Validity Foundation - Mental Disability Advocacy Centre

Topház: Court rules Hungarian state authorities responsible for grave disability rights violations

By Validity Admin 27th February 2024


The Budapest Capital Court today issued a judgment finding three state authorities responsible for multiple, grave violations of the rights of 220 adults and children with disabilities detained in the notorious Topház Social Care Home. Validity first exposed the shocking abuses in 2017, reporting on filthy living conditions, violence, torture and ill-treatment, malnutrition and the use of makeshift restraints. 

Update (27 March 2024):

The written judgment has now been released. The official version (Hungarian) is available here. An unofficial translation in English is available here.

Following a public outcry, the Hungarian Government fired the then-director of the institution and quickly outsourced its management to the Charitable Service of the Order of Malta. Validity also uncovered worrying information that the institution was receiving funding provided by the European Union. 

Attempts to initiate a criminal investigation into the abuses failed, despite extensive documentary evidence of the situation and expert testimonies. Validity subsequently issued an anti-discrimination claim in the Budapest Capital Court against multiple government authorities, including the now-abolished Ministry of Human Capacities. Numerous procedural hurdles had to be overcome throughout the proceedings, most notably due to multiple reshuffles in ministerial portfolios. 

Nevertheless, the judge overseeing the proceedings, Dr. Monika Németh Jakabosné, today delivered a first-instance judgment upholding Validity’s claims against three defendants responsible for maintaining and controlling the institution: the Directorate-General for Social Affairs and Child Protection (“SZGYF”), the Pest County Government Office, and the Ministry of Culture and Innovation. The latter is a successor ministry to the previous Ministry of Human Capacities, a super ministry previously headed by the now-disgraced ex-minister, Zoltán Balog. 

In delivering her ruling, which she did so orally, Dr. Németh Jakabosné found violations of the residents’ rights to personal freedom, human dignity, habilitation, rehabilitation, early intervention, education and health to have been severally violated due to the failure of authorities to act on persistent abuses. She reserved particular criticism for way in which responsible authorities acted as “passive observers”, holding that this meant they bore responsibility for the atrocities uncovered by Validity. 

The judge informed the parties that her full written decision will be delivered within 15 days, which is the time limit specified under the Hungarian Civil Procedure Code. In passing judgment, she did not uphold Validity’s claims against a number of other defendants, including the Charitable Service of the Order of Malta, the Ministry of Interior and the Prime Minister’s Office. Validity intends to carefully scrutinise the written judgment and will consider whether to appeal some aspects of the decision. 

Steven Allen, Executive Director of the Validity Foundation, and one of the eyewitnesses of the abuses inside Topház said: “Finally, after years of litigation, we have received a judgment that decisively holds the Hungarian state responsible for grave abuses against people detained in the Topáz institution. Despite this, Hungary continues with its policy of mass segregation of over 22,000 people with disabilities in institutions across the country, many of which are completely closed. Independent monitoring and oversight are virtually non-existent. And yet, the Hungarian government continues to invest vast sums of public and European money on this outdated and deeply abusive institutional regime, in violation of national, European and international law.” 

The institution was renamed the “House of Providence” after its maintenance was taken over by the Charitable Service of the Order of Malta. Despite the rebranding, many of the residents who were identified as victims of abuse remain in the institution to this day. The new maintainer has repeatedly refused to admit Validity monitors again, denying residents the opportunity to raise complaints and pursue individual claims for reparations. 

According to Validity’s lawyer, Adél Kegye, the case demonstrates “not only that the state fails to care for the vulnerable persons entrusted to its care, but is actually a risk to them”. 

She continued: “The residents of Topház were and are cut off from basic medical, educational, and social services. These are systemic problems that, as we proved in this case, are the result of failed government policies that maintain institutionalisation against the rights of persons with disabilities and the obligations of the state under international human rights law.” 

The lawsuit highlighted major failings within laws and policies and Hungary’s international obligations within the European Union and under multiple UN human rights treaties. 

In 2020, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) released a report in which they have found the country responsible for serious and widespread violations of the rights of persons with disabilities due to national laws and policies that maintain mass institutionalisation and a highly restrictive regime of guardianship. The findings came following an Inquiry established by the treaty body under the Optional Protocol to the CRPD in 2017, in a complaint also initiated by Validity. 

Throughout the various legal challenges, the Hungarian Government has failed to accept that ongoing placement and investments into institutions violates the rights of persons with disabilities. Instead, it has taken steps to expand the country’s capacity in institutions, investing huge quantities of funding in building smaller and even more restrictive “group homes”. Validity has repeatedly challenged this failed policy, calling on the government and the European Commission to stop financing disability segregation. 

Another treaty body, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC Committee) also published Concluding Observations concerning Hungary in 2020, in which the CRC Committee expressed its concerns regarding “child sexual abuse and maltreatment of children with disabilities in institutional care, such as at the Topház Special Home/House of Providence (Gondvieslés Háza)”. The Committee urged the Government to rapidly phase out institutionalisation of children with disabilities and to close Topház and other institutions. 

Last summer, in 2023, the CRPD Committee decided to follow up on its recommendations to Hungary. The Committee found that the country has failed to undertake systematic reforms required to abolish guardianship and institutionalisation, continues misusing international funding, and maintains deeply problematic policies that cause segregation. The Committee concluded that Hungary continues to remain responsible for “grave and systematic violations” of disability rights. 

In light of today’s judgment, Validity reiterates its call that the Hungarian authorities should take immediate steps to end all abuse, and proceed to provide full redress, reparations, rehabilitation and compensation to the victims. Validity further calls on Hungary and the European Commission to suspend all financing of institutionalisation, and now take concrete steps to put in place a genuine deinstitutionalisation strategy in accordance with their binding obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Validity also strongly calls on the Charitable Service of the Order of Malta to open up the institutions it currently maintains on behalf of the Hungarian state to Validity monitors, and cease its current policy of preventing access to justice and the courts for residents of Topház. 

Validity’s original report, ‘Straightjackets and Seclusion’ can be accessed here. A Hungarian language version of the report is available here. In 2021, the Budapest Capital Court also ruled in Validity’s favour in a related claim seeking access to the names of the guardians of residents of the Topház institutions. In recent years, Validity has also been seeking access to public documentation concerning Hungary’s use of EU funding in violation of disability rights – see here. 

Validity has also brought the abuses in Topház to the attention of the European Court of Human Rights which is yet to issue a judgment. The case concerns the death of a young woman in the institution and the complete failure of the state to ensure any form or redress or accountability for her death. 

Watch our press conference from 28 February with Steven Allen, Adél Kegye and Sándor Gurbai below: