The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Hungary is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Hungary is also a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Hungary is a state party to the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11 governs freedom of assembly and association:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article VIII(1) of the 2011 Constitution of Hungary (known as the Fundamental Law) provides that: "Every person shall have the right to peaceful assembly."
In 2018, the Constitution was amended to include the following provision:
Everyone shall have the right to have his or her private and family life, home, communications and good reputation respected. Exercising the right to freedom of expression and assembly shall not impair the private and family life and home of others.Article VI(1), 2018 Constitution.
Act No. III of 1989 on the Right to Freedom of Assembly provides in its Section 1 that: “The right of assembly is a fundamental freedom guaranteed for everyone. The Republic of Hungary recognises this right and ensures its undisturbed exercise.”
Under Section 11(2): "The police and other competent bodies shall, upon the organiser’s request, contribute to the maintenance of the order of the assembly and arrange for the removal of persons disturbing the assembly.”
Section 14(1) of the 1989 Act provides that where, during an assembly, "participants appear bearing arms or carrying weapons or in an armed manner, or hold an assembly subject to prior notification despite a prohibiting decision, the assembly shall be dispersed by the police". According to sub-section 2: "The dispersal of the assembly shall be preceded by a warning.”
In June 2018, a revision of the 1989 Act was proposed to restrict the right of peaceful assembly.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Section 15 of Act XXXIV of 1994 on the Police provides that:
(1) A police measure shall not cause damage which is manifestly disproportionate to the legitimate aim of the measure.
(2) Should several police measures or means of coercion be available, the one which causes the least restriction, injury or damage to the affected person shall be chosen, while securing efficiency.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Section 54 of the Police Act governs the use of firearms:
(1) A police officer may use a firearm for:
a) averting a direct threat to or attack on the life of another person
b) averting a direct attack gravely endangering limb ...
g) to apprehend, or to prevent the escape of, the perpetrator who took someone's life intentionally ...
k) averting an attack against his own life, limb or personal freedom.
These provisions are more permissive than international law allows.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2018 Concluding Observations on Hungary, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Faber v. Hungary (2012)
In its judgment in this case, the European Court of Human Rights stated that freedom of assembly as enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention "protects a demonstration that may annoy or cause offence to persons opposed to the ideas or claims that it is seeking to promote".
The guarantees of Article 11 of the Convention apply to all assemblies except those where the organisers and participants have violent intentions or otherwise deny the foundations of a “democratic society” .... Any measures interfering with freedom of assembly and expression other than in cases of incitement to violence or rejection of democratic principles – however shocking and unacceptable certain views or words used may appear to the authorities – do a disservice to democracy and often even endanger it.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Hungary:
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respects this right in practice. Fidesz’s electoral victory in 2018 prompted large crowds to turn out for peaceful antigovernment demonstrations.
Constitutional amendments approved in 2018 make it easier to restrict assemblies that are deemed to infringe on the right to private life; the changes were most likely prompted by demonstrations organized in front of the prime minister’s home. The amendments replaced a 1989 measure that many saw as an outdated regulation. While the new language contained some improvements, it also included excessive restrictions, including bans on gatherings that interfere with traffic (as most protests in Budapest do) and those that take place on private property without permission, which would effectively prohibit, among other things, union demonstrations on company premises. Already under the new rules, the police banned an opposition demonstration against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit in October.