U.N. rights watchdog urges Hungary to halt hate speech, protect refugees

GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. rights watchdog called on Hungary on Thursday to crack down on hate speech by politicians against minorities including Roma and Muslims, and repeal a law allowing police to expel irregular migrants without giving them a chance to seek asylum.

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks at the National University of Public Service in Budapest, April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo

It urged the nationalist government to reject draft laws known as the “Stop-Soros Package” that would empower the interior minister to ban non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that support migration and pose a “national security risk”.

The bill is part of an anti-immigration push by Prime Minister Viktor Orban that has set its sights on a campaign by Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist George Soros to bolster liberal and open-border values in eastern Europe.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee voiced concern at “the prevalence (in Hungary) of hate crimes and about hate speech in political discourse, the media and on the Internet targeting minorities, notably, Roma, Muslim, migrants and refugees, including in the context of government-sponsored campaigns”.

The panel issued its findings and recommendations after its independent experts reviewed Hungary’s record on upholding civil and political rights. The findings were issued three days ahead of Hungary’s general election.

Orban, seeking a third consecutive term in Sunday’s vote, has conveyed a strong anti-migration message.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto defended Hungary’s policies, telling the U.N. panel last month: “First and foremost, it is a firm conviction of the government that the Hungarian people have the right to live a life in security, without fear of terrorist atrocities.”

In 2015, the central European country had a “sad experience” when some 400,000 migrants passed through on their way to western Europe, “ignoring all rules”, Szijjarto said.

The U.N. panel decried a Hungarian law adopted a year ago that allows for automatically removing all asylum applicants to transit zones for indefinite confinement.

This was in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty ratified by Budapest.

People should be allowed freedom of movement while their asylum claims are examined on a case-by case basis to see whether they are refugees fleeing war or persecution, the rights committee said in its report.

The panel added that Hungary should “repeal the push-back law” of June 2016 that enables police to summarily expel anyone crossing the border irregularly.

“Individuals subjected to this measure have very limited opportunity to submit an asylum application or right to appeal.”

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich