In Budapest, Chancellor Merkel called on the controversial Hungarian government to be more open with critics. Amnesty International's Marie Lucas criticizes attacks on religious minorities in Hungary.
Interviewer: What exactly is happening in Hungary under Prime Minister Orban?
Marie Lucas (Amnesty International): At the moment we are very concerned because the Hungarian government and different government members are organizing a real witch hunt against NGOs. It started with government officials accusing NGOs of being funded from abroad and influencing Hungarian politics in the interest of foreign countries. This made us sit up and take notice, because it is very reminiscent of what is happening to NGOs in Russia at the moment. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister's Office went on to order audits of various NGOs. These audits proceeded in a way that had little to do with a solid legal basis. And the result of this audit is now that several NGOs are facing criminal proceedings that could lead to them either being closed down or only being able to continue their work in a very limited way. Staff of these NGOs, if things go badly, could end up in prison.
Interviewer: What possibilities do the NGOs in Hungary have?? In a constitutional state it should actually be possible to initiate appropriate legal remedies against this action.
Marie Lucas: Of course, this is always difficult when this procedure is approved by the highest political authority, so to speak. Various international organizations have also spoken out against the government's actions. For example, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe has found very clear words that this is not possible and that NGOs must be able to act independently. We have observed for a long time that NGOs have great difficulties in accessing independent funding and are repeatedly exposed to attacks from the government.
Interviewer: Merkel has delayed her visit to Orban for quite some time. Now she is with him today, where she is also visiting the Jewish community in Budapest. What kind of hostility are Jews, but also minorities in general, exposed to in Hungary??
Marie Lucas: For years we have observed a really strong discrimination against minorities. Again and again there are verbal but also physical attacks on members of minorities such as Jews, Roma or homosexuals. These attacks are often verbally supported by members of the government or parliament. In addition, physical attacks by strangers – on Roma, for example – are often not sufficiently investigated and those responsible are not held accountable.
Interviewer: After all, Hungary is a member of the EU and holds important offices, for example in the European Commission. Why is there so little prere from the EU towards Hungary, especially with regard to the protection of NGOs??
Marie Lucas: Unfortunately, this is a very fundamental problem that we face. EU states always shy away from criticizing other member states. The EU Commission or the EU as a whole has very few means at its disposal to take action in cases of human rights violations within the EU. That's why we have been calling for a long time for powerful legal means to be put in place to monitor the human rights situation in the EU and, in case of doubt, to take action against human rights violations. Because the EU can only act authentically and credibly against human rights violations outside the EU, if it also sweeps at its own door. And it cannot be that one is silent in the face of human rights violations only out of an effort to maintain good relations or – as in this case – out of an effort to get Hungary to impose tougher sanctions against Russia.
The interview was conducted by Christian Schlegel.