The HHC assessed the activities and independence of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights of Hungary with a view to its upcoming re-accreditation as a “national human rights institution”. The analysis shows that even though the Ombudsperson was active in a number of areas, he repeatedly failed to address adequately pressing human rights issues that are politically sensitive and high-profile.
In October 2019, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights of Hungary (i.e. the Ombudsperson) will be subject to a re-accreditation process as the national human rights institution (NHRI) of Hungary by the Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. This provides an important momentum for assessing the performance of the acting Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, László Székely, between 2014 and 2019 in light of the Principles relating to the status of national institutions (Paris Principles), adopted by the UN General Assembly. The Paris Principles are setting out the most important requirements for a well-functioning NHRI fulfilling its crucial role in protecting fundamental rights and freedoms.
As far as the mandate and powers of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights are concerned, its status is in compliance with the Paris Principles. However, for the assessment of the performance of an NHRI it is also important to look at “whether the NHRI demonstrates independence in practice and a willingness to address the pressing human rights issues”. In its paper, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) presents that even though the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights has the legal means at his disposal to protect and promote fundamental rights efficiently and effectively, and has indeed done so in a number of areas, he has repeatedly failed to address (or address adequately) pressing human rights issues that are politically sensitive and high-profile. These included laws, measures and policies that were considered problematic by various international human rights stakeholders, but at the same time were pursued eagerly by and were politically important for the government.
While the HHC acknowledges the efforts of the Commissioner in certain areas, it is of the view that his silence or inadequate performance in these human rights areas casts serious doubts as to his independence from the government in practice and to his willingness to address pressing human rights issues. This is especially problematic when we take into account the democratic backsliding in Hungary, and that the period since 2010 has been characterized by the governing majority transforming Hungary into an illiberal state. At times when checks and balances have been undermined and human rights have been violated repeatedly in the country, it would have been especially important that the Hungarian NHRI stands up for fundamental rights.
Finally, it shall be highlighted that in 2014, the SCA criticized that the current Commissioner for Fundamental Rights was selected as the candidate for the position by the President of the Republic in a non-transparent and non-participatory manner, and recommended changing the selection process. The mandate of the current Ombudsperson expires on 25 September 2019, and so his successor was elected by the Parliament in July 2019. However, the recommendations of the SCA were not complied with, and, in spite of the request of several NGOs, the new Commissioner, Ákos Kozma was appointed once again in a non-transparent and non-inclusive manner.
The performance of the current Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, taken together with the deficiencies of the selection process, raises serious doubts as to how independent the newly elected Commissioner for Fundamental Rights will be in practice and calls for close scrutiny of the new Commissioner’s activities and independence by both domestic actors and the SCA.
For that reason, it would be desirable if during the re-accreditation the SCA could look into and formulate clear recommendations regarding the issue of the Commissioner’s effective independence and would – with a view to assessing whether a special review might be needed – continue to monitor his performance in this regard even after the re-accreditation process is completed. Domestic stakeholders should facilitate such monitoring by providing reliable and balanced information on and assessment of the Commissioner’s activities.
The assessment paper of the HHC is available here.