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Roma refuse to accept police inaction during racist attack

Bring Human Rights Home: A Story from Hungary

“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2

It was the summer of 2012, a period of intense propaganda against Roma in Hungary. In Devecser, a small and peaceful town in the countryside, people heard that far rights groups were going to come and march against Roma. Four hundred people turned up, and life in Devecser would never be the same again.

Expecting problems, the police had asked Norbert Dömötör, president of a nearby Roma self-government, to assist. Local community leader Alfréd Király, known by everybody as Dzsoni, was at his brother’s house when he saw the protesters coming closer. To the family’s shock, they saw local residents joining the protesters. People were shouting ’you will die, come out, we will set your house on fire’. Some were throwing bottles and stones at them and other Roma families.

Dzsoni pleaded with the police to do something, but they barely responded. They allowed protesters to freely enter the streets where the Roma lived.

A changed town

Both the attack itself as well as the inaction of the police had been traumatic for the whole Roma community. Norbert knew something had to be done. He then read a press release by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights organisation, stating that the conduct of the police had been unlawful. Norbert decided to get in touch with them and spoke to Borbála Ivány, one of the lawyers at there. They decided to work together and get justice for the Roma community by going to court.

According to the national court however, the police had done enough. Norbert and Dzsoni lost the case in all instances in Hungary, and had to pay the legal fees for the state. In just one day, they raised the needed amount through crowdfunding. The fact that so many people supported them, including non-Roma citizens, gave Norbert and Dzsoni even more motivation to keep fighting.

The power of friendship

The next step was to apply to the European Court of Human Rights. Dzsoni and Norbert were not deterred by the time involved, nor the risk of their exposure. They were convinced of their task, and knew they had the legal expertise of Borbála and her colleagues to help them. Through their shared commitment, the three of them developed a strong friendship.

After five years, the European Court ruled. It stated that the police should intervene and stop such violent events from happening, showing Hungarian citizens that attacking minority groups is unacceptable. This time, Norbert and Dzsoni won. They were fully acknowledged in the moral and emotional damage caused by the event, and also got financial compensation. They donated the sum that they had raised through crowdfunding to local causes.

Their case had a significant long-term impact. At several similar demonstrations after the verdict, the police showed up with more forces, and paid more attention to protecting the targeted people. The three friends have set a real example that it is both necessary and effective to stand up for our rights.

Watch the story here: 

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Hungarian Helsinki Committee