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16th Feb 2019

Human rights watchdog criticised for Hungary analysis

  • Hungarian police fined over 2,000 homeless people between March and November 2012 (Photo: Axel Buhrmann)

The president of a EU-wide network against homelessness has slammed Europe's human rights watchdog for its recent analysis of Hungary’s constitutional changes.

“We find it quite shocking that the Venice commission came to the conclusion that the amendment to the Hungarian constitution that criminalises homelessness in public space is seen as perfectly okay,” said Freek Spinnewijn, president of the Brussels-based European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless, on Friday (26 April).

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The Venice Commission is an expert body composed of former constitutional judges in the Council of Europe, which monitor human rights abuses across the continent.

In a technical note about Hungary’s fourth amendment, the Venice commission says the constitution neither aims to criminalise homeless people nor does it contain a general prohibition regarding homelessness.

Instead, the commission notes that Hungary has the right to adopt a restrictive regulation in the interest of public order, public safety, public health and cultural values.

The Venice commission said it is “probably” okay to prohibit people from living on a permanent basis in the metro or the train station in Budapest or at public areas around the Parliament.

But it is not okay to ban them from living in “an inhabited area without any cultural values”, it says.

The technical note does not elaborate what it means by "cultural values" but Spinnewijn calls the commission’s interpretation archaic.

He says there are simply not enough beds in Budapest and people are forced to live on the streets and will naturally congregate around areas where there is shelter like at the train station.

“It seems the homeless have the right to stay on derelict land somewhere. It’s as if there is no habitation then there could be no cultural values attached to it and there homeless people could be free to live,” says Spinnewijn.

Spinnewijn says a reaction from one the NGO’s Hungarian chapters notes that the new law submitted to the Parliament also contains a provision on illegal constructions. He says most people living in uninhabited places will be persecuted because of it.

The technical note points out that Hungary is not alone in prohibiting homeless people from living in certain public spaces. It says Belgium has a law that forbids people to set up and live in tents in inhabited areas and cities.

Similar restrictions are applied in the Czech Republic as well, it notes.

But Spinnewijn says the legal basis for the criminalization of homeless people in Belgium “is totally different than it is in Hungary.”

“I would have expected a slightly deeper and more thorough analysis from the Venice Commission,” he says.

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