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NGOs Letter to the Portuguese Presidency Regarding the Deteriorating Situation in Poland

Dear Ministers, 

As EU Ministers prepare to discuss rule of law issues at their 20 April and 11 May 2021 General Affairs Council meetings, according to the work programme of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council, we the undersigned representatives of Portuguese, Polish, European and international civil society organisations call upon your leadership to ensure that the Council addresses the deterioration of the rule of law and fundamental rights in Poland by holding a hearing under Article 7(1) of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU). 

In the two and a half years that have passed since the Council's previous hearing on the rule of law in Poland, the Polish government has persisted in its attempts to undermine EU values and principles. It has ignored the recommendations and decisions issued in this regard by the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) since 2016. Urgent action by the Council has also been requested by the European Parliament in its September 2020 resolution. It is now vital that the Council moves forward with the procedure laid down in Article 7(1) TEU by urgently holding a hearing with the Polish government to examine both the issues raised by the European Commission in its December 2017 Reasoned Opinion as well as other developments that have since occurred and that further threaten the rule of law and fundamental rights in Poland. 

We call on Portugal to ensure that the Council urgently addresses specific recommendations to the government of Poland in order to safeguard all the principles enshrined in Article 2 TEU and, based on the information provided, to support the need to determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of the values referred to in Article 2 TEU in Poland. We are gravely concerned that the lack of action by the Council has empowered the Polish government to continue pursuing policies that seriously undermine the rule of law and affect the fundamental rights of people in Poland. The dismantling of the independence and effectiveness of the country’s judiciary is not only having unprecedented consequences on the activities of legal professionals in Poland but also now on the lives of all citizens in Poland who can no longer count on having access to independent justice when their rights - including under EU law - are violated. Prompt and effective action by the Council is urgently needed to curb this trajectory.

Erosion of Judicial Independence 

As you are aware, judges in Poland have faced arbitrary disciplinary proceedings for criticizing problematic judicial reforms and referring cases for preliminary rulings to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Poland failed to fully comply with the June 2019 and November 2019 rulings by the CJEU regarding the laws on the Supreme Court and on ordinary courts. It also failed to respect interim measures issued by the Court in April 2020 which ordered the government to suspend the powers of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court pending a decision on the case regarding it. The Polish government has also failed, so far, to satisfy the European Commission that the law adopted in February 2020 (also known as ‘the Muzzle Law’) is compatible with EU law. This warranted the Commission’s decision to refer Poland to the CJEU and to ask the Court to order interim measures pending a final judgment in the case.

Since the beginning of Portugal’s Presidency of the Council, the National Prosecutor’s Office requested the lifting of the immunity of judges of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court perceived as critical of the ruling party’s policies and requested to take over files of cases heard by judges from the Criminal Chamber to transfer them to the Disciplinary Chamber, deemed illegal by the CJEU.

Violation of Women’s Rights, notably through the Compromised Constitutional Tribunal

Again, during Portugal’s Presidency, on 27 January 2021, the Polish government published the October 2020 ruling of the politically-compromised Constitutional Tribunal, invalidating the constitutionality of access to abortion on the ground of “severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’ life.” The implementation of the decision of a Tribunal whose legitimacy has, according to the European Commission’s own assessment, been compromised, risks severely damaging women’s rights and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. It leads to violations of rights protected under international and European human rights law, including the rights to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to the highest attainable standards of health, to privacy, and to non-discrimination and undermines  adherence  to  the  EU  values  of the rule  of  law, equality, human  rights and  dignity enshrined  in  Article  2  TEU. More recently, in March 2021 a new bill criminalizing abortion was presented by citizens’ initiative. If adopted, the bill would afford full legal protection to the fetus from the moment of conception and limit the grounds for legal care by banning abortion in cases where pregnancy results from sexual assault or if the health of a pregnant person is at risk, as provided for in the Family Planning Act currently in force. Abortion would be treated as homicide punishable with up to 25 years of imprisonment, although the court would have discretion to issue a more lenient punishment or waive the punishment altogether. Moreover, 16 Polish MPs aligned with the conservative ruling coalition have presented another draft bill, which, under the pretext of providing care to pregnant women whose fetuses have a “suspected or diagnosed lethal defect,” would require them to be referred to antenatal hospices where their pregnancies would be monitored and their decisions about pregnancy influenced. The Constitutional Tribunal’s decision and similar initiatives are the result of systematic attempts over the past several years by the Polish government, and by ultra-conservative forces close to power, to roll back women’s rights, including by limiting their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and promoting policies that reinforce traditional gender roles, thus undermining gender equality, within Polish society.

