Causing a situation where the Constitutional Court is unable to rule is most important for rights and freedoms. And it is not about a dispute between parties regarding who may appoint judges and how many of them. Citizens are deprived of the possibility of their constitutional complaints being considered, while the courts cannot inquire about questions of law.
An interview with Dr. Adam Bodnar, the Commissioner for Human Rights
EWA SIEDLECKA: How does the Commissioner for Human Rights feel under the pressure of the authorities? Your budget is smaller by two million than last year, you are attacked for dealing with “gender” and, overall, for Leftist ideologisation of the office of the Commissioner , work is underway on regulations to deprive the Commissioner for Human Rights of his immunity…
ADAM BODNAR: Well, the Office is working, we are dealing with the cases submitted by citizens, every week we submit our interventions to Ministers and Central Offices. There is also the world of politics where different kinds of statements and assessments appear. I am attacked for “gender”, while what I do in this area is exactly what my predecessors did – I respond to problems. There is no ideology in it, there are specific cases and human rights which we try to enforce. The Commissioner for Human Rights is also an authority competent for equal treatment.
Does your hand shake when you submit an intervention concerned with domestic violence ? Thus showing that here is a case where a “Leftist” attacks “a traditional model of family”?
– It is not my role to describe the ideological background to the Convention on combating violence against women, but to demand its implementation. If I intervene for the rights of victims of violence, this is a specific case to be addressed rather than an occasion for ideological and political battles. What ideology is there in the fact that, for example, sometimes three months pass from the reporting of a rape to the first questioning in the court? This was the subject matter of one of the recent interventions.
When you filed a complaint against the so-called Remedial Act of the Law and Justice Party (PIS) which paralysed the Constitutional Court, did out take into consideration that this might end in your dismissal, e.g. under the pretext of depriving you of your immunity on the ground of some private accusation?
– If the Commissioner for Human Rights fails to intervene in some case because this may end badly for him, meaning that he should not hold this office. The Commissioner for Human Rights is expected to protect human rights and freedoms laid down in the Constitution; all of them, without selecting in an arbitrary way those that are convenient and those that are not. And that is how each of the Commissioners has acted to date and each has been in conflict with the authorities.
Which of the political and legal events in the recent three months do you consider most important for rights and freedoms?
– Causing a situation where the Constitutional Court is unable to rule. And it is not about a political dispute between parties regarding who may appoint judges, when and how many. What is important is that citizens are deprived of the possibility of their constitutional complaints being considered, while the courts cannot submit questions of law related to the cases which they consider.
In the Constitutional Court there are several dozen cases submitted by the Commissioner for Human Rights, which are very urgent, because they are very important for people’s everyday life; for example, they are concerned with incapacitation, evictions, the availability of the in vitro procedure or temporary work agencies.
Will the opinion of the Venice Commission contribute to improving the situation of the Constitutional Court?
– Noblesse oblige. If Poland wants to be a serious member of the Council of Europe, it should respect the recommendations of the Commission.
Are you worried by the present manner of law-making?
– One can have an impression that certain Acts of Parliament are adopted too hastily, without an appropriate debate and reflection, while Parliamentary procedures are treated as a ritual which hampers its work. In the previous years, it would also happen, e.g. in the case of the Hazard Act, but it did not concern constitutional issues.
But it has long been proposed that Parliament could only adopt as a whole or reject the Acts which are prepared by the Government and elaborated by the Government’s legislative services. Without tampering with them and spoiling the concept.
– What is important is that these constitutional projects are proposed as those submitted by Members of Parliament rather than by the Government. Indeed, if they have been subjected to the full Government legislative procedure, then one might agree that Parliament should no longer propose principal amendments undermining the sense of the Act.
It is also disquieting that the Minister of Justice has dissolved the Commissions for Codification of Criminal and Civil Law which operated with the Ministry. As a result of this, they have not provided their opinion on a proposal for a change in the criminal procedure. In the meantime, he reverses the whole reform of the procedure of one year ago and introduces many solutions which are, in my opinion, in contradiction with human rights; e.g. it will not be prohibited to use illegally acquired evidence in a criminal trial, whereas it will be possible to apply pre-trail detention solely on the ground that a high penalty may be sentenced.
