Human rights today: under attack in Poland, in Europe, in the world.

I talk with Mr Bogusław Stanisławski, who is a nestor of the Polish human rights defenders. Mr Stanisławski (born 1930) is a World War II survivor, was a diplomat during the Helsinki process in 1970s, member of the Solidarność in 1980s, co-creator and leader of the Amnesty International Poland (1999-2001).

Bogusław Stanisławski

It seems that human rights are in crisis in the West. Not only they are challenged by war and misery, there is a new wave of populism in many Western countries. What is the state of human rights in the world today?

Bogusław Stanisławski: Human rights are violated all over the world. You can’t find a country, where they are fully observed and protected. Human rights are violated everywhere. But cutting this super long story short, let us land in our country.

They were also violated in Poland in the past years. Since the last parliamentary election when the actually ruling party took over they are violating deliberately and systematically, according to the guidelines of the adopted political line: divisive, pointing at critics as at the “worse part” of national community.

I am very sorry about this situation. With deep regret I have to say that the idea of human dignity and equality is coming under assault from the narrative of blame and scapegoating, sometimes even xenophobic.  At the background of all the moves in internal policy there is the bargain:

Promise of security and betterment in exchange for surrendering established civil rights and liberties.

There is a growing number of critics, people undermining the universality of human rights. Some populists question the value of human rights. What is your response?

The question itself implies that there are doubts about it and the very fact of existing doubts is the alarming signal of the crisis of fundamental values. And there are two possible ways of reacting to this crisis: either to surrender and to go back to the times when human dignity in all its aspects was not protected by international law or to face the challenge and to intensify the struggle for the protection of fundamental rights deserved by every human being. In my opinion, answer to the question, which way to go is to be given not by anybody – a philosopher, a sociologist or any sort of an academician; it is to be given by the historical experience. Human rights were defined not as any philosophical construction. They were defined as the reaction to all the horrors of the 20th century and as a safeguard: never again! I am one of those  who lived through the most cruel Second World War and who is fully aware of its dramatic inheritance and – may be – this is why any doubt in answering the question which way to go is for me nothing else but blindness.

What we need now to save our future is not any philosophical deliberation. What we urgently need now, in this unstable world, is the global commitment for core values. What we need now is the global action to affirm humanity and fundamental dignity of every human being. What we urgently need now are the courageous voices standing up against injustice and dehumanization – the voices of human rights heroes.

And that is my answer to your question: definite and univocal.

UN Human Rights logo since 2011

Coming down from the global level locally. Can you give me examples how the government violates human rights in Poland?

Under these circumstances the three-partite division (separation of powers) is systematically broken and voice of parliamentary minority is commonly ignored. The independent Civil Service Corps was dissolved in favour for party nominees. The authorities systematically attack judicial independence subjecting the judiciary to political interference. Constitutional Tribunal was made subordinated to parliamentary majority. National Judiciary Council was deprived of its autonomy.  The Supreme Court is under strong attack of blame widely spread by party-controlled media and the legislation has attempted to limit its independence through the exchange of its judges what is contradictory to constitutional provisions and is in the agenda of the European Court of Justice. The space for dissent is shrinking due to expanded surveillance powers enjoyed by law enforcement officers. Hundreds of unjust prosecutions are taking place and judges who openly oppose political interference into their independence face harassment and disciplinary proceedings. Mechanisms and guarantees for protecting human rights are drastically undermined.

There is an opposition to the government actions. You are an active participant in the opposition activities. Can you tell more about those actions?

The citizens’ opposition is still active and efficiently slow down the implementation of government policy in the areas hostile to the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Much hope is given to the coming parliamentary election and as an active participant in civic protests I dare say and I hope that it will change Polish political scene alongside with the decision-makers who shape the approach to fundamental human rights.

Here is a case. A civil society activist Lyudmila Kozłowska, a Ukrainian citizen and wife of a Polish activist Bartosz Kramek, was arrested when she was landing last August in Brussels. She was deported because the Polish government had issued the highest alert about her being a persona non grata in the EU. A month later, she spoke at event in Bundestag in Berlin and in the European Parliament in Brussels on the invitation of MEPs. She entered the EU on a German and Belgian visaI am asking myself: either the Polish government is engaged in political prosecution of the Polish opposition or at least it is completely unsuccessful in convincing its allies and partners about its security concerns?

