The Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minority Rights
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Ethnic and National Minority Rights is elected by the Parliament based on the Minorities Act and is exclusively accountable to the Parliament.
The task of the Minorities Commissioner is to investigate or to have investigated any violations which come to his attention concerning national and ethnic rights, and to initiate general or individual measures in order to remedy these.
On the activities of the Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Rights
The Parliament of the Hungarian Republic elected Dr. Ernő Kállai Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minority Rights as exclusively accountable to Parliament.
The Minorities Commissioner is commonly referred to as the Minorities Ombudsman.
The Minorities Commissioner is an individual who is independent of political decision-makers, and whose task is to monitor the enforcement of national and ethnic minority rights. The Minorities Commissioner may select what measures to use himself within the limits of the law and acts without bias or prejudice. Neither Parliament, nor the Government, nor any other state or local government body may instruct him in connection with his activities.
As the monitoring body of Parliament, the Minorities Ombudsman examines whether the processes of the authorities and public service providers (for example, local governments, the police, gas works, and billing companies) comply with the requirements of constitutionality and legality. The Minorities Commissioner may also take action if he becomes aware of unjust procedures or negative discrimination.
The Minorities Ombudsman is assisted in his duties by his colleagues who are involved in preparing investigations but cannot reach independent conclusions.
The Ombudsman's procedures are governed by Act LIX of 1993 on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil Rights.
Who can turn to the Minorities Commissioner?
Anyone may turn to the Minorities Commissioner with a complaint, and request that an irregularity concerning national and ethnic minority rights be investigated either in their own case or on behalf of their community, for example, if they have experienced negative discrimination due to their background, or if the community's request for multilingual signs has been rejected.
Every complaint submitted to the Minorities Ombudsman is exempt from any fees. The Ombudsman covers all expenses connected with his procedures, for example the cost of on-site investigations, from the budget allocated by Parliament.
The Minorities Ombudsman is not obliged to examine complaints which are submitted anonymously, so it is advisable that complainants give their name and address. If you are concerned about possible negative consequences, you may request that the Ombudsman does not inform the authority under investigation of the origin of the complaint. Nobody may suffer disadvantage as a result of turning to the Minorities Commissioner. In the case of a public interest complaint (serving the interests of a community) the complainant enjoys criminal law protection.
In what cases may the Minorities Commissioner take action?
The Minorities Commissioner may only launch an investigation, if the authority or public service provider against which the complaint has been made caused the irregularity directly through some action of theirs or failure to act. It is a further condition of the Ombudsman taking action that the complainant must have previously made use of the available public administration forms of legal remedy, for example, by appealing against a decision of the first instance. We are unable to assist, if the complainant has already turned to the courts.
The following qualify as irregularities:
- the rights granted in the Constitution or Act LXXVII of 1993 on National and Ethnic Minority Rights are violated or there is a direct risk of such;
- unjustifiably slow administration, or unjust, inhumane treatment during the procedures of an authority (public service provider);
- a superfluous or unclear provision of any rule of law, lack of legislation or omissions in existing legislation.
Hungary accords national and ethnic minority rights to the Bulgarian, Gypsy, Greek, Croatian, Polish, German, Armenian, Romanian, Ruthenian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Serb, and Ukrainian communities, and members of these communities who have Hungarian citizenship.
The Minorities Commissioner can conduct an investigation in connection, for example, with the following:
- formation and operation of minority self-governments, cooperation with local governments and public administration bodies, and legal status of minority representatives,
- preservation of minority identity and awareness of self-identity,
- questions of minority cultural autonomy, in particular primary, secondary and higher education, public culture and the maintenance of minority institutions,
- complaints concerning minority language rights.
The Minorities Commissioner may also take action if the right of a person belonging to a national and ethnic minority to equal treatment is violated, in particular if any authority or public service provider:
- uses negative discrimination against them
- harasses them, or acts in a way whose intention or effect is to create an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, degrading or offensive environment.
Negative discrimination can occur in numerous legal relations, in particular
- in the course of education (e.g. segregated education, unlawful declaration as a private pupil),
- in connection with employment (e.g. entering or terminating employment relations),
- in connection with public administration authority procedures,
- when claiming health services,
- when requests for social benefits are assessed,
- when local government housing is allocated.
What authorities can the Minorities Commissioner investigate?
