Polish civic groups oppose ‘takeover’ of human rights office
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — More than 120 Polish organizations have voiced opposition to what they call “the hostile takeover” of the office of the country’s human rights commissioner.
Their joint statement published Friday comes a day after the government-controlled Constitutional Tribunal issued a ruling which will end in three months the term of Adam Bodnar as human rights commissioner, or ombudsman.
The ombudsman’s office is an independent institution that safeguards the civil rights of individuals, can represent them in disputes with government authorities and obtain reversals of some state decisions.
“The (court decision) is another example of the government’s appropriation of the state, undermining the foundations of democracy and circumventing the provisions of the Constitution,” said the statement, whose signatories included groups defending human rights, the environment, and privacy rights.
Critics of the right-wing government see it as the latest chapter in the ruling Law and Justice’s party’s attempts to take control of key state institutions. The party is accused by the European Union of eroding the rule of law with its control over the judiciary and public media. It has also faced wide condemnation from human rights groups for a near-total ban on abortion and rhetoric against LGBT people.
Human Rights Watch said Bodnar’s removal likely spells “the end of one of (the) last independent checks on the country’s abusive government.”
Bodnar was named to his position shortly before Law and Justice took power in 2015. He had the broad support of parties now in opposition and civil society groups.
Bodnar had earlier gained prominence with his calls for accountability after it was revealed that left-wing authorities in the early 2000s allowed the CIA to operate a black site in Poland where terror suspects were tortured.
His term expired in September but he stayed on until a replacement could be found. But the lower house of parliament, controlled by the ruling party, and the Senate, where the opposition has a thin majority, have for months failed to agree on a new ombudsman.
Bodnar had recently taken steps to block the state oil giant’s takeover of a large private media group.