UN rights office joins condemnation of Hungary reforms

Prime Minister Orban insists democracy is not threatened

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban facing criticism, from the United Nation’s human rights office, for Hungary’s constitutional reforms. Photograph Laurent Dubrule (Reuters)

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban facing criticism, from the United Nation’s human rights office, for Hungary’s constitutional reforms. Photograph Laurent Dubrule (Reuters)

Sat, Mar 16, 2013, 00:00

The Un ited Nations' human rights office has added its voice to international criticism of Hungary's constitutional reforms, despite the insistence of prime minister Viktor Orban that they do not endanger to his country's democracy.

Hungary's parliament, dominated by Mr Orban's centre-right Fidesz party, this week approved a controversial fourth amendment to a constitution that it introduced only last year.

The latest changes enshrine several government policies that were previously rejected by the constitutional court, including making it illegal to sleep on the streets, restricting political campaign adverts to state-controlled television and radio stations, and forcing university students who take state grants to work in Hungary for a certain number of years after graduation.

The amendment also restricts the constitutional court's right to veto future constitutional changes, theoretically making it much easier for the government to alter the constitution further.

“The amendment was passed without proper public discussion on issues that may have a very profound effect on the enjoyment of human rights by the Hungarian population,” Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN rights office, said yesterday.

“This raises serious concerns in a variety of areas, including a possible threat to the independence of the judiciary, the authority and jurisprudence of the constitutional court and, by extension, to the rule of law in general.”

Since taking power in 2010 with a two-thirds majority in parliament, Mr Orban has clashed with the Eu ropean Union, the United States and major international rights groups over a host of measures that they say undermine democracy and concentrate too much power in his hands.

“The Hungarian parliament adopted no legislation that would limit the powers of the constitutional court,” Mr Orban insisted in Brussels, where EU officials say they are studying the amendment and will take action if it breaks the bloc's rules.

“Who is able to present even one single point of evidence...which could be the basis for any argument that what we are doing is against democracy?” Mr Orban added.

“Saying 'we don't like something' is not concrete enough...I am more than happy to answer their questions.”