By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent reporting from Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- An influential group defending the rights of gypsies, also known as Roma, has welcomed a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that banning a Hungarian "far-right, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic" paramilitary group is lawful.
The Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) told BosNewsLife that it was involved in the case "as a third party" to support the decision by a Hungarian court to forbid the Magyar Gárda, or 'Hungarian Guard' Association, whose members marched through Roma villages in uniforms and carrying flags resembling the Nazi-era.
Hungarian Guard activists also attacked Jews and their marches added to anxiety among especially elderly Hungarian Holocaust survivors, who still recalled Hungarian fascists sending them to Nazi death camps during World War Two. Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust as well as thousands of Roma.
Gábor Vona, chairman of the Hungarian Guard Association and current leader of the far-right Movement For a Better Hungary (Jobbik) party, had asked Europe's top court to overturn the ban, saying it "violated" his "freedom of assembly under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights."
But in its Chamber judgment on Tuesday, July 9, the ECHR concluded that forbidding the Hungarian Guard did not violate Article 11 as its activities included paramilitary rallies in villages with large Romani populations and advocacy for racially-motivated policies. They reportedly also intimidated Roma across Hungary, violating their human rights.
The Hungarian "State is entitled to take preventive measures to protect democracy…if a sufficiently imminent prejudice to the rights of others undermines the fundamental values upon which a democratic society rests and functions," the ECHR added in its ruling. "One of such values is the cohabitation of members of society without racial segregation, without which a democratic society is inconceivable.”
ERRC's Executive Director Dezideriu Gergely told BosNewsLife that "Today’s decision reinforces the fact that Roma enjoy protection of their security, and that the activities to keep ‘Gypsy criminality’ at bay were racist in essence.”
The official said, "We fully support the opinion in the judgment that the use of the expression ‘Gypsy crime’ - which suggests that there is a link between crime and a certain ethnicity - constitutes a racist form of speech intended to fuel feelings of hatred against the Roma."
In 2007, the Budapest Chief Prosecutor’s Office launched a court action seeking the dissolution of the Hungarian Guard Association saying that "intimidating Roma" was an integral part of the group and an "abuse of the right to freedom of assembly."
Hungarian courts agreed and dissolved the organization, prompting Chairman Vona's complaint to the ECHR
ERRC investigators said they successfully convinced the EHRC to uphold the ban by taking "into account attitudes towards racism in a democratic society and discrimination against Roma, among others, when it considers restricting freedoms of association and assembly, guaranteed under Article 11."
The ERRC referred to international law, signed by Hungary, which mandates "the prevention of racial hatred by states."
The group also presented material on reported discrimination against Roma in Hungary and other countries and argued that minorities, especially Roma, "enjoy special protection under Article 14" of the European Convention on Human Rights.
There are believed to be up to 750,000 Roma people living in Hungary, just over seven percent of Hungary's nearly 10 million population.
Exact figures are difficult to get as many decline to reveal their ethnic origin amid fears of discrimination, researchers say.
(As part of its extended coverage, Budapest-based BosNewsLife is keeping a close eye on general news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals, especially regarding faith, freedom of expression, and religious and ethnic groups in especially (former) Communist countries and other autocratic states).
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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