We are also concerned that the same politically-compromised court that invalidated the constitutionality of access to abortion could decide on Poland’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) following Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s referral of the Convention for review due to its definition of “gender.” In parallel, the Parliament is debating Poland’s withdrawal from the Convention on the basis of a citizens’ initiative bill entitled “Yes to family, no to gender,” which had its first debate in Parliament on 17 March 2021 and, as a result of a first reading held on 30 March 2021, has been forwarded to the expert Parliamentary Commissions for further proceedings. The renewed attack on Polish women’s fundamental right to be protected from violence represents yet another attempt to roll back on women’s rights, and another example of the use by the Polish government of the Court system it has severely compromised since 2015 as a tool to implement a regressive and anti-democratic agenda. We take note of the statement of the Polish Representative at the EU High-Level Group on Non-Discrimination, Equality and Diversity, read during the Portuguese Presidency Conference on the Istanbul Convention on 6 April 2021. The Polish government must now follow through, and commit not to withdraw from the Convention and to fully implement it.

Violation of the Right to Peaceful Protest and Targeting of Women’s Rights Organizations

Equally worrying is the Polish government’s continued targeting of women’s rights organizations and women human rights defenders, whose right to peaceful protest without fear of violence or reprisal has been violated through smear campaigns, systematic denial of funding, and government-backed police brutality. Threats to activists’ safety have escalated: at least five human rights organizations and women’s rights groups said they reported bomb threats between 8 March and 20 March to police, who checked the premises and found no evidence of explosive devices. However, some activists have noted that the police minimized the security risks of these and other death threats and indicated it was unlikely that a full investigation would follow. In addition, a recent ordinance (25 March 2021) amends previous ordinances on the establishment of certain restrictions, orders and prohibitions in connection with the outbreak of an epidemic. The new provisions prohibit - in addition to organising assemblies - participation in them, which may cause further persecution of protestors. The ban is contrary to the Polish Constitution, because in accordance with Article 233(3) of the Polish Constitution, even in a state of natural disaster - that is a constitutional state of emergency - it would not be possible to restrict the freedom to organise and participate in assemblies. 

These alarming developments require an urgent and serious response from the Council. We are deeply disappointed that the Council has not held any hearing under Article 7(1) TEU on the rule of law in Poland since September 2018 and are concerned that continued failure to examine this problem will lead to the further erosion of fundamental rights, such as those mentioned above. 

We welcome your calls at the European Parliament’s plenary debate on Poland on 9 February, for the protection of Polish women’s fundamental rights and for guaranteeing access of Polish women’s rights NGOs to EU funding, such as the European Social Fund, the new Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme, and other instruments. We ask that you demonstrate your government’s support to Polish women’s rights organisations by continuing to call for their legitimate access to these programmes, and by pressing for genuine actions by the Council to curb the severe consequences and significant implications of the rule-of-law backslide implemented by the Polish government.  

Citizens and non-governmental organizations working on rule of law and fundamental rights throughout the EU expect their governments to stand up and show that respect for human rights and the rule of law remains at the core of European Union values, and that attacks on these principles will not go unaddressed. Failure to do so jeopardises the EU’s ability to effectively safeguard adherence to the core values on which the Union is founded, and undermines the Union’s credibility towards non-EU countries.

