Hungary letting down Roma people

There was some welcome publicity today for the much-neglected scandal of discrimination against Roma people across Europe, as the BBC Today Programme picked up on a new Amnesty report on Hungary. (You can listen to the piece here –it’s at 2 hrs 43 mins if you don’t fancy hearing three hours of news)

The report, “Violent attacks against Roma in Hungary”, shows how the Hungarian authorities are failing in their duty to record, investigate, prosecute and punish all racially-motivated crimes against Roma people.

These aren’t minor scuffles, or the odd bit of street violence, either: we’re talking about homes being firebombed and people, including children, being shot at when they try to escape from the flames.

In the early morning of 23 February 2009, 27-year-old Róbert Cs. and his four-year-old son were both shot dead when they attempted to escape a house set on fire by Molotov cocktails in the village of Tatárszentgyörgy, about 50km south of Budapest. Although shots had been heard, the initial police investigation treated the case as an accident.

Unbelievable – the house catches fire and the inhabitants are shot as they escape, by accident. Really?

Thankfully Viktória Mohácsi, then a Member of the European Parliament, intervened. After she became involved, investigators found the bottles used for the Molotov cocktails, as well as lead shot and shot cartridges.

Hungary’s Independent Police Complaints Board concluded that the failure of the police to treat the murder as a hate crime seriously hindered the investigation and thus violated the rights of the victims.  

This failure to recognise the racial motivation to these and other crimes comes against a backdrop of wider discrimination. Roma in Hungary are severely affected by poverty – seven times more than non-Roma. The infant mortality rate is twice that of non-Roma. Roma children are often placed in special education designed for children with mental disabilities and are segregated in separate Roma-only classes and schools.

Hungary thus joins a ‘nasty list’ of European countries that persecute Roma – we’ve highlighted human rights abuses against Roma in the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Kosovo, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia. To find out more and take action, go to www.amnesty.org.uk/roma.

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