The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has been advocating for the ratification and the proper implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. Below the most important steps and developments of the project can be consulted.
In April 2008, the Hungarian Helsinki Committe organised a roundtable meeting to promote ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). The event was hosted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman). Under the OPCAT, signatories undertake to designate or establish national preventive mechanisms (NPM's), which are funded by the state but are fully independent. NPMs have the mandate to carry out human rights monitoring in all and any facilities where persons are being detained in a country, regardless of the purpose and legal nature of the detention. So far, most EU member states have already signed and/or ratified the OPCAT but Hungary has not done so yet.
In 2009, the HHC continued to advocate for accession to the OPCAT in order to ensure that stable and independent civilian monitoring of detention is put in place in Hungary.
In 2011 activities in order to ratify the OCPAT and implement the NPM continued.
The HHC invited Elina Steinerte research fellow of the Human Rights Implementation Centre, Bristol University, who delivered an extensive report on the Hungarian situation.
The HHC in cooperation with the MDAC organised a conference in 2012. The program and the content of the conference were the following:
Monitoring in order to prevent torture
– preparing Hungary for the operation of the National Preventive Mechanism
8.30 – 9.00 arrival, registration
9.00 – 9.30 introductions
chair: Thomas Hammarberg former Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe
LEGAL OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE OPTIONAL PROTOCOL TO THE CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE (OPCAT)
9.30 – 9.55 Prof Malcolm Evans chair, Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture: What is the National Preventive Mechanism? Why the National Preventive Mechanism’s operation is important for governmental agencies? – background paper: SPT Guidelines
9.55 – 10.20 Dr Matthew Pringle programme officer, Association for the Prevention of Torture: What steps should be done that the National Preventive Mechanism functions effectively? Good international examples – the presentation
10.20 – 10.45 discussion with the participants
10.45 – 11.15 break
THE HUNGARIAN SITUATION
11.15 – 11.35 Prof Dr Máté Szabó Commissioner of Fundamental Rights: Preparation in 2012-2015 for the operation of the National Preventive Mechanism
11.35 – 11.55 dr András Kádár co-chair, Hungarian Helsinki Committee: The actual legal regulation in Hungary – in the view of NGOs
11.55 – 12.25 discussion with the participants
12.25 – 13.45 lunch
INTERNATIONAL EXAMPLES: CHALLENGES AND GOOD PRACTICE
13.45 – 14.10 Dr Rachel Murray director, University of Bristol Human Rights Implementation Centre: Challenges and good practices of NPMs operating in different organizational structures – background paper
14.10 – 14.35 Ivan Selih deputy ombudsman, head of the National Preventive Mechanism: The Slovene example – the presentation
14.35 – 15.00 discussion with the participants
15.00 – 15.30 break
15.30 – 15.45 Prof Malcolm Evans chair, Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture: Cooperation between the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, the NPM and the government – background paper: Analytical Self-assessment Tool for NPMs
15.45 – 16.00 Oliver Lewis executive director, Mental Disability Advocacy Center: Similarities of the NPM and the monitoring mechanisms of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – background paper: Checklist for Effective Implementation of Article 33 of the CRPD
16.00 – 16.15 Dr Matthew Pringle programme officer, Association for the Prevention of Torture: Domestic and international partnerships of the National Preventive Mechanism – the presentation
16.15 – 16.30 discussion with the participants
16.30 – 17.00 panel discussionmoderator: Dr Renáta Uitz professor, Central European University
– Thomas Hammarberg, former Commissioner for Human Rights of the CoE
– Prof Malcolm Evans chair, Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture
– Prof Dr Máté Szabó, Commissioner of Fundamental Rights
– dr Krisztián Gáva state secretary, Ministry of Public Administration and Justice
– Oliver Lewis executive director, Mental Disability Advocacy Center
– dr András Kádár co-chair, Hungarian Helsinki Committee
The event has been co-funded by the Open Society Institute and Zennström Philanthropies.
In November 2012 the Hungarian Helsinki Committee held a presentation on the ratification of the OPCAT and the operation of the NPM in Hungary at an international conference organized by the OSCE, the Ukrainian Ombudsperson and the Kharkiv Institute for Social Researches.
In 2013 the HHC has carried out numerous activities focusing on classic advocacy work (commenting on draft laws, consultations, etc.) and the preparation of an economic study examining the costs of the future Hungarian NPM.
The economic study prepared by the Budapest Institute – available in English – discusses three different budget scenarios showing a large scale of expenses which could be allocated to the operation of the NPM. One of the special features of the study is that it relies on the labour market when calculating the necessary costs and then compares the expenses with the required expenses of the single body NPM exclusively engaging public officials from the Ombudsperson’s Office in the work of the NPM. We hope that the paper may serve as a pioneer study on the necessary costs of the NPM and also offers a methodology free to be used by other experts and NPMs or state agencies for financial calculations.
In order to prepare the economic study the HHC has also compiled a list of closed institutions operating in Hungary, including their type (e.g. penitentiary, social care home), geographic location, the number of detainees and the average annual rate of overcrowding.
The Ministry of Justice drafted modifications to the Ombudsperson Act. The HHC commented on the draft modifications and also communicated its concerns previously shared. Finally the Ministry did submit the amendments to the Parliament arguing that the comments presented by the HHC and the Ombudsperson’s Office would have necessitated more thorough changes in the text of the law, and therefore this should be done later at once so the HHC requested consultations from the Ministry in the matter.
The HHC drafted a Memorandum of Understanding regulating the cooperation between the NPM and NGOs. In the proposal the necessary amendments to the Ombudsman’s Act are presented, followed by the suggested draft call for NGO submissions to become partners of the Ombudsperson’s Office in the delivery of the NPM tasks and a sample Memorandum of Understanding to be concluded by the Ombudsperson’s Office and the selected NGOs.
The NPM started its operation in 2015. Chapter III/A of Act No CXI of 2011 provides for the mandate and the procedural rights of the staff members of the NPM. The Ombudsperson set up the Civil Consultative Board (CCB) with the aim to maintain regular consultation with competent civil society organizations and associations. Members of the CCB are entitled to comment on the work of the NPM and to make suggestions but they are not involved in its substantive operation, such as the preperation of monitoring visits, and they are not invited to comment on the NPM reports before their publication. Although the law permits the Ombudsperson to invite outside independent experts to participate in the monitoring visits, in practice, monitoring visits are managed based on the limited internal capacities of the Ombudsperson's Office.
The CCB is composed of four members invited by the Ombudsperson (Hungarian Medical Chamber, Hungarian Psychiatric Association, Hungarian Association of Dietitians, Hungarian Bar Association) and four selected civil society organizations (Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Menedék – Hungarian Association for Migrants, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Mental Disability Advocacy Centre) who particpated in an application process.