Hungary: the Stop Soros Package and its implementation; impact on NGOs promoting human rights and advocating or providing services for Roma (2017-September 2019) [HUN106334.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Overview

According to Freedom House, Hungary's ruling Fidesz has put forward a "xenophobic" and anti-immigration agenda, has aimed to weaken civil society organizations, and launched a campaign against Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, claiming that his "'agents'" are threatening Hungary's national security by supporting illegal immigration to Europe (Freedom House 11 Apr. 2018, 2). Sources further state that the Hungarian government [or its leader Victor Orban (AP 9 Apr. 2018)] alleges that migrants threaten the country's Christian identity and national security (AP 9 Apr. 2018; The Independent10 Apr. 2018; The Washington Post30 May 2018). According to the Bertelsmann Stiftung's Transformation Index (BTI) 2018country report on Hungary, civil society organizations "critical of the government" have been "subject to harassment" following the 2014 election, with "a high-ranking politician … [speaking of] 'sweeping out' the organizations" in 2017 (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2018, 4).

According to Human Rights Watch's World Report 2019,

[a]head of the April [2018] elections, the government ran a smear campaign on TV, radio, and country-wide billboards targeting civil society organizations working on asylum and migration, and Hungarian-born philanthropist George Soros, a key funder.

During the election campaigning period, government officials, including Prime Minister Orban, referred to civil society organizations, political opposition, and critical journalists as "agents of Soros."

In addition to the smear campaign, which continued after the elections in pro-government media, civil society organizations, particularly those working on asylum and migration, came under increasing government pressure in 2018.

In June, parliament approved government-proposed amendments to the constitution and other legislation, criminalizing services, advice, and support to migrants and asylum seekers, punishable by up to one-year imprisonment. The measures came into force in July. At [the] time of writing, no prosecutions had taken place. The measures were adopted despite criticism from the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights in February, the UN Human Rights Committee in April, UNHCR in May, and the Council of Europe's constitutional advisory body in June. (Human Rights Watch Jan. 2019)

In its concluding observations on the sixth periodic report on Hungary, the UN Human Rights Committee expresses its concerns regarding

the prevalence of hate crimes and about hate speech targeting minorities, notably Roma, Muslims, migrants and refugees, in political discourse, in the media, on the Internet and even in [g]overnment-sponsored campaigns. The Committee notes the information provided by the State party about the measures taken to promote Jewish life in Hungary, but expresses its concern about the prevalence of anti-Semitic stereotypes and the negative historical associations arising out of the manner in which high-ranking officials have nurtured conspiracy theories relating to George Soros. (UN 9 May 2018, para. 17)

According to the US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018on Hungary,

[i]n July the press reported that a foreign private intelligence company admitted it was involved in a campaign to discredit certain NGOs ahead of the country's April parliamentary elections. Between December 2017 and March, agents using false identities reportedly contacted domestic NGOs receiving funding from organizations affiliated with Hungarian-American business executive and philanthropist George Soros to secretly record them in what was seen as an attempt to undermine their credibility. Prime Minister Orban cited the recordings to criticize some civil society organizations during the parliamentary election campaign. (US 13 Mar. 2019, 25)

2. Legislation
2.1 Law on the Transparency of Organizations, 2017

Act LXXVI of 2017 on the Transparency of Organisations Receiving Support from Abroad entered into force on 28 June 2017 (Hungary 2017). Sources indicate that the act requires organizations receiving at least 7.2 million Hungarian forint (HUF) [C$32,938] annually from foreign sources to register as a foreign-supported organization (ECNL 15 June 2017; HCLU 10 Oct. 2017; Nogradi Law Office 16 July 2017). The act requires civil society organizations to notify authorities of their foreign-supported status within 15 days of reaching the established threshold during the fiscal year (ECNL 15 June 2017; Nogradi Law Office 16 July 2017). The act provides that organizations receiving support from abroad "shall send the notification … to the regional court with territorial jurisdiction over its seat (hereinafter the "registering court") with the data content specified in Annex 1" (Hungary 2017, Sect. 2(2)). The act further states that after sending the notification, the organization receiving support from abroad

shall, without delay, publish on its webpage, in press products it issues as referred to in the Act on the freedom of the press and the fundamental rules of media contents, and in its other publications the fact that it qualifies as an organisation receiving support from abroad pursuant to this Act. (Hungary 2017, Sect 2(5))

