Peers of the Hungarian Ombudsperson, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, recommend that the Commissioner’s national human rights institution status is downgraded from “A” to “B”. According to their report, the reason for the downgrading is that the Commissioner has not effectively engaged on and publicly addressed all human rights issues, including in relation to vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, LGBTI, refugees and migrants as well as constitutional court cases deemed political and institutional. This also demonstrates a lack of sufficient independence. The report echoes concerns voiced by the HHC earlier.
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The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights is Hungary’s national human rights institution (NHRI). National human rights institutions are accredited by their peers, the Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI). They are granted “A” or “B” status depending on their compliance with a UN resolution called the Paris Principles, which includes the requirements pertaining to the guarantees of an NHRI’s independence. Having a “B” status means that the institution cannot vote or hold office in GANHRI, may participate only as observers in the meetings of the national human rights institutions, and cannot participate actively in the work of the Human Rights Council.
The SCA, comprised of four “A” status national human rights institutions, reviewed the activities and independence of the Hungarian Ombudsperson in June 2021. Based on its assessment, the SCA recommends in its report published today that the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights is downgraded to “B” status. The SCA is of the view that Ákos Kozma (the current Ombudsperson) and his office have not effectively engaged on and publicly addressed all human rights issues, including in relation to vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, LGBTI, refugees and migrants as well as media pluralism, civic space and judicial independence. The SCA also raises as criticism that the Ombudsperson has been reluctant to refer complaints to the Constitutional Court for review in cases that it deems political or institutional. According to the report, it remains a problem that the Ombudsperson’s selection process is not sufficiently broad and transparent. Furthermore, the Ombudsperson has made limited use of international and regional human rights mechanisms in relation to sensitive issues. The SCA is of the view that the Ombudsperson has not spoken out in a manner that promotes protection of all human rights. The failure to do so demonstrates a lack of sufficient independence. Therefore, the SCA is of the view that the Ombudsperson is operating in a way that has seriously compromised its compliance with the Paris Principles, and so recommend the downgrading of its status.
The SCA’s report shows that they agreed with the assessment put forward by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee earlier. In our shadow report submitted this February, prepared with help from Amnesty International Hungary, Eötvös Károly Institute, Háttér Society and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, we analysed the Commissioner’s activities and independence in detail. Our conclusion was that while the Commissioner has been very active in certain, politically neutral areas, he has been avoiding to go against the Government and the governing majority in politically sensitive cases, and has failed to step up or to step up adequately to protect the rights of affected groups.
This is not the first time that the SCA raises concerns regarding the activities of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights: in October 2019, the SCA has already deferred the review of the status of the Commissioner as a national human rights institution, because it was of the view that the previous Commissioner, László Székely, had not demonstrated adequate efforts in addressing all human rights issues, nor has it spoken out in a manner that promotes and protects all human rights. Ákos Kozma had more than one and a half year to make this right, but he and his office unfortunately have failed to do so. According to the report, the Ombudsperson maintains its “A” status until the SCA’s first session of 2022, allowing him to provide the documentary evidence necessary to establish its independence.
Update (May 2022): at its March 2022 session, the SCA maintained its recommendation to downgrade the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights. As a result, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights now holds a “B” status.