For the first time I met Lyudmyla, an Ukrainian living in Poland for a long time, a human rights defender, many years ago, I think – in 2011, when she asked me as the Amnesty International activist to meet a group of refugees from Kazakhstan at the time of mass protests of workers in the Zhanaozen oilfields and heavy crackdowns from the side of Kazakh authorities. I met her again in 2014 while she, as the chair of the Open Dialogue Foundation, was one of the organisers of public demonstrations in Warsaw in support of Euromaidan protesters in Kiev. A warm personality, deeply involved in what she was doing, she was always in the front line of what was going on. It was then when I was asked to join the Foundation Council. As its member, I had a chance of learning more about the Foundation activity and I was under much impression of its broad scale and efficiency in disclosing human rights abuses in Kazakhstan, Moldova and Ukraine at international forums – in Brussels and Strasbourg in particular. As a peak achievement of the Foundation lobbying I regard the report of PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) on the abuses of Interpol and the lack of international control over the “red notes” resulted in the overuse of the alert system by the non-democratic regimes aimed at harassing the flying dissidents: the report contributed to introducing positive changes in Interpol internal regulations.

Soon after the rumour started to circulate that the Foundation is financed by “dirty money” flowing from Crimea and that it is connected with Russian security service. As I had access – as a Council member – to the Foundation financial reports, I was fully aware that the Foundation was largely supported by Lyudmyla’s  brother, a businessman in Sevastopol, what was clearly said in the reports and was fully accepted by Council members. However – as it is commonly known – any rumour lives its own life and that one burst with new power when Lyudmyla’s husband, a Polish citizen, joined the street protests in July 2017 against breaking the Polish Constitution and limiting civil liberties. He was just an average protester but was soon recognized as the author of the revolutionary manifesto published on his Facebook wall and I don’t believe it happened without inspiration from the side of security forces to drop distrust towards the whole opposition movement.

However, they showed their faces when Lyudmyla included Poland into her lobbying targets in Strasbourg in defence of the rule of law. Then she was publicly considered as the one who is dangerous for state security and – as such – introduced into the Schengen Information System (SIS) what is synonymous with the entry ban to Schengen zone. No proof of any guilt was given anywhere, no court procedure was introduced – everything was covered up by top state secret and only the rumour of “dirty money” joined with contacts with Russian security service was more widely spread. The presumption that the whole affair around the SIS was unlawful and possibly based on fabricated documents was deepened after she received the short term entry permit to cross the German border to speak in Bundestag and – soon after – the permit to enter Belgium where she applies for permanent stay permit as the wife of EU citizen. And I wish her luck in her endeavours to be fully accepted again in the EU territory and to regain all the possibilities of further activity on behalf of the protection of human rights and fundamental EU values.

I have no doubt that her absence in European capitals and parliaments would be the loss for the fight for the rule of law and established civil liberties in post-soviet and East European countries and I can’t stop thinking that introducing the name of Lyudmyla Kozłowska into the SIS was, first of all, the warning addressed to Polish opposition against looking for support in international forums and the EU institutions through saying: “look, we have got the tools and we are powerful enough to harass those who will dare doing it”.


Now, the next difficult topic. The hate speech. You have been a diplomat during the Helsinki process, you have been a co-creator of the Amnesty International, and at the age of 88 last November you found yourself a victim of a hate speech!

The victim of hate speech? You mean this incident with Madame professor, MP, who noticed me standing with the banner of constitution and perceived me as a poor, old man who should be taken home, fed and taken care of. She offended me by saying “poor old man takes money for standing here with the constitution”.

Did you take the money for coming to the protest?

Well, you are kidding. But I didn’t feel offended very much, because she has no moral qualification to offend me personally. What is terrifying is that she – as a Polish MP – offended the Polish Constitution calling it „piece of garbage”.

Last, but not least: we are facing the European elections in May. Are human rights at stake? Do they matter?

They are of utmost importance! At the time of populist invasion the elections are the main battlefield in the fight for fundamental European values included in Art. 2 of the Treaty on European Union and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. And that is why I think that the main slogan widely spread by European Parliament for the sake of the election “This time I am voting” is simply too short. I would be happy if it is extended by adding what I am voting for: freedom, equality, solidarity, rule of law.

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