"Trial of the decade" to start in Budapest of men charged with murders of Roma people
State prosecutor rejects racial motivation, says series of murders prompted by base motives
This week sees the start of the trial in Budapest Regional Court of the men accused of murdering six Roma individuals, some of them children, of attempting the murders of other Roma people in various parts of Hungary, and of injuring dozens of people between 2008 and 2009. The perpetrators selected the residences of Roma people located on the outskirts of towns or villages as their targets in order to have access to easy getaway routes. According to international organizations, however, the number of homicidal attacks against Roma people in Hungary is far greater than the number being brought to trial and the majority of them remain unsolved to this day.
The investigation of this series of homicidal attacks in Hungary was accompanied by indifference and numerous mistakes by the police organs, mistakes similar to those which occurred during the investigation of arson attacks committed against Roma families in the Silesian region of the Czech Republic from 2007 to 2009. It often took a long time for the police to inform the public about the cases. Police sometimes clouded the issue by claiming that the probable motivation for the murders was revenge by loan sharks for non-payment of loans. For entire months, police rejected the thesis that these murders could be a series of racist attacks being committed by one and the same group of perpetrators, even though the individual attacks were very similar to one another.
In the case of the most brutal attack, an ambulance without a doctor on board arrived as late as one hour after the crime was committed, by which time only one of the gunshot victims was still alive. Responders did not succeed in saving his life. Local police assumed the fire at the dwelling involved had been caused by an electrical short even though bullet casings were found on the scene. Criminal investigators did not start working on the case until 10 hours after the crime was committed. The two police officers responsible were disciplined for this failure - of course, only after sustained public pressure.
When the police, after one year of investigation, had turned up no leads, they gradually increased the amount of the reward being promised to the citizenry for providing information about the perpetrators. This reward finally reached the unheard-of figure of EUR 380 000 (and no, that's not a typo). This breathtaking amount of money testifies to the degree of pressure placed on the police by the Hungarian government. That pressure was mainly caused by sharp criticism from the international community of the Hungarian authorities' inability to halt this series of violent homicides. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation even sent several "profilers" to Hungary to assist in compiling profiles of the perpetrators.
On 21 August 2009, the Hungarian NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) arrested four men in the town of Debrecín and charged them with perpetrating a series of organized homicidal attacks. At the end of June 2010, the authorities announced their investigation was complete and filed a motion for the suspects to be charged with multiple counts of murder, robbery, misuse of firearms and vandalism. For three of the suspects, detectives managed to prove their participation in various attacks with the help of DNA analyses and scrutiny of their confiscated weapons; the fourth is charged with assisting the others in performing some of the attacks.
In September 2010, the regional state prosecutor in Pest filed suit charging the three men with committing multiple counts of murder in the cases of six people, some of whom were children, as well as attempted murder; the fourth suspect is charged with abetting the premeditated homicides. The suit charges that the crimes were carried out "for base motives" and does not mention racial motivation. The human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) has protested this qualification and is demanding a review of the alleged perpetrators' motivation. Miklós Kárpáti, the legal representative of the victims of one of the attacks, has said: "I understand that it can be complicated to prove racial motivation for crimes when those charged reject such motivation or change their claims. However, such motivation should never be excluded as a possibility during the first phase of investigation."
Media reports say some of the defendants were connected to the Hungarian secret service, while others had been active on the neo-Nazi scene in the past. The trial will begin under strict security conditions on Friday, 25 March 2011. During the 34 days of the trial, between 25 March and 13 July 2011, a total of 165 witnesses and 30 experts will give testimony.
According to the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), more attacks in Hungary from the 2007-2009 period remain unsolved. The attacks on Roma families claimed a total of nine lives, including two children. Dozens of people were injured, 10 of them so seriously that their lives were endangered. In at least 12 cases, Molotov cocktails were used, while hand grenades were used in two. Weapons were fired in at least 12 of the cases. The property of Roma people was also devastated in at least nine instances.
AI is demanding the Hungarian government investigate all of these attacks. It is also demanding that, should the evidence warrant it, the charges in these cases be expanded to include other crimes committed and the number of defendants be increased as well.
What the suspects are charged with - the facts of the cases:
Three men have been charged with committing nine attacks. A fourth is charged with participating in some of them. AI has reported the following information:
Shortly after midnight on 21 July 2008, several shots were fired into homes occupied by Roma people in the village of Galgagyörk. Luckily, no one was injured. During the investigation, police considered the motivation to have been either racial or a case of violence inside the Roma community. A few weeks prior to the attack, clashes had occurred between the Hungarian Guard and the Roma community in the village.
On 8 August 2008, Molotov cocktails were thrown into two homes occupied by Roma people on the outskirts of the village of Piricse. The perpetrators then started shooting at the residents. One person suffered life-threatening injuries.
Two more attacks followed during which no one was injured: One attack, committed on 5 September 2008, was committed in Nyíradon and featured shots fired at the home of a Roma family. The other attack was committed at the end of the month in the village of Tarnabod and featured Molotov cocktails being thrown at five Roma homes prior to shots being fired.
During the early morning hours of 3 November 2008, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the home of a Roma family in the village of Nagycsécs. Two people were shot as they tried to flee their burning home.
On 15 December 2008, a Roma man suffered serious injuries after being shot in the village of Alsózsolca. His common-law wife also suffered light injuries as a result of the attack.
A Roma man and his four-year-old son were shot on 23 February 2009 on the outskirts of the town of Tatárszentgyörgy while trying to flee their home, which had been set alight by Molotov cocktails. The original police investigation of this case labeled the incident an accident. An autopsy then confirmed that the victims had died as a result of gunshot wounds.
A 54-year-old Roma man was shot on 22 April 2009 in the village of Tiszalök while leaving his home to go work the night shift at his job. The Hungarian Prime Minister labeled this crime a "disgraceful, evil, reprehensible assassination."
The ninth attack of this series took place in the village of Kisléta on 2 August 2009. A Roma widow was murdered and her 13-year-old daughter was seriously injured. Government officials condemned the attack. The Hungarian Prime Minister said: "This inhuman crime targeted Roma people, but the murderers have really attacked the entire nation."