The Rafto Prize for 2018 to Adam Bodnar and the Ombudsman for Human Rights highlights the rolling back of democracy and human rights protections in Poland. It is crucial that the international community, the EU, Norway and other European countries take a clear stance against human rights violations and attacks on the rule of law that take place in our own region.
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Thursday 27 February that it will hold back funding for activities under the auspices of the Polish Ministry of Justice under the EEA agreement, citing concern for the deterioration of rule of law and independent of the courts under PiS rule as the reasons for this decision. The decision follows that of the Norwegian Courts Administration, entrusted with the management of the EEA funds for the justice sector for Norway, to stop their cooperation with the Polish Ministry of Justice. Director Sven Marius Urke of the Courts Administration states that their trust in the sincere cooperation of their Polish counterparts is broken: "Poland clearly wants to turn the courts into a political tool. We cannot partner with a Ministry of Justice that actively undermines the function of the courts".
The Courts Administration states that the advice of the Norwegian Association of Judges has had significant influence on their decision: "This is cooperation between our and their courts. Without the trust of judges, the arrangement isn’t sustainable", Urke adds. The Norwegian Association of Judges consults with the Polish judges’ associations Iustitia and Themis. It has also joined efforts of the Norwegian Bar Association, the International Commission of Jurists Norway, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Amnesty International Norway, and the Human Rights House Network, facilitated by the Rafto Foundation. The decision is in line with recommendations presented by this group at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Friday 14 December.
"Judges, academics and lawyers from all over Europe have demonstrated against Polands new judicial reform, which in practice has given Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro the opportunity to appoint, fire and punish judges without objections or opposition", says Executive Director of The Rafto Foundation, Jostein Hole Kobbeltvedt. Rafto Foundation and partners have worked for a year to support Polish judges under heavy pressure to conform their judgments to the positions of the Polish government, in violation of both European Law and the Constitution of Poland.
The conflict over the Polish Constitutional Tribunal and the Supreme Court are important internationally because they are symbolic of an alarming tendency where the independence of courts increasingly is under political pressure. "The soon irreversible changes of the Polish rule of law is a threat to democracy and human rights throughout Europe. If the critical development of the polish rule of law is allowed to continue, the Polish courts may lose its independence by April 2020. The situation is critical", Kobbeltvedt adds.