United Nations criticises Hungary’s discriminatory voting laws

Today, for the second time, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee) told the Hungarian government to stop disenfranchising people with intellectual disabilities. The Committee criticised the Hungarian Constitution, adopted in November 2012, under which a judge has the discretion to remove the right to vote of a person under guardianship. In September 2012 the Committee had warned the Hungarian government to amend the Constitution to allow all adults with disabilities to vote, but the government ignored these recommendations and gave judges the discretionary power to disenfranchise people with disabilities.

The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest flickr/Jorge González

In today’s case before the CRPD Committee, a panel of 18 experts found that six Hungarian adult citizens were prohibited from voting in the April 2010 parliamentary and October 2010 municipal elections. They were denied their right to vote simply because they were (and still are) under guardianship. They are all people with intellectual disabilities who want to participate in democracy, but were denied their rights because of laws which discriminate against people on the basis of a disability. The Committee found that these people’s rights under international law had been violated.

The Committee held that international law guarantees the right to vote to all people with disabilities, and that it “does not foresee any reasonable restriction” on this right.

“The Hungarian government has already amended the Constitution five times since it came into force last year, so it will be easy for it to repeal this repugnant part of the Constitution,” said Oliver Lewis, MDAC Executive Director. “It is now a priority for the Hungarian government to re-enfranchise the 60,000 adult citizens of the country who have been denied their right to vote, and it should provide compensation to all those who have been denied the ability to exercise their democratic rights.”

The Committee was critical of the old Constitution under which the right to vote was automatically removed from the six applicants. The CRPD Committee also condemned the new system where judges have the discretion to remove the right to vote from a person under guardianship. It said that a system containing an assessment of voting capacity is “discriminatory in nature”, and does not pursue a legitimate aim. This echoes findings in 2011 by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, the Venice Commission and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights came to the same conclusion in 2012. MDAC was involved in all of these initiatives.

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