Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that such abuse sometimes occurred. NGOs noted the investigation of cases of mistreatment was often inefficient, the success rate of prosecution was low, and in some cases officials convicted for committing criminal offenses were permitted to continue working.
As of October the national preventive mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) undertook four visits to places of detention (one prison, two police facilities, and one social institution for persons with psychosocial disabilities).
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Official statistics and NGOs reported overcrowding and poor physical conditions in the prison system. There were occasional reports of physical violence by prison guards, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and authorities holding pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a problem. According to data provided by the National Penitentiary Headquarters, in 2017 the average occupancy rate decreased from 131 percent to 129 percent. In 2015 authorities adopted action plans on how to increase the official capacity of the prison system. A law requires payment of compensation to prisoners placed in overcrowded cells.
The commissioner for fundamental rights (ombudsman) issued four public reports during the year on the findings of visits that occurred in 2016-17 (one juvenile correctional institute, two police facilities, and one integrated care center for elderly residents, addicts, and persons with diminished capacity). The report determined that the practice of placing juveniles with mental or psychosocial disabilities or personality disorders in isolation as a form of punishment violated their rights. The reports on the two police facilities found the cells’ living space was less than the statutory minimum size, the walls were dirty, lighting was inadequate, and the courtyard was in poor condition. The last report determined that the integrated care center did not provide the statutory minimum living space per person, was not suitable for the placement of patients because of the building’s inaccessibility, and did not employ a full-time doctor.
NGOs continued to report poor physical and sanitary conditions in certain penitentiaries, including the presence of bedbugs and other insects, insufficient toilet facilities, and toilets not separated from living spaces. NGOs also noted frequent shortages of both natural light and artificial lighting in cells and a lack of adequate heating and alleged a continued shortage of psychological care.
Administration: NGOs reported that authorities occasionally failed to investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. There was no separate ombudsperson for prisons, but detainees could submit complaints to the commissioner for fundamental rights or to the prosecutor’s office responsible for supervising the lawfulness of detention. The ombudsman handled prison complaints and conducted ex officio inquiries but had no authority to act on behalf of prisoners.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) to conduct periodic and ad hoc visits to prisons and detention centers for both Hungarians and foreign nationals. On September 18, the CPT published the report on treatment and conditions of detention of foreigners from its 2017 visit to the country. The report observed decent treatment in detention centers but noted that many detainees alleged they had been physically mistreated by police officers during their “push-backs” to Serbia. Several of them at the time displayed recent traumatic injuries. The CPT carried out a visit to Hungary from November 20 to 29. No independent NGO monitoring of police detention and prisons had taken place since 2017, when authorities terminated long-standing monitoring agreements with NGOs.
The government’s Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights continued to operate prison monitoring services prescribed by OPCAT but reported it had little capacity to conduct visits and investigations. A 2017 SPT report on the national preventive mechanism noted that, since its establishment in 2015, the mechanism had carried out 15 visits to places of deprivation of liberty but had limited human and financial resources to undertake its work.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. In 2017-2018, asylum and border management laws underwent significant legal modifications and limited access to asylum procedures.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Human rights advocates, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the European Commission criticized the government’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. Specifically, these organizations reported that migrants and asylum seekers were pushed back to the external side of the border fence on the Serbian-Hungarian border, even if they had not entered Hungary through Serbia. Reports included instances of police violence against refugees and migrants attempting to cross from Serbia to Hungary.
Domestic and international human rights organizations reported fewer complaints regarding the excessive use of police force and abuse against refugees and migrants while the number of asylum seekers decreased, compared with previous years. Human rights organizations, however, stated that in most cases, the government did not take formal action against alleged perpetrators and noted that few victims were willing to lodge formal complaints.
The law permits the detention of rejected asylum seekers for a maximum of 12 months (30 days in cases of families with children). Immigration detention generally took place in immigration detention centers.
The asylum law requires mandatory detention of all asylum seekers other than unaccompanied minors younger than 14. All new asylum seekers were detained in two guarded transit zones (Roszke and Tompa) on the Serbian-Hungarian border, which they could not leave without abandoning their asylum claims.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: In 2015 two Bangladeshi asylum seekers, Ilias Ilias and Ali Ahmed, filed suit against the government, asking for release from a transit detention zone and a halt to their expulsion to Serbia. Authorities kept the men in the transit zone for more than three weeks before sending them back to Serbia, considered a safe country under a 2015 government decree. In 2017 the ECHR ruled the men’s return to Serbia as well as their detention was unlawful, but the government appealed the ruling. The ECHR’s Grand Chamber heard the case on April 18; a final judgement remained pending.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum and establishes a procedure for persons in the country to apply for it, but often little or no opportunity to apply was afforded. Since 2017 police were allowed to push back to the Serbian side of the border fence any migrants who could not prove their right to stay in the country, regardless of whether or not they entered the country from Serbia. There is no judicial remedy concerning such “push-backs.”
On June 20, parliament adopted a legislative package that introduced new criminal penalties, including a prison sentence of up to a year, for “facilitating illegal migration.” It criminalizes providing assistance to asylum seekers who were not subject to persecution in their home country or who had already transited a safe country to submit asylum claims; conducting human rights-focused border monitoring activities; or issuing or distributing information leaflets about asylum procedures. Parliament also modified the constitution to state that persons arriving in Hungary “through a country where he or she was not exposed to persecution or a direct risk of persecution should not be entitled to asylum.”
