Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hungary: Human rights experts speak out against Hungarian law criminalizing homelessness

UN - Two independent United Nations human rights experts today issued a joint call on Hungary to revise recent laws that criminalize homelessness and potentially imprison those living on the streets.

“People who have no choice but to live on the street are now in danger of criminal sanctions,” said Magdalena SepĂșlveda, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who issued the statement with Raquel Rolnik, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing.

“By a wave of the legislative pen, the Hungarian Parliament has labelled tens of thousands of homeless people in Hungary as potential criminals. Moreover, the law has a discriminatory impact on those living in poverty.”

An estimated 30,000 to 35,000 people, including numerous women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities, are thought to be homeless in Hungary. About 8,000 of those live in Budapest, the capital, but the city has only 5,500 available places in public shelters.

Last year police in Budapest evicted hundreds of homeless persons from inner-city underpasses and arrested them following a city council decree criminalizing habitual residence in public spaces.

Ms. SepĂșlveda and Ms. Rolnik said public funds should be used to assist people who find themselves homeless, rather than for carrying out often costly operations to prosecute and penalize them.

They added that the global economic and financial crisis has resulted in a growing number of Hungarian families living on the streets.

“Particularly during harsh weather conditions, as Europe has been experiencing during the past weeks, States have an increased obligation to provide shelter to those in need. However, this cannot serve as an excuse for the criminalization or forced detention of homeless persons,” the joint statement said.

Ms. SepĂșlveda and Ms. Rolnik noted that many of the existing shelters in Budapest provide dormitory-style accommodation with up to 50 people per room, and no arrangements suitable for families.

“Homeless persons should not be deprived of their basic rights to liberty, or to privacy, personal security and protection of the family, only because they are poor and need shelter.”