Ethnic Minorities

Last Updated December 13, 2010

Hungary established the Governmental Office for National and Ethnic Minorities in 1990 to address the issue of minority discrimination. The office creates and coordinates Hungary's policies regarding minority communities. In 1993, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a comprehensive law on the Rights of the National and Ethnic Minorities, which recognizes the right to national and ethnic identity as a universal human right.It also acknowledges the right to establish minority self-governments for state-recognized minority groups, which represent the groups at the national level. Legislative bodies are required to consult these minority governments on all issues affecting that group. Hungary has also established the Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minority Rights (Minority Ombudsman), which is an independent entity with the authority to investigate and initiate remedies for complaints regarding abuses of minority rights. The Equal Treatment Act also applies to discrimination against minority groups. From: Human Rights Council Fourth Session: Implementation of General Assembly Resolution 60/215 of March 15 2006, Report of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues: Mission to Hungary, (A/HRC/4/9/Add.2) January 4, 2007.

However, anti-Roma sentiments are pervasive in Hungarian society, and they extend into government practices as well.

An example of this prejudice is the case of Ms. S, a Roma woman. In 2001, she was forcibly sterilized by her doctor during an operation for a miscarriage. Just before the operation, she was asked to sign documents concerning the procedure without being fully informed of their contents. She learned after the operation that she had signed away her reproductive rights by “agreeing” to be sterilized; she would never be able to bear children again. Though she filed a claim against the hospital for damages, it was turned down in 2002. On appeal, the court ruled that her doctor had acted negligently. Ms. S was not awarded compensation, however, as the court also ruled that sterilization was a reversible procedure, and she had not provided sufficient evidence proving that she had been damaged.

The European Roma Rights Centre and the Legal Defense Bureau for Ethnic Minorities filed a complaint with the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on her behalf. The complaint stated that Hungary had violated its obligation under CEDAW in the following ways:

1)  By failing to provide adequate information on contraceptive alternatives;

2)  By failing to inform Ms. S of the risks of sterilization, resulting in the violation of her right to appropriate healthcare and services;

3)  And by interfering with Ms. S’s ability to bear children.

The Committee concluded that Hungary had violated its obligations under the treaty, and condemned Hungary for abiding by its provisions. It also concluded that Hungary should properly compensate Ms. S. From: "CEDAW Finds Hungary Violated Convention in Sterilization Case," European Roma Rights Centre, November 13, 2006. 

For more information regarding forced sterilizations of Roma women, please visit the European Roma Rights Centre.


Compiled from:

"CEDAW Finds Hungary Violated Convention in Sterilization Case", European Roma Rights Centre, November 13, 2006.

Human Rights Council Fourth Session: Implementation of General Assembly Resolution 60/215 of March 15, 2006, Report of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Mission to Hungary (A/HRC/4/9/Add.2) January 4, 2007.