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EU Parliament votes to trigger Article 7 sanctions procedure against Hungary
by DW, European Parliament, EU Observer, agencies
Belgium
 
12 Sep. 2018
 
Members of the European Parliament have voted to censure the Hungarian government for eroding democracy and failing to uphold fundamental European Union values.
 
The measure to trigger Article 7 sanctions procedures garnered the necessary majority needed to pass, with 448 voting in favor of the motion, 197 against and 48 abstentions. The move means that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban''s government could eventually lose its EU voting rights.
 
The measure does not immediately penalize Hungary, but it opens the door for sanctions to be imposed. Wednesday''s vote also means that a formal warning will be sent to Hungary for violating the EU''s values.
 
Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty opens a path for sanctions against a member state and a temporary loss of EU Council voting rights. The mechanism is triggered when one of the bloc''s members violates the vales of "human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities."
 
The vote was the first time that the EU Parliament considered launching the Article 7 sanctions process against a member state. The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, launched Article 7 proceedings against Poland last year over its judicial reforms.
 
The motion will now pass to the leaders of the EU''s 28-member states for approval. However, a unanimous vote is required to suspend Hungary''s voting rights and launch sanctions — a move that is likely to be blocked by Poland.
 
The Dutch MEP who led the process, Judith Sargentini, was given a standing ovation as the result was announced. “The Hungarian people deserve better,” she said. “They deserve freedom of speech, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice and equality, all of which are enshrined in the European treaties.”
 
Ms Sargentini praised support for her motion from the European People''s Party (EPP) in the chamber and called on governments in the EU''s Council to now take the unprecedented step of sanctioning a fellow member.
 
The vote was based on her report highlighting widespread concerns expressed by a number of agencies about judicial independence, corruption, freedom of expression, academic freedom, religious freedom, and the rights of minorities and refugees.
 
Hours before the vote, the president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, swung his weight behind the EU’s sanction process. “We continue to be very concerned by the developments in some of our member states,” Juncker said in his annual state of the union speech, which was partly overshadowed by the vote. “Article 7 must be applied whenever the rule of law is threatened.”
 
The vote was hailed as "historic" by Amnesty International’s human rights expert Berber Biala-Hettinga. "The European Parliament rightly stood up for the Hungarian people and for the EU. They made it clear that human rights, the rule of law and democratic values are not up for negotiation," she said.
 
http://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/09/hungary-meps-reject-policies-that-erode-fundamental-freedoms-and-rights/ http://bit.ly/2QkG5vb
 
6. Sep. 2018
 
Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?, by Kenneth Roth, Kumi Naidoo.
 
As the EU struggles to rein in some member states that are backsliding on democratic standards, a critical vote in the European Parliament next week could be a decisive moment. The threat is real. Radical populist leaders promoting policies to dismantle human rights safeguards have recently joined governing coalitions in Austria and Italy.
 
The Freedom Party and Lega Nord are using their positions to promote policies based on hate and intolerance. But in both countries, at least for now, complex governing coalitions make it hard for them to undo democratic institutions.
 
In Hungary and Poland, however, radical populist parties are in power alone. Fidesz and the Law and Justice Party (PiS) have seized the opportunity to undermine the rule of law and other democratic checks on their power.
 
In Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski''s PiS is in the process of speeding up its purge of the country''s judiciary, the last barrier against abuse by those in power, in defiance of ongoing proceedings in Brussels and Luxembourg and the outrage of many their own citizens. People''s rights to peacefully speak out and protest have been increasingly restricted.
 
In Hungary, prime minister Viktor Orban''s ruling party has been pressing "reforms" to strip people of rights and freedoms that enable them to band together and make their voices heard. For example, over the past two years the government has targeted the country''s vibrant civil society and academic community, introducing a version of Russia''s infamous "foreign agents" law to stigmatise human rights groups that receive funding from abroad and criminalising legitimate migration-related activities.
 
The government has also limited the ability of the country''s constitutional court to hold the government to account.
 
