HFHR Report: Poland Threatening Human Rights Protections

Between 2015 and 2019, Poland recorded its most significant regression in the field of human rights protection since 1989, claim experts from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in their latest report.

Even though they did not have enough votes to change the constitution, the ruling majority in Poland introduced a number of changes to the state system that pose threats to the protection of the rule of law and the principle of the separation of powers. By adapting the law to political goals, "ruling the law" has replaced the rule of law, according to the HFHR’s report.

Report details how Polish Government has exploited law for party political benefit

In the last four years, the government has adopted over 20 laws that significantly influence the human rights protection system. The report documents changes in the functioning of the justice system, independent institutions (such as public media and the Ombudsman) and in the sphere of protection of fundamental rights and freedoms (including freedom of assembly, women's rights, LGBTQI rights and the right to a fair trial). The report also summarises the dispute between Poland and the European Union that has been going on for the last three years. Marcin Wolny, one of the study's co-authors said:

"Over the past four years, for the first time and on such a scale, we have seen the exploitation of the law for the purpose of pursuing a party’s particular interests. This has resulted in the ongoing crisis of the rule of law, as well as the weakening of the entire human rights protection system in Poland.”

Backsliding on human rights protections

The main trends observed over the past four years have been the weakening of independent institutions (including courts and prosecutors), failure to comply with court judgements and recommendations of international institutions, and weakening of human rights safeguards. The last four years have been a period of systemic changes both in the country and in the area of human rights protection. Małgorzata Szuleka, on of the co-authors of the report said:

"Over the past four years, the government has adopted over 20 legal acts that have key importance to the protection of human rights. The changes were often adopted at accelerated pace, without public consultation and despite the objections from legal profession, the Ombudsman or international organizations.”

The changes were often introduced in an atmosphere of attacks (inspired mainly by the public media, some private media and representatives of the ruling majority) on individual institutions, such as the Ombudsman, or professional groups like judges or groups exposed to discrimination, including foreigners and LGBTQI people. Situations in which state authorities did not react or directly neglected cases of violence were particularly disturbing.

The result of the state's activity in reducing the rule of law is the ongoing dispute with the European Union, as well as a number of recommendations from international law entities. "Failure to implement these recommendations not only weakens Poland's position as a leader in democratic change in the region of Central and Eastern Europe but also exposes the Polish state to liability for violations of European Union law or the European Convention on Human Rights,” reads the report.