Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today commended Hungary on its ‘remarkable’ transformation from communism to democracy over the past 20 years, while also voicing hope that the Government will address concerns raised about its new constitution and media laws.
“Hungary’s revolution has clear lessons for other countries where people are seeking freedom and change after decades of repression,” Mr. Ban told reporters in Budapest, adding that he is encouraged to know that there have already been high-level contacts between Hungary, Egypt and Tunisia, following the recent uprisings that brought down long-standing regimes in the North African nations.
“In that same spirit, as befits its role in the region and internationally, I hope the Hungarian Government will continue to promote its own reforms and uphold fundamental democratic principles,” he added.
Speaking at a joint press conference with President Pál Schmitt, Mr. Ban said that freedom of expression is among those “bedrock” principles.
Earlier this month, the UN independent expert on the right to freedom of opinion and expression voiced concern over Hungary’s recent media law, saying it could be used to curb the freedom of the press.
“The media legislation still risks generating a climate of self-censorship,” despite some amendments introduced by Parliament last month, Frank La Rue said at the end of a visit to Hungary. He noted that the law significantly expands State oversight over print and web-based media, while centralizing State media news production.
Mr. Ban said he told the President that the new laws regulating the media must be in line with the European mainstream and Hungary’s own human rights obligations.
“They need to be consistent with the legacy of your own fight for freedom and in tune with concerns in your neighbourhood and around the world,” he reiterated later in an address to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. “Freedom of expression and the media are essential foundations for any healthy democracy.”
The Secretary-General noted that there were similar concerns about certain provisions of the country’s new Constitution that, according to media reports, was approved today by Parliament.
In his address to the Academy, Mr. Ban also highlighted the “long and historic” road travelled by Hungary, which today – over 20 years after the revolution – is holding the presidency of the European Union.
He also elaborated on how the country can contribute to two of today’s important challenges – the protection of civilians as well as sustainable development and the fight against climate change.
Hundreds of Hungarian personnel serve in UN peacekeeping missions, where they are tasked with not only keeping armies at bay but also protecting civilians who are prey to militias and other combatants, he said.
“Protection of civilians is also part of a wider agenda of human rights culture that encompasses fair treatment of migrant workers and human rights for all minorities,” added Mr. Ban, noting that the Roma, in Hungary and elsewhere, are among the continent’s most marginalized people.
“We must do more to free them from stigma, discrimination and poverty,” he stated.
He also commended the Danube Strategy, a major initiative of the Hungarian presidency of the EU, which he said “recognizes the value of working across borders, in integrated fashion, for common progress on energy, the environment and much else.”
The Secretary-General is on a four-country European visit that began in the Czech Republic and will also include stops in Ukraine and Russia during the course of this week.