Officials in Poland and Hungary justify these measures by citing their parties electoral victories, but winning an election does not give any government a blank cheque to undermine human rights protections.
 
European governments and institutions have begun to stand up to these disturbing trends in Poland. The European Commission triggered the EU treaty''s Article 7 mechanism, which is designed to safeguard the EU''s founding values.
 
It is now up to EU governments to ensure that the assault on Poland''s court system leads to serious consequences.
 
However, the European response to Hungary''s unabashed authoritarianism has been weak. For years, EU governments and institutions have accommodated, coaxed and warned the government of Hungary, all to no avail. Now, Orban is trying to spread his "illiberal democracy" beyond his borders. A big test of the EU''s commitment to human rights and the rule of law in Hungary will happen on 12 September.
 
Unlike with Poland, the European Commission has not triggered Article 7 for Hungary, so responsibility falls to members of the European Parliament. A two-thirds majority is required for action.
 
Sadly, many Christian Democratic parties are sitting on the fence, more concerned with preserving their dominant political position in the parliament than defending the EU''s core democratic values. Their political grouping, known as the European People''s Party (EPP), is the largest in the parliament.
 
With new parliamentary elections due next year, EPP members may worry that they need Hungary''s Fidesz votes to maintain their majority. But it would be profoundly wrong for EPP parliamentarians to prioritise their grasp on power over their duty to uphold the EU''s rights-based order.
 
Several centre right parliament members, including Austrian and Dutch Christian Democrats and Ireland''s Fine Gael, have supported triggering Article 7 for Hungary.
 
Unfortunately, many others remain worryingly ambiguous, including members of Europe''s largest centre-right parties within the EPP: Germany''s 29-member Christian Democratic Union delegation, France''s 20 Republicains, and Spain''s 17 Partido Popular members.
 
It is time for Christian Democratic leaders to show where they stand. At stake is not only democracy in Hungary, but also the founding principles of the Europe Union.
 
* Kenneth Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch; Kumi Naidoo is the secretary general of Amnesty International. Access via the link below the report pursuant to Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union, the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded. Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs - Rapporteur: Judith Sargentini.
 
Sep. 2018
 
A group of UN human rights experts have expressed serious concerns about the increased number of threats cast against civil society actors in Hungary.
 
On 1 July 2018, a new law – called “Stop Soros” by the Government and “starve and strangle” by civil society – was adopted, imposing further restrictions on the right to seek asylum, rendering it practically impossible for asylum seekers to submit asylum claims and regularise their migratory status in Hungary.
 
The law, inter alia, also criminalises “supporting and facilitating illegal immigration”, a new offence punishable with one year of imprisonment for individuals or organisations.
 
Subsequently, additional laws have been adopted introducing a special 25 percent tax on financing “immigration activities” and imposing restrictions on assembly.
 
“We are extremely worried by this excessively restrictive legislative framework, combined with a series of attacks directed against civil society right after the elections,” the experts said. “This reveals the Government’s political priorities, obstructs the work of civil society critical to the Government’s policies, and fuels hostility, xenophobia and incites discrimination against migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and all those trying to provide them support.”
 
The European Commission, the OSCE/ODIHR-Venice Commission, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee, among others, have strongly condemned the new package of laws.
 
The recently enacted laws follow other legislative changes imposing restrictions on the work of civil society, such as amendments to the Higher Education Law and the NGO Transparency Law, both adopted in 2017.
 
“Since the last general election, the Government has engaged in smear campaigns against civil society, in particular in connection to migration issues, discrediting and intimidating dissenting voices, notably through its own agencies and through the public media,” said the experts.
 
Threats against human rights defenders in Hungary are now regular and widespread, evidently encouraged by the Government, observed the experts. In August 2018, the Immigration Office stopped giving food to detained asylum-seekers in transit zones. After the European Court of Human Rights’ issuance of five emergency orders to Hungary, meals were again provided to asylum-seekers in detention.
 
