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For the rule of law and human rights in Hungary – our 25 main achievements in 2016
We gave 832 clients free legal advice about police measures, ill-treatment and their rights in detention.
2800 asylum-seekers received free legal advice about the asylum procedure, their rights in detention and family reunification. Our clients include survivors of torture, children and women on their own and people fleeing the most terrible wars of our time. Our colleagues are present in every place where asylum-seekers are detained or accommodated, and we are also available to give legal advice in our office in Budapest.
We won a landmark case before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights concerning access to public interest information. The Grand Chamber judgment made it clear that people can apply to the European Court of Human RIghts if state authorities refuse to disclose data of public interest.
With the help of German Jesuits and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (USA), we helped 14 refugees in getting their loved ones unite with them safely in Hungary. 29 family members of refugees in Hungary were able to travel here with our help in a lawful manner, safely and relatively fast in 2016.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the detention of our client, a gay Iranian asylum-seeker, was unlawful. The Court agreed with our view that refugees cannot be detained for longer periods of time on the ground of uncertain identity, and that authorities should pay special attention to vulnerable refugees during detention.
Hungarian courts have repeatedly found in cases taken by the HHC that the right to human dignity is breached if authorities use psychological tests to assess an asylum applicant’s sexual orientation.
Together with other NGOs, we achieved that the government could not nominate a new Hungarian judge to the European Court of Human Rights behind the scenes, and instead, an open call for applications had to be issued. As a result of the open procedure, a completely new list of candidate judges was drawn up.
We put forward a set of 11 recommendations to reduce overcrowding in prisons. Following up on the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, the Hungarian Parliament enacted a law that paves the way for legal action in domestic courts against overcrowding.
We reached an agreement with the Hungarian National Police Headquarters regarding their practice of harassing ID-checks against homeless persons. The police agreed to issue a circular to its officers to stop random ID-checks of indigent people while they are queuing for food donations or receiving any other types of social services.
The Immigration and Asylum Office has been refusing protection to asylum-seekers on the ground that Serbia is a safe third country for them. In many cases represented by HHC attorneys, Hungarian courts have found these decisions unlawful as Serbia is not a safe third country.
In two-thirds of the asylum cases represented by HHC attorneys, the court found that the Immigration and Asylum Office’s decisions had been unlawful.
We made recommendations showing how several hundreds of millions of Hungarian Forints could be saved on petty offense procedures, and how custody in petty offense procedures could also be significantly reduced.
The return to Greece of two of our asylum-seeker clients was successfully halted after the European Court of Human Rights granted interim measures against the Dublin transfers. We argued that the Greek asylum system is still not able to offer protection to asylum-seekers. As a result of these interim measures, the Immigration and Asylum Office suspended its practice of ordering asylum-seekers to be returned to Greece under the Dublin III Regulation.
A truck driver, who had been held in pre-trial detention and was later found by the domestic court to be innocent, obtained damages at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He was also represented by the HHC.
Police officers who had ill-treated our Roma clients in the city of Hatvan were convicted by the court. One of the police officers was given an effective prison sentence.
In three cases, the UN Human Rights Committee halted the deportation of our asylum-seeking clients from Hungary to Serbia, or Bulgaria, accepting our reasoning that neither the Serbian, nor the Bulgarian asylum system is able to provide effective protection to them.
Our client was awarded damages of half a million Forints by the court in Győr after a humiliating traffic inspection had resulted in physical violence against the plaintiff.
We carried out human rights monitoring visits to six prisons. The National Prison Service agreed with several of our recommendations resulting from the visits.
Several of our long-standing recommendations have now been included in the draft of the Penal Procedure Code, such as expanding the use of bail, or that defense counsels for indigent suspects should be appointed by the Bar Association rather than the police.
One of our clients from Ivory Coast was gravely assaulted because of his skin color. As a result of the HHC’s attorney’s intervention, the accused were sentenced to prison for a hate crime.
1800 people became familiar with our human rights work and represented cases through a series of altogether 56 public events we organised.
Our expert colleagues organised and gave trainings throughout the world to asylum judges, asylum officers and university teachers, including in Central and South America, Northern Africa and in the Caucasus. The Refugee Law Reader project contributed to launching refugee law courses at many universities around the world, for example in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Venezuela, Brasil, Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica and Morocco. We also gave advice in establishing refugee law clinics at universities in Russia and Uruguay.
We joined efforts with two theater groups, Mentőcsónak and Füge Productions, to create an interactive theatrical piece, titled: “Seek Refuge Cleverly”, which became a great success.
We campaigned for invalid votes, together with other NGOs, in the anti-migrant and anti-refugee national referendum that was held on 2 October 2016. The referendum failed.
For the second time, we won a case against FIDESZ when the party called the credibility of our refugee work into question. The Metropolitan Court in Budapest ordered Fidesz to pay 1 million Forints to the Helsinki Committee as it had repeatedly made the injurious statements.
Coverphoto: © Csízi Zsolt / AVM, Hungarian Helsinki Committee