© KATARINA DZUREKOVA / CC BY 2.0

EU ministers must break the deadlock on Hungary and Poland

• Spokespeople available ahead of EU General Affairs Council
• New briefing shows Poland is failing to fully comply with EU Court ruling on judges
• Hungarian authorities’ clampdown on dissenting voices has continued unabated

EU member states must use the EU General Affairs Council next week to break the deadlock around the deteriorating human rights situation in Hungary and Poland and ensure the full respect of the rule of law and human rights to both countries, Amnesty International said today.

Polish government claims that they have complied with the European Court’s request and reinstated Supreme Court judges who they had previously forced to retire should not be taken at face value by EU ministers. A new Amnesty International briefing demonstrates that the Polish government is not in fact fully complying with the Court’s request, and that the harassment of judges continues unabated.

In Hungary, intimidation, harassment and clampdown by the authorities on people and organisations that oppose their policies have also continued.

“People in Poland and Hungary are seeing their freedoms – to express opinions, to peacefully protest, to have access to independent courts – consistently eroded. Yet EU member states remain frozen in inaction. EU Ministers must urgently step up their action to ensure people in Hungary and Poland can effectively enjoy their human rights,” said Covadonga de la Campa, Director of the Amnesty International European Institutions Office.
Poland – Judges face climate of fear

On 19 October the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) demanded that the Polish government “immediately suspend” the application of its law which lowers the retirement age of Supreme Court judges. Despite arguing to the contrary, the Polish government has not fully implemented the CJEU’s interim measures as the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ) has continued to recruit new Supreme Court judges.

“Under the guise of ‘reform’, Poland’s government has concentrated much power over the judiciary in the hands of the Minister of Justice, subjecting outspoken judges to disciplinary proceedings and fuelling a climate of fear among judges,” said Covadonga de la Campa.

While the number of judges currently directly affected by disciplinary proceedings is estimated at 20, the effect of those proceedings goes beyond these individual cases. Judges interviewed by Amnesty International spoke about a “chilling effect” on them and other judges, and those facing disciplinary proceedings described the atmosphere as extremely hostile.

Judge Dariusz Mazur, a spokesperson for the ‘Themis’ Judges’ Association and Krakow Regional Court Judge told Amnesty International: “Those who buy an axe and sharpen it usually don’t do that just to hang it on the wall.”

Although the Polish Parliament has recently passed an amendment ensuring that those Supreme Court judges who were forced to retire can stay in office, concerns over the Polish judiciary remain. The Constitutional Court and the National Council of Judiciary have lost their independence, and the Minister of Justice effectively controls the disciplinary proceedings. The government continues to put the Supreme Court under its control.

Since 2016 the European Commission has put forward multiple recommendations in response to Polish government attacks on the judiciary. Ministers at the General Affairs Council must urge the Polish authorities to address these concerns and halt all forms of harassment and intimidation of judges.

Hungary – Crackdown shows no signs of abating

Smear campaigns against civil society organizations have continued unabated in Hungary. The government has shown no indication that it will remove its controversial laws impermissibly restricting the rights to freedom of expression and association. New draconian laws have recently come into force that introduce new restrictions on the right to protest and criminalize homelessness in Hungary. In addition, the Central European University was forced to leave Hungary since the government repeatedly refused to sign the agreement that would guarantee CEU’s operation in the future.

“The Hungarian government has continued its relentless clampdown on independent and dissenting voices in society. It is high time for member states to take a political stand and mount a credible defence of the rule of law and for fundamental rights in Hungary. EU Ministers must form a united front with the other EU institutions and back the European Parliament’s triggering of Article 7,” said Covadonga de la Campa.

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Alison Abrahams on alison.abrahams@amnesty.org +32 2 548 27 73 or +32 483 680 812

Amnesty International is today issuing a briefing Poland: Update on the “Reform” of the Judiciary

Background

When the EU General Affairs Council meets next week on 11 December they will discuss Article 7.1 of the Treaty of the EU procedure on Hungary for the third time. Poland has been on the agenda for one year.
On 19 October the CJEU demanded that Poland halt its Supreme Court purge.
Amnesty International has launched a legal challenge to the constitutionality of Hungary’s controversial law that criminalizes with up to one year in prison those individuals and organizations working on migration.

Briefing from Amnesty International Hungary and Hungarian Rights Organisations Orban’s Government Heads Towards Arbitrary Rule