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Hungary's Justice System Slow in Fighting Racial Crime

It took the Hungarian judiciary five years to convict the perpetrators of the cold-blooded murders of several Roma in Hungary. Four Hungarian men went on a rampage at the time, killing six Roma between March 2008 and August 2009. On August 6th, a Budapest court sentenced Zsolt Peto and brothers Arpad and Istvan Kiss to life in prison for the murderous spree, while their driver Istvan Csontos received 13 years as an accomplice.

The four killers, who hatched their plans in a pub in Debrecen in northeast Hungary, are hard core football fans with links to neo Nazi organizations. They showed no emotion as the verdicts were handed down.

Pressure put on Hungary's government by human rights activists and lawyers apparently brought results. Hungary's National Bureau of Investigation (NNI), the country's central police investigation office primarily dealing with terrorism and other national security threats, has now reopened the investigations into a series of murders of members of Hungary's Roma community in 2008 and 2009, to look for investigators’ failures and potential wrongdoing in the case, which caused the delay in finding and convicting the perpetrators. They suspect that one or more conspirators in these crimes remain free.

Hungarian public prosecutors have demanded an investigations of the military forces invloved as well, due to suspicions that Hungary's military intelligence service helped facilitate some of the murders. Hungarian Roma activist Aladar Horvath and others say these announcements represent “late, but welcome gestures” from the government to the victims.

Reactions of netizens have not abated since the verdict was announced. Helene Bienvenu, a freelance photojournalist from Detroit now living in Budapest, commented on Twitter:

John Clarke, an activist in this field from Toronto, blames these events on political attitudes and mainstream society:

In a recent article on this matter, The Economist has called the Roma population “Europe's biggest social problem”. A writer from Cambridge, Kari Sperring, asks for more information as many on social media are questioning Hungary's democratic status due to the government's handling of this case of serial murders involving a minority group:

In the meantime, Hungarian Deputy State Secretary for Global Affairs, Péter Wintermantel, gave a speech at the Fourth Conference of the Hungarian-Israeli Friendship Association, which was held in Zalaegerszeg on 24-26 August. In his speech, Wintermantel stressed that the Hungarian Government remained committed to fighting all forms of racism and anti-semitism, and would take all necessary action to prevent them.

However, research by Amnesty International suggests that hate crimes against Roma remain a serious concern in Hungary, while police lack the guidelines to thoroughly and effectively investigate them. In a new report titled “Violent attacks against Roma in Hungary”, data collected by Amnesty International shows how racially motivated crimes impact individual victims, communities and society as a whole. It also shows how shortcomings in the Hungarian justice system hinder the prevention of and response to such attacks:

Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia Programme for Amnesty International said:

Five years after these cold-blooded killings, Roma in Hungary still do not receive adequate protection from hate crimes. [...]

This horrific case should have been a wake-up call about the continuous, often violent discrimination faced by the Roma community, but the perpetrators of such acts are still not being brought to justice.

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