Despite international pressure and protests at home, the Hungarian Parliament voted March 11 to approve a constitutional reform that makes it possible to ban people from “habitually residing in public places.”
The vote signaled a shift. In 2012, Hungary’s Constitutional Court abolished provisions in the Petty Offences Act that criminalized homelessness, stating that criminalizing homelessness is unconstitutional, as it violates human dignity.
Critics say the new amendment writes into the law the prosecution of homeless people for living in public spaces. The European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) urged the Hungarian government to respect the decision of its Constitutional Court to strike down the law in November 2012 and calls on the European Union and the international community to take action in response to the vote.
“Criminalizing homeless people is not the answer,” FEANTSA President Rina Beers said. “Criminalization measures are cruel and ineffective, since they aim to remove the visible aspect of homelessness from public view rather than offering any real solution.”
The constitution has no jurisdiction over homelessness, the organization said in a statement.
“[N]either the removal of homeless persons from public premises, nor urging them to take up social assistance may be considered a legitimate constitutional aim that would substantiate the declaration of homeless persons’ living on public premises a petty offense.”
FEANTSA further stated that “Homelessness is a social problem that should be dealt with by the state by means of social intervention and social assistance rather than punishment.”
The controversy over what advocates for the poor call the criminalization of poverty sparked a new organization called The City is for All.
“We have fought hard against the criminalization of homelessness since the idea of such a law was born in 2010,” the group said in a statement.
“Despite our struggles and against great public resistance and international pressure, the Hungarian Parliament went ahead and adopted this inhumane and anti-democratic law.”
The City is for All and FEANTSA called on Hungarian President János Áder to veto the amendment.