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Hungary lawmakers approve controversial constitutional amendments

The Hungarian Parliament [official website, in Hungarian] on Monday approved controversial amendments [BBC backgrounder] to the country's constitution. The amendments, approved by a vote of 265-11, with 33 abstentions, include several provisions previously struck down by the country's Constitutional Court. The amendments limit that court's powers, define family relationships based on marriage between one man and woman, allow laws criminalizing homelessness, and give Parliament the power to decide what religious organizations constitute churches. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland said the amendments [press release] "raise the concerns of the Council of Europe (Venice Commission) and of the European Commission with respect to the principle of the rule of law, EU law and Council of Europe standards. Experts from both institutions will now make a detailed assessment of these new changes to the Constitution." Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] have also criticized the amendments and called for EU action [press release].

Just last month, Hungary's Constitutional Court struck down [JURIST report] a law that outlines how churches are given official designation, finding that it was too political. In January the court struck down an electoral law [JURIST report] requiring voters to register to vote at least two weeks before elections in 2014. The new rules had been proposed by the conservative Fidesz [party website, in Hungarian] party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban [official website]. In November the European Court of Justice struck down [JURIST report] a Hungarian law that lowered the mandatory retirement age for judges.

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