Obama Urged to Press Poland About Human Rights, Civil Rights Backslide

Washington, DC – Human Rights First today urged President Obama to use his upcoming participation in the Warsaw NATO summit as an opportunity to raise concerns about Poland’s backslide on human rights and civil liberties. In a letter sent today, the organization pressed the president to reiterate the U.S. commitment to democracy and human rights during his trip this week and to remind Poland’s leaders that NATO is strong only when its members embrace the shared values of democracy, an independent judiciary, and the rule of law.

“The political situation and social stability in Poland are deteriorating significantly,” wrote Human Rights First’s Melissa Hooper, who was in Poland last week. “Citizens are alarmed that the government may solidify its prohibition on constitutional review of its policies. They are fearful of the spike in xenophobic street violence and the creation of neighborhood ‘watch’ programs targeting individuals who are not ‘Polish enough.’ They are concerned that nonprofit organizations that combat hate and protect minority groups – including women, refugees, and LGBT persons — are losing their funding from the government, which now seeks to fund solely ideologically nationalist and conservative organizations.”

Human Rights First’s letter to the president comes just weeks after the Polish legislature passed a slew of alarming laws, including an anti-terror measure that classifies all foreigners as terror suspects and a law that essentially prevents the Constitutional Tribunal from reviewing any of the legislature’s new policies. These developments reflect the government’s escalating messages of lawlessness, fear, and xenophobia – sentiments that have contributed to a spike in hate crimes and speech.

While Poland was once considered one of the strongest democracies in Central Europe, recent developments have undermined that reputation. The problem is also impacting Poland’s economy. For example, a recent estimate shows a 20% decrease in direct investment indicating that because the international business community also has rule of law concerns. These concerns will only increase as international business leaders learn that they, as foreigners, can be subject to surveillance and control under the new anti-terror law.

To help restore Poland’s commitment to human rights and civil liberties, President Obama should:

  • Urge Polish President Duda and Prime Minister Szydlo to restore the rule of law by ensuring that Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal can review policies to determine whether these laws meet constitutional standards.
  • Encourage government leaders to publish a March 9 Constitutional Tribunal decision that clearly states the Tribunal is the final arbiter of the Polish Constitution, a ruling that preserves the Tribunal’s ability to review past and future government policies.
  • Meet with and/or publicly voice support for pro-tolerance groups that have been targeted by the Polish government and assure them that the United States supports tolerance and the right to dissent.
  • Make clear that NATO member nations have a responsibility to uphold common human rights and legal standards in order enhance security.

“Democracy is the heritage of the Polish people, who were the first to break away from Communism and who are admired by the rest of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union as democratic leaders,” Hooper wrote. “During your upcoming visit to Poland you have the opportunity to once again demonstrate the commitment of the United States to the human rights and tolerance values that are the bedrock of the EU. I urge you to make this commitment clear, recognizing that your remarks will not only reach the Polish government, but also the Polish people, and citizens throughout the countries of NATO and the EU.”

The NATO Summit is slated to take place from July 8-9.

For more information or to speak with Hooper, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at [email protected] or 202-370-3323.


Published on July 6, 2016


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