Borbala Ivany, Andras Kadar, and Andras Nemes (Hungarian Helsinki Committee)

The Hungarian case exemplifies the powerful impact of the general political climate and expectations on torture prevention. In Hungary there is an interesting discrepancy between the steady development of the legal framework on the one hand and the trends in the frequency of ill-treatment.

This discrepancy can primarily be explained by the influence of the political context on the practice of the authorities. Due to the explosive increase in crime rates after the democratic transition, the undeniable improvements in the legal framework had a limited effect: the frequency of ill-treatment cases have been still relatively high. Only after the turbulence of the first transitional years subsided and a less restrictive criminal policy emerged with emphasis on safeguards, could the improved legal framework have an impact, resulting in a significant decrease in the number of torture complaints.

In Hungary, we have rarely seen that the laws are overtly amended to downgrade the degree of torture prevention. However, in some cases piecemeal legislative amendments bringing positive changes have been incapable of remedying the central problems of a certain area. However, from the period when the most emphasis was put on public order versus defence rights (i.e. in the post 2010 election era, when the number of ill-treatment complaints reached a new peak after the first years of the transition), we can even quote examples of amendments expressly aimed at weakening certain acknowledged torture prevention mechanisms.

The political will has been also manifested in political statements and in instructions given to the police leadership reducing the level of implementation of safeguards. The 2010 peak in the number of ill-treatment complaints seems to suggest that despite being able to rely on a relatively well developed and sophisticated legal framework containing important preventive elements, the Hungarian authorities had not become sufficiently immune in the over two decades of democracy to prevent them from changing their practices if there is a sudden and very strong political impulse pushing them into the direction of producing results – even at high prices.