Poland: Threats and retaliation against EESC member Ms. Karolina Dreszer-Smalec

Urgent Appeal

POL 001 / 0620 / OBS 072
Threats / Retaliation
June 26, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Poland.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the threats and retaliation against Ms. Karolina Dreszer-Smalec, a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)[1] Diversity Europe Group (Group III), which represents civil society organisations in Europe covering a wide range of interests, including human rights[2]. Ms. Karolina Dreszer-Smalec, a member of EESC since 2015, is the vice-president of the National Federation of Polish NGOs (OFOP), the biggest Polish platform of civil society organisations, and vice-president of the National Platforms at the European Civic Forum (ECF). In 2018, she was appointed vice-president of the EESC Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law Group (FRRL Group). In 2020, she was elected by the Diversity Europe Group as EESC quaestor for the next term of office, up to 2023.

According to the information received, Ms. Karolina Dreszer-Smalec has been, in the past months, subject to pressure from the Polish authorities regarding her work on behalf of the EESC. Ms. Dreszer-Smalec is being depicted in the public arena as too “controversial”[3] for an extension of her EESC membership. The director of the National Freedom Institute – Centre for Civil Society Development, Mr. Wojciech Kaczmarczyk, publicly commented on Ms. Dreszer-Smalec’s participation in the EESC FRRL Group’s visit to Poland in 2018, which led, to a report by the EU body[4] containing – according to Mr. Kaczmarczyk - “false information, even lies”, notably regarding the fact that the National Freedom Institute would centralise the granting of funds to civil society for human rights activities[5]. According to Mr. Wojciech Kaczmarczyk, Ms. Deszer-Smalec’s involvement in drafting the report “cast a shadow on her future presence in this body”[6]. The Observatory recalls that the country reports published by the EESC’s FRRL Group faithfully and impartially relay the input provided by civil society organisations consulted during the Group’s country visits to the Member States, and do no reflect the EESC members’ individual views.

This stigmatising discourse and indirect threats directed against an independent civil society representative by public officials are extremely concerning, especially when seen in the context of a narrowing space for civil society in Poland, including attempts by the authorities to delegitimise the work of NGOs active on issues related to the rule of law and human rights and obstructing their work. The Polish government’s disregard for the ordinary procedure for selecting Polish civil society representatives to the EESC, preventing CSOs from choosing their own candidates – while EESC Workers’ Group and Employers’ Group can freely choose theirs – is particularly worrying, as it unduly restricts the right of civil society organisations to freely nominate their own representatives to the Committee, and undermines the role of the EESC as the body whose mandate is to strengthen the European Union’s democratic legitimacy and promote the development of a more participatory Europe by channelling the views of organised civil society in the EU and ensuring they are taken into consideration and inform EU policy-making. This is an unacceptable interference in the EESC members’ independence, protected by Article 300(4) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU)[7], and should be strongly condemned.

The Observatory expresses serious concerns over the Polish authorities open retaliation against an EESC member for her work in support of the rule of law and fundamental rights, and considers these acts as an unlawful interference in the Committee’s work and an attempt to intimidate civil society organisations defending fundamental rights and the rule of law. The Observatory also fears that Ms. Karolina Dreszer-Smalec and other local civil society organisations could suffer further pressure and hindrance to their work and human rights activities in Poland, and that this could have a chilling effect on Polish civil society.

The Observatory recalls that the Polish government is currently under scrutiny by the EU over its respect for the rule of law and the other principles on which the European Union is founded, as enshrined in Article 2 of the TEU. It stresses the fundamental role that an independent civil society plays in a democratic state founded on the rule of law, and urges the Polish authorities to respect and uphold under any circumstances the independence of EESC members, and of Polish CSOs more broadly, and to guarantee that Ms. Karolina Dreszer-Smalec and other civil society representatives in Poland can exercise her legitimate human rights activities without hindrance and fear of reprisal.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Poland asking them to:

i. Respect under any circumstances the independence of the EESC members, in accordance with Article 300(4) of the TFEU and refrain from any action aimed at intimidating or stigmatising them, and any other civil society representative and human rights defender;

ii. Guarantee that Ms. Karolina Dreszer-Smalec and other human rights defenders and civil society organisations can exercise their legitimate human rights activities without hindrance and fear of reprisal at the local and national level as well as at the European level, including in the EESC; instead, ensure an enabling environment for civil society where it can freely exercise its fundamental watchdog role in a democratic society founded on the rule of law;

iii. Conform to all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1, 5 and 6;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, in accordance with European and international human rights standards, particularly the principles laid down in Article 2 of the TEU, and instruments ratified by Poland.

Please also write to the European Union asking it to:

v. Strongly condemn the Polish government’s action targeting an independent civil society representative nominated to represent civil society within its advisory body, the EESC, and remind Poland of its obligations under the Treaties, including as regards the fundamental role that an independent civil society ought to play in a democratic state founded on the rule of law and the respect for fundamental rights, which also constitute the EU’s founding principles as enshrined in Article 2 of the TEU, and as recalled most recently by the CJEU in its decision in European Commission v. Hungary (case C-78/18)8;

vi. Address the episode, and indeed any intimidation, retaliation or other action targeting civil society in Poland in any action aimed at monitoring respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights in Poland, including the ongoing procedure under Article 7 TEU, currently pending before the Council, the upcoming report to be issued by the European Commission in the context of its first annual RoL (rule of law) review cycle and in any resolutions by the European Parliament on the situation in Poland.

Addresses for Poland:

• President of the Council of Ministers: Mr. Mateusz Morawiecki, fax: +48 22 694 70 53, e-mail: bprm@kprm.gov.pl
• Minister of Interior: M. Mariusz Kamiński, fax. + 48 22 60 141 06, Email:
• Minister of Foreign Affairs: M. Jacek Czaputowicz, Fax: +48 22 523 90 99, E-mail: press@msz.gov.pl

Addresses for the European Union:

• Mr. Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President and European Commissioner for Better Regulation, Inter-institutional Relations, Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights E-mail: frans-timmermans-contact@ec.europa.eu
• Mr. Juan Fernando López Aguilar, President of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament. E-mail: claude.moraes@europarl.europa.eu

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Poland in your respective countries.

Paris-Geneva, June 26, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members ofProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
• Tel and fax OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29

[1] The EESC is a consultative body of the European Union (EU). It is an advisory assembly composed of representatives of employers, employees and various other interests, such as civil society organisations.
[2] See Ms. Karolina Dreszer-Smalec’s profile on the EESC website: https://memberspage.eesc.europa.eu/Search/Details/Person/2032929
[3] See for example: https://wyborcza.pl/7,75398,25987498,pis-nie-pozwala-na-nominacje-polki-w-unii-europejskiej-bo-jest.html?disableRedirects=true
[4] See: https://www.eesc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/files/20_42_a4_brochure_en.pdf
[5] This is also of concern regarding the procedure launched by the European Commission against Poland in accordance with Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) regarding breach of the rule of law by the Republic of Poland. In its reasoned proposal, the European Commission mentions that "On 15 September 2017 the Sejm adopted the law on the National Freedom Institute – Centre for Civil Society Development which centralises the distribution of funds including for civil society organisations". See: https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2017/EN/COM-2017-835-F1-EN-MAIN-PART-1.PDF
[6] As reported in: NGO.pl, Bitwa o EKES. Przegrał dialog, 28 May 2020, https://publicystyka.ngo.pl/bitwa-o-ekes-przegral-dialog
[7] "The members of the Economic and Social Committee […] shall not be bound by any mandatory instructions. They shall be completely independent in the performance of their duties, in the Union’s general interest."

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