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20 April 2021

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

To: Mariana Vieira da Silva, Minister of State for the Presidency,

Ana Paula Zacarias, State Secretary for European Affairs,

Rosa Monteiro, Secretary of State for Citizenship and Equality,

Ana Mendes Godinho, Minister for Labor, Solidarity and Social Security,

Ambassador Nuno Brito, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the European Union

19 April 2021,

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

Dear Ministers,

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 bill entitled “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 women human rights defenders, 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.

We stand ready to assist with any further information you may require on these issues.

Yours Sincerely,

__________________________________________________________________

Signatories:

European / International Civil Society Organisations:

Amnesty International

BPW (Business and Professional Women) Europe

Center for Reproductive Rights

Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties), Europe

European Women’s Lobby, Europe

European Network of Migrant Women, Europe 

End FGM European Network, Europe

EuroMed Rights, Europe

European Civic Forum, Europe

Front Line Defenders

Greenpeace, Europe 

Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)

Human Rights Watch

ILGA-Europe

International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion 

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, Europe

MSI Reproductive Choices 

Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI)

Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM)

Protection International

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG)

SOLIDAR

Women’s Link Worldwide 

Women on Waves 

Women on Web International Foundation

Young European Federalists (JEF Europe)

 

National Civil Society Organisations from 18 European countries (outside of Poland and Portugal):

Fédération Laïque des centres de planning familial, Belgium

Sensoa, Belgium

Platform for Reproductive Justice, Croatia

Le Planning familial, France

Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH), France

Internationale Liga für Menschenrechte, Germany 

pro familia Federal Office, Germany

Hellenic League for Human Rights, Greece

Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Hungary 

Irish Family Planning Association, Ireland

Men’s Development Network, Ireland

LAIGA 194, Italy

LIDU Lega italiana diritti dell’Uomo, Italy

Pro-Choice RICA (rete italiana contraccezione e aborto), Italy

SeNonOraQuando? Turin, Italy

UDI-Unione Donne in Italia APS, Italy

Latvian Human Rights Committee, Latvia

Papardes Zieds (Latvian Family Planning Association), Latvia 

Doctors for Choice, Malta

Liga voor de Rechten van de Mens, Netherlands

Rutgers, Netherlands

FOKUS - Forum for Women and Development, Norway

Association of Romanian Women in Italy (A.D.R.I.), Romania & Italy

Center for Community Security and Mediation, Romania

Corona Foundation, Romania

Romanian Women’s Lobby, Romania

Society for Feminist Analyses AnA, Romania

Freedom of Choice, Slovakia

Slovak Family Planning Association, Slovakia

Inštitut 8.marec, Slovenia

Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España (APDHE), Spain

Federación Planificación Familiar Estatal, Spain

RFSU, Sweden

Human Rights Association, Turkey

Polish Civil Society Organisations:

Association for Legal Intervention (SIP), Poland 

Federation for Women and Family Planning, Poland

Polish Federation of Business & Professional Women (BPW), Poland

Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet (All-Poland Women’s Strike), Poland

ADDP l’Association Défense de la Démocratie en Pologne (Stowarzyszenie na rzecz obrony demokracji w Polsce), Poland

ASTRA Network, Poland

BABA Lubuskie Stowarzyszenie na Rzecz Kobiet, Poland

Berliński Kongres Kobiet, Poland

Black Brussels Balloons, Poland

Czarny Protest Bielsko-Biała, Poland

Czarny Protest Gliwice, Poland

Danish Family Planning Association, Denmark

Democracy is OK (DOK), Poland

Demokratyczna Unia Kobiet, Poland

Dolnośląskie Forum Kobiet Stowarzyszeń i środowisk Kobiecych, Poland

Dziewuchy Berlin, Poland

Dziewuchy Dziewuchom Francja, Poland

Dziewuchy Dziewuchom SIeraadz, Poland

Dziewuchy Londyn, Poland

Dziewuchy Szczecin, Poland

Dziewuchy Szwajcaria, Poland

Farsa, Poland

Federacja na Rzecz Kobiet i Planowania Rodziny, Poland

Federacja Polskie Lobby Kobiet, Poland

Femini Berlin Polska, Poland

Feministyczne Stowarzyszenie Polonijne Elles sans Frontieres ASBL, Poland

Fundacja Klamra, Poland

Fundacja Cicha Tęcza, Poland

Fundacja Centrum Praw Kobiet, Poland

Fundacja Czas Dialogu, Poland

Fundacja Droga Kobiet, Poland

Fundacja Edukacja – Równość – Aktywność – Dialog Era Dialogu, Poland

Fundacja Feminoteka, Poland

29 Fundacja Głosuj na Kobietę, Poland

Fundacja im. Izabeli Jarugi-Nowackiej, Poland

Fundacja im. Kazimierza Łyszczyńskiego, Poland

Fundacja Inicjatywa Kobiet Aktywnych, Poland

Fundacja Kobiety Zmieniają Świat, Poland

Fundacja na Rzecz Równości i Emancypacji STER, Poland

Fundacja Nowoczesnej Edukacji SPUNK, Poland

Fundacja Prawnikon, Poland

Fundacja Przestrzenie Dialogu, Poland

Fundacja Rodzić po ludzku, Poland

Fundacja Trans-Fuzja, Poland

Galeria Inspiracji, Poland

Great Coalition for Equality and Choice, Poland

Grupa nieformalna Równość.info, Poland

Grupa Ponton, Poland

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland

Inicjatywa Sto Lat Głosu Kobiet, Poland

Koalicja KARAT, Poland

Kobiety w Sieci, Poland

KOD Kobiety, Poland

Konferencja Episkopatu Polek, Poland

Kongres Kobiet Północnej Wielkopolski (Stowarzyszenie „Metropolia Wielkopolska”), Poland

