The ICJ called today on the Parliament of Hungary not to approve a Government bill that would extend indefinitely the emergency powers of the executive to counter the Covid-19 pandemic.
The proposed legislation would enable executive rule by decree, without parliamentary approval, and would impose harsh restrictions on freedom of expression.
“States of emergency, whatever the reason to invoke them, must never be allowed to become permanent,” said Róisín Pillay, Director of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme.
“Emergency measures that restrict human rights must be constantly reassessed to ensure that they remain necessary and proportionate. And even where measures are temporarily necessary, they should be subject to a “sunset clause” that ensure that it can be reviewed and will lapse if no longer justified ”.
The Hungarian emergency legislation includes offences of publishing false or distorted facts that interfere with protection of the public or cause public alarm – offences which have the potential to significantly and unduly restrict freedom of expression.
International human rights law requires that any interference with freedom of expression must be in sufficiently clear terms to be adequately prescribed by law and must be necessary and proportionate to the legitimate aim that it serves.
“This legislation is particularly worrying in a context where the Hungarian government has systematically undermined the rule of law and protection of human rights, including freedom of the media and civil society, and the independence of the judiciary in recent years,” Róisín Pillay added.
“The emergency powers are therefore particularly open to arbitrary or abusive application, without effective scrutiny by parliament or an independent judiciary.”
The Bill on Protection against the Coronavirus (Bill T/9790) in the form of tabled by the Government will extend the state of danger that it had ordered by government decree from 11 March 2020.
The ICJ understands that the Bill will allow the government to rule by decree without Parliamentary scrutiny. The legislation would make it a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment, to publish false or distorted facts that interfere with protection of the public or that alarm or agitate the public, or to interfere with a quarantine or isolation order.
Under international treaties to which Hungary is a party, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, States may take emergency measures to derogate from their international human rights law obligations in times of crisis, only the extent strictly necessary to protect the life of the nation. Derogating measures may only limit the scope of certain rights to the extent strictly necessary to meet a threat to the life of the nation, but they do not entirely suspend the applicability of any right in its entirety.
This necessity must be continually re-assessed so that the derogating measures apply for the shortest time possible. Certain human rights, including the right to life, the prohibition of torture or ill-treatment, and the essential elements of arbitrary deprivation of liberty and to a fair trial and the right to an effective remedy can never be restricted even in a state of emergency.