The Congress, organized by the Commissioner for Human Rights to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the institution of independent ombudsman in Poland, was held on 8-9 December in Warsaw. It consisted of 36 panels on key topics relating to human rights.
The Parliamentary Committee on Justice issued a negative opinion on the CHR’s draft budget for 2018. The ruling coalition MPs attacked the CHR for being focused “on pathological groups" . On the following day, the Parliamentary Committee on Petitions refused to issue its opinion on the petition to dismiss the CHR due to his reply to a TVP reporter’s question as to whether the Holocaust was a solely German crime.
The Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that the regulations which allow so-called eviction to the street of persons living in uniformed service members’ apartments are inconsistent with the Constitution. The ruling is the CHR’s major success in the fight for strengthening the protection of the rights of tenants.
Societies and states, granting themselves the right to sentence people to death, undermine the foundation of human rights: the inalienable dignity of the individual. The consequence of this inevitable dignity is the unconditional right to exist, pointed out Halina Bortnowska, President of the Council of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the initiator of the Polish celebrations of the World Day Against the Death Penalty. On the occasion of the Day, in the CHR Office a conference was held with the participation of scientists and representatives of non-governmental organizations.
I have the honour to present the report on the activity of the Commissioner for Human Rights and on the status of the observance of human and civil rights and freedoms in 2016.
The report is a long document; it has nearly one thousand pages. It covers, however, over 50 thousand cases of people who turned to the Commissioner in the belief that the state and public institutions violated their rights.
The task of the Commissioner is to check, to answer and to help people.
In the Czech city of Brno, an annual V4 meeting was held of ombudspersons from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. In the adopted declaration "Human Rights for Everyone", the Visegrad Group ombudspersons emphasized their common goals and values, as well as the significance of the institution of ombudsman maintaining independence of the authorities. Thanks to such independence, the ombudspersons may support ordinary people in their conflicts with the state.
A 95-year-old Warsaw uprising insurgent wrote to the Commissioner for Human Rights in fear of losing his social benefits as a result of the Act on retirement benefits for persons serving in the state uniformed services and intelligence services under the former political system. The person had once worked for the former Ministry of Internal Affairs. After the matter was made public, the Ministry of Interior and Administration verified his documents and stated he was not covered by the Act’s provisions.
The situation with the Supreme Court is a bit as if here, at the Przystanek Woodstock, Jurek Owsiak tried to determine what should be happening at the festival, said Commissioner for Human Rights Adam Bodnar while speaking with judge Jarosław Gwizdak during the “Academy of Truly Fine Arts” at the 23rd edition of the Przystanek Woodstock festival held in Kostrzyń nad Odrą. The conversation concerned, among others, the judicial system reform and citizens’ communication with the justice system.
„I believe that the recently generated great energy of the citizens may also be used to control staffing decisions in the judiciary sector at every level: the appointments of judges, court presidents, heads of court departments, spokespersons, etc. What should be ensured is the transparency of procedures, assessment of qualifications of candidates, explanations of unclear decision. Non-governmental organizations know how to do it, they have experience. It is important to combine this experience with the energy generated by the protests.
Adam Bodnar was present throughout the parliamentary sessions devoted to the work on the bills on courts. He tried to explain the objections and indicated the threats to the rights of ordinary people, caused by the reform which was proceeded hastily, without consultations, and which covered three bills: on Common Courts, on the National Council of the Judiciary and on the Supreme Court.
Sebastian Kaleta, former press spokesman for the Ministry of Justice and currently a member of the Verification Commission for Property Restitution, posted the formulation on Twitter that the Constitution permits “plowing up” of the courts. These words have inspired me to explain to citizens what this “plowing up” will consist of.
The Government Plenipotentiary for Civil Society, appointed in 2016, was expected to draw up a National Programme for Civil Society Development Support, to provide a basis for further works, including institutional solutions. However, the Programme was not drawn up, and the government submitted a proposal of establishing a new institution, the National Freedom Institute.
The 8th Session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing took place on 5-7 July in UN Headquaters in New York City. That was the first time when National Human Rights Institution were granted the right to speak during UN meetings. Anna Chabiera from the Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights spoke on results of research focused on direct and indirect discrimination on the ground of age taking place in Poland.