Kongres Kobiet w Tomaszowie, Poland

Kongres Kobiet Województwa Śląskiego, Poland

Kongres Świeckości, Poland

Koszalińskie Stowarzyszenie Aktywności Lokalnej Era Kobiet, Poland

Lambda Warszawa, Poland

Lubelska Koalicja na Rzecz Kobiet, Poland

Łódzki Szlak Kobiet, Poland

Manifa Bydgoska, Poland

Manifa Koszalin Strajk Kobiet, Poland

Manifa Lublin, Poland

Manifa Łódź, Poland

Manifa Rzeszów, Poland

Manifa Toruńska, Poland

Manifest Wolnej Polki, Poland

Mapa kościelnej pedofilli, Poland

Marsz Godności, Poland

Medical Students For Choice Poland, Poland

Międzynarodowy Strajk Kobiet, Poland

Nic o nas bez nas. Ruch kobiecy Gliwice i Pyskowice, Poland

Nieformalna Grupa Czarny Protest, Poland

Nieformalna Grupa Inicjatywna z Bydgoszczy, Poland

Obywatelskie Stowarzyszenie “Możemy”, Poland

Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet, Poland

OSK Gryfino, Poland

OSK Kielce, Poland

OSK Lublin, Poland

OSK Puławy, Poland

OSK Sanok, Poland

Plakaciary, Poland

Polskie Towarzystwo Genderowe, Poland

Polskie Towarzystwo Prawa Antydyskryminacyjnego, Poland

Powislanska Akcja Kobiet, Poland

Protest kobiet, Poland

Ratujmy Kobiety, Poland

Ratujmy Kobiety Tarnów, Poland

Różowa skrzyneczka, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Aktywne Kobiety, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Dolnośląski Kongres Kobiet, Poland

Stowarzyszenie im. Stanisława Brzozowskiego – Krytyka Polityczna, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Inicjatyw Kobiecych, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Klucz Stop Społecznym Wykluczeniom, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Kobiecy Słupsk, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Kobieta na PLUS, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Kobiety Piaseczno, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Kongres Kobiet, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Koniński Kongres Kobiet, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Łódzkie Dziewuchy Dziewuchom, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Nasz Bocian, Poland

Stowarzyszenie ON/OFF, Poland

Stowarzyszenie ONE, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Poprawy Spraw Alimentacyjnych – Dla Naszych Dzieci, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Pro Femina, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Prowincja Równości, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Stan Równości, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Stop Stereotypom, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Szlakiem Kobiet, Poland

Stowarzyszenie Wszechnicy Oświeceniowo-Racjonalistycznej, Poland

Strajk Kobiet Sardynia, Poland

Tęczowy Tarnów, Poland

Toruńskie Dziewuchy, Poland

Trójmiejska Akcja Kobieca, Poland

Warszawski Strajk Kobiet, Poland

Warszawskie Dziewuchy, Poland

Wielkopolski Kongres Kobiet, Poland
 

Portuguese Civil Society Organisations: 

ACTUAR - Associação para a Cooperação e o Desenvolvimento

Amnistia Internacional Portugal

ANIMAR - Associação Portuguesa para o Desenvolvimento Local

Associação Portuguesa Mulheres Juristas

ASSOCIAÇÃO DOS FILHOS E AMIGOS DE FARIM - AFAFC

Associação Espaços - Projetos Alternativos de Mulheres e Homens

Associação ILGA Portugal

Associação para o Planeamento da Família 

Associação plano i

Associação Portuguesa de Estudos sobre as Mulheres (APEM)

Associação Portuguesa pelos Direitos da Mulher na Gravidez e Parto

AVOAR - Associação para a Educação Artística e as Literacias

Caniço Advogados

Cannareporter

CIDAC - Centro de Intervenção para o Desenvolvimento Amílcar Cabral

FENACERCI - Federação Nacional de Cooperativas de Solidariedade Social

FIAN Portugal

GAT- Grupo de Ativistas em Tratamentos

Independentemente

Liga Portuguesa dos Direitos Humanos – Civitas, Portugal

Mulher Século XXI - Associação de Desenvolvimento e Apoio às Mulheres

Plataforma Portuguesa para os Direitos das Mulheres

PSI-ON Associação

PTMC - Portugal Medical Cannabis

Questão de Igualdade - Associação para a Inovação Social

SEIES – Sociedade de Estudos e Intervenção em Engenharia Social, CRL

UMAR- União de Mulheres Alternativa e Resposta