Poland: failure to meet EU deadline to improve human rights requires robust response

Not content with undermining the rule of law, the new Polish government has spent its first year in power eroding human rights protections in key areas

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

PRESS RELEASE

Poland: failure to meet EU deadline to improve human rights requires robust response

• Spokespeople available

The Polish government has failed to meet a European Commission deadline of 27 October to improve the rule of law in the country, while introducing a slew of new measures undermining the respect for human rights over the last year, Amnesty International has found.

“Not content with undermining the rule of law, the new Polish government has spent its first year in power eroding human rights protections in key areas. It has ignored the European Commission’s recommendations to reverse its assault on the Constitutional Court.  These dangerous developments require a robust response from the EU,” said Iverna McGowan, Head of the Amnesty International European Institutions Office.

Since the Polish government came to power a year ago, it has expanded the powers of the executive at the expense of the judiciary, introduced highly problematic anti-terrorism legislation and narrowly failed in a bid to reduce access to abortion. 

On 27 July 2016, the European Commission issued a Recommendation concluding that the rule of law in Poland was under threat and indicating a number of steps to enable the Constitutional Tribunal to function effectively. The recommendation set the Polish authorities a deadline of three months to report on corrective measures. None of the key recommendations have been addressed within the deadline.

The Recommendation was the latest step in the application of the EU’s so-called “Rule of Law Framework” – a mechanism created by the European Commission (EC) in 2014. The EC announced the beginning of a ‘structured dialogue’ with Poland under this Framework on 13 January 2016, the first time the mechanism has been invoked.

The legislative changes enacted by the Polish government since it came to power, combined with the executive’s disregard for the Constitutional Tribunal’s judgments, severely undermine the human rights protection system in Poland. They remove an essential element of the right to an effective remedy and undermine the integrity and independent functioning of the justice system. Several other problematic proposals are currently being discussed in Parliament.

In addition to the concerns addressed by the EC under the Rule of Law Framework, Amnesty International established a wide range of human rights concerns with regard to legislation passed in the past year. While some are a continuation of problems that existed before, this year has been particularly problematic. Since winning the parliamentary elections on 25 October 2015, the Law and Justice (PiS) party increased the discretionary powers of security services, prosecution and the police, restricted the independence of publicly owned media, sought to row back on sexual and reproductive rights of women in Poland and reduced the budget of the Human Rights Commissioner.

“Legislative changes expanding counterterrorism and surveillance powers and threatening the rule of law are indicative of the scant regard that the current Polish government has for human rights. This is a threat to the rights of those in Poland, but also to the integrity of the EU’s commitment to upholding the rule of law. The European Commission must be forceful in bringing Poland back in line with its international human rights obligations, which are the foundations of the European Union. The European Council should also put the alarming developments in Poland on its agenda.” said Iverna McGowan, Head of the Amnesty International European Institutions Office.

Amnesty International has submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, in which it has detailed the various changes and their compatibility with international human rights standards.

BACKGROUND

Recommendations under the Rule of Law Framework which Poland has failed to meet:

• Implement the Constitutional Tribunal judgments requiring that the three Constitutional Tribunal judges lawfully elected in October 2015 by the previous Parliament take office and the three judges elected by the current Parliament unconstitutionally do not take up the post;

• Publish and fully implement Constitutional Tribunal judgments on the Law on the Constitutional Tribunal, as well as ensure that future judgments’ publication is automatic and not dependent on the executive or the legislature;

• Ensure that any future reform of the relevant Law respects the relevant judgments and is in line with the Venice Commission’s Opinion;

• Ensure that the Constitutional Tribunal’s effectiveness in carrying out constitutional review is not threatened by new requirements.

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact Alison Abrahams on +32 486 042 047 or +32 2 548 27 73 or via [email protected]