Housing over Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in Hungary

Article excerpt


If you sleep on the street in Hungary, you become a criminal. (1) The Hungarian government has criminalized the actions of its homeless population in an attempt to clear them from its streets. (2) In 2010, Hungary enacted legislation that authorizes local governments to criminalize homelessness and, in doing so, has violated its commitment to human rights. (3) When the Constitutional Court of Hungary rightfully overturned the legislation, the government refused to revoke it, amended the Constitution to permit promulgation of such laws, and most recently, under its newly established authority, the Parliament passed an amended version of the original law (2013 Anti-homelessness Law) to permit fining and imprisoning of the homeless. (4) There are different perspectives regarding the causes of homelessness and these perspectives have policy implications: the perspective that homelessness is a choice leads to harsher and less sympathetic policies against homelessness, including criminalization. (5) The perspective that homelessness is not a choice, but rather a crisis cause by factors often outside of one's control, leads to more positive approaches to homelessness, such as affordable housing programs. (6) These approaches to homelessness make up a spectrum ranging from criminalization by legislation to national strategies to end homelessness by positive methods. (7) The Hungarian government has chosen criminalization, causing further exclusion and harm to an already vulnerable population. (8) Housing has been identified as a human right; therefore, Hungary's policies have implications on international human rights. (9) The United Nations has reacted to this legislation by calling on Hungary to revoke it and instead create affordable housing programs. (10) Although Hungary's Constitutional Court has ruled against the law, the government resisted its revocation and was organizing to keep it in place. (11) The government managed to amend the Hungarian Constitution to permit legislation that criminalizes homelessness and subsequently passed a law enacting such legislation. (12)

This Note addresses Hungary's recent anti-homelessness legislation and discusses the need for its revocation. (13) Part II of this Note will provide information on the homeless population in Hungary, the development of the legislation, the Constitutional Court decision that overturned it, and the Hungarian government's passage of constitutional amendments to allow it. (14) This part will also examine the opposition against the legislation, by international, regional, and local communities, and the effect, both legal and social, it has in Hungary. (15) Part III of this Note will explain the historical context in which this legislation has arisen, tracing back to the treaties and resolutions meant to govern Hungary's approaches to homelessness as well as the recognition of housing as a human right. (16) Part IV will analyze how Hungary's insistence on enabling the legislation--by amending the constitution and passing the 2013 Anti-homelessness Law--diverges from international human rights law, regional agreements, resolutions, and EU values and must be corrected. (17) This part will also analyze the Constitutional Court proceedings related to the anti-homeless legislation in Hungary and how its reasoning aligns with Hungary's human rights obligations. (18) Additionally, it will recommend that Hungary revoke its legislation criminalizing homelessness to follow the ruling of the Hungarian Constitutional Court and fulfill both the international human rights and regional obligations Hungary has made through treaties and resolutions. (19) This part will further recommend that Hungary also repeal the constitutional amendment permitting the Anti-homelessness Law and address the issue of homelessness in a more humane way by honoring the right to housing and its commitment to end homelessness. (20) Finally, Part V will summarize the development and status of the anti-homelessness legislation in Hungary and recommend that Hungary change it. …