“The current legislation and the various attacks against civil society, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers run counter Hungary’s obligations under international human rights law and represent a serious breach by Hungary of the obligations and values that found the European Union,” the UN experts said.
 
“We urge Hungary to refrain from engaging in practices that are threatening fundamental civic freedoms, in particular, the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, as well as the principle of non-refoulement and the ban on incitement to hatred and discrimination.
 
“We call on the European institutions to continue addressing the deteriorating human rights situation in Hungary and keep on taking decisions reflecting the core values of the European Union: democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights.” http://bit.ly/2NBhhQS


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Brazil must put human rights before austerity, warn UN experts as child mortality rises
by UN human rights office (OHCHR)
 
Aug. 2018
 
A group of UN human rights experts is urging Brazil to reconsider its economic austerity programme and put the human rights of its population, who are suffering the harsh consequences, at the centre of its economic policies.
 
“People living in poverty, and other marginalised groups, are disproportionately suffering as a result of the stringent economic measures in a country once considered as an example of progressive policies to reduce poverty and promote social inclusion,” the experts said.
 
“Data recently made available reveals a rise in Brazilian child mortality rates for the first time in 26 years. This increase, attributed to various factors, including the Zika epidemic and the economic crisis, is cause for serious concern, especially with the budgetary restrictions for the public health system, and other social policies, which severely compromise the State’s commitment to guarantee human rights for all, especially children and women.
 
“Some of the financial and fiscal decisions made in the last years affect the enjoyment of several rights, including to housing, food, water, sanitation, education, social security and health, and are worsening pre-existing inequalities,” the experts noted.
 
“While the Government underlines various measures to alleviate the adverse consequences of those economic decisions, according to information we have received, those measures are largely insufficient.
 
“Women and children living in poverty are among those hit hardest, as are Brazilians of African descent, rural populations, and people living in informal settlements,” said the experts. “We regret that efforts in relation to targeted policies addressing systemic discrimination against women have not been sustained,” they added.
 
The experts stressed that austerity measures should never be seen as the only or first solution to economic problems, especially given their impact on the most vulnerable.
 
“There is a common misunderstanding among governments and international financial institutions that economic crises can justify any and all cuts to essential services and to economic and social rights. But just the opposite is true.
 
“Austerity measures should be taken only with the most careful analysis of their impact, in particular as they would affect the most disenfranchised individuals and groups. They must be considered only after a comprehensive human rights impact assessment.
 
“Such an assessment should seriously contemplate less harmful policy alternatives, like raising taxes for the richest before even bigger burdens are put on the shoulders of the least well-off. Steps to reduce public debt and to regain not only financial but also social sustainability should also be considered,” the experts stressed.
 
Brazil, once a champion in the fight against hunger and malnutrition, is dramatically reversing major policies on food security. In the area of housing, the landmark programme “Minha Casa Minha Vida” has suffered drastic cuts. Regarding water and sanitation, a third of the budget will be reduced according to 2018 forecasts.
 
Given Constitutional Reform No. 95, also known as “EC do Teto”, it is expected that public spending will remain capped at this level for 20 years, leaving no hope of improvement in the near future. This fact makes it even more necessary to review economic policies with a human rights lens.
 
“Achieving macroeconomic and growth targets cannot be at expense of human rights: the economy is society’s servant, not its master,” they concluded.
 
The experts have engaged in a dialogue with the Government to express their concerns. http://bit.ly/2M2MLP2
 
* The UN experts: Mr. Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky (Argentina), Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights; Mr. Leo Heller (Brazil), Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Ms Ivana Radacic (Croatia), Chair of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, Ms Hilal Elver (Turkey), Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Ms Leilani Farha (Canada), Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Mr. Dainius Puras (Lithuania), Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Ms Koumbou Boly Barry (Burkina Fasso), Special Rapporteur on the right to education.
 
* Access reports to the 39th session of the Human Rights Council: September 2018. List of themes and country situations to be addressed per mandates, via the link below: http://bit.ly/2Nruwnn


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