What is your cooperation with the PIS authorities like compared with the Civic Platform (PO) Government?
– Just as previously, so now everything depends on the subject matter of the case. E.g. as regards the problem of the value of retirement or disability pension benefits which are not subject to seizure by a bailiff. We highlighted this – and the Ministry of the Family, Labour and Social Policy shared our opinion as to the need to protect persons with the lowest benefits. Similarly, in the case of wind farms which sometimes cause annoyance for persons living in the vicinity, but there are no regulations on their minimum distance from buildings. A draft Act has been prepared on this issue.
I also got a nice letter from Madame Minister Kempa (the Chief of the Prime Minister’s Chancellery). Although she refused to appoint the Commissioner for the Rights of the Homeless which I has asked for, she declared her support for my initiatives to solve the problem of homelessness.
Which is the percentage share of “gender” in your different activities?
– This depends on how this notion is understood. If we talk about the equality of genders and the rights of transsexual persons, then perhaps it is several percent. E.g. I called on the President to sign the Act on Gender Recognition. If the name of ”gender” is given to all the cases related to discrimination, then the number of related interventions is much higher.
You appointed your deputy for equality. Moreover, as Arkadiusz Mularczyk, a PIS Member of Parliament, accused, she is a gender studies lecturer.
– Yes, as an expert on the criminal aspects of the prevention of domestic violence, Ms. Sylwia Spurek was a gender studies lecturer at Warsaw University. I am sure that this is something to be proud of! And at the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights she deals with many cases; e.g. recently she met with the Roma community and the Mayor of Limanowa and Czchów. She also prepared a dozen or so interventions in the cases of disabled persons. The report of the Commissioner for Human Rights, which she prepared, concerning the problem of national and ethnic minorities in Poland was recently adopted by the relevant Parliamentary Commission. Simply, she is an outstanding expert on equal treatment.
For this year the Commissioner for Human Rights got two million less than he had last year. What will you not do?
– I will not be able to stop high-class experts from leaving. An outstanding specialist in civil administrative law has just resigned from his job: he earns PLN 3,100 and he got an offer from a law firm. I will not be able to employ new specialists. We will find it more difficult to apply the National Prevention Mechanism. I will not have the money to pay expert doctors whose opinions are necessary, e.g. for visits to hospitals. I will not modernise the IT network and the Internet in our Office is really slow. I will not buy a computer certified by the Internal Security Agency and operating in the TEMPEST system, which is necessary to browse documents classified as “confidential” – sometimes this is indispensable when handling cassation petitions in criminal cases.
But I want to get out of the Office as much good energy as possible.
You have promised to travel all over Poland. How many meetings have taken place? And what have been their effects?
– To date, I have visited Szczecin and Świnoujście, Podlaskie, Kielce and Poznań and soon I am going to Podkarpacie. I have one visit per month on average. These are mainly meetings with nongovernmental organisations, because they have the best knowledge of local problems. But residents and local authorities also come.
In each place problems are completely different and sometimes they are surprising. In Podlasie and the Suwałki region the major issues included disabilities, ethnic minorities, wind farms. And in Łomża the most important topic was access to public information, the transparency of power and, in general, the relations between authorities and individuals.
This subject was also raised in Szczecin. For me these meetings are my internal fuel. They are just as inspiring as reading letters. Don’t let us talk about theoretical issues. Each case has a human face, a specific history.
Ideas also appear as to what social micro-projects can be launched in a given community. Sometimes spontaneous and beautiful things happen. At one meeting, where a lot of different problems were raised, a certain, deaf lady, told us with the help of a friend, about the discrimination she experiences and that in school her son is harassed because of his mother.
One could see the impression which this made on the persons all of which came to that meeting with their own problems. The feeling of community emerged. At the end, my collaborator asked the sign language interpreter how support can be shown in that language. And everyone made this gesture. Then we went to meet her son! A superboy! And we arranged with the management of the school that the children from his class could come to Warsaw to visit the Copernicus Science Centre and the Office of the Commissioner. We will talk with them about different problems which disabled persons encounter and about our work.