Request to the Portuguese Presidency to take action on the deteriorating situation in Poland 

19/04/2021
Open Letter
en pt

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 billentitled “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 activists, 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.

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  • Co-signatories

    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. European Civic Forum, Europe
    10. Front Line Defenders
    11. Greenpeace, Europe
    12. Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
    13. Human Rights Watch
    14. ILGA-Europe
    15. International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion
    16. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    17. International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, Europe
    18. MSI Reproductive Choices
    19. Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI)
    20. Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM)
    21. Protection International
    22. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG)
    23. SOLIDAR
    24. Women’s Link Worldwide
    25. Women on Waves
    26. Women on Web International Foundation
    27. 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. Liga voor de Rechten van de Mens, Netherlands
    21. Rutgers, Netherlands
    22. FOKUS - Forum for Women and Development, Norway
    23. Liga Portuguesa dos Direitos Humanos – Civitas, Portugal
    24. Association of Romanian Women in Italy (A.D.R.I.), Romania & Italy
    25. Center for Community Security and Mediation, Romania
    26. Corona Foundation, Romania
    27. Romanian Women’s Lobby, Romania
    28. Society for Feminist Analyses AnA, Romania
    29. Freedom of Choice, Slovakia
    30. Slovak Family Planning Association, Slovakia
    31. Inštitut 8.marec, Slovenia
    32. Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España (APDHE), Spain
    33. Federación Planificación Familiar Estatal, Spain
    34. RFSU, Sweden
    35. Human Rights Association, Turkey
    Polish Civil Society Organisations:
    36. Association for Legal Intervention (SIP), Poland
    37. Federation for Women and Family Planning, Poland
    38. Polish Federation of Business & Professional Women (BPW), Poland
    39. Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet (All-Poland Women’s Strike), Poland
    40. ADDP l’Association Défense de la Démocratie en Pologne (Stowarzyszenie na rzecz obrony
    demokracji w Polsce), Poland
    41. ASTRA Network, Poland
    42. BABA Lubuskie Stowarzyszenie na Rzecz Kobiet, Poland
    43. Berliński Kongres Kobiet, Poland
    44. Black Brussels Balloons, Poland
    45. Czarny Protest Bielsko-Biała, Poland
    46. Czarny Protest Gliwice, Poland
    47. Danish Family Planning Association, Denmark
    48. Democracy is OK (DOK), Poland
    49. Demokratyczna Unia Kobiet, Poland
    50. Dolnośląskie Forum Kobiet Stowarzyszeń i środowisk Kobiecych, Poland
    51. Dziewuchy Berlin, Poland
    52. Dziewuchy Dziewuchom Francja, Poland
    53. Dziewuchy Dziewuchom SIeraadz, Poland
    54. Dziewuchy Londyn, Poland
    55. Dziewuchy Szczecin, Poland
    56. Dziewuchy Szwajcaria, Poland
    57. Farsa, Poland
    58. Federacja na Rzecz Kobiet i Planowania Rodziny, Poland
    59. Federacja Polskie Lobby Kobiet, Poland
    60. Femini Berlin Polska, Poland
    61. Feministyczne Stowarzyszenie Polonijne Elles sans Frontieres ASBL, Poland
    62. Fundacja Klamra, Poland
    63. Fundacja Cicha Tęcza, Poland
    64. Fundacja Centrum Praw Kobiet, Poland
    65. Fundacja Czas Dialogu, Poland
    66. Fundacja Droga Kobiet, Poland
    67. Fundacja Edukacja – Równość – Aktywność – Dialog Era Dialogu, Poland
    68. Fundacja Feminoteka, Poland
    69. 29 Fundacja Głosuj na Kobietę, Poland
    70. Fundacja im. Izabeli Jarugi-Nowackiej, Poland
    71. Fundacja im. Kazimierza Łyszczyńskiego, Poland
    72. Fundacja Inicjatywa Kobiet Aktywnych, Poland
    73. Fundacja Kobiety Zmieniają Świat, Poland
    74. Fundacja na Rzecz Równości i Emancypacji STER, Poland
    75. Fundacja Nowoczesnej Edukacji SPUNK, Poland
    76. Fundacja Prawnikon, Poland
    77. Fundacja Przestrzenie Dialogu, Poland
    78. Fundacja Rodzić po ludzku, Poland
    79. Fundacja Trans-Fuzja, Poland
    80. Galeria Inspiracji, Poland
    81. Great Coalition for Equality and Choice, Poland
    82. Grupa nieformalna Równość.info, Poland
    83. Grupa Ponton, Poland
    84. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland
    85. Inicjatywa Sto Lat Głosu Kobiet, Poland
    86. Koalicja KARAT, Poland
