Jourová says Commission following ‘with concern’ Polish Ombudsman removal

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has removed human rights watchdog Adam Bodnar from his position, eliminating one of the last vestiges of independent scrutiny of the PiS government.
European Parliament Audiovisual: Adam Bodnar

By Lorna Hutchinson

Lorna Hutchinson is Deputy Editor of The Parliament Magazine

15 Apr 2021

Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, said on Thursday that the executive is “following closely and with concern the developments relating to the Polish Ombudsman” after the incumbent Human Rights Ombudsman Adam Bodnar was given three months to vacate his position.

Jourová said, “It’s of great importance to ensure that this institution, which defends citizens’ rights and plays an important role for upholding the rule of law, remains independent.”

Having spent five years in the position of Human Rights Ombudsman, Bodnar’s term expired in September last year, but due to a lack of agreement on a replacement he remained in office. On Thursday morning, however, he was informed that the Constitutional Tribunal had given him three months to vacate his position.

In a statement, the Tribunal said that the Ombudsman’s term was clearly defined and that an extension thereof was unacceptable.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said that the Constitutional Court ruling creates a worrying gap in the functioning of the Ombudsman institution in between terms and the protection of human rights in Poland.

She added, “A successor must urgently be selected fully respecting the Polish Constitution and law and international standards.”

Polish Greens/EFA MEP Sylwia Spurek said that the Tribunal’s judgment was yet another example of rule of law breaches in Poland.

She said, “Under the false pretence of the expiry of the mandate, the ruling party has disrupted the autonomous character of the Office - the last stand for those who experience discrimination, inequality, and violations of their citizens’ and human rights.”

She added that she would be immediately requesting a written explanation from the European Commission.

“A black day for Polish democracy. The Constitutional Tribunal ruled that Bodnar must step down. He has 3 months to do so. Then there will be either the PiS Ombudsman or its complete absence” Łukasz Kohut, S&D

Greens/EFA colleague, German member Terry Reintke said, “The removal of Adam Bodnar from his position as independent Ombudsman by the 'Constitutional Tribunal' is yet another attack on the protection of fundamental rights in Poland. And yet another reason for the Commission to step up the defense of rule of law and EU citizens’ rights.”

The S&D Group called the move “another blow for democracy in Poland.”

It said, “The PiS-controlled Constitutional Tribunal shamelessly ruled to remove Adam Bodnar, independent human rights Ombudsman, from office in max 3 months.”

It added, “We commend Bodnar’s brave work for citizens’ rights & rule of law. The European Commission must react.”

The Group also said that in a meeting on Thursday of Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, concerning the judiciary in Poland, Committee chair Juan Fernando López Aguilar pressed the Commission to open an infringement procedure and refer Poland to the European Court of Justice over the composition of the PiS-controlled Constitutional Tribunal.

Polish S&D deputy Robert Biedroń tweeted, “Under the mantle of ‘unconstitutional regulation’ another sentence was passed against the independence and justice of state organs. The guardian of civil rights and liberties was removed from his post before the election of a successor.”

Fellow Polish S&D member Łukasz Kohut said it was a “black day for Polish democracy.”

He added, “The Constitutional Tribunal ruled that Bodnar must step down. He has 3 months to do so. Then there will be either the PiS Ombudsman or its complete absence.”

“Under the false pretence of the expiry of the mandate, the ruling party has disrupted the autonomous character of the Office - the last stand for these who experience discrimination, inequality, and violations of their citizens’ and human rights” Sylwia Spurek, Greens/EFA

Polish EPP member Róża Thun said on Thursday, “Each day of this government is a disaster for Poland!”

International NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement that Bodnar’s removal would “likely spell the end of one of the last independent checks on the country’s abusive government.”

It said, “The Bodnar case is yet another example of Poland’s assault on the rule of law. Since 2015, the government has politicised judicial appointments, refused to implement judgements and severely undermined the Constitutional Tribunal’s independence and effectiveness.”

“With the courts compromised, the Ombudsman’s office under Bodnar has been one of a few remaining checks on the executive. His removal comes days after his office blocked the take-over of news-agency Polska Press by a state-owned oil company - a move that would have further reduced media pluralism.”

HRW said that EU institutions “know how bad the situation is,” adding that the European Commission should break its silence and take action.

“It’s time to tackle the use of the Tribunal to bypass Poland’s parliament and erode fundamental rights, and press EU states to act.”

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