Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Hungary: Lack of transparency prevents progress on independent living

By Erzsébet Oláh 19th May 2021

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Validity and our partners continue to advocate for concrete steps to enhance human rights protections for persons with disabilities in Hungary. However, we are concerned that a lack of transparency and accountability is preventing genuine progress on independent living. We call on both Hungary and the European Union to recommit to moving forward and to centre the participation of persons with disabilities and civil society.

Improving transparency: Validity and partners prepared a Hungarian language translation of the 2020 UN inquiry report

In April 2021, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) published a Hungarian translation of the report in which the UN found Hungary responsible for “grave and systematic” violations of the human rights of persons with disabilities in the country. The Hungarian document consists of three separate texts: (1) an easy-to-read summary of the report, (2) an executive summary of the report, and (3) a translation of the report. The document was prepared to enhance public awareness in Hungary of the findings of this inquiry. Four civil society organisations contributed, namely, the Hungarian Association for People with Intellectual Disabilities, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the National Federation of Organisations of People with a Physical Disability and the Validity Foundation.

In April 2020, Validity informed the world about the legal findings of the two-year international inquiry conducted by the CRPD Committee. Although the Government should have shown transparency and commitment to the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities by providing the wider Hungarian public with a Hungarian language translation of the UN report, as far as Validity is aware it has not done so.

Lack of transparency at EU level

In March 2020, Validity submitted a request to the European Commission for access to documents based on the Transparency Regulation . We asked the European Commission to “release all official correspondence between the Commission and the Government of Hungary relating to EFOP 2.2.5 under the current programming period.”

EFOP 2.2.5 is a mysterious code which refers to a Call for Proposals making HUF 51,958,796,658 (approx. EUR 145,000,000) in European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds) available for the purpose of “Improving the Transition from Institutional Care to Community-Based Services – Replacement of Institutional Accommodation by 2023” in Hungary.

Validity sought this correspondence in an effort to disseminate relevant information to civil society, including organisations of persons with disabilities, in Hungary and to promote their meaningful involvement in the implementation of Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). We also wanted to disseminate information to our European-level partner organisations that engage regularly with the Commission and governments on the human rights compliant use of EU funds, so that they are aware of all of the facts. Furthermore, Validity has extensive expertise in disability rights and law, and the requested information would have enabled us to provide concrete input to the Commission on how to improve the process of deinstitutionalisation in the country.

We were therefore concerned that the Commission decided not to fully disclose the contents of several crucial pieces of correspondence from the Government of Hungary. As a result, we currently have litigation underway before the Court of Justice of the European Union to improve transparency and guarantee access to information.

Hungary sent contradictory information to the European Commission

In the meantime, Validity sent a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the Ministry of Human Capacities. In response, we were informed that, in September 2020, the president of the National Committee for the Coordination of De-institutionalisation (IFKKOT) had emailed to the European Commission a “Declaration by the National Committee for Coordination of De-institutionalization”. According to the information sent to Validity by the Ministry, the Declaration stated:

The Standing Committee reached consensus on the matter that the Hungarian legislation (and regulations) on supported housing, also the chain of services organized for the facilitation of the transformation process predominantly comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

This directly contradicts the content of the accompanying email to the Commission that set out the vote count of IFKKOT members whereby there was clearly no such consensus. The email sent by the president read:

Dear Mr. Commissioner!

I herewith attach the “Declaration by the National Committee for the Coordination of De-institutionalization” for your information. The National Committee for the Coordination of De-institutionalization (hereafter referred to as IFKOTT [Sic]) is a body established by act with 11 members; 6 of the members are representatives of civil organizations and 5 members are government delegates. The attached declaration is the product and the result of a proposed agenda by the civil representation. The standing committee supports the attached declaration with 10 “yes”, 1 “no” and 0 “abstention”.

Steven Allen, Validity's Co-Executive Director before the Metropolitan Court, Budapest, Hungary

Steven Allen, Co-Executive Director of Validity points out:

This correspondence raises numerous concerns, not least that it does not present a full and actual picture of the dialogue that took place between the Government and representatives of civil society. Indeed, no consensus was reached as we are aware that one of the members of IFKKOT voted against the proposed Declaration. Therefore, the communication of the Hungarian Government towards the European Commission was, at best, contradictory.

Furthermore, the final sentence of the English version of the Declaration reads as follows:

“This Joint Declaration would be undersigned by the President of IFKKOT with the Standing Committee’s common authorization.”

This sentence is not part of the original Hungarian version, which implies that the above sentence was added to the English version without authorisation coming from all members of the IFKKOT. The authorisation could not have been a ‘common’ [consensual – Validity] authorisation since one member of the IFKKOT voted against the Declaration.