Concerning the authorities' obligations, the act states the following:

The registering court shall, by the 15th day of each month, send to the minister responsible for managing the Civil Information Portal ("Civil Információs Portál ") the names, seats and tax numbers of all the associations and foundations in respect of which the court entered into the Register, in the preceding month, the fact that they qualify as an organization receiving support from abroad. The minister responsible for managing the Civil Information Portal shall, without delay, publish the data thus received for access free of charge on the electronic interface dedicated to the purpose. (Hungary 2017, Sect. 2(4))

The act provides that if an organization fails to comply with its provisions, the prosecutor shall send the organization notices to comply within a given time period, after which

[i]f this time limit expires with no result, the prosecutor shall, within 15 days of expiry, initiate at the registering court the imposition of a fine under section 37 (2) of Act CLXXXI of 2011 on the court registration of non-governmental organisations and related procedural rules. (Hungary 2017, Sect. 3(2))

Sources state that under the act, non-compliant organizations may be fined up to 900,000 HUF [C$3,958] (ECNL 15 June 2017; Nogradi Law Office 16 July 2017). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee [1] declared that "[f]ailure to register and comply with … the law is sanctioned with a fine initially, however, it will ultimately result in the NGO's dissolution through a simplified termination procedure by the court" (Hungarian Helsinki Committee 9 Sept. 2019). The European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) [2] also explains that failure to comply with the act could "possibly" result in "termination" of the organization (ECNL 15 June 2017).

The UN Human Rights Committee expressed its concerns regarding the

unreasonable, burdensome and restrictive conditions imposed on some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving foreign funding under Act LXXVI of 2017 on the Transparency of Organizations Supported from Abroad, including the requirement that certain NGOs should register as "foreign-supported organizations" and publicly identify their foreign supporters. Despite the information provided by the State party delegation claiming that the law aims to ensure transparency regarding NGO funding sources, the Committee notes a lack of sufficient justification for the imposition of these requirements, which appear to be part of an attempt to discredit certain NGOs, including NGOs dedicated to the protection of human rights in Hungary … The Committee is also concerned that the imposition of restrictions on foreign funding directed to NGOs may be used to apply illegitimate pressure on them and to interfere unjustifiably with their activities. (UN 9 May 2018, para. 53, 55)

The ECNL estimates that the law "leaves room for broad interpretation due to unclear provisions regarding disclosure requirements, [and] the scope of what is considered foreign funding" (ECNL 15 June 2017).

A copy of Act LXXVI of 2017 is attached to this Response (Attachment 1).

2.2 Seventh Amendment and Stop Soros Package, 2018

Sources indicate that in June 2018, the Hungarian parliament approved a package of laws named the "'Stop Soros'" package [Act VI of 2018 (Council of Europe 21 May 2019, para. 53)] that criminalizes providing support to undocumented or illegal migrants (Al Jazeera 20 June 2018; The New York Times20 June 2018; Reuters 20 June 2018), and that it came into force on 1 July 2018 (Council of Europe 21 May 2019, para. 53). In her report on her visit to Hungary in February 2019, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe specifies that the package includes several amendments to existing legislation, including laws on police, freedom of movement, asylum and criminal law (Council of Europe 21 May 2019, para. 53). The report further specifies that amendments were made to Section 353/A of the Criminal Code, which

introduced a criminal offence of "supporting and facilitating illegal migration". It criminalises anyone who engages in or provides material resources for organising activities to facilitate asylum applications for persons who are not persecuted or do not have a well[-]founded reason to fear direct persecution. Such activities include, inter alia, the preparation or distribution of information materials and building or operating a network to facilitate asylum applications. Organisational activities assisting persons entering or staying illegally in Hungary to gain a residence permit are also criminalised. (Council of Europe 21 May 2019, para. 54)

Regarding penalties, the report of the Commissioner for Human Rights states the following:

Individuals may be sentenced to up to one year in prison if the offence is committed for financial gain, support is provided to more than one person or when the offence takes place in the border zone. Otherwise the penalty is custodial arrest from 5 to 90 days. An association can be fined, and a court can bar it from conducting specific activities or even dissolve it in accordance with the Act CIV of 2001 on measures applicable to legal persons under criminal law. (Council of Europe 21 May 2019, para. 55)

