Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that inhuman and degrading treatment and abuse sometimes occurred. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) noted that the investigation of cases of mistreatment was often inefficient, the success rate of holding officials accountable for alleged mistreatment through indictments and prosecutions was low, and in some cases law enforcement officials (such as police officers and penitentiary staff) who were sentenced to suspended imprisonment for committing criminal offenses involving the mistreatment of detainees were permitted to continue working.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Official statistics and NGOs reported a decrease in prison overcrowding, while physical conditions in the prison system varied. There were occasional reports of physical violence by prison guards.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding decreased due to the use of facilities built from steel shipping containers in 2020. In response to a freedom of information request by the human rights NGO Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the National Prison Administration reported that the prison occupancy rate was at 95.48 percent of capacity in February.
On January 1, a law that entered into force restricted government compensation payments to those imprisoned in inhuman conditions. By law compensation granted in the final and binding court judgment is to be transferred to the penitentiary account of the inmate and reserved until his or her release from prison. Human rights NGOs viewed the law as discriminatory, since the government as the violator in such cases had authority to determine what inmates could do with the compensation they received for violation of their rights by authorities. Inmates were also vulnerable to prison governors who could decide matters affecting their daily lives, including whether to grant inmates access to the compensation on an exceptional basis in order to send payments to their families and other contact persons. According to NGOs, inmates were not allowed to use such compensation to pay their attorneys’ fees before their release. The new rules also excluded compensation for inadequate material conditions as long as the required living space was provided.
According to NGOs physical conditions in prisons varied, with dire conditions in some old prisons or parts of old prisons and better conditions in more recently built units.
Administration: NGOs reported that authorities occasionally failed to investigate credible allegations of mistreatment and that the investigation of cases of mistreatment (when undertaken) was often inefficient. There was no separate ombudsperson for prisons, but the ombudsperson’s office handled complaints of police misconduct and mistreatment that did not reach the level of a criminal offense. The lack of a thorough and effective domestic investigation into claims of mistreatment and violation of the prohibition of torture was established in at least two judgments by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2020 and 2021.
After a 16-month ban, the easing of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions made prison visits possible again effective July 1, but under significantly stricter conditions than before the pandemic. Only COVID-19-vaccinated detainees were allowed to accept COVID-19-vaccinated visitors. Authorities allowed inmates one visit per month by one person. As of August 1, one child older than age 12 was also allowed during a visit if both the child and accompanying adult were vaccinated. younger than 12 or unvaccinated family members were not allowed to visit. Human rights NGOs noted that rules for visits were not transparent and frequently changed by the director general of the Hungarian Prison Service.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture to conduct periodic and ad hoc visits to prisons and detention centers for both the country’s citizens and foreign nationals. As of November the national preventive mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture undertook 17 visits to the country (10 to prisons, one to a correctional facility, three to police facilities, and three to social institutions).
There has been no independent NGO monitoring of police detention centers and prisons since 2017, when authorities terminated monitoring agreements with NGOs.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Domestic and international human rights groups operated with some government restrictions affecting their funding. Government officials were generally uncooperative and unresponsive to their views.
In June 2020 the ECJ ruled that the country’s law requiring NGOs that receive foreign funding to register and label themselves as “foreign-funded organizations” violated EU law. In February the European Commission opened an infringement procedure for failing to comply with the ruling. Subsequently in May, the government submitted and adopted legislation that repealed the law and at the same time mandated the SAO to report annually on NGOs that had an annual budget of more than $66,000 and were “capable of influencing public life.” Sports, religious, and national minority organizations were exempted. Civil society groups noted that the SAO’s function was to audit organizations that manage public funds and national assets and expressed concern that the SAO would selectively audit NGOs that criticize government policies.
In July the government failed to reach an agreement with Norway’s Foreign Ministry on $255 million in funds due to a dispute regarding the disbursement of its $12 million civil society component. Based on an initial agreement reached in December 2020, both parties (Hungary and Norway) should have agreed upon an independent organization to manage the allocation of grant funds to NGOs. Norway maintained that the organization’s independence from government influence remained a precondition to the agreement. Although it originally agreed to the selection criteria, Norway stated that the Hungarian government’s objection to the chosen organization breached the agreement and disqualified Hungary from receiving funds. Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein suspended payment of a previous grant to Hungary under similar conditions in 2014.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution and law establish a unified system for the office of the commissioner for fundamental rights (ombudsperson). The ombudsperson has two deputies, one responsible for the rights of national minorities and one for the interests of “future generations” (environmental protection). The ombudsperson is nominated by the president and elected by a two-thirds majority of parliament. The ombudsperson is solely accountable to parliament and has the authority to initiate proceedings to defend the rights of citizens from abuse by authorities and entities providing public services. The constitution provides that the ombudsperson may request that the Constitutional Court review laws. Ombudsperson recommendations are not binding, however. The ombudsperson is also responsible for collecting electronically submitted reports of public benefit, e.g., whistleblower reports on public corruption, and operates the national preventive mechanism against torture.
On January 1, the ombudsperson’s office took over the mandate and tasks of the abolished Equal Treatment Authority. In its report covering June 14-24, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions Subcommittee on Accreditation recommended the ombudsperson be downgraded to “B” status. Its report stated that the ombudsperson “did not effectively engage on and publicly address all human rights issues, including in relation to vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, LGBTI individuals, refugees, and migrants, as well as in constitutional court cases deemed political and institutional, (such as) media pluralism, civic space, and judicial independence. Failure to do so demonstrated a lack of sufficient independence.” The recommendation to downgrade the status of the position was not to take effect for a period of one year, giving the ombudsperson the opportunity to improve performance.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The labor code provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions without previous authorization and conduct their activities without interference, although unions alleged requirements for trade union registration were excessive. The labor code prohibits any worker conduct that may jeopardize the employer’s reputation or legitimate economic and organizational interests and explicitly provides for the possibility of restricting the workers’ personal rights in this regard, including their right to express an opinion during or outside of working hours. Violations of this law, if proven in court, could result in monetary fines to compensate the employer for damages, although this labor code provision has rarely been implemented, and there were no reported instances during the year. Except for law enforcement and military personnel, prison guards, border guards, health-care workers, and firefighters, workers have the right to strike. In other spheres of the public sector, including education or government services, minimum service must be maintained. The law permits military and police unions to seek resolution of grievances in court. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
Workers performing activities that authorities determine to be essential to the public interest, such as schools, public transport, telecommunications, water, and power, may not strike unless an agreement has been reached on provision of “sufficient services” during a strike. Courts determine the definition of sufficient services. National trade unions opposed the law on the basis that the courts lacked the expertise to rule on minimum service levels and generally refused to rule on such cases, essentially inhibiting the right to strike. The government passed legislation prohibiting health-care workers’ right to strike in 2020 to provide for health-care services during the pandemic and prohibited an announced strike by air traffic controllers in July. Numerous trade unions decided to escalate the matter to the International Labor Organization (ILO) and sent a petition to the government requesting that it negotiate with air traffic controllers.
The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were generally commensurate with those for other violations. In the public sector, administrative and judicial procedures to determine adequate services were sometimes subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Trade unions alleged that national prosecutors restricted trade union activities and, in some cases, reported antiunion dismissals and union busting by employers. There were also reports of unilateral termination of collective agreements, which employers in some cases attributed to financial difficulties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Unions reported the government continued to attempt to influence their independent operation.
While the law provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, court proceedings on unfair dismissal cases sometimes took more than a year to complete, and authorities did not always enforce court decisions.