Tuesday, August 26, 2008

stop forced return to persecution


See family's trip to Justice Minister's office here
Demonstration at Hungarian consulate: here

Stop The Forced Return of a Protected Person to Persecution and Worse!

Call Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson and Urge that He Stop Extradition of Roma Refugee Adolf Horvath, the Son of a Holocaust Survivor and a Person Found to be in Need of Protection by the Canadian Government

Adolf Horvath is a 51-year old father who fled repeated physical assaults and persecution in Hungary based on his Roma ethnicity. During World War II, his mother had been imprisoned in a Nazi slave labour camp because of her Roma ethnicity. Horvath’s wife, Erika, also experienced physical assaults in Hungary at the hands of the same skinheads and police officials who beat Adolf.

The family came to Canada in 1999. Mr. Horvath was found to be a person in need of protection, and his wife and son were found to be refugees. They were trying to begin a new life in this country when the latest chapter in their nightmare began.

The couple’s young son experienced severe trauma in witnessing the vicious assaults against his parents. He was present in his own home when Adolf was repeatedly stabbed in the stomach and his mother was hit in the head, forcing both parents’ hospitalization. A psychological assessment says their son suffers “emotionally and psychologically from the aftermath of living in an environment of horror and terror.” Given the ongoing fear he experiences that his father may be returned to Hungary, his life is marked by an ongoing sense of terror. Ongoing efforts to treat his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are threatened by the instability in his life.

All members of the family have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and depression, conditions which have only worsened as a result of the Canadian efforts to send Mr. Horvath back to Hungary. Indeed, when a half dozen Canadian officers showed up at the house to arrest Mr. Horvath on the extradition request, it revived painful memories of attacks against the family in Hungary.

In the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) conducted by the Canadian Border Services Agency, an officer found that Mr. Horvath faces “more than a mere possibility of persecution in Hungary based on his Roma ethnicity.” Much Canadian court jurisprudence related to these issues equates “more than a mere possibility” with “a serious possibility.”

The (PRRA) officer accepts that Horvath “has repeatedly in the past been subjected to various forms of abuse from criminals who included police officers.”

The PRRA officer concludes, “I am of the opinion that the applicant’s unique position as a sophisticated, successful, and prosperous Roma makes him a target for the type of abuse he has described having endured in the past. I am further satisfied that such abuse, in the form of repeated physical assaults, threats, and foul play constitutes persecution. Such persecution is motivated by the applicant’s Roma ethnicity. I have carefully considered the documentary evidence on the availability of state protection for Roma and find that, although state protection is generally available, such availability is sufficiently questionable that a person in the applicant’s unique position might be discriminated against when seeking such protection. Given the applicant’s past experiences with the police and judicial system, I am satisfied that state protection would not be forthcoming to this particular applicant.”

Significantly, the Minister of Immigration did NOT seek to contest this finding. By law, persons in need of protection cannot be returned to the country they fled.

Mr. Horvath’s Canadian lawyers sought to prevent the extradition by launching an abuse of process motion, arguing that there was no legal justification to go through a process that could result in handing Mr. Horvath over to Hungarian authorities when he had already been found by Canada to be a person in need of protection.

The decision made by immigration authorities should have prevented the extradition from going ahead, since a surrender of Mr. Horvath would be an illegal, prohibited act. A lawyer for Immigration Canada actually was invited to the extradition hearing and informed the court that the decision of the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment officer was valid and was not going to be reviewed.

Unfortunately, the extradition judge refused to accept the argument, even though he confessed in the hearing, “Part of my problem is -- I know nothing about immigration whatsoever, and it doesn’t seem to me to be overly relevant in the extradition context.” Indeed, the judge incorrectly came to the conclusion that rather than facing a risk that was “more than a mere possibility,” he wrote that Mr. Horvath only faced a mere possibility of abuse.

The judge also made numerous statements that were insensitive with respect to Mr. Horvath’s Roma heritage, and also criticized the decisions of higher court judges whose decisions were binding on him. Both give rise to a potential apprehension of bias.

As Manitoba Queen’s Bench Justice Steel wrote in a 1999 extradition case, “evidence at an extradition hearing should be accepted even if the judge feels it is manifestly unreliable, incomplete, false, misleading, contradictory of other evidence or the judges feels the witness may have perjured themselves.”

As constitutional law expert Gary Botting points out, “The overall scheme of the legislation is so patently unfair that eventually the Supreme Court of Canada should strike down significant parts of the Extradition Act, especially those parts dealing with evidence, and with the perceived apprehension of bias of the Minister of Justice/Attorney General in being both the prosecutor and the judge at every stage of the procedure.”

While this is an unfortunate Canadian legal reality, it does not make the situation just or right.

In 1998, Mr. Horvath was the subject of a series of trumped-up charges in Hungarian court, charges that now form the basis of the extradition request. The two alleged complainants in the case both testified at an uncompleted trial that they were pressured to provide incriminating statements against Mr. Horvath. The police claimed that Mr. Horvath, after lending money to the complainants, used strong-arm tactics to get the loans paid back. Yet as the Court record from Hungary shows, one complainant testified that if he agreed to incriminate Mr. Horvath, he would be offered a plea bargain on charges he was facing: “I thought it meant that if I testify against him they would set me free because they [police] wanted [Horvath] out of circulation.” He later says that he was told forgery charges against him would be dropped if he chose to testify against Mr. Horvath. Another complainant said there was no threat from Mr. Horvath, and that he did not ever recall telling police that there had been one. He testified: “threats have never been in question.”

