Hungarian Helsinki Committee Nominated For Human Rights Award As Civil Society Groups Take Government To Court Over NGO Law
Robert Velkey 2017.08.30.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee is among the three finalists for the Council of Europe’s Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said. According to a statement released by PACE, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee “carries out a broad range of activities in the area of human rights with a particular focus on access to justice and the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons”.
The other two finalists are Austrian Jesuit priest Georg Sporschill, nominated for his care for vulnerable people and children, and Murat Arslan, a Turkish judge in detention since 2016 who has been nominated for his support for the independence of the judiciary. The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, established in 2013 with the support of the Czech government, is awarded to individuals or organisations for “outstanding” civil society action in the defence of human rights. It consists of a sum of 60,000 euros, a trophy and a diploma. The award will be handed over at PACE’s next plenary session scheduled for October 9.
Meanwhile, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee was also one of the nearly two-dozen NGOs who have turned to Hungary’s Constitutional Court over the Orban government’s controversial law requiring civil groups receiving foreign donations above a certain threshold to register as organizations funded from abroad. Since the bill’s passage, humans rights and civil society groups worldwide have condemned the law as a move to silence “critical voices in society.”
In a statement on Tuesday, 23 NGOs signed on to a complaint to the constitutional court organised by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ – Társaság a Szabadságjogokert) and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (Magyar Helsinki Bizottság) civil groups.
As the New York Times points out, critics have compared the move by Hungary’s ruling Fidesz-KDNP coalition to “a 2012 law in Russia that required nonprofit groups that received foreign financing to identify themselves as “foreign agents.”
In addition, the anti-NGO law came following months of attacks by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government on civil society groups that receive funding from Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros. This campaign has included attacks on Soros himself, most notably a controversial billboard campaign featuring the financier’s face, which critics described as stirring up anti-Semitic feelings in Hungary. In addition, the Orbán government has been positioning itself as the enemy of a supposed “Soros plan,” which the Prime Minister claims involves importing one million migrants to the EU and giving them 15,000 euros each, despite the fact that there is no concrete evidence to support such assertions.
The law also came on the heels of the Orbán government’s “Lex CEU” higher-education amendment, passed earlier this year, which critics say is an open attack on the Central European University, an English-language private university in Budapest founded by Soros 25 years ago. The “Lex CEU” has triggered international condemnation, as well as widespread support for a university that routinely ranks as the best in Hungary in fields it offers, as well as one of the best in the region.
In explaining their reasoning behind turning to the constitutional court, the NGOs said they consider the law to be legally problematic and harmful to society, adding that the law only served to underline public trust in the organisations as well as their credibility. “All this harms the right to privacy set down in the fundamental law, harms respect for laws governing the private sector, and violates the freedom of expression and association,” the NGOs said.