Hungary’s Contempt for Civil Society

by Lydia Gall Lydia Gall, of Human Rights Watch, is a human rights lawyer by training and comes with a background in Roma rights and the Middle East. She has previously worked on documenting violations of humanitarian law and human rights in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory followed by extensive work protecting and promoting the rights of the Romani minority in Europe.Before joining Human Rights Watch, Gall worked as a staff attorney involved in strategic litigation on behalf of Romani victims of human rights abuses, particularly in the fields of housing and education. As a freelance journalist, she wrote extensively on human rights abuses of Roma and on political developments with potential human rights implications in Central and Eastern Europe. 25.06.2014

The Hungarian government continues to show contempt for civil society. In the latest move, authorities have zeroed in on NGOs that receive funding from the Norwegian government.

The demands are linked to an ongoing dispute between the two governments, with Budapest accusing Oslo of interfering in Hungarian political affairs through funding Hungarian civil society organizations.

On June 19, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), a leading human rights organization; NANE, a women’s rights organizations; and Transparency International, K-Monitor, and Atlatszo, all anti-corruption organizations, received letters from the Government Control Office, responsible for financial inspections, requesting data on their activities funded under the Norway Grants. It’s unclear how many other groups have received letters.

The demands follow the June 2 government financial inspections of three Hungarian NGOs that distribute funds from the Norway Grants. Prior to the arbitrary inspections, the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office published a list of 13 NGOs that receive funding from the Grants, smearing them as “left-leaning” and “problematic.”

This pressure has not gone without a response: the 13 Hungarian NGOs have called for internationalsolidarity with independent Hungarian civil society, and international donor and grant making organizations have spoken out. The US government has expressed concern about the developments.

The pressure on NGOs by the Hungarian government adds to its dismal track record of undermining checks and balances on the executive. It’s also behavior unworthy of an EU member state.

The EU has yet to break its silence in the face of Hungary blatantly flouting a core value of the EU –protecting and supporting human rights defenders. With what credibility can EU institutions press third states on their human rights and rule of law records when they fail to apply the same principles to member states? It’s time for Brussels to stand up for its own core values when a member state violates them.

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