For Immediate Release: October 20, 2010
Washington DC – Today, as Ministers from the Council of Europe convene in Strasbourg to discuss the problems of discrimination that Roma face, Human Rights First is calling on the Hungarian government to implement a set of concrete and achievable measures to improve responses to hate crimes against Roma. In its Blueprint for Combating Violence Against Roma in Hungary, unveiled today during an event at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the organization urges the Hungarian government to show political leadership on this issue, publicly commit to investigate all hate crimes, update legislation and implement practices to address hate crime more systematically.
“Though the plight of Europe’s Roma has captured growing international attention due to the expulsions in France, Hungary’s Roma have long experienced widespread discrimination and violence,” said Human Rights First’s Paul LeGendre. “The Hungarian government has a responsibility to address the rising tide of intolerance and hate crime head on. This blueprint offers them a roadmap to achieve this much needed reform.”
LeGendre added: “This blueprint also contains a number of recommendations for the United States as it strives to advance human rights globally. As part of that outreach, the United States should strengthen work with the Hungarian government to protect the rights of Roma.”
Violence is not a new manifestation of anti-Roma prejudice, yet there has been a particularly sharp rise in serious—sometimes deadly—violent attacks in Hungary since 2008. This has inflamed social tensions and weakened the sense of protection from discrimination for minorities across the country. The violence has included severe beatings in broad daylight, murders by arson or shootings and the throwing of Molotov cocktail explosives that has resulted in physical injuries and property damage.
According to the Hungarian-based Desegregation Foundation, a group led by former European Parliament Member Viktória Mohácsi, 68 anti-Roma attacks – including 11 fatalities – occurred in Hungary between January 2008 and June 2009. Mohácsi, a leading domestic monitor of anti-Roma attacks and hate crimes and Human Rights First’s 2010 Human Rights Award recipient, has documented the most thorough account of the violence, has provided assistance to victims and has pressed for government responses. The Blueprint documents a number of the most serious hate crime cases, including several that are currently under investigation by the government.
Human Rights First notes that the violence committed against Hungary’s Roma has occurred against a backdrop of underlying factors, including persistent discrimination, negative societal attitudes, and hateful rhetoric that have exacerbated stereotyping of Roma. The problem has only been worsened by shortcoming in the Hungarian government’s response which has been hampered by the underreporting of hate crime, mistrust rooted in policy misconduct, inadequate data collection mechanisms and an insufficient legal framework for identifying and addressing hate crimes.
In response to these findings, Human Rights First’s blueprint outlines a series of reforms for Hungarian politicians, law enforcement officials, and government leaders. It also poses suggestions for U.S. leaders.
Among its key recommendations to the Hungarian government are the following:
- Senior Hungarian government officials should speak out against violence against Roma or the members of any other group.
- The Hungarian authorities should ensure that law enforcement officials have clear guidelines to vigorously address crimes.
- The Ministry of Interior and other relevant ministries should commit to collecting and publishing data on the incidence and response to all hate crimes.
- Law enforcement officials should take steps towards increasing the confidence of hate crime victims to report crimes to the police. The authorities should ensure thorough investigations and prosecution of any reports of police misconduct or abuse.
- Senior law enforcement officials should ensure that police receive adequate training on community policing, conflict resolution at local level and on identifying and recording bias motivations.
- With regard to arrests already made in August 2009 in the murder of six Roma and other hate crime attacks, the Hungarian authorities should move quickly bring the suspects to account through a public and open trial.
Its recommendations to the United States include:
- Consistently raise the problem of violent hate crime, with representatives of the Hungarian government at all level of bilateral exchanges and encourage legal and other policy responses.
- Maintain strong and inclusive State Department monitoring and public reporting of racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-Roma, and other bias motivated violence.
- Offer appropriate technical assistance and other forms or cooperation, including assistance from experts in the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the investigation of individual hate crimes cases, as well as the training of police and prosecutors in investigating, recording, reporting and prosecuting violent hate crimes, including against Roma.
For more information about this work, visit http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/discrimination/pages.aspx?id=85.