Orbán Gov’t Submits “Stop Soros” Bill That Critics Call “A Violation of Human Rights Law”
Tom Szigeti 2018.06.01.
This week, the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán submitted a legislative package to Parliament. These bills, which the ruling Fidesz party has referred to as “Stop Soros,” would punish individuals or groups providing aid to migrants with possible imprisonment.
According to wire service MTI, the bill defines the promotion of illegal migration as an organised activity which illegally helps a person not in danger of persecution to submit an asylum request or to obtain a title of residence. A sentence of a year’s imprisonment awaits anyone found guilty of financially supporting illegal migration or gaining from it financially if their activity takes place within 8km of the border. Illegal activities also include surveilling the border and soliciting, collecting or distributing data with a view to promoting illegal migration. Setting up a network to organise illegal migration is also a punishable offence.
Additionally, this legislation, which is certain to pass due to Fidesz’s two-thirds majority in Parliament, is being proposed alongside amendments to the Hungarian constitution that would declare that an “alien population” could not be settled in Hungary.
Discussing the proposed legislation, Csaba Dömötör, state secretary of the Cabinet Office, claimed that “the Hungarian government will consistently prioritise the country’s security interests” in debates about the bill, while also arguing that the bill reflected the results of last month’s general election as “on April 8, Hungarians had voted to protect Hungary from illegal migration.”
Interestingly, a number of the bill’s provisions targeting NGOs have been removed from the current version. Originally, the package would have required persons and NGOs that the Orbán government claims are somehow “promoting illegal migration” to share data with the authorities, obtain a special license from the Ministry of the Interior, and pay a 25% tax on donations from abroad.
Some believe these were removed in response to pressure, reflected in comments recently made by allies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggesting that the passage of “Stop Soros” might lead to Fidesz’s expulsion from the European Parliament’s center-right European People’s Party (EPP), which includes Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU). The party’s Andreas Nick recently argued that the Orbán government’s attacks on Central European University (CEU) and NGOs risk crossing “red lines,” telling Reuters
Would I prefer Fidesz to stay within the Christian Democrat camp? Of course…But our Hungarian friends need to understand that crossing certain lines would make life very difficult for everyone.
Many have noted that the language of the legislation (whose unofficial English translation you can read in full here) is rather vague and would potentially violate EU and international laws and treaties that Hungary is a party to, including the Geneva Conventions‘ regulations on the treatment of refugees.
As it currently stands, it is currently extremely unclear what “providing aid” to migrants actually means, or how it would be defined under law. For example, it is currently unclear whether providing legal aid to migrants would be considered illegal, or
In addition, legal scholars have noted that the proposed law creates a legal limbo of sorts: while it would punish those who aid “illegitimate” migrants, how is a person or group able to distinguish ahead of time between such “bad” migrants and legitimate refugees, whom Hungary is required to provide aid to under international law.
Some Hungarian critics have argued that the unclear nature of the “Stop Soros” legislation is due to the fact that, more than anything else, it is a political move on the part of the Orbán government, not a legal one. According to this line of thinking, Fidesz likely knows that the bill will face legal obstacles due to its lack of clarity but are moving forward with it anyway because it provides ideological fodder that motivates its base, while providing cover for its ongoing moves to alter the makeup of the judiciary.
UN, EU, and Human-Rights Groups Respond
In response to the Orbán government’s planned legislation, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has called on Hungary to withdraw the package, saying that the legislation would deprive asylum seekers of critical aid and services, and “further inflame tense public discourse and rising xenophobic attitudes”. In a press release, the UNHCR said it was “particularly concerned that the Government is targeting those who, in a purely humanitarian role, help people who are seeking asylum”. It called on the government “to halt any measures that would further increase the vulnerability of people who are simply looking for a safe haven”.
#StopSoros draft bill: We urge #Hungary to refrain from stigmatizing human rights defenders. Taking measures to criminalize those working on behalf of migrants is a violation of #HumanRights law and could even amount to an incitement to hate & violence. pic.twitter.com/6xVbWFAgay
Likewise, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights (an “independent, non-judicial institution promoting Human Rights in Europe) called on Fidesz to abandon “Stop Soros”:
Bill under discussion in #Hungary impedes the work of NGOs assisting #migrants. I call on Hungarian authorities to drop the Bill, refrain from stigmatising NGOs & uphold the human rights of asylum seekers & migrants https://t.co/04phhg5unt
And on the political front, many with the EU have argued that this is the last straw. In particular, the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats Group has called on the EPP to eject Fidesz once and for all, tweeting
The ‘Stop Soros’ legislation in #Hungary is an attack on European values. @EPP and @EPPGroup, enough is enough. You must finally show Orbán the door.
Similarly, Amnesty International condemned the Orbán government’s “cruel attempt to criminalize those helping asylum seekers.” In particular, the group’s Europe Director, Gaui van Gulik claimed that
In their desperate drive to make Hungary the most hostile territory for asylum seekers and refugees in Europe, the Hungarian government has taken their attempt to enshrine intolerance, xenophobia and racism in law to a new level.
And international advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) also expressed its disgust with the “Stop Soros” package, and called on the Orbán government to
withdraw this draft bill, honor the country’s duty to refugees, and end its odious campaign against rights defenders.
In addition, while HRW noted that “some of the problematic elements in an earlier version of the bill” have been removed, the fact that the current version criminalizes “working with asylum seekers and migrants” makes it “arguably more problematic.”
Via MTI, Reuters, UN Human Rights, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Twitter, Newsweek, Zoom.hu, politico.eu, valasz.hu, index.hu, and the Guardian