It is clear that, the claim in the Declaration that it was adopted by consensus is false and misleading. By adding this last sentence to the English version of the Declaration, the Hungarian Government compounded this misinformation, presenting a civil society consensus on this crucial question that did not in fact exist.

Back to the European Commission

To our surprise, on 19 April 2021, following their previous refusal to release all information to us, the Commission overturned their previous position and suddenly released almost all previously redacted information. Why did the Commission change its mind? According to correspondence we received from Commission, “Hungary has withdrawn from the EFOP 2.2.5 call for proposals” and “the Hungarian authorities agreed with the disclosure of the documents in question.”

The Commission does not explicitly mention the ongoing proceedings before the Court of Justice of the EU.

Validity welcomes the news that approximately EUR 145,000,000 will not now be spent on trans-institutionalisation (moving persons with disabilities from larger to smaller institutions) and that this form of discriminatory financing has been prevented. Nevertheless, it is disappointing that the Hungarian Government did not instead try to invest the money in a genuine and participatory process of deinstitutionalisation and support for independent living.

The curious case of EFOP 2.2.5: Transparency is still lacking

After receiving the information from the European Commission concerning Hungary’s withdrawal from EFOP 2.2.5, we checked the Internet whether there was any publicly available information about this important decision of the Hungarian Government. We visited, for example, the website designed for publishing, inter alia, EFOP calls for proposals and related news, the website of the EFOP Program, the website of the Ministry of Human Capacities, the website of the Hungarian Government, and the website of the Equal Opportunities of Persons with Disabilities Non-profit Ltd., a body that was established by the Hungarian State to promote equal rights, social integration, and complex rehabilitation of persons with disabilities.

The result is this: No single news item or piece of information about the withdrawal of the Hungarian Government from EFOP 2.2.5, a scheme valued at EUR 145 million!

Validity remains committed to fighting for transparency and for the rights of persons with disabilities, so we have now sent further Freedom of Information requests to the Hungarian authorities as well as to the European Commission. We will continue to make this correspondence public in order to enhance transparency. 

And the TopHáz institution, again

It has been over four years since Validity uncovered the shocking abuses inside the Topház Special Care Home in Göd, Hungary. Validity filed an antidiscrimination claim on behalf of the victims shortly after we became aware of the situation. These proceedings have still not come to a resolution due, in part, to the Government’s efforts to avoid liability for its actions by transferring management of the institution to the Charitable Service of the Order of Malta. In April 2021, Validity was finally called to give testimony to the court. Steven Allen, Co-Executive Director of Validity who presented our evidence in the proceedings on behalf of the victims, says:

Instead of cooperation and a genuine commitment to address the grave human rights violations uncovered, we have met a wall of resistance from the defendants which include the Ministry of Human Capacities, and the Charitable Service of the Order of Malta, among others. It is particularly concerning that the Charitable Service of the Order of Malta, which took over maintenance of the institution in 2018, has shown absolutely no willingness to cooperate and has instead kept the doors of this institution firmly closed to Validity representatives, preventing the residents from accessing legal assistance and denying them the opportunity to receive recognition and redress for the terrible things that have occurred. The ongoing refusals mean that we currently have little information about the situation of our clients, and it is distressing that independent experts have still not conducted evaluations.

This case is also about a lack of transparency at different levels. The Government, the ex-maintainer, the new maintainer of the institution and the leadership of the institution knew about the horrible situation in TopHáz (now rebranded as the ‘House of Providence’) but all have consistently failed to respect and protect the rights of the residents with disabilities. Instead, they were hiding the shocking human rights violations inside the institution, and they continue to create numerous barriers that prevent the victims of these grave crimes from accessing justice.

Ann Campbell, Validity Co-Executive Director responsible for litigation, notes:

“We have written to the Government and to the Order of Malta making repeated requests to access the TopHáz institution to verify the safety and health of our clients. We have also requested that other independent civil society with the necessary expertise be granted access to monitor the human rights situation in the institution. These requests have been either denied or simply ignored for over four years. We know that many of the victims of TopHáz died within months of publication of our report yet no information about these deaths has ever been made public and there has been no independent investigation. We became even more concerned when it became clear that large numbers of people with disabilities in Hungary were dying during the Covid-19 pandemic because they were detained in institutions, including TopHáz. The blank wall of denial and obfuscation by both the Government and the Order of Malta is a blatant and shameful attempt to silence the victims and keep the pubic in the dark. We will not let this go unchallenged and we continue to pursue accountability through the courts.”

The UN report on Hungary, mentioned above, highlighted that the ongoing mass-institutionalisation of persons with disabilities in this country constitutes a grave and systematic violation of international law. Yet, we have seen very little willingness and action on the part of Government authorities to change and very few efforts to be transparent.

To get in touch with us, feel free to email validity@validity.ngo.