UNHCR and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said the law restricts the ability of NGOs and individuals to support asylum seekers and refugees. On June 25, the Venice Commission and the OSCE published a joint opinion on the law, asserting it seriously hindered the operation of legitimate civil groups. On July 19, the European Commission initiated an infringement procedure against Hungary for violating EU and international laws with the introduction of new nonadmissibility grounds for asylum applications and curtailing the right to asylum. In July the European Commission also referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice, asserting its asylum and return legislation did not comply with EU law, namely for holding asylum applicants too long in transit zones at the border and failing to give them proper access to asylum procedures and legal safeguards.
The government provided UNHCR and the International Federation of Red Cross access to refugees and asylum seekers. Cooperation with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance (as opposed to access) varied (also see Access to Basic Services, below). Access by other humanitarian organizations was more limited. A few domestic NGOs were provided access to the transit zones, and a few other NGOs were provided access only when asylum seekers specifically requested their assistance. Human rights NGOs alleged the government granted access only to certain cooperative organizations, making it difficult to verify information.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government issued lists of “safe countries of origin” and “safe third countries.” Both lists included Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. UNHCR repeatedly objected to the government’s recognition of Serbia as a safe third country on the grounds that it does not have effective asylum procedures.
Freedom of Movement: In 2015 the government set up two transit zones at the country’s southern border with Serbia, capable of hosting 200-300 persons each, where asylum seekers were required to wait while their requests for refugee status were processed. The government also closed reception facilities for asylum seekers, so that by summer only the facility in Vamosszabadi remained open. The Vamosszabadi facility hosted persons granted international protection for up to 30 days.
Access to Basic Services: In 2016 parliament amended the law to reduce benefits and assistance to those given international protection on the grounds they should not have more advantages than Hungarian citizens. The law requires mandatory and automatic revision of refugee status at least every three years, sets the maximum period at 30 days of stay in open reception centers after recognition, and establishes an eligibility period of six months for basic health-care services following recognition. Authorities do not provide housing allowances, educational allowances, or monthly cash allowances to asylum seekers or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.
The two transit zones for migrants provided clothes, soap, meals, water, and shelter. Charities provided some educational and social activities in English or Hungarian, as well as supplemental nutrition for children. The government also provided basic medical assistance on site. Between November 2017 and June, a psychologist visited the transit zones for six hours per week without any translation available; the psychologist was subsequently allowed to use government translators. Officials denied transit zone access to certain NGOs and a UNHCR contractor, which prevented several migrants who had previously suffered torture and asylum seekers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder from receiving specialized care. At the beginning of the year, a government-funded psychiatrist started visiting the two transit zones once per week.
Based on new asylum rules that went into effect July 1 regarding transit by asylum seekers through countries the government considered safe (including Serbia) prior to entering Hungary, immigration authorities rejected all post-June 30 asylum requests heard by December 14. They also interpreted the new rules to mean no food should be given to asylum seekers who appeal their denials, with the exception of children and nursing mothers. The ECHR granted interim measures in five cases in August and ordered the country to feed the asylum seekers. The government subsequently began providing meals to all rejected asylum seekers who appealed.
Durable Solutions: Refugees are allowed to naturalize, but research by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) in 2015 (commissioned by UNHCR) found that the applications of refugees and stateless persons were approved at a dramatically lower rate than those of other naturalization seekers. High fees (for example, for certified translations) made the naturalization process more difficult. The government applied preferential conditions to applicants with Hungarian ancestry (via the so-called simplified naturalization process), but not to refugees or stateless persons. The HHC criticized the procedural framework for naturalization, noting decisions were not explained to applicants and no appeal of rejections is allowed.
There were no reported cases of onward refugee resettlement from the country to other states.
Temporary Protection: The law provides for a specific temporary protection status for situations of mass influx, but organizations working on the problem reported that it was not used in practice. Under the law, all forms of international protection (refugee status, subsidiary protection, tolerated stay, stateless status, etc.) are temporary by nature, with periodic review of the entitlement to protection.
The country operates a dedicated statelessness determination procedure and provides a humanitarian residence permit to persons recognized as stateless. According to UNHCR, 139 stateless persons lived in the country at the end of 2017, and the government maintained what UNHCR characterized as a good stateless-person determination process. The law provides for naturalization by stateless persons.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption of public officials, few such cases were lodged or prosecuted. The European Commission and NGOs contended that the government did not implement these laws effectively and that officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption: The European Antifraud Office (OLAF)’s annual report for 2017 released in June reported investigating 10 cases in Hungary related to the use of EU funds and recommended local authorities open criminal investigation in seven cases. Citing irregularities and conflicts of interest regarding EU-funded public lighting projects in Hungary, OLAF recommended local authorities open a criminal investigation into ELIOS, the projects’ primary contractor. In November the National Bureau of Investigation announced it found no evidence of a crime.
Anticorruption NGOs also alleged government corruption and favoritism in the distribution of EU funds. The Corruption Research Center Budapest (CRCB) identified several cases of bid rigging and other corruption risk indicators in public tenders with EU funding. The CRCB concluded that companies with close links to the government faced significantly less competition and were able to obtain higher prices when bidding for EU-funded projects. In March the European Commission’s country report on Hungary noted that during the previous year very limited progress had been made in strengthening transparency and competition in public procurement. The report also called for the Prosecutor General’s Office to pursue corruption cases more effectively.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of parliament, senior government officials, the president of the Curia and his deputies, and the prosecutor general to publish asset declarations on a regular basis. NGOs claimed required disclosures were circumvented by placing assets in the names of spouses, who are not required to file asset declarations. The vast majority of public-sector employees, including law enforcement and army officers, judges, prosecutors, civil servants, and public servants, were obliged to submit asset declarations, which are not accessible by the public. NGOs noted there were no criminal or administrative sanctions for submitting inaccurate asset declarations and asserted there was no effective method to detect violators.