We stand ready to assist with any further information you may require on these issues.

Yours Sincerely,

European / International Civil Society Organisations:

  1. Amnesty International
  2. BPW (Business and Professional Women) Europe
  3. Center for Reproductive Rights
  4. Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties), Europe
  5. European Women’s Lobby, Europe
  6. European Network of Migrant Women, Europe
  7. End FGM European Network, Europe
  8. EuroMed Rights, Europe
  9. Front Line Defenders
  10. Greenpeace, Europe
  11. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
  12. Human Rights Watch
  13. ILGA-Europe
  14. International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion
  15. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  16. International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, Europe
  17. MSI Reproductive Choices
  18. Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI)
  19. Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM)
  20. Protection International
  21. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG)
  22. SOLIDAR
  23. Women’s Link Worldwide
  24. Women on Waves
  25. Women on Web International Foundation
  26. Young European Federalists (JEF Europe)

National Civil Society Organisations from 18 European countries (outside of Poland):

  1. Fédération Laïque des centres de planning familial, Belgium
  2. Sensoa, Belgium
  3. Platform for Reproductive Justice, Croatia
  4. Le Planning familial, France
  5. Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH), France
  6. Internationale Liga für Menschenrechte, Germany
  7. pro familia Federal Office, Germany
  8. Hellenic League for Human Rights, Greece
  9. Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Hungary
  10. Irish Family Planning Association, Ireland
  11. Men’s Development Network, Ireland
  12. LAIGA 194, Italy
  13. LIDU Lega italiana diritti dell’Uomo, Italy
  14. Pro-Choice RICA (rete italiana contraccezione e aborto), Italy
  15. SeNonOraQuando? Turin, Italy
  16. UDI-Unione Donne in Italia APS, Italy
  17. Latvian Human Rights Committee, Latvia
  18. Papardes Zieds (Latvian Family Planning Association), Latvia
  19. Doctors for Choice, Malta
  20. Rutgers, Netherlands
  21. FOKUS - Forum for Women and Development, Norway
  22. Liga Portuguesa dos Direitos Humanos – Civitas, Portugal
  23. Association of Romanian Women in Italy (A.D.R.I.), Romania & Italy
  24. Center for Community Security and Mediation, Romania
  25. Corona Foundation, Romania
  26. Romanian Women’s Lobby, Romania
  27. Society for Feminist Analyses AnA, Romania
  28. Freedom of Choice, Slovakia
  29. Slovak Family Planning Association, Slovakia
  30. Inštitut 8.marec, Slovenia
  31. Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España (APDHE), Spain
  32. Federación Planificación Familiar Estatal, Spain
  33. RFSU, Sweden

Polish Civil Society Organisations:

