Polish government preparing to contest rights report

AP News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2016 12:53 PM
Polish government preparing to contest rights report

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland will challenge the findings of an international human rights commission which is expected to deliver a scathing assessment of democratic backsliding in the European Union's largest ex-communist member state, the foreign minister said Thursday.

Witold Waszczykowski said the government plans to dispute the findings of the Venice Commission, an arm of the Council of Europe human rights group. The commission is scheduled to deliver its report on Friday in Venice.

A leaked draft of the report was strongly critical of Poland's government.

"I won't hide the fact that we plan to dispute this opinion," Waszczykowski said in a radio interview. He said members of a Polish delegation who will travel to Venice to meet with the commission members "will disprove the charges."

Poland has been in a state of political crisis since the conservative Law and Justice came to power in November on a mission to build a strong state that promotes patriotic and traditional Catholic values.

Since taking office, the government has enacted sweeping reforms to some of the country's state bodies, including changes to the Constitutional Tribunal. In December, parliament changed legislation concerning the functioning of the tribunal, affecting its ability to review legislation.

The crisis deepened on Wednesday when the same court declared those changes to be unconstitutional, but the government of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said it would ignore the judgment.

Protests have been taking place in the past two days, including one Wednesday evening in which activists used a projector to put the court's ruling in big letters across the building of Szydlo's office. A larger rally is planned for Saturday.

Some of Law and Justice's legislative changes have put Poland at odds with the U.S. and the European Union, which has opened a procedure of checking whether the changes respect the 28-nation bloc's principle of the rule of law.

Though not legally binding, the Venice Commission's findings are expected to influence the separate EU investigation into Poland.

According to a draft report that was leaked in late February, the commission declared that "as long as the Constitutional Tribunal cannot carry out its work in an efficient manner, not only is the rule of law in danger, but so is democracy and human rights."

It's not clear if the final report will differ significantly from the draft report, but the turmoil surrounding the court has only grown in the meantime given the government's insistence that the court's rulings won't be published, something required for them to become binding.

Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, a lawmaker and spokeswoman with the opposition Modern party, said Law and Justice must now decide whether to take the "path back to democracy and the rule of law" or "the path of anarchy, chaos and lawlessness."

In recent days the government has spoken harshly about protesters and the court. The foreign minister also said Thursday that the court's chief judge, Andrzej Rzeplinski, "is starting to remind me of an Iranian ayatollah."