Monday, May 23, 2011

Constitutionally Enshrined Disability Discrimination in Hungary

by Charles O'Mahony

The new Hungarian constitution approved by parliament last month contains provisions that are discriminatory and have been widely criticised by human rights organisations. The new Constitution should enter into force on January 1, 2012. Article XXIII (6) of the new Constitution provides that ”[t]hose deprived of their right to vote by a court by reason of limited mental ability and for a criminal offense shall not have the right to vote.” See here. This provision serves to exclude persons with intellectual disability and or persons with psychosocial disabilities from voting. This is completely at odds with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 29 
of the Convention relates to participation in political and public life and requires that States Parties to the Convention to “guarantee to persons with disabilities political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis with others”.

This discriminatory provision in the Constitution is disappointing as Hungary was the first Member State of the European Union to ratify the Convention back in 2007. Mental health and disability organisations have been very critical of this provision. See here, here and here. Mental Health Europe and the European Network of (ex-) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry stated that the New Hungarian Constitution “superficially acknowledges equal rights for all Hungarians” but “such a restriction is entirely unjustifiable, and is based on irrational and shameful prejudices”. See joint statement here. The Executive Director of Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (MDAC) Oliver Lewis stated that

“MDAC believes that the ‘mental ability’ provision is an unsophisticated disguise for disability-based discrimination, as it will likely only be applied to people with intellectual disabilities and people with psycho-social (mental health) disabilities. It is astonishing that the Hungarian government has enacted a Constitution, which does not even provide for universal suffrage for Hungarian adults with disabilities. A test for voting is pointless: no public policy goal is served by looking behind someone’s assertion to vote.” See here.

It is important to note that the new Constitution has also been criticised on other human rights grounds. The definition of marriage in the Constitution is defined as between a man and a woman and implies that a family based on marriage is the only protected by the state. Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have been critical of the lack of engagement with civil society and opposition groups. See here. In particular, there has been concern with the lack of public debate as a period of only a month was allowed for debate on the constitution before the Hungarian Parliament passed it.