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July 25, 2017

Veto of Polish Legislation is Welcome, if not Complete, Step to Protect Democratic Institutions

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today welcomed Polish President Andrzej Duda's statement that he intends to veto two pieces of legislation that would bring Poland's judiciary under the control of parliament. President Duda plans to sign a third piece of legislation giving the Polish minister of justice power to appoint judges to the country’s lower courts. Human Rights First notes that this move indicates that the rule of law remains under threat and calls on the U.S. government to continue to urge President Duda to veto any measure that would threaten judicial independence in Poland.

"President Duda showed today that he may have the courage to preserve the rule of law by deciding to veto this legislation, but as long as any government official tries to control the judicial system, democratic institutions will remain under threat in Poland," said Human Rights First’s Melissa Hooper. "Since the end of the Cold War, Poland has been a democratic leader in Europe and an example for other countries. Without an independent judiciary, many of the Polish peoples’ hard-won victories will be undermined." 

One of the two bills President Duda has pledged to veto is the Act on the Supreme Court, which would force the resignation of all of Poland’s Supreme Court judges, who would be replaced by individuals selected by the justice minister. The other, the Act on the National Council of the Judiciary, would give parliamentary appointees veto power over judicial selection. The bills will now return to parliament, where they could be passed with a legislative override, though that outcome is unlikely. 

Tens of thousands of Poles, judicial representatives from several European Union countries, and representatives of the E.U. have urged President Duda to veto the third law—which he may do until August 3. On July 21, the State Department released a strongly worded statement against the legislation which noted that “a strong and healthy democracy in Poland is vital to relations between our two countries.” This statement followed on the heels of President Trump’s address earlier this month in Warsaw, which made no mention of the Polish government’s attempts to subvert rule of law in the country.   

“Earlier this month, President Trump inappropriately lauded Poland for its defense of democratic values,” added Hooper. “Instead he should call on President Duda to actually defend these values and veto this third bill.”

For more information or to speak with Hooper, contact Christopher Plummer at PlummerC@humanrightsfirst.org