Hungary and Belgium face criticism in Amnesty International report

In its 2020 annual report on the state of human rights around the world, the charity says the health pandemic has thrown into stark relief, and sometimes aggravated, existing inequalities and patterns of abuse.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

13 Apr 2021

Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said that while there were examples of heroism in 2020, underneath that heroism the pandemic laid bare “the devastating consequences of abuse of power, structurally and historically.”

She said, “The COVID-19 pandemic may not define who we are, but it certainly has amplified what we should not be.” The pandemic also “amplified the mediocre and mendacious, the selfish and the fraudulent, among the world’s political leaders.”

She goes on, “The richest countries have effected a near-monopoly of the world’s supply of vaccines, leaving countries with the fewest resources to face the worst health and human rights outcomes and thus the longest-lasting economic and social disruption.”

“And as people die in their millions, and millions more lose their livelihoods, what are we to make of the fact that top billionaires’ incomes have soared and that tech-giants’ profits have escalated?”

She added, “2020 taught us, yet again, the essence of human rights. The question that remains to be answered is: will we be bold enough to see what must be done and courageous enough to get on and do it, at scale and at pace?”

In its report, Amnesty International condemns laws in Hungary designed to contain COVID-19, which restricted freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, stating that the government “misused existing and new legislation.”

Legislation passed last year gives the government the ability to “arbitrarily restrict the rights to freedom of movement and peaceful assembly,” it says.

“Between the start of the pandemic and the end of October 2020, it is estimated that nearly 11,500 people died because of COVID-19 in Belgium. For a population of about 11.5 million, this is a severe blow”

Amnesty International report

The authors also reported that Hungary was among a host of countries where Roma and people on the move, asylum-seekers and refugees, were placed under discriminatory “forced quarantines” as part of COVID-19 lockdowns.

On the issue of gender, Amnesty International highlighted that Hungarian authorities have prohibited legal gender recognition for transgender and intersex people, while also passing legislation that practically bans LGBT+ people from adopting children.

The report notes that the European court system in several cases has found the Orbán government in violation of its international obligation regarding the right to asylum.

In its latest ruling, the Court of Justice of the European Union found that the collective forcible expulsion of migrants and asylum-seekers from Hungarian territory (a practice known as pushbacks) to be in breach of EU law. By the end of 2020, these pushbacks exceeded 30,000, according to the report.

Elsewhere, the report says that Belgium is guilty of “violations of residents’ right to health, life and non-discrimination which have occurred as a result of government failures: structural deficiencies, lack of priority attention at the beginning of the pandemic, lack of access to hospitals, insufficient personal protection equipment for staff and too little screening.”

“As people die in their millions, and millions more lose their livelihoods, what are we to make of the fact that top billionaires’ incomes have soared and that tech-giants’ profits have escalated?” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International Secretary General

It goes on, “Between the start of the pandemic and the end of October 2020, it is estimated that nearly 11,500 people died because of COVID-19 in Belgium. For a population of about 11.5 million, this is a severe blow,” the report said.

The pandemic also impacted the human rights of refugees in Belgium, the report says, adding that in March 2020, during the first wave, the authorities closed the asylum filing office.

“Hundreds of people have been temporarily denied access to the asylum procedure, resulting in a lack of food aid and shelter. The authorities set up an online registration system, which has proved unsatisfactory.”

“In more than 100 cases, the Labour Court has ordered the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (Fedasil) to guarantee access to material assistance for asylum seekers.”

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