  1. Association for Legal Intervention (SIP), Poland
  2. Federation for Women and Family Planning, Poland
  3. Polish Federation of Business & Professional Women (BPW), Poland
  4. Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet (All-Poland Women’s Strike), Poland
  5. ADDP l’Association Défense de la Démocratie en Pologne (Stowarzyszenie na rzecz obrony
  6. demokracji w Polsce), Poland
  7. ASTRA Network, Poland
  8. BABA Lubuskie Stowarzyszenie na Rzecz Kobiet, Poland
  9. Berliński Kongres Kobiet, Poland
  10. Black Brussels Balloons, Poland
  11. Czarny Protest Bielsko-Biała, Poland
  12. Czarny Protest Gliwice, Poland
  13. Danish Family Planning Association, Denmark
  14. Democracy is OK (DOK), Poland
  15. Demokratyczna Unia Kobiet, Poland
  16. Dolnośląskie Forum Kobiet Stowarzyszeń i środowisk Kobiecych, Poland
  17. Dziewuchy Berlin, Poland
  18. Dziewuchy Dziewuchom Francja, Poland
  19. Dziewuchy Dziewuchom SIeraadz, Poland
  20. Dziewuchy Londyn, Poland
  21. Dziewuchy Szczecin, Poland
  22. Dziewuchy Szwajcaria, Poland
  23. Farsa, Poland
  24. Federacja na Rzecz Kobiet i Planowania Rodziny, Poland
  25. Federacja Polskie Lobby Kobiet, Poland
  26. Femini Berlin Polska, Poland
  27. Feministyczne Stowarzyszenie Polonijne Elles sans Frontieres ASBL, Poland
  28. Fundacja Klamra, Poland
  29. Fundacja Cicha Tęcza, Poland
  30. Fundacja Centrum Praw Kobiet, Poland
  31. Fundacja Czas Dialogu, Poland
  32. Fundacja Droga Kobiet, Poland
  33. Fundacja Edukacja – Równość – Aktywność – Dialog Era Dialogu, Poland
  34. Fundacja Feminoteka, Poland
  35. 29 Fundacja Głosuj na Kobietę, Poland
  36. Fundacja im. Izabeli Jarugi-Nowackiej, Poland
  37. Fundacja im. Kazimierza Łyszczyńskiego, Poland
  38. Fundacja Inicjatywa Kobiet Aktywnych, Poland
  39. Fundacja Kobiety Zmieniają Świat, Poland
  40. Fundacja na Rzecz Równości i Emancypacji STER, Poland
  41. Fundacja Nowoczesnej Edukacji SPUNK, Poland
  42. Fundacja Prawnikon, Poland
  43. Fundacja Przestrzenie Dialogu, Poland
  44. Fundacja Rodzić po ludzku, Poland
  45. Fundacja Trans-Fuzja, Poland
  46. Galeria Inspiracji, Poland
  47. Great Coalition for Equality and Choice, Poland
  48. Grupa nieformalna Równość.info, Poland
  49. Grupa Ponton, Poland
  50. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland
  51. Inicjatywa Sto Lat Głosu Kobiet, Poland
  52. Koalicja KARAT, Poland
  53. Kobiety w Sieci, Poland
  54. KOD Kobiety, Poland
  55. Konferencja Episkopatu Polek, Poland
  56. Kongres Kobiet Północnej Wielkopolski (Stowarzyszenie „Metropolia Wielkopolska”), Poland
  57. Kongres Kobiet w Tomaszowie, Poland
  58. Kongres Kobiet Województwa Śląskiego, Poland
  59. Kongres Świeckości, Poland
  60. Koszalińskie Stowarzyszenie Aktywności Lokalnej Era Kobiet, Poland
  61. Lambda Warszawa, Poland
  62. Lubelska Koalicja na Rzecz Kobiet, Poland
  63. Łódzki Szlak Kobiet, Poland
  64. Manifa Bydgoska, Poland
  65. Manifa Koszalin Strajk Kobiet, Poland
  66. Manifa Lublin, Poland
  67. Manifa Łódź, Poland
  68. Manifa Rzeszów, Poland
  69. Manifa Toruńska, Poland
  70. Manifest Wolnej Polki, Poland
  71. Mapa kościelnej pedofilli, Poland
  72. Marsz Godności, Poland
  73. Medical Students For Choice Poland, Poland
  74. Międzynarodowy Strajk Kobiet, Poland
  75. Nic o nas bez nas. Ruch kobiecy Gliwice i Pyskowice, Poland
  76. Nieformalna Grupa Czarny Protest, Poland
  77. Nieformalna Grupa Inicjatywna z Bydgoszczy, Poland
  78. Obywatelskie Stowarzyszenie “Możemy”, Poland
  79. Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet, Poland
  80. OSK Gryfino, Poland
  81. OSK Kielce, Poland
  82. OSK Lublin, Poland
  83. OSK Puławy, Poland
  84. OSK Sanok, Poland
  85. Plakaciary, Poland
  86. Polskie Towarzystwo Genderowe, Poland
  87. Polskie Towarzystwo Prawa Antydyskryminacyjnego, Poland
  88. Powislanska Akcja Kobiet, Poland
  89. Protest kobiet, Poland
  90. Ratujmy Kobiety, Poland
  91. Ratujmy Kobiety Tarnów, Poland
  92. Różowa skrzyneczka, Poland
  93. Stowarzyszenie Aktywne Kobiety, Poland
  94. Stowarzyszenie Dolnośląski Kongres Kobiet, Poland
  95. Stowarzyszenie im. Stanisława Brzozowskiego – Krytyka Polityczna, Poland
  96. Stowarzyszenie Inicjatyw Kobiecych, Poland
  97. Stowarzyszenie Klucz Stop Społecznym Wykluczeniom, Poland
  98. Stowarzyszenie Kobiecy Słupsk, Poland
  99. Stowarzyszenie Kobieta na PLUS, Poland
  100. Stowarzyszenie Kobiety Piaseczno, Poland
  101. Stowarzyszenie Kongres Kobiet, Poland
  102. Stowarzyszenie Koniński Kongres Kobiet, Poland
  103. Stowarzyszenie Łódzkie Dziewuchy Dziewuchom, Poland
  104. Stowarzyszenie Nasz Bocian, Poland
  105. Stowarzyszenie ON/OFF, Poland
  106. Stowarzyszenie ONE, Poland
  107. Stowarzyszenie Poprawy Spraw Alimentacyjnych – Dla Naszych Dzieci, Poland
  108. Stowarzyszenie Pro Femina, Poland
  109. Stowarzyszenie Prowincja Równości, Poland
  110. Stowarzyszenie Stan Równości, Poland
  111. Stowarzyszenie Stop Stereotypom, Poland
  112. Stowarzyszenie Szlakiem Kobiet, Poland
  113. Stowarzyszenie Wszechnicy Oświeceniowo-Racjonalistycznej, Poland
  114. Strajk Kobiet Sardynia, Poland
  115. Tęczowy Tarnów, Poland
  116. Toruńskie Dziewuchy, Poland
  117. Trójmiejska Akcja Kobieca, Poland
  118. Warszawski Strajk Kobiet, Poland
  119. Warszawskie Dziewuchy, Poland
  120. Wielkopolski Kongres Kobiet, Poland

