State Department Urged to Press Duda to Veto Harmful Legislation, Protect Polish NGOs

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Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to urge Polish President Andrzej Duda to veto legislation that would severely restrict the ability of nongovernmental organizations to operate within Poland. If signed, the proposed law would consolidate all power over NGO funding in the hands of an appointee named by the prime minister’s office, effectively allowing the Polish government to decide which groups receive financial support.

"This law is a serious threat for the independence of the civil society in Poland. It will limit groups’ ability to assess and monitor the legality of the government’s actions, as makes it more difficult to defend and protect human rights. It will affect in particular the most vulnerable groups, such as migrants, asylum seekers, LGBTI persons, and women,” said Aleksandra Chrzanowska, a board member of Poland’s Association for Legal Intervention. "It is clear to us that the new law is about taking control over civil society organizations.” 

Passed by the Polish Senate on Thursday, the anti-NGO legislation would establish a "National Institute of Freedom” and a "National Center for Civil Society Development." The Institute would give the Polish Prime Minister's office power over a director that would control distribution of all civil society funding—including funding from the European Union and the so-called Norway grants, the largest sources of funds for NGOs in Central and Eastern Europe. 

Polish NGOs and human rights groups view “The Law on the National Institute of Freedom” as a blatant attempt to silence critics of the Law and Justice party. The law is particularly troublesome as Poland has made a number of moves toward authoritarianism, including by changing the makeup and rules governing the Constitutional Tribunal to prevent it from checking current government policies, and by giving the treasury ministry control of all public media—as documented by Human Rights First's 2017 report, Poland's New Front: A Government's War against Civil Society.

The proposed law was developed in response to protests earlier this year in response to the Law and Justice government’s attempts to place various judicial bodies, including the Supreme Court, under the control of parliament or the executive branches of government.

Secretary Tillerson should tell President Duda loud and clear that partners of the United States stand on the side of the rule of law,” added Human Rights First’s Melissa Hooper.

For more information or to speak with Hooper, contact Christopher Plummer at PlummerC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3310.

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