The Minorities Commissioner may investigate the procedures only of authorities and public service providers whose seat is in Hungary:
- bodies performing public administration tasks (e.g. notary or leader or member of staff of body dealing with registering addresses, social, building, tax, child protection and guardianship issues);
- other body exercising public administration powers (e.g. a local government when assessing certain social requests);
- the Hungarian Army;
- law and order body (e.g. police, prison service);
- investigation authority, including the prosecution and customs bodies;
- local governments and minority self-governments;
- public body (e.g. professional chambers);
- public notaries;
- county court bailiff and independent court bailiff.
The Minorities Commissioner may investigate bodies which qualify as public service providers, for example:
- public institutions (e.g. institutions dealing with education, health or social services);
- organisations offering services which meet the basic needs of the population on a contractual basis, in particular electricity, gas, heating, water, sewage and waste treatment, public sanitation, postal and telecommunications services, as well as scheduled public transport services;
- public service broadcasters (Magyar Rádió Zrt, Magyar Televízió Zrt.)
In what cases can the Minorities Commissioner not help?
The Minorities Commissioner cannot take action if
- a court procedure is in process concerning the case or a court ruling has already been made;
- the complaint has been submitted to the Parliament, the President of the Republic, the Constitutional Court, the National Audit Office, the Public Prosecutor's Office (with the exception of the body performing prosecution investigations);
- the complainant has not exercised their right to legal remedy, i.e. has not appealed against an injurious decision;
- more than a year has passed since receipt of the binding decision in an authority case;
- the case began before 23 October, 1989 when the Hungarian Republic was proclaimed;
- a fresh complaint made does not contain new facts or evidence compared to the earlier complaint.
It is important to note that the Minorities Commissioner cannot act as legal counsel or legal representative.
What measures can the Minorities Commissioner take?
1) Conducting an investigation
The Minorities Ombudsman has wide powers of investigation, which make it possible to clarify and uncover whether the complainant's rights or interests have been violated. The Minorities Ombudsman may hear the official in charge or any member of staff of the authority (or public service provider) which is being investigated, may look into the documents relevant to the investigation, may request a written explanation, declaration, information or opinion, and request that the leader of the body concerned or its supervisory body carry out an internal investigation.
It is also possible for the complainant to use the conclusions of the ombudsman investigation as evidence, for example, submitting them to the court in a later lawsuit.
2) Remedying irregularities uncovered in the course of applying the law
In the event that the Minorities Ombudsman establishes an irregularity in connection with the procedure of any authority or public service provider or omission of such procedure, he proposes measures and makes a recommendation to the organisation concerned or supervisory body for eliminating the irregularity now and preventing its future reoccurrence.:
The body concerned is obliged to study the contents of the initiative or recommendation, and within 30 days to inform the Minorities Commissioner on their substantial viewpoint, and/or measures taken and planned.
Although the Minorities Commissioner cannot oblige the body concerned, and can only make recommendations, in the significant proportion of investigations the bodies concerned accept the conclusion of the Ombudsman, and of their own accord take the requested measures to remedy the irregularity.
3) Measures connected to failings of legislation
The Minorities Commissioner can recommend that the body entitled to frame legislation amend, annul or issue a rule of law.
In the event that the Minorities Ombudsman takes the view that the given rule of law is not constitutional, he may put it forward to the Constitutional Court for examination.
In what way can the commissioner help in enforcing the rights of complainants?
1) Informing complainants
In the event that the Minorities Commissioner through lack of powers cannot take action, he informs the complainant of the rules of law applicable to the case and available possibilities of legal remedy. He also gives information on legal defence bodies which provide free legal representation.
2) Issuing legal interpretations
The Minorities Ombudsman regularly assists in interpreting provisions on minority rights. These standpoints have no binding force, but in numerous cases they are taken into account by those applying the law.
The Minorities Ombudsman regularly attempts to promote the enforcement of the rights of the complainant through discussion.
Ways of submitting a complaint
Complaints may be submitted in writing and orally. It is advisable to attach copies of official documents in the case to date and other documents necessary to assess the case.
Postal address: Dr. Ernő Kállai Minorities Ombudsman
1387 Budapest Pf. 40.
Telephone: (06-1) 475-7100
Fax: (06-1) 269-1615
Complaints may also be sent electronically to the address: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would prefer to submit your complaint in person, you may do so at the Complaints Office of the Parliamentary Commissioners' Office. To do so, please first arrange a time on the 06-1 475 7129 telephone number. The staff of the Complaints Office will listen to the complaint at the agreed time, and will record the complaint and forward it to the Minorities Ombudsman.
The opening hours of the Complaints Office:
Monday: between 2pm and 6pm
Wednesday: between 9am and 4pm
Friday: between 9am and midday
Location: 1051 Budapest, District V, Nádor u. 22.