The system of free legal aid, introduced in early 2016, already requires changes. It turned out that in practice, the aid was used only by a low number of people. Often, persons in need of such aid were not eligible for it as they did not meet the criteria set out in the relevant Act of Parliament. The Commissioner heard about the problem in his meetings across the country, and has thus written to the President of Poland with regard to the matter.
Contrary to what one might expect, the adoption of the three Acts of Parliament relating to the judicial system: the Act on the National Council of the Judiciary, the Act on the System of Common Courts and the most recent Act on the Supreme Court does not serve the purpose of comprehen
The Commissioner is examining the case of a foreigner who was refused entry to Poland. With regard to the person, the European Court of Human Rights recommended the application by Poland of interim measures consisting in temporary resignation from repatriating the foreigner to the country from which he had attempted to enter Poland, i.e. Belarus. Despite the interim measures recommended by the Court, the Border Guard refused entry to Poland to the foreigner two times.
These were the 12th and the 13th meetings, held as part of the meetings action organized by the CHR across the country. The meetings are held in the cities where CHR’s representative offices or CHR’s citizen advice offices are located. The meetings aim to empower bank customers by indicating legal tools which they can use in their disputes and negotiations with banks (without waiting for the authorities to decide on introducing statutory solutions.
The adoption of the Act on the National Council of the Judiciary, and the fact that politicians rather than judges themselves will decide about the nominations to the Council, will damage the spine of the Polish judicial system as well as our traditional system of state, said Commissioner Adam Bodnar during the 43rd session of the Sejm. Members of Parliament discussed the report of the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding the government’s draft amendments to the Act on the National Council of the Judiciary and certain other acts.
The tone of many public statements in our country has reached the level of political and cultural war. Some words and expressions are used which violate human dignity and divide citizens into different categories. (...) I would prefer people who express their views in public to start with confirming that "all people are born free and equal" and that all Poles (and voters) have the same rights, regardless of their political views, religion or social status, appealed Adam Bodnar to politicians, asking for more restraint in public statements.
The Polish society is aging rapidly: in 2015, people aged 65 and over constituted 15.6% of the country’s total population, and those aged 85 and over constituted 1.8%. By 2035, the figures will be 23.2% and 3.1%, respectively. The demographic changes require addressing the challenges of ensuring to older persons the right to a decent life, equal treatment and social inclusion. According to Poland’s Central Statistical Office, in 2014 one third of persons aged 65+ had problems with everyday activities. 45% of those persons had no one to turn to and ask for help.
On 20 May 2017, a documentary was shown about the death of 25-year-old Igor Stachowiak who died at a police station in Stare Miasto district of Wrocław. The whole proceeding on the case was monitored by the Commissioner for Human Rights. The victim was shot with an electric stun gun several times, even when his hands were in handcuffs. – This was an obvious case of torture, said Adam Bodnar in an interview for Super Express daily newspaper [more].
On 28 April 1947, the large scale action of forced resettlement of Ukrainians and Lemkos, Polish citizens, from the south-eastern provinces of Poland to the north-west region of the country started. In three months, over 140,000 persons were resettled. Some of them were transported to the Central Labour Camp in Jaworzno, in which 160 persons died a result of hunger, illnesses and torture.
There have been cases of the police using torture against apprehended persons or witnesses in Poland, which has to be counteracted. One of the solutions is to ensure access to a lawyer from the moment of the apprehension, writes Adam Bodnar in his motion to the Minister of Justice. The extensive document contains an analysis of specific cases of inhuman and cruel treatment, which have been confirmed by courts.
In Budapest, thousands of Hungarian and foreign students, professors and private individuals protested against the proposed amendment to the law on higher education. According to the demonstrators and many academic circles in Europe and in the world, as well as many states and politicians, the planned reform poses a threat to the operation of one of the key institutions in our region – the Central European University (CEU).
- It is not just about populism as a political method, but about the use of populism to destroy constitutional courts. In such circumstances, the ombudsman must be a guardian of values such as human rights. It must be reliable in terms of legal solutions but also creative in terms of communication methods, said Adam Bodnar, the Commissioner for Human Rights at the workshop for ombudspersons organized on April 3-4 in Barcelona.