GENEVA / WARSAW (27 October 2017) – The independence of Poland’s judicial system and other crucial democratic standards like the separation of powers are under threat, UN Special Rapporteur Diego García-Sayán has concluded after an official mission to the country.
“The reform and modernization of judicial institutions is a legitimate objective for any Government to pursue, but any such reform should aim at strengthening, not undermining, the independence of the justice system,” said Mr. García-Sayán, who is mandated to monitor the independence of judges and lawyers.
“The Constitutional Tribunal is the first victim of the reform. The tribunal is still in place, but its independence and legitimacy have been seriously undermined.
“I call on all political forces to engage in good faith in a constructive dialogue aimed at restoring the authority of the tribunal and its role as guarantor of the supremacy of the constitution.”
The Supreme Court was also at risk of being undermined, the Special Rapporteur said. Reforms currently under way would potentially weaken its independence and capacity to ensure checks and balances, and to protect and promote human rights, he noted in a statement at the end of his mission.
“The very fact that the text of such important law is being discussed behind closed doors is a source of serious concern,” he said. “Any legislation on the functioning of the supreme judicial organ of the country should be the subject of an open and transparent debate.”
Mr. García-Sayán said he was particularly concerned about the proposed reduction of the mandatory age of retirement for Supreme Court judges.
“If confirmed, this would constitute a flagrant breach of the principle of non-removability of judges, and result in the forced retirement of 40 per cent of the members of the court, including its president,” he said.
During his visit, from 23 to 27 October, Mr. Diego García-Sayán met government and legislative officials, judges, lawyers and prosecutors in Warsaw. He also met academics and representatives of civil society, including the Commissioner for Human Rights, UN agencies and regional organisations.
The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report of his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2018.
Mr. Diego García-Sayán took up his functions as Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers in December 2016. Mr. García-Sayán was formerly a judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for two consecutive terms. During his tenure, he was elected Vice-President of the Court (2008-2009) and President of the Court for two consecutive terms (2009-2013). He has long-standing experience working on human rights issues in a variety of settings, including for the United Nations and the Organization of American States. Among others, he was: Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the Peace Agreements at El Salvador and for the subsequent verification of the agreements reporting directly to the Security Council; member and Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances during several years; member of the Redesign Panel on the United Nations System of Administration of Justice, appointed by the UN Secretary-General in 2006; Head of the Electoral Mission of the Organisation of American States (OAs) in Guatemala during the general elections (2007
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, country page – Poland
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