Friday, March 28, 2014

Hungary: Democracy Disabled in Hungary

Source: Human Rights Watch
Dispatches: Democracy Disabled in Hungary
Lydia Gall

National elections will take place in Hungary on April 6, and polls suggest the governing party will win re-election. But not everybody will get to cast a ballot.

Under a new constitution brought in by the current government, some Hungarian citizens with mental or intellectual disabilities continue to be denied the right to vote.

The constitution retains elements from the previous one denying the franchise to people with certain disabilities who are placed under guardianship by a judge, stripping them of the right to make decisions about their lives. Under the new constitution and related law, Hungarian citizens under guardianship, long deprived of their full legal rights, are excluded from voting unless a judge determines, based in part on a general evaluation by a psychiatrist, that they have the capacity to vote (previously such disenfranchisement was automatic).

Such determinations are themselves highly subjective, arbitrary, and discriminatory since such tests are not required of all other citizens who want to exercise their right to vote.

Hungary has committed itself to respecting the rights of people with disabilities, having ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in July 2007. But when it comes to voting rights, the authorities have failed to live up to their obligations. In a September 2013 ruling on behalf of six Hungarian citizens with intellectual disabilities, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the treaty’s monitoring body, found that Hungary’s voting laws disenfranchise people with disabilities and asked Budapest to change its voting laws.

The Hungarian government has amended the constitution five times since it came into force in January 2012, and introduced a raft of new controversial laws that undermine the rule of law and human rights protection. So it should have been easy enough to remove this discriminatory provision from the constitution. But the government has failed to do so.

It is now too late to change the law before the upcoming elections. But Hungary’s next government should make it an early priority to remove this discriminatory provision from the constitution, and ensure that all citizens, regardless of whether they may have a disability, are entitled to exercise their right to vote and other rights just like others. The voices of this invisible population must also be heard to make democracy a reality in Hungary.