The complainant added: “I wish to withdraw my previous testimony that was ‘forced’ out of me,” one of the men stated in court, adding “that in a strange situation, like the one when I was questioned, one would have signed anything....The whole thing which is recorded in my testimony has never happened. In my opinion, it is a fabrication; the whole thing is a ridiculous fabrication...These things have not happened to me.”

When asked why he would make up stories about Mr. Horvath, the complainant replied, “When the policemen examined or questioned me, they told me more than once that I could be in serious trouble if I am not going to assist them.”

Ten years later, the Hungarian judicial system (and, specifically, a judge known widely as a “Roma-hater,”) are seeking the forced return of Horvath to answer the trumped-up charges and, no doubt, face further persecution.

After an oral hearing before a PRRA officer, Mr. Horvath was found to be a person in need of protection based on his credible fears of racist attacks and persecution based on his Roma heritage. Obviously, sending him back to a country he fled will open the door to a serious abuse of his human right to be free of persecution and torture and other forms of cruel and unusual treatment.

The Hungarian police and judicial system are generally recognized as rife with corruption and tainted with the anti-Roma bias that is endemic to Hungary and much of Europe (over 500,000 Roma were murdered by the Nazis, and discrimination and violence against the Roma people is widespread to this day, from unequal access to housing, health, education, employment, and public places (such as restaurants and bars) to lengthy pre-trial detention that does not normally apply to non-Roma).

The U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report on Hungary noted on March 11, 2008, that “Human rights and Romani organizations claimed that Roma received unequal treatment in the judicial process...Reports of police abuse of Roma were common, but many victims remained fearful of seeking legal remedies or of notifying NGOs.
In 2007, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concerns about the prevalence of discriminatory and xenophobic attitudes, in particular towards the Romani population. The Committee noted that Romani children were especially stigmatized, excluded and impoverished in relation to the rest of the population because of their ethnicity. The Committee expressed concern at the arbitrary segregation of Romani children in special institutions or classes.”

Under a section of the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report entitled “Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” it notes, “The law prohibits such practices; however, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that police harassed and used excessive force against suspects, particularly Roma. Reports of police abuse of Roma again increased somewhat during the year, but NGOs considered the increase to reflect increasing willingness of Roma to report such abuses....During the year police were implicated in a number of criminal acts, including corruption, theft, robbery, rape, bribery, and kidnapping, that severely undermined public confidence in law enforcement agencies. The ensuing scandals led to the dismissals, in May, of the HNP [Hungarian National Police] Chief, the chief of the Budapest police, and the head of REBISZ. The minister of justice and law enforcement resigned. In the same month, the head of the National Security Office (NBH) also resigned following scandals involving the intelligence and security services.” The report also notes that racist and anti-Roma postings were made on the website of the Hungarian National Police.

(Adolf Horvath’s former home city is Dunaujvaros. Shortly after Adolf and his family fled to Canada the Head of the Dunaujvaros Police Headquarters anti-crime department was detained (2001) http://www.budapestsun.com/cikk.php?id=15613
-In 2003 April 13 policemen and 12 civilian were arrested for blackmailing in Dunaujvaros. See article in Hungarian http://www.dunaujvaros.com/tallozo/hirek/030410_het.htm
In May, 2007, the country’s justice and police minister resigned after some of the country’s top officers were accused of theft and rape (see http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL20315195.

Eight months after a new justice minister was appointed, he was fired, in part for his failure to protect MPs whose homes were attacked (see http://www.politics.hu/20080222/justice-minister-sacked-for-failing-to-protect-

Such reports are consistent with the October 25, 2007 Amnesty International assessment of anti-Roma discrimination in Europe that concluded “Roma were often the victims of torture or other ill-treatment by law enforcement officers across the region. Roma were also the victims of racist attacks during which they were not adequately protected by the police. The authorities in many countries failed to fulfil their domestic and international obligations towards the Roma community.”

A January 30, 2008 Deutsche Presse-Agentur news story entitled “Neo-Nazism on the rise in eastern Europe” documents the rise of such far-right groups in Hungary, including the emergence of groups dressing much like Hungarian fascists of the 1940s and using coats of arms similar to Nazi-aligned political parties. Such groups have made no secret of their racist attitudes towards the Roma.

In a bizarre move, and without any evidence to show that conditions had changed in Hungary such that Mr. Horvath would no longer be at risk if surrendered, then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Monte Solberg delivered an opinion to the Justice Minister stating that Horvath could be returned to Hungary because of a perceived improvement in conditions. There was no proof provided, and the opinion was written by someone with no expertise in the area of risk.

This is strange because the PRRA determination essentially becomes the opinion of the Minister. Why would the Minister seek and deliver an opinion that contradicts his first opinion?

