International and regional actors meet to express solidarity with Polish Commissioner for Human Rights

Left to right: Marcin Walecki (ODIHR), Eric Mongelard (OHCHR), Tamar Gvaramadze (Georgian NHRI, ENNHRI), Debbie Kohner (ENNHRI), Adam Bodnar (Polish Commissioner for Human Rights), Günther Kräuter (International Ombudsman Institute), Alan Miller (GANHRI), Markus Jaeger (Council of Europe), Hanna Machińska (Office of Polish Commissioner for Human Rights), Mirosław Wróblewski (Office of Polish Commissioner for Human Rights), Elisa Klein Díaz (International Ombudsman Institute).

International and regional actors met with the office of the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr Adam Bodnar, on Monday, 25 March in Warsaw, expressing their solidarity and support in light of the recent civil action brought against the Commissioner by a public television station.

At the meeting were representatives of the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI), the Council of Europe, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) and the International Ombudsman Institute.

They expressed a commitment to act in support of the Commissioner, who has consistently spoken up for the protection of the rule of law and judicial independence in Poland throughout his mandate.

Participants raised their concern that the lawsuit was filed against the Commissioner as a private individual for a statement made in his professional capacity, making reference to the joint statement (available in Polish) released in February by ENNHRI and GANHRI, which pointed out that such civil action is inconsistent with Poland’s international commitments to protect institutional independence of the Commissioner who has a constitutional mandate to speak up for human rights in Poland. Under the UN Paris Principles, the decision-making body and staff of a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), such as the Commissioner’s office, must have functional immunity.

There was also emphasis placed on the importance of additional budget being provided for the Commissioner’s office to correspond to its additional mandate to manage exceptional complaints. An adequate budget was underlined as crucial for the effective fulfillment of the Commissioner’s mandate and is a requirement under the Paris Principles.

JPEG - 78.3 kb

The meeting was followed the next day by a press briefing on the recent adoption of the Principles on the Protection and Promotion of the Ombudsman Institution (Venice Principles) by the European Commission for Democracy Through Law, which also includes a provision on functional immunity for deputies and decision-making staff of Ombuds institutions.

At the press briefing, ENNHRI’s Secretary-General, Debbie Kohner, stressed the importance of independence in both the Venice Principles and Paris Principles and pointed out the negative reputational impacts for the Polish government if it does not respect the international standards applicable to the Commissioner.

“In order to fulfill its mission, the Commissioner must be free to speak on issues related to human rights,” she said.

She further added: “We are worried that the scope of the responsibilities of the Commissioner’s office has been significantly increased and therefore we recommend increasing the budget of the Commissioner in line with the increase in duties”.

» Read the Joint Statement by ENNHRI and GANHRI in Support of Adam Bodnar, the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights
» Read ENNHRI’s 2016 statement of support for Poland’s Commissioner for Human Rights
» Read ENNHRI’s 2016 joint statement with global and regional bodies in support and appreciation of the Polish Commissioner