" hate speech, discrimination and violence against the Roma minority as well as rising anti-semitism.
"We spoke with Hungary and I think it recognized the extent to which attitudes in society have to be changed," said Michael O'Flaherty, a member of the U.N. Human Rights Committee after the panel reviewed the central European state's record.
The 18 U.N. experts said in their concluding report that they were "concerned at the virulent and widespread anti-Roma statements by public figures, the media, and members of the disbanded Magyar Garda" nationalist movement.
Roma were also subjected to "persistent ill-treatment and racial profiling... by the police," the experts added.
Hungary has promised to make Roma integration one of its top priorities when it becomes the standard-bearer for the European Union in January 2011 by taking over the EU presidency for six months.
O'Flaherty underlined that the situation of Roma formed the most prominent part of the U.N. committee's hearing of Hungary.
They are "a very substantial minority in Hungary and subject to very widespread social prejudice, discrimination and disadvantage," he explained.
Despite the government's strategy for Roma inclusion, the minority was still subjected to "widespread discrimination and exclusion" from education, housing, health and politics, the committee noted.
"Officers of the state have a particular responsibility and duty not reflect those prejudices and actively counter them," Flaherty explained.
"Another problem has to do with the rise of antisemitism," he added.
The U.N. panel called for specific measures to promote tolerance and counter "hate or racially motivated crimes" as well as prosecution of current or former Magyar Garda members.
The Roma minority have also been targeted by a wave of attacks and murders, forcing Hungarian authorities to call in the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, earlier this year to help track down the assailants.
Most of the 800,000 Roma, who account for just under 10 percent of Hungary's overall population, have to survive in abject poverty.
O'Flaherty also raised concerns about the Hungarian constitutional court's broad interpretation of freedom of speech laws and suggested it hampered legal attempts "to contain hate speech."
Anti-Roma sentiment in the country has grown with the economic downturn.
Billionaire investor George Soros said last week that he was prepared to make available millions of euros to bankroll projects to help integrate Roma in his native Hungary.
Meanwhile, the EU is mired in a row with another member state, France, after French authorities rounded up hundreds of Roma from illegal camps and sent them back to Romania and Bulgaria.
The U.N. committee oversees the world's main human rights treaty, the 166-nation International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Although the 1966 treaty upholds freedom of expression it also obliges countries to outlaw "any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence."