The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Dunja Mijatović, has called on Hungarian authorities to take action against widespread human rights abuses. Following a four day visit to Hungary in February, Mijatović released a report on 21 May discussing a wide range of issues – from immigration to gender equality. Her condemnation of the Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, and his ruling Fidesz party, follows a growing concern over the authoritarianism of the right-wing government.
In particular, Mijatović writes that, “Human rights violations in Hungary have a negative effect on the whole protection system and the rule of law. They must be addressed as a matter of urgency”. This includes the arbitrary detention of asylum seekers in transit zones along the Hungarian-Serbian border and “repeated reports of excessive violence by the police during the forcible removals of foreign nationals”. She criticized the government’s 2015 decree of a “crisis situation due to mass immigration”, which is yet to be lifted, and continues to act as a pretext for the harsh treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Following reports from Human Rights Watch in August 2018, Mijatović raised her concern “that many asylum seekers detained in the transit zones under an alien policing procedure have been deprived of food”, and called for the suspension of the practice.
The Commissioner’s report added that whilst the Hungarian government is doing much to encourage women to work, “the focus of the newly adopted family protection action plan lies on women as child bearers.” As such, Mijatović fears that this will only serve to “[reinforce] gender stereotypes and [instumentalize] women.” She further condemned the legislative measures that have undermined judicial independence and “have the potential to incur devastating consequences for the work of human rights defenders and NGOs.” Those involved in “civil society organizations have been subject to intimidation, stigmatization and smear campaigns”. Perhaps the most notorious case is the “Stop Soros” bill, passed last year, which criminalized those seeking to aid migrants in Hungary.
All aspects of Mijatović’s report form a wider picture of Viktor Orbán’s populist regime and the increasing control that he exercises over it. As Jan-Werner Müller writes in his book, On Populism, in which Orbán is used as a prime example, “populism distorts the democratic process” by “tampering with the institutional machinery of democracy in the name of the so-called people.” The government has re-worked the constitution, or “National Creed”, and changed the qualifications of the judiciary to alter its makeup. This year the Central European University was forced to move from Hungary after purposeful legislative restrictions alongside the “Stop Soros” bill last year which led to the establishment of an alternative court parallel to the Supreme Court.
Much of this seems to be justified by a fear-mongering and racist rhetoric against immigration- an issue that is supposedly driven by the American-Hungarian philanthropist George Soros. Last year’s successful election campaign was dominated by government-funded anti-semitic portrayals of Soros. The Prime Minister positions himself as a protector of Hungarian national values, steeped in Christian tradition. In a recent interview with the French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, the Prime Minister remarked: “Europe’s problem is Islam. And on the rise of Islam, what can I say? It is Christianity that has resisted that rise.”
In creating a self-styled image of the leader as an embodiment of the true Hungarian nation, Orbán has been able to undermine functioning democracy and human rights for the sake of “the people”. This must be defeated and a respect for human life re-established, no matter the nationality or religion.