Hungary: Authorities must halt abuse of emergency powers in Hungary during COVID-19

Today, the ICJ published a briefing paper documenting Hungary’s failure to comply with its human rights obligations in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Facade of Legality details how emergency powers continue to be abused in Hungary to fulfil the government’s political objectives and undermine the rule of law, including in the form of calculated attacks on the independence of the judiciary, freedom of media and expression, and the restriction of civic space.

The report details the extraordinary legal measures taken by the Hungarian authorities purportedly in response to COVID-19. It concludes that the the invocation and use by the Hungarian authorities of emergency powers to respond to COVID-19 constitutes a systemic and concerted effort to rule by decree which appears to be intended to assert executive power and diminish parliamentary and judicial oversight across various sectors and with a permanent effect.

“The inadequate institutional and constitutional frameworks within which Hungary’s emergency powers have been used make the unhindered exploitation of emergency powers by the Hungarian Government dangerously easy”, said Roisin Pillay, ICJ’s Europe and Central Asia Director.

This application of emergency powers in Hungary must be understood in the context of Hungary’s continuing exercise of emergency powers to respond to a “migration crisis” at its borders, beginning in 2015 and continuing to date.

The briefing paper assesses a range of arbitrary and unlawful rights restrictions brought on by Hungary’s COVID-19 response measures on various rights including freedom of assembly; and freedom of expression and information, especially in relation to the media; and equal and non-discriminatory access to COVID-19 vaccines in terms of the rights to health and life.

A Façade of Legality concludes by making the following recommendations to Hungarian authorities to ensure their compliance with international law:

  • Limit the scope of emergency frameworks and powers to the extent strictly necessary under international law to respond to the ongoing pandemic. To be legitimate and lawful, the COVID-19 related restrictions applied by Hungary must be connected to the protection of public health, necessary, proportionate and fully consistent with international law.
  • Repeal arbitrary emergency decrees that impose unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on human rights, and repeal any legal instrument whereby such decrees have been incorporated into ordinary law.
  • Terminate the “state of crisis caused by mass immigration”, and ensure human rights defenders civil society organizations have access to and can provide assistance to migrants and refugees without being criminalized or otherwise obstructed.
  • Ensure that COVID-19 related states of emergency and related exceptional measures are not used to restrict freedom of expression, including freedom of the media, unless to the extent strictly necessary and proportionate to a compelling public health purpose.
  • Take all necessary steps to provide unfettered and unhindered access to COVID-19 related information, while respecting data protection.
  • Repeal the amendment to the Criminal Law on “scaremongering“ which disproportionately interferes with human rights.
  • Ensure fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccinations to everyone within the Hungarian jurisdiction, irrespective of documentation or citizenship status.

Download the briefing paper in PDF format here.

For more information:

Karolina Babicka, ICJ Legal Adviser,

Tim Fish Hodgson, ICJ Legal Adviser,

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