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The new ombudsperson should be selected through open competition and consultation with civil society

Thirty-five non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and two former Ombudspersons, Jenő Kaltenbach and László Majtényi turned to the President of the Republic, Janos Áder in an open letter yesterday. In the letter, the President is called to ensure open competition and consultation with NGOs in the process of selecting the new Commissioner for Fundamental Rights. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) launched a petition campaign today, titled “Ombudsperson for All”, that can be joined by both individuals and organizations to ensure that the new Commissioner is truly the “People’s Advocate”.

On September 25, 2019, the mandate of László Székely, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights expires. Under the applicable Hungarian law, the President of the Republic will make a proposal for the person of the new Commissioner for Fundamental Rights between 26 June and 13 August.  Civil society organizations, and former Ombudspersons are asking the President of Hungary, János Áder to comply not only with domestic regulations, but to also take into account the relevant international standards, such as wide consultation with non-governmental organizations and representatives of the concerned professionals.

The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights (the Ombudsperson) is Hungary’s sole national human rights institution (NHRI), which classification also entails the compliance with the so-called Paris Principles. According to the Paris Principles, an open, transparent, merit-based and participatory selection and appointment procedure is required during the selection and appointment process of the new Commissioner.

One of the sub-committees of the United Nations (the Sub-Committee on Accreditation or SCA) also specified that “the selection process should be under the control of an independent and credible body and involve open and fair consultation and participation of NGOs and civil society in the application, screening, selection and appointment process.”[1]

Even though the Hungarian law does not prescribe a broad dialogue or open competition, neither does it prohibit the President of the Republic to apply such methods when selecting the new Commissioner. Therefore, there is no obstacle to apply the UN’s requirements in order to safeguard the interests of the Hungarian citizens in this year’s selection process. This would be a very similar approach to a 2016 situation when, in  the end, the Hungarian judge to the European Court of Human Rights was selected through an open call, although domestic law did not require such a process.

The signatory NGOs and former Ombudspersons urge the President of the Republic to establish a procedure that can identify the suitable candidate on the basis of predetermined objective criteria, with the involvement of the widest possible range of organisations. There is still time to act accordingly.

It is not recommended for the President of the Republic to select the candidate for the position of Commissioner behind closed doors, since the SCA has already notified Hungary on the inadequacy of the domestic appointment procedure of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights earlier. The next SCA review on the Commissioner’s status as a national human rights institution is scheduled to take place in October this year.

According to the letter’s drafters the suitable candidate shall be a jurist with a high level of theoretical knowledge and practical experience in the field of human rights, who is independent of party politics, who is also capable of representing human dignity and human rights, irrespective of the political affiliation of the government, and who is willing to undertake conflicts, even if it involves opposing the executive power, and also who is able to represent all these values on a  high professional in public. In addition, the potential candidate shall be well informed about environmental and minority rights, freedom of information and privacy rights.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee – after initiating the civil society organisations’ above letter – is also launching an online petition today. The “Ombudsman for All” campaign may be joined by any organisation and private individual who agrees that the prospective Commissioner shall neither be professionally unsuitable, nor someone who is affiliated with party politics, but someone who may truly be the “People’s Advocate”.

The letter addressed to the President of the Republic can be accessed in Hungarian here, and in English here.



[1] General Observations of the Sub-Committee on Accreditation adopted by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions(GANHRI) Bureau at its Meeting held in Geneva on 21 February 2018 (Section 1.8.: Selection and appointment of the decision-making body of NHRIs). P 23. See: https://nhri.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/GANHRIAccreditation/General%20Observations%201/EN_GeneralObservations_Revisions_adopted_21.02.2018_vf.pdf

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Hungarian Helsinki Committee