U.S. Should Push Democracy, Rights in Meeting with Hungarian Foreign Minister
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the U.S. government to emphasize the need for democratic reforms in Hungary during a critical meeting scheduled for Tuesday with the Hungarian foreign minister. The Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto is expected to meet with senior U.S. officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland tomorrow.
“The United States has been sending strong diplomatic signals that Hungary can’t continue to backslide on democracy, but so far, Budapest hasn’t been listening – or hasn’t cared,” said Human Rights First’s Sonni Efron. “Tomorrow’s meeting offers the United States an opportunity to make its expectations crystal clear.”
Last week, Human Rights First welcomed reports that the United States has imposed visa bans on up to ten Hungarian businessmen and officials who are allegedly linked to corruption. In a rare move against a NATO ally and member of the European Union, these individuals will not be permitted to enter the United States. The move is the latest in a series of actions indicating U.S. anger over Hungary’s slide toward authoritarianism, its alleged corrupt practices, and its ambivalence with respect to U.S. and E.U. policies to sanction Russia for its behavior in Ukraine.
“While the Obama Administration should indicate that the United States will always be a friend to the Hungarian people, it cannot continue a warm relationship with any government that is rushing toward authoritarianism, trampling human rights along the way,” Efron said.
Hungary recently cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine after meeting with the Russian energy company, Gazprom, a move that is likely to be discussed during Szijjarto’s visit. Human Rights First calls on U.S. officials to press Hungary to reopen the line and make necessary reforms required to comply with European Union democratic norms and human rights standards. The organization also urges officials to discuss the policies that have drawn strong objections from Hungarian and other Jewish community leaders, who assert that the government is engaging in systematic revisionism of its World War II history.
Human Rights First’s recent report, “We’re not Nazis, but…The Rise of Hate Parties in Hungary and Greece and Why America Should Care,” details how the Hungarian government’s actions over the past four years have violated religious freedoms, curtailed judicial independence and media freedom, and failed to combat a rising tide of violent antisemitism. These actions have led to a series of rebukes by the European Union, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and from Hungary’s own Supreme Court.
The report outlines recommendations for the United States including:
- Urge Hungary to end the crackdown on civil society and stop demonizing Hungarian NGOs that accept foreign funds as “foreign agents.”
- Urge Hungary to revise its 2013 Media Law, abolish the Media Council, curtail the powers of the Media Authority, and take other steps to restore freedom of expression and information.
- Urge fellow members of the Governing Council of the Community of Democracies to vote at its next meeting in December to replace Hungary with a member state more committed to liberal democracy.
- Urge its European Union allies to consider Article 7 proceedings to strip Hungary of its E.U. voting rights.
- Make clear that Hungary’s professed zero-tolerance policy against antisemitism is meaningless unless enforced by a) disciplining officials who make antisemitic or anti-Roma statements, b) ending historical revisionism that downplays Hungarians’ role in the Holocaust, and c) revising its textbooks and curriculum to reflect this.
- Urge Hungary to step up protection of minority rights, particularly the rights of Roma, after a local election campaign that played on anti-Roma sentiment in many districts.