Without providing further details, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) states that the new law introduce "immigration restraining orders, a new legal institution entailing prohibition of entry and stay in a designated area of the country" (EU July 2018, 21). Further and corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

On 25 August 2018, the newly enacted Section 253 on the Special Immigration Tax of Act XLI of 2018 came into force (Council of Europe 21 May 2019, para. 61). Sources indicate it imposes a 25 percent tax on providing support to immigration-supporting activities (Council of Europe 21 May 2019, para. 61; US 13 Mar. 2019, 25), and more specifically, at "'any programme, action or activity that, either directly or indirectly, aims at promoting immigration'" (Council of Europe 21 May 2019, para. 61), including:

  • conducting or participating in media campaign or seminars;
  • organizing educational activities;
  • setting up or operating networks; and
  • "propaganda" that presents immigration in a positive way (Council of Europe 21 May 2019, para. 61; US 13 Mar. 2019, 25).

Sources further report that along with the "Stop Soros" package enacted in June 2018, the Hungarian parliament adopted constitutional amendments stating that "alien" or "foreign" populations cannot settle in Hungary (Al Jazeera 20 June 2018; The New York Times20 June 2018; Reuters 20 June 2018).

The UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance reports that

[c]ivil society submissions have also highlighted the rise in racially discriminatory immigration laws and policies in the country, driven by nationalist populist ideology and diminishing the rights of non-nationals to employment, education and health care. (UN 6 Aug. 2018, para. 27)

Further and corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In a joint opinion on the provisions of the "Stop Soros" draft legislative package, the Council of Europe's Venice Commission [3] and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)'s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) express concern that the "provision may result in further arbitrary restrictions to and prohibition through heavy sanctions of the indispensable work of human rights NGOs" (Venice Commission and ODIHR 25 June 2018, para. 103). The joint opinion further estimates that individuals or organizations who

carry out informational activities, support individual cases, [or] provide aid on the border of Hungary may be under risk of prosecution even if they acted in good faith in line with the international law for supporting the asylum seekers or other forms of legal migrants. (Venice Commission and ODIHR 25 June 2018, para. 103)

The UN Human Rights Committee similarly estimates that the new legislation in the "'Stop-Soros'" package

will impose serious restrictions on the operations of civil society organizations and of critics of the State party's immigration policy. The Committee is concerned that, by alluding to the "survival of the nation" and to the protection of citizens and culture and by linking the work of NGOs to an alleged international conspiracy, the package will stigmatize NGOs and curb their ability to carry out their important activities in support of human rights, particularly the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. (UN 9 May 2018, para. 55)

Unofficial translations by the Hungarian Helsinki Commission of both Bill No. T/332, the seventh amendment of the Basic Law of Hungary, and Bill No. T/333, amending certain laws relating to measures to combat illegal immigration, are attached to this Response (Attachments 2 and 3).

3. Implementation and Impacts

The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights reports that as of May 2019, 140 civil society organizations were registered as organizations receiving funding from abroad, as per Act LXXVI of 2017 (Council of Europe 21 May 2019, para. 49). According to the Commissioner for Human Rights, "it appears that the punitive measures against non-compliance ranging from fines to the dissolution of an NGO are not applied" (Council of Europe 21 May 2019, para. 49). The Hungarian Helsinki Committee stated that "[t]o date, [they] had no knowledge of any investigation initiated based on the new section of the criminal code" introduced through the Stop Soros package (Hungarian Helsinki Committee 9 Sept. 2019). In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, a representative of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), a human rights NGO which activities include the monitoring of legislation, strategic litigation, and the provision of free legal aid assistance for more than 2,500 cases per year since 1994 (HCLU n.d.), similarly indicated that there have been no proceedings initiated under the Stop Soros laws or the new provisions of the criminal code (HCLU 16 Aug. 2019). Without providing further details, the representative stated that some NGOs that provided assistance to refugees have altered their approach, while others have simply ignored the legislation (HCLU 16 Aug. 2019). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2019report on Hungary,

The government's continued refusal to sign an international agreement on the status of CEU [the Central European University], a postgraduate institution with dual American-Hungarian accreditation that was founded by the Hungarian-born American financier and philanthropist George Soros, effectively forced the university out of Hungary at the end of 2018. Earlier in the year, CEU had closed its free non[-]degree program for asylum seekers and refugees as a consequence of new anti-immigration legislation.