The Minister’s new opinion essentially states that since there are human rights groups that stand up for the Roma, someone like Mr. Horvath could seek their assistance. The argument fails though because such groups cannot provide protection from acts of violence committed by skinheads or anti-Roma elements within the police forces.

Sending a person in need of protection to a country where he would face further persecution surely “shocks the conscience” of the Canadian people.

Under the Extradition Act (section 44 (1), the Minister of Justice has the capacity to refuse an extradition if satisfied that, “(a) the surrender would be unjust or oppressive having regard to all the relevant circumstances; or (b) the request for extradition is made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing the person by reason of their race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, language, colour, political opinion, sex, sexual orientation, age, mental or physical disability or status or that the person’s position may be prejudiced for any of those reasons.

Mr. Horvath has been targetted by a Hungarian judicial system that international human rights groups, as well as the U.S. State Department, have acknowledged is rife with corruption and bias, in particular towards the Roma people. A significant body of evidence shows Mr. Horvath has been targetted because of his Roma heritage, and that the charges against him are baseless and being pursued by a judge with a known anti-Roma bias.

The effect of threatening to send Mr.. Horvath back to Hungary has been devastating on him and his family; executing that threat would be disastrous for the health of his wife and son.

The ends of justice are in no way served by returning him to Hungary.

After Mr. Horvath was arrested in Toronto on the extradition request in 2003 (yet another traumatizing event for him and his family), he was released on bail with the stipulation that he periodically report to a Toronto detention facility where he would stay for a few days pending the outcome of certain court decisions. On each occasion, his wife drove him to the jail, dropped him off, and he would spent three or four days behind bars until the decision came out.

On March 19, Mr. Horvath -- expecting a decision on whether the Supreme Court of Canada would hear his appeal and correct the many judicial errors that were made in concluding he could be sent back to face persecution in Hungary -- was driven to the jail by his wife. After she dropped him off and he walked to the jail’s entrance, he disappeared, no doubt fearing that a negative court decision would mean his imminent forced removal to persecution and worse in Hungary.

While this places him and his family in a problematic legal position, it is perhaps understandable that he is taking a risk in the hope that he will not be sent back to a country where he is likely to be targetted for further persecution, physical beatings, and lengthy, unjustified imprisonment.

His wife and son are now extremely worried since they do not know where Adolf is. They are appealing to the Minister of Justice to reconsider his decision and put an end to this nightmare, one that can either end happily by allowing the family to get on with their lives, or one that could end quite badly if Mr. Horvath is returned to the country from which the Canadian government has concluded he is a person in need of protection.

When calling, ask to speak to someone about the extradition of Adolf Horvath. Please be polite, express your opposition to the fact that Canada is trying to forcibly remove someone who has been found to be in need of protection to a country where he will face further persecution and worse. And finish by stating that the Extradition Act allows Mr. Nicholson the discretion to deny this trumped up request. Also, see a sample letter below. Let us know at tasc@web.ca what kind of response you get.

Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice
105 East Block
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6
tel: 613-995-1547
fax: 613-992-7910
email: Nichor@parl.gc.ca, webadmin@justice.gc.ca, Nichor1@parl.gc.ca

If you live in the Niagara region, please call his constituency office as well at 905-353-9590, fax: 905-353-9588

Please cc Prime Minister Stephen Harper (pm@pm.gc.ca, fax: 613-941-6900, and Immigration Minister Diane Finley (Minister@cic.gc.ca, finley.d@parl.gc.ca, fax: (613) 996-9749)

Sample Letter
(If you can, since they do not like form letters, begin by stating who you are and why, as a Canadian, you are concerned about what is going on here -- don’t forget to cc Finley and Harper)

Dear Mr. Nicholson,

I am writing to ask you to stop the extradition to Hungary of Adolf Horvath, the son of a Holocaust survivor and someone your own government found to be a person in need of protection because of his Roma ethnicity. Both he and his family are already saddled with post traumatic stress disorder from the violence they were subject to while in Hungary.

Significantly, the two individuals who are the complainants in the alleged case against Mr. Horvath have recanted their allegations, and the judge who seems to be driving this process is known to be someone with a strong anti-Roma bias.

At a time when neo-fascist, racist forces are unfortunately gaining strength in much of Europe -- in large measure based on targetting of specific groups, especially the Roma -- I am calling on you to stop the forced transfer of Mr. Horvath back to Hungary. It is clear from both the expert opinion of the Canadian government’s pre-removal risk assessment officer as well from the human rights analyses of the targetting of Roma by Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department that Mr. Horvath will face persecution, physical violence, and worse.

This is clearly a case where the extradition of Mr. Horvath would be “unjust or oppressive” because he is being sought for prosecution and punishment “by reason of [his] race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, language, colour.”

The ends of justice are not served by this extradition. The original decision finding Mr. Horvath to be a person in need of protection should be the final word in this matter. I call on you to respect that decision, stop the extradition, and allow Mr. Horvath to stay in Canada, a decision which can finally start the healing process for the Horvath family.

Thank you.


(This urgent action originates with Toronto Action for Social Change and Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture. For more information, contact tasc@web.ca, 416-651-5800)

No comments: