László Hámos, the President of the Hungarian Human Rights Foundation (HHRF), died on April 16 in New York, wire service MTI reports. Hámos was known for being a protector of Hungarian minorities and a reputable, influential member of the Hungarian diaspora in America.
According to HHRF’s tribute, Hámos was born in 1951 in Paris. However, his Hungarian parents (his father was born in Slovakia, his mother in Romania) raised him in New Jersey. After studying international relations and working at law firms, he opened his own legal research and litigation support services company, which he later gave up to work full-time at HHRF.
In the 1970s, U.S. foreign policy singled out Romania – alone among Communist East bloc adversaries – as a “Most Favored Nation.” As László often told the story, he found this intolerable as a U.S. citizen: the U.S. government (“Our government!”) chose to overlook the Ceausescu regime’s violations of human rights, including a systematic campaign of forced assimilation against the Hungarian minority. On May 8, 1976, he and a group of fellow Hungarian-Americans decided to exercise their civil rights by organizing a demonstration at the Romanian consulate in New York. As a result, the Committee for Human Rights in Romania was born, later becoming the Hungarian Human Rights Foundation (HHRF).
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Under his leadership, the Foundation developed into a trusted clearinghouse of well-researched, reliable information. As a result, over the years it built up a network of bipartisan U.S. allies in Congress and the State Department willing to use their offices to speak up on behalf of Hungarian minorities, themselves “voiceless” behind the Iron Curtain.
Hámos also wrote and edited several volumes, position papers and scholarly articles on human rights in addition to presenting more than 1,000 pages of written testimony at 27 hearings before various Congressional committees. He lectured at universities and served as a consultant to the news media, other international human rights monitoring organizations, the U.S. and various international governmental bodies.
In 1990, he arranged for Rev. László Tőkés, the Hungarian Protestant minister from Romania whose resistance sparked the 1989 revolution, to visit America. Since 1976, he has met with six U.S. presidents, and in 1994, he participated in three discussions with Bill Clinton and Vice President Gore regarding NATO enlargement.
Besides being one of the most prominent leaders and reputable members of the American-Hungarian community, Hámos earned respect throughout the world-wide Hungarian Diaspora. Between 1998 and 2002 he served pro bono as the Foreign Policy Advisor to the PM of Hungary. Awards recognizing his and HHRF’s achievements include the “For Minorities Award” (Kisebbségekért Díj) in 1996 and the “Middle Cross of the Hungarian Republic” (Magyar Köztársasági Érdemrend Középkeresztje).
Hámos passed away at the age of 68 from a long and bravely borne illness. In recognition of his efforts, the Hungarian PM’s Office will provide full funeral honors.
featured image via hhrf.org