Two years ago today, 27-year-old Robert Csorba and his four-year-old son were shot dead as they ran from their burning home in Tatárszentgyörgy, Hungary. The Csorba family is Roma, a fact that sparked unknown assailants to set the home ablaze and then wait to murder the fleeing victims with shotguns.
This heinous double murder was not an isolated event. Between January 2008 and August 2009, a series of crimes with similar characteristics -- the use of guns and the throwing of Molotov cocktails -- occurred in Roma communities throughout Hungary, leaving at least six Roma dead and many others gravely injured. In August 2009, the investigation of these crimes -- one that had been marred by delays and instances of misconduct -- finally concluded with the arrest of four men who have been charged in connection with the crimes. As of today though, their trial has yet to commence and nobody thus has been held accountable for the murders.
Last month, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán declared Roma issues a priority for the Hungarian Presidency of the European Union. He promised to work towards a "functioning Roma strategy" at EU-wide level to improve social inclusion of Roma citizens. While the Prime Minister's pledge to enhance Roma rights across the EU is commendable, the rhetoric has done little to console Hungary's Roma, who continue to face discrimination, including in the form of hate crime. They have been waiting for justice to be served and for Hungarian officials to lead by example when it comes to addressing the daily struggles of Roma at home.
Setting aside its high rhetoric in support of Roma rights across Europe, there is much that Hungary's government could do at home. There have been some welcome steps in the form of commitments to train police on combating hate crime and an early initiative to encourage more Roma to join the police force. Yet much remains to be done. It's time for the government to prove that Hungary is serious about standing up for its Roma citizens at home as it pursues initiatives at the EU level. Here are four steps--outlined in more detail in HRF's Blueprint to the Hungarian Government -- that Hungarian authorities could take today:
- With regard to arrests already made in August 2009, the Hungarian authorities should move quickly to bring the suspects to account through an open and transparent trial, a proceeding that could play a role in elevating the problem of racist violence against Roma to the forefront of the public debate.
- Law enforcement authorities should ensure that police have clear guidelines to vigorously address crimes that are motivated in whole or in part by racism or other forms of bias. Although the country has in place specific, albeit limited, laws addressing hate crime, these provisions are not adequately implemented. The police need to enhance their capacity to recognize when a crime should be classified and investigated as "racially motivated."
- A more effective system for publicly reporting the incidence and response to hate crimes should be implemented. The current system does not permit the identification of the ethnicity of the victim of a crime. As a result, there is no statistical information on the number of crimes in which an individual was targeted because of their ethnicity or due to other bias motivations.
- Finally, the Hungarian authorities should take a more vocal role in acknowledging the problem of hate crime against Roma in Hungary. They should publicly condemn such crimes when they occur at home or in other European nations. Only when the extent of the problem is fully acknowledged and authorities take a public stance to act can real progress begin.