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Hungary criticised for 'cosmetic' constitution changes

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(BUDAPEST) - Human Rights Watch said Wednesday Hungary's latest changes to its constitution were "largely cosmetic" and urged European Union action over Budapest's "undermining" of EU law and human rights protection.

Earlier this week parliament approved the latest amendment of its constitution, introduced in 2012 as part of a wave of legal changes brought in by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing government since it won a super-majority in 2010.

The government said earlier that the latest package of changes -- the fifth amendment since 2012 -- should stave off criticism that democracy was being weakened in the EU member but HRW called the amendment "largely cosmetic".

In a statement Wednesday the New York-based rights watchdog said the changes "leave in place provisions that undermine the rule of law and weaken human rights protection".

The fifth amendment includes tweaking of rules on election campaigning, religious freedom and the independence of the judiciary, among others: all issues that have drawn international criticism, especially from the European Commission and the Venice Commission, an advisory body to the Council of Europe.

HRW said some of the changes were positive but "serious concerns" remain.

"The changes add up to little more than tinkering around the edges," said Lydia Gall, HRW's Eastern Europe and Balkans researcher.

"It is wishful thinking for the government to contend that its amendments will end the international debate about Hungary's constitution."

The watchdog said Hungary's "failure" to conform to Council of Europe recommendations and EU law warranted a "forceful response" and urged the EU to put more pressure on Hungary including a possible suspension of voting rights.

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