MINELRES: UN Independent Expert on minority issues visits Hungary: press release

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Thu Jul 6 15:20:29 2006

Original sender: Erik Friberg <EFriberg@ohchr.org>


Press Release 


4 July 2006

The following statement was issued today by the United Nations
Independent Expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall:

The United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall,
has concluded her visit to Hungary which took place from 26 June to 4
July 2006. Ms. McDougall praised the high degree of cooperation and
assistance demonstrated by the Government of Hungary in the course of
her visit, and also the valuable assistance of many civil society
organizations and institutions. During the course of her visit, the
Independent Expert held numerous consultations in Budapest, and
undertook visits to Roma communities in the Pecs region and to other
minority groups to see first-hand the situation of minorities. 

Ms. McDougall highlighted that the Hungarian Government has demonstrated
significant political will to address the unique needs of and problems
faced by minorities in general and, in particular, the Roma minority.
National legislation and institutional structures in a network of the
most relevant ministries, including the office of the Prime Minister,
have raised the focus on the social circumstances of Roma to the highest
levels of government. In addition, in 2002, the government made an
important decision to bring in to the ministries Roma professionals to
shape policy decisions and assist implementation. Since 1995, an
independent Parliamentary Commissioner (ombudsman) for the Rights of
National and Ethnic Minorities has played a critical role in enforcing
the constitutional ban on discrimination. A comprehensive
anti-discrimination law and a newly established Equal Treatment
Authority to handle complaints, were also welcomed by Ms. McDougall as
valuable new additions to Hungary's legal standards and enforcement

Roma organizations as well as Government officials reinforced the fact
that Roma have been the most affected by Hungary's difficult transition
period from socialism to market based economy, and that many had lost
their employment following economic decline and privatisation of state
industries. Statistics demonstrate that between the late 1980s and early
1990s a disproportionately high percentage of employed Roma lost their
jobs, compared to members of other communities. Amongst the Roma,
startling statistics also reveal a life expectancy some 10 years less
than that of the general population. Education of Roma is characterized
by widespread segregation on racial grounds, and poor educational
opportunities were also highlighted by Ms. McDougall as areas requiring
dedicated attention to ensure equality for all of Hungary's children. 

The estimated 600,000 Roma population face serious discrimination,
exclusion and unusually high levels of poverty. Nationwide Roma
unemployment rates greatly exceed those of non-Roma, and the Office for
National and Ethnic Minorities admits rates of 90 to 100 percent in
particularly disadvantaged regions. This office also highlights the fact
that thousands of Roma are living without running water, electricity and
other basic services. The desperate situation faced by Roma is not only
the consequence of the transition to a market economy, but is also due
to the pervasive effects of racial discrimination. 

Ms. McDougall expressed concerns that moves by the newly re-elected
government to dismantle its current institutional focus on Roma issues,
in favour of a broad-based policy to address 'disadvantaged groups',
could lead to an erosion of progress on Roma issues that require urgent
and focused attention. She highlighted in particular concern over the
situation of Roma in the fields of education and employment, as well as
the need to comprehensively address the widespread societal
discrimination and anti-Roma prejudice. 

Hungary's post-communist constitutional arrangements entrenched
significant autonomy for municipal authorities in areas such as
education. This has thwarted the national government's efforts to gain
broad-based compliance with national policies on issues such as school
desegregation. Ms. McDougall noted that the government must take
effective steps to monitor and enforce compliance with national
standards and fulfillment of rights of Roma at the municipal level. 

Following meetings with leaders of some of Hungary's unique minority
self-governments, and a visit to a minority German community, Ms.
McDougall considered the system to be a valuable contribution to efforts
to enable cultural autonomy for thirteen minority groups in Hungary (1).
She cautioned, however, that the system should not be considered as a
means of confronting the weighty social and economic problems faced by
the Roma. Essential steps are needed to provide full and effective
political participation of Roma at the national level, which is required
as a key means to fulfill their rights. 

Ms. McDougall will present a comprehensive report on her visit to
Hungary containing her findings and recommendations to the United
Nations Human Rights Council. 

In 2005, Ms. McDougall was appointed the first UN Independent Expert on
minority issues, in accordance with the provisions of Commission on
Human Rights resolution 2005/79. Ms. McDougall, a human rights lawyer,
was Executive Director of Global Rights between 1994 and 2006. She has
served as an expert member on the UN treaty body that oversees the
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination (ICERD), and on the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion
and Protection of Human Rights. 

Note for editors: 
(1) Hungary officially recognizes 13 national and ethnic minorities
(listed in alphabetic order): Armenian, Bulgarian, Croatian, German,
Greek, Polish, Roma, Romanian, Ruthenian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian and

For more information about the role and function of the Independent
Expert on minority issues, please visit the homepage at:

Erik Friberg
Special Procedures Branch
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais Wilson 3-016
CH - 1211 Geneva 
Phone: + 41 (0)22 917 9645
Fax: + 41 (0)22 917 9006

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