Portuguese Civil Society Organisations:

  1. ACTUAR - Associação para a Cooperação e o Desenvolvimento
  2. Amnistia Internacional Portugal
  3. ANIMAR - Associação Portuguesa para o Desenvolvimento Local
  4. Associação Portuguesa Mulheres Juristas
  5. ASSOCIAÇÃO DOS FILHOS E AMIGOS DE FARIM - AFAFC
  6. Associação Espaços - Projetos Alternativos de Mulheres e Homens
  7. Associação ILGA Portugal
  8. Associação para o Planeamento da Família
  9. Associação plano i
  10. Associação Portuguesa de Estudos sobre as Mulheres (APEM)
  11. Associação Portuguesa pelos Direitos da Mulher na Gravidez e Parto
  12. AVOAR - Associação para a Educação Artística e as Literacias
  13. Caniço Advogados
  14. Cannareporter
  15. CIDAC - Centro de Intervenção para o Desenvolvimento Amílcar Cabral
  16. FENACERCI - Federação Nacional de Cooperativas de Solidariedade Social
  17. FIAN Portugal
  18. GAT- Grupo de Ativistas em Tratamentos
  19. Independentemente
  20. Mulher Século XXI - Associação de Desenvolvimento e Apoio às Mulheres
  21. Plataforma Portuguesa para os Direitos das Mulheres
  22. PSI-ON Associação
  23. PTMC - Portugal Medical Cannabis
  24. Questão de Igualdade - Associação para a Inovação Social
  25. SEIES – Sociedade de Estudos e Intervenção em Engenharia Social, CRL
  26. União de Mulheres Alternativa e Resposta
 

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