Hungary: Validity takes legal action against the European Commission for refusing to release information on its funding of human rights abuses
The European Commission has refused to make public documents submitted to it by the Hungarian Government concerning the use of European Union Structural and Investment Funds to finance the renovation and construction of institutions that segregate and discriminate against persons with disabilities. Validity, kindly assisted by Covington & Burling LLP, has filed an application against the Commission at the Court of Justice.
For several years, Validity has argued that the Hungarian Government is using European money to institutionalise persons with disabilities, in some cases in facilities where torture has occurred. In April this year, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found that Hungary has committed grave and systematic violations of the human rights of persons with disabilities, including through institutionalisation, and that the EU has contributed to this through financing these institutions.
In 2017, Hungary published a call for proposals inviting applications for projects to deinstitutionalise 7,500 persons with disabilities. In fact, the call allocated approx. EUR 178 million (at the time) for the construction of mini-institutions in what is known as “trans-institutionalisation” – moving people from large to small institutions. After significant advocacy by Validity and partners in Hungary and Europe, the project funding was eventually suspended but without a guarantee that it would not be restarted.
In March 2020, Validity submitted a request to the European Commission for access to documents exchanged between the Commission and the Government concerning this funding. In May, the Commission disclosed some documents but redacted contents in three documents sent to them by the Hungarian Government. The Commission refuses to release this information arguing that Hungary has not yet decided on how to modify the Call for Proposals “and disclosure of these parts would seriously undermine [Hungary’s] decision-making process”. The Commission also stated that:
“Disclosure of these documents at this point in time would seriously undermine the climate of mutual trust between the European Commission and [Hungary]…”
Validity has turned to the Court of Justice of the EU to compel the Commission to release this information. Validity argues that the refusal to do so violates the right to participation in public life as well as the right to independent living and to integration of persons with disabilities under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The case also argues that the refusal violates the EU Transparency Regulation which is designed to ensure that EU documents are open and available to the public.
“People with disabilities are excluded from too many decision-making processes that happen behind closed doors, shrouded in secrecy but that have profound impacts on the lives of those affected. While the EU struggles with debates on tying EU financing to rule of law conditionalities, funds continue to be used to violate human rights. It is imperative that the Commission is transparent about its work in this area and that Hungary knows its decisions are being monitored”, stated Ann Campbell, Validity’s Co-Executive Director.
Validity believes that all decisions made that risk financing human rights abuses should be subject to full public scrutiny. People with disabilities and civil society must have access to all relevant information so that they can meaningfully participate in such decisions and ensure that EU money is not used to finance segregation and human rights abuses.