    87. Kobiety w Sieci, Poland
    88. KOD Kobiety, Poland
    89. Konferencja Episkopatu Polek, Poland
    90. Kongres Kobiet Północnej Wielkopolski (Stowarzyszenie „Metropolia Wielkopolska”), Poland
    91. Kongres Kobiet w Tomaszowie, Poland
    92. Kongres Kobiet Województwa Śląskiego, Poland
    93. Kongres Świeckości, Poland
    94. Koszalińskie Stowarzyszenie Aktywności Lokalnej Era Kobiet, Poland
    95. Lambda Warszawa, Poland
    96. Lubelska Koalicja na Rzecz Kobiet, Poland
    97. Łódzki Szlak Kobiet, Poland
    98. Manifa Bydgoska, Poland
    99. Manifa Koszalin Strajk Kobiet, Poland
    100. Manifa Lublin, Poland
    101. Manifa Łódź, Poland
    102. Manifa Rzeszów, Poland
    103. Manifa Toruńska, Poland
    104. Manifest Wolnej Polki, Poland
    105. Mapa kościelnej pedofilli, Poland
    106. Marsz Godności, Poland
    107. Medical Students For Choice Poland, Poland
    108. Międzynarodowy Strajk Kobiet, Poland
    109. Nic o nas bez nas. Ruch kobiecy Gliwice i Pyskowice, Poland
    110. Nieformalna Grupa Czarny Protest, Poland
    111. Nieformalna Grupa Inicjatywna z Bydgoszczy, Poland
    112. Obywatelskie Stowarzyszenie “Możemy”, Poland
    113. Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet, Poland
    114. OSK Gryfino, Poland
    115. OSK Kielce, Poland
    116. OSK Lublin, Poland
    117. OSK Puławy, Poland
    118. OSK Sanok, Poland
    119. Plakaciary, Poland
    120. Polskie Towarzystwo Genderowe, Poland
    121. Polskie Towarzystwo Prawa Antydyskryminacyjnego, Poland
    122. Powislanska Akcja Kobiet, Poland
    123. Protest kobiet, Poland
    124. Ratujmy Kobiety, Poland
    125. Ratujmy Kobiety Tarnów, Poland
    126. Różowa skrzyneczka, Poland
    127. Stowarzyszenie Aktywne Kobiety, Poland
    128. Stowarzyszenie Dolnośląski Kongres Kobiet, Poland
    129. Stowarzyszenie im. Stanisława Brzozowskiego – Krytyka Polityczna, Poland
    130. Stowarzyszenie Inicjatyw Kobiecych, Poland
    131. Stowarzyszenie Klucz Stop Społecznym Wykluczeniom, Poland
    132. Stowarzyszenie Kobiecy Słupsk, Poland
    133. Stowarzyszenie Kobieta na PLUS, Poland
    134. Stowarzyszenie Kobiety Piaseczno, Poland
    135. Stowarzyszenie Kongres Kobiet, Poland
    136. Stowarzyszenie Koniński Kongres Kobiet, Poland
    137. Stowarzyszenie Łódzkie Dziewuchy Dziewuchom, Poland
    138. Stowarzyszenie Nasz Bocian, Poland
    139. Stowarzyszenie ON/OFF, Poland
    140. Stowarzyszenie ONE, Poland
    141. Stowarzyszenie Poprawy Spraw Alimentacyjnych – Dla Naszych Dzieci, Poland
    142. Stowarzyszenie Pro Femina, Poland
    143. Stowarzyszenie Prowincja Równości, Poland
    144. Stowarzyszenie Stan Równości, Poland
    145. Stowarzyszenie Stop Stereotypom, Poland
    146. Stowarzyszenie Szlakiem Kobiet, Poland
    147. Stowarzyszenie Wszechnicy Oświeceniowo-Racjonalistycznej, Poland
    148. Strajk Kobiet Sardynia, Poland
    149. Tęczowy Tarnów, Poland
    150. Toruńskie Dziewuchy, Poland
    151. Trójmiejska Akcja Kobieca, Poland
    152. Warszawski Strajk Kobiet, Poland
    153. Warszawskie Dziewuchy, Poland
    154. Wielkopolski Kongres Kobiet, Poland
    Portuguese Civil Society Organisations:
    155. ACTUAR - Associação para a Cooperação e o Desenvolvimento
    156. Amnistia Internacional Portugal
    157. ANIMAR - Associação Portuguesa para o Desenvolvimento Local
    158. Associação Portuguesa Mulheres Juristas
    159. ASSOCIAÇÃO DOS FILHOS E AMIGOS DE FARIM - AFAFC
    160. Associação Espaços - Projetos Alternativos de Mulheres e Homens
    161. Associação ILGA Portugal
    162. Associação para o Planeamento da Família
    163. Associação plano i
    164. Associação Portuguesa de Estudos sobre as Mulheres (APEM)
    165. Associação Portuguesa pelos Direitos da Mulher na Gravidez e Parto
    166. AVOAR - Associação para a Educação Artística e as Literacias
    167. Caniço Advogados
    168. Cannareporter
    169. CIDAC - Centro de Intervenção para o Desenvolvimento Amílcar Cabral
    170. FENACERCI - Federação Nacional de Cooperativas de Solidariedade Social
    171. FIAN Portugal
    172. GAT- Grupo de Ativistas em Tratamentos
    173. Independentemente
    174. Mulher Século XXI - Associação de Desenvolvimento e Apoio às Mulheres
    175. Plataforma Portuguesa para os Direitos das Mulheres
    176. PSI-ON Associação
    177. PTMC - Portugal Medical Cannabis
    178. Questão de Igualdade - Associação para a Inovação Social
    179. SEIES – Sociedade de Estudos e Intervenção em Engenharia Social, CRL
    180. UMAR- União de Mulheres Alternativa e Resposta

  • Member organisations - Portugal
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