April 5, 2018 / 11:31 AM / 15 days ago

U.N. rights watchdog urges Hungary to halt hate speech, protect refugees

GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. rights watchdog called on Hungary on Thursday to crack down on hate speech by politicians against Roma, Muslims and other minorities, and to repeal a law allowing migrants to be deported without a chance to seek asylum.

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks at the National University of Public Service in Budapest, April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo

It urged the nationalist government to reject draft laws known as the “Stop-Soros Package” that would empower the interior minister to ban non-governmental organisations that support migration and pose a “national security risk”.

The government says the bill is meant to deter illegal immigration that Prime Minister Viktor Orban says is eroding European stability and has been stoked in part by Hungarian-born U.S. financier George Soros. It says its policies are to ensure Hungarians can live in safety.

Orban, seeking a third consecutive term on Sunday, has campaigned on a strong anti-migration message - although a U.N. panel expert said the timing of the watchdog’s comments, at the end of a four-week meeting, was not directed at voters.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee voiced concern at “hate crimes and about hate speech in political discourse, the media and on the internet targeting minorities, notably, Roma, Muslim, migrants and refugees, including in the context of government-sponsored campaigns”.

The panel issued its findings and recommendations after its 18 independent experts reviewed Hungary’s record on upholding civil and political rights.

“The concern we saw in Hungary is that sometimes hate speech is accompanied by hate crimes which are directed against minorities and against migrants,” Yuval Shany, the panel vice-chair, told Reuters TV.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto defended Hungary’s policies, telling the U.N. panel last month: “First and foremost, it is a firm conviction of the government that the Hungarian people have the right to live a life in security, without fear of terrorist atrocities.”

In 2015, the central European country had a “sad experience” when some 400,000 migrants passed through on their way to Western Europe, “ignoring all rules”, he said.

The U.N. panel also decried a Hungarian law adopted a year ago that allows for automatically removing all asylum applicants to transit zones for indefinite confinement.

People should be allowed freedom of movement while their individual asylum claims are examined to see whether they are refugees fleeing war or persecution, the committee said.

The panel added that Hungary should repeal a June 2016 law that enables police to summarily expel anyone entering irregularly.

The committee also voiced concern at the “prevalence of anti-Semitic stereotypes” and how “high-ranking officials have nurtured conspiracy theories relating to George Soros”.

Orban has waged a billboard and media campaign asserting that Soros would “settle millions from Africa and the Middle East”, among other allegations.

Soros, who is Jewish, has rejected the campaign against him as “distortions and lies” meant to create a false external enemy.

Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Marina Depetris; Editing by Alison Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams

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