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'Poland's laws threaten human rights'

Lewis Sanders IV
June 15, 2016

The European human rights body has criticized a series of legislative measures led by Warsaw's right-wing government. Germany's finance minister said Europe - and Poland - should remember the "lessons from our past."

The flags of Poland and the EU
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Wolf

The Council of Europe, a prominent human rights organization, on Wednesday called on Polish lawmakers and the government to "urgently change course" after analyzing a series of legal measures that endanger human rights in the EU member state.

"Recent far-reaching changes to Poland's legal and institutional framework threaten human rights and undermine the rule of law, on which the protection of human rights ultimately depends," said Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights.

Muiznieks questioned amendments to Poland's criminal law, which he said jeopardizes the "protection of the right to a fair trial in criminal proceedings, the presumption of innocence and the right to defense."

The commissioner's report also criticized new media laws that allow political influence in public service media by giving the government powers to hire and fire senior figures at state broadcasters.

"Putting public television and radio under the direct control of the government runs contrary to Council of Europe standards on media freedom," Muiznieks said.

In January, the European Commission, the European Union's executive arm, launched an unprecedented procedure to review Poland's rule of law, saying it aimed to enter "into a dialogue with the Polish authorities, to clarify the facts in and objective way and help find solutions if necessary."

However, the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) has said it has adhered to Poland's legislative procedures for the various changes to legal mechanisms, including at the Constitutional Tribunal, the country's highest court.

Government spokesperson Rafal Bochenek said Wednesday that Poland would not meet the Commission's deadline for a response to concerns about the country's political crisis.

Bochenek told The Associated Press that a reply will be offered at a time when it is possible to show progress in the ongoing efforts by lawmakers to solve the internal conflict surrounding the tribunal.

A government statement issued Wednesday added that the Commission's inquiry "should be considered only as an internal procedure … which as a result carries no legal obligation for the member states."

'Lessons from our past'

Speaking at a German-Polish business summit in Warsaw, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäub­le touched on the subject of Poland's rule of law, calling on Europe to remain focused on "lessons from our past."

"It will only be possible to regain trust and prevent European citizens from becoming more disenfranchised and attracted to populist parties if Europe's countries demonstrate their abilities to solve problems of law and legality," the finance minister said.

"This ability on the side of member states is of particular importance in a Europe made up of nation states - the kind Poland envisages," Schäu­b­le added.

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