Pro[-]government media outlets have published lists of activists, academics, programs, and institutions and labeled them as "Soros agents" or "mercenaries." The ideological attacks have targeted gender studies programs, but also broader research on inequality, or simply criticism of various government proposals. The effort has encouraged self-censorship. The government's decision to assume control of a large portion of funding for the Hungarian Academy of Sciences left the entity, the leading network of research institutions in the country, uncertain about its future. (Freedom House 4 Feb. 2019, Sec. D3)

According to a press release on their website, the Open Society Foundations, a "private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance, and human rights" founded by George Soros (Open Society Foundations n.d.), similarly relocated their Budapest-based international operations and staff to Berlin due to the upcoming "restrictions on nongovernmental organizations through … [the] 'Stop Soros' package of legislation" (Open Society Foundations 15 May 2018).

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee stated that the "restrictive and threatening" legislation, and the "regular attacks and smear campaigns against individuals and civil society organisations, financed or condoned by the government, created an uncertain and hostile environment in Hungary for civil society in general, regardless of their particular activities," resulting in some organizations relocating from Budapest to other EU member states (Hungarian Helsinki Committee 9 Sept. 2019).

3.1 Impact on Roma NGOs

According to the HCLU representative, "many" international donors have left due to political or legal concerns, and smaller NGOs who relied on them have been unable to adjust funding, which has particularly affected specialized NGOs, such as those involved in Roma rights (HCLU 16 Aug. 2019). According to a press release posted on their website, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) decided to relocate their offices from Budapest to Brussels as of January 2019, due to the "'developments in Hungary related to civil society organisations and the limitations of the Hungarian legal framework'" (ERRC 20 Dec. 2018). CNN reports that a community centre in Budapest, Aurora, "home to several NGOs - including the Roma Press Center" and Roma support groups, and which has received funding from Soros' Open Society Foundations, has been "pushed to the brink of closure by far-right attacks, police raids and municipality moves to buy the building," which discouraged other NGOs from working with the centre (CNN 30 Dec. 2018). The article further reports that in March 2017, members of Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement, a Hungarian far-right group, filmed themselves painting "Stop Operation Soros" on the walls of the Community Center (CNN 30 Dec. 2018). Further information on the impact of the new legislation on NGOs addressing Roma support could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] The Hungarian Helsinki Committee is a human rights organization that seeks to protect human dignity and the rule of law, focusing on refugees, detainees and law enforcement violence (Hungarian Helsinki Committee n.d.). The Hungarian Helsinki Committee conducts research, provides professional training as well as free legal assistance and representation (Hungarian Helsinki Committee n.d.).

[2] The European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL) describes itself as "a leading European resource and research center in the field of policies and laws affecting civil society" which mission is "to promote an enabling legal and fiscal environment for civil society in Europe and beyond" while working with local, multilateral and international organizations (ECNL n.d.).

[3] The Venice Commission, or officially the European Commission for Democracy through Law, is the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters (Council of Europe n.d.).

References

Al Jazeera. 20 June 2018. Philip Heijmans. "Hungary Criminalises Aiding Migrants with 'Stop Soros' Bill ." [Accessed 20 June 2019]

Associated Press (AP). 9 April 2018. Pablo Gorondi. "Hungary's Pro-Migrant Groups Seen as Targets After Election ." [Accessed 20 June 2019]

Bertelsmann Stiftung . 2018. "Hungary Country Report ." Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI) 2018. [Accessed 9 Aug. 2019]

Cable News Network (CNN). 30 December 2018. Sheena McKenzie. "How a Hungarian Community Center Became an 'Enemy of the State' ." [Accessed 10 Sept. 2019]

Council of Europe. 21 May 2019. Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović. Report Following Her Visit to Hungary from 4 to 8 February 2019 . [Accessed 13 Aug. 2019]

Council of Europe. N.d. "For Democracy Through Law - The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe ." [Accessed 19 Sept. 2019]

European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL). 15 June 2017. "Hungary's New Law on the Transparency of Organizations Supported from Abroad: What's at Stake? " [Accessed 13 Aug. 2019]

European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL). N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 17 Sept. 2019]

European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). 20 December 2018. "European Roma Rights Centre to Relocate to Brussels ." [Accessed 10 Sept. 2019]

European Union (EU). July 2018. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). Periodic Data Collection on the Migration Situation in the EU - July Highlights - 1 May-30 June 2018 . [Accessed 18 Sept. 2019]

Freedom House. 4 February 2019. "Hungary." Freedom in the World 2019 . [Accessed 19 Aug. 2019]

Freedom House. 11 April 2018. Dániel Hegedüs. "Hungary." Nations in Transit 2018 . [Accessed 13 Aug. 2019]

Human Rights Watch. January 2019. "Hungary." World Report 2019: Events of 2018 . [Accessed 15 Aug. 2019]

Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU). 16 August 2019. Director of Programs. Telephone interview with the Research Directorate.

Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU). 10 October 2017. "What Is the Problem with the Hungarian Law on Foreign Funded NGOs? " [Accessed 13 Aug. 2019]

Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU). N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 13 Aug. 2019]

Hungarian Helsinki Committee. 9 September 2019. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Hungarian Helsinki Committee. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 18 Sept. 2019]

Hungary. 2017. Act LXXVI of 2017 on the Transparency of Organisations Receiving Support from Abroad . Translated by Ministry of Justice of Hungary. [Accessed 13 Aug. 2019]

The Independent. 10 April 2018. Samuel Osborne. "Victor Orban's Right-Wing Hungarian Government Announces Plan To Stop People Helping Refugees and Migrants ." [Accessed 20 June 2019]

The New York Times. 20 June 2018. Patrick Kingsley. "Hungary Criminalizes Aiding Illegal Immigrants ." [Accessed 20 June 2019]

Nogradi Law Office. 16 July 2017. "Summary on Act LXXVI of 2017 on the Transparency of the Organizations Supported from Abroad ." [Accessed 13 Aug. 2019]

Open Society Foundations. 15 May 2018. "The Open Society Foundations to Close International Operations in Budapest ." [Accessed 10 Sept. 2019]

Open Society Foundations. N.d. "Who We Are." [Accessed 10 Sept. 2019]

Reuters. 20 June 2018. Marton Dunai. "Hungary Approves 'STOP Soros' Law, Defying EU, Rights Groups ." [Accessed 20 June 2019]

United Nations (UN). 6 August 2018. General Assembly. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance . (A/73/305) [Accessed 8 Aug. 2019]

United Nations (UN). 9 May 2018. Human Rights Committee. Concluding Observations on the Sixth Periodic Report of Hungary . (CCPR/C/HUN/CO/6) [Accessed 13 Aug. 2019]

United States (US). 13 March 2019. Department of State. "Hungary." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018 . [Accessed 8 Aug. 2019]

Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, and Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), a specialized institution of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). 25 June 2018. Joint Opinion on the Provisions of the So-Called “Stop Soros” Draft Legislative Package Which Directly Affect NGOs . (CDL-AD(2018)013) [Accessed 19 Sept. 2019]

The Washington Post. 30 May 2018. Siobhán O'Grady. "Hungary's 'Stop Soros' Bill Suggests Jail Time for Those Who Help Migrants ." [Accessed 20 June 2019]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources:Badur Foundation; European Roma Rights Centre; Hungary – embassy in Ottawa; Nemzeti és Etnikai Kisebbségi Jogvédő Irodát (NEKI); Open Society Foundations.

Internet sites, including:Amnesty International; Asylum Information Database (AIDA); The Atlantic; Austria Institut für Europa-und Sicherheitspolitik (AIES); British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC); Deutsche Welle ; EUobserver; Euronews; European Roma Information Office; Factiva; Forbes; Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung ; The Guardian; Hungarian Helsinki Committee; Hungarian Spectrum; Hungary Today; Hungary – Magyar Közlöny ; National Public Radio (NPR); The New Humanitarian; The New Yorker; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); Romea.cz; The Telegraph; Transparency International; UN – Refworld; Vox.

Attachments

  1. Hungary. 2017. Act LXXVI of 2017 on the Transparency of Organisations Receiving Support from Abroad . Translated by Ministry of Justice of Hungary. <> [Accessed 13 Aug. 2019]
  2. Hungary. 2018. Bill No. T/332, Seventh Amendment of the Basic Law of Hungary . Translated by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. <> [Accessed 19 Sept. 2019]
  3. Hungary. 2018. Bill No. T/333, Amending Certain Laws Relating to Measures to Combat Illegal Immigration . Translated by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. <> [Accessed 19 Sept. 2019]