Position on the meaning of the Reykjavik Declaration adopted at the Fourth Council of Europe Summit

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Position on the meaning of the Reykjavik Declaration adopted at the Fourth Council of Europe Summit

Warsaw, 30 October 2023

Position on the meaning of the Reykjavik Declaration adopted at the Fourth Council of Europe Summit

1. Democratic and pro-European parties won the elections in Poland on 15 October 2023. These parties are working together and will soon form a government. This will put an end to eight years of action by the United Right (led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski), which - in flagrant violation of the rule of law - was aiming to turn Poland into an authoritarian state. The outcome of the Polish elections is a good signal not only for Poland, but also for Europe. It represents a strengthening of a catalogue of common values - led by the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights - as the common denominator for the interaction of European states, including within the framework of the Council of Europe and the European Union. The range of challenges that the new Polish government will be confronted with is immense. Irrespective of the damaged public finances, it will be necessary above all to restore the standards of a democratic state in Poland. In this context, the Reykjavik Declaration should play a fundamental role in the repair of Polish democracy. For, on the one hand, it contains a catalogue of basic tests of a democratic state, which will allow a clear and unambiguous assessment of the extent of the damage to the rule of law in Poland caused by the United Right, and on the other hand, the Declaration clarifies the main challenges of the present day. The new government will therefore have a good point of reference in formulating a modern programme for a democratic Poland.

2. Recall that on 16-17 May 2023, the 4th Council of Europe summit was held in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik. Its subject was a discussion on the redefinition of the objectives of the Council of Europe's action in the face of Russia's aggression against Ukraine and the criminal actions carried out by Russian troops in Ukraine. In this light, the joint responsibility of states in opposing autocratic tendencies, growing threats to human rights, democracy and the rule of law was reaffirmed. 
At the end of the meeting, the Heads of State and Government adopted a document (Reykjavik Declaration: United around our Values). In this Declaration, they addressed the fundamental challenges currently confronting the community of European countries, including clarifying the main lines of action. These concern the following issues:

•    Strong support was expressed for Ukraine "for as long as it takes", with clarification of international mechanisms to ensure accountability of Russian aggressors, accountability for other international crimes and financial responsibility of Russia (reparations) for the damage caused, creating a Registry of Damages and accepting commitments to prosecute perpetrators of crimes against children;

•    It clarified - in the face of growing authoritarian tendencies - the areas and actions necessary to guarantee common European values (notably the protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, expressing opposition to attempts by states to reintroduce the death penalty);

•    Given the Council of Europe's leading role in identifying new challenges on a global scale and the action needed to guarantee human rights in particular, the Declaration addresses three major such global challenges: environmental protection, climate change and loss of biodiversity in their relation to human rights;

•    Finally, there was a focus on the need to increase the effectiveness of the Council of Europe in its work to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law; the central role of the European Convention on Human Rights and ensuring the effectiveness of its obligations, including in particular compliance by Member States with the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, was raised in particular; in this context, the importance of the interaction of the Council of Europe with the European Union as its 'principal partner' was emphasised (also in this connection, the problem of the implementation by States of the judgments of the Court of Justice of the EU arises).

 3. As mentioned above, the Reykjavik Declaration specifies tests that provide a good identification of the extent of the destruction of the rule of law in Poland under the United Right. Poland has ceased to be a country governed by the rule of law during this period, and the foundations of both the Council of Europe and the European Union have been violated. This is particularly evident in the light of the commitments of the Heads of State and Government to the Reykjavik Declaration. The Declaration has not really appeared in the public narrative in Poland (nor has it been translated into Polish). Let us look - in the light of the Declaration's provisions - at the fundamental problems the United Right is leaving behind. 

•    The Declaration contains a commitment to upholding the rule of law in a reliable manner for the benefit of every citizen, laying the foundations for a European legal community of identical values and dialogue between the judicial authorities of the Council of Europe member states, including by increasing the visibility and strengthening the role of the Venice Commission, for example by giving greater visibility and status to its Rule of Law Checklist and exploring ways in which the Council of Europe can better support the implementation of its recommendations. This is particularly relevant in the context of assessing the period of the United Right's rule in Poland. For this period saw the progressive dismantling of all three pillars of the Council of Europe (democracy, the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms) and, most dramatically, the collapse of the rule of law. The Republic of Poland has lost its sovereignty. For a state whose constitutional organs deliberately and consciously violate its own constitution is not sovereign. Poland has become a constitutionally bankrupt state under the rule of the United Right. The rule of law was replaced by the rule of lawlessness. The independence of the judiciary and the independence of judges were destroyed, the law was abused instrumentally for the realisation of political goals with no constitutional basis, constitutional guarantees of individual freedom and rights were liquidated. The anti-constitutional behaviour of public authorities has been repeatedly condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Justice of the EU, the Venice Commission, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Commission and the European Parliament. The scale of violations of Council of Europe and European Union law was so large that unlawful Poland ceased to be an internal problem of our country and became a European problem. 

•    The Declaration addresses key global challenges. It emphasises the need to strengthen action to protect the environment, to halt climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity. These actions must be seen in the context of the protection of human rights. Hence, there is an annex to the Declaration that talks about the environment in the context of the Council of Europe's actions. The Declaration emphasises the importance of recognising the right to a healthy environment, the strength of which it sees in the constitutional provisions of member states. In the Council of Europe, however, there is an ongoing discussion regarding the recognition of the right to a healthy environment in the European Convention on Human Rights in the form of the adoption of an additional protocol. Particular attention has been paid to the role of NGOs and regional organisations in the environmental process. This is a knotty issue in the context of the drastic destruction of forests in Poland under the United Right government by cutting down trees on a scale previously unheard of, destroying Natura 2000 areas, harassing activists, obstructing access to information, the judiciary, and limiting participation in decision-making processes.  The Declaration addresses the issue of migration in general terms, emphasising the need to fight human trafficking and protect victims, including migrants. It also emphasises the need to help the so-called frontline states (one of the most urgent tasks of the new democratic government will be to put an end to inhumane practices towards migrants in the Polish-Belarusian border area). The Declaration pays attention to particularly marginalised groups, including women. In this connection, it points to the Istanbul Convention, which plays a special role in protecting women's rights in relation to violence. The Declaration refers to a number of other issues - digital technologies, media freedom, hate speech, or the instrumental use of history - highlighting their priority for the Council of Europe and thus its member states.

•    The particular deficit of democracy, the rule of law and the observance of human rights in Poland is revealed in the light of the call formulated in the Declaration to increase the effectiveness of compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. In its eight years in government, the United Right has undermined the foundations of the rule of law, and in recent years has openly begun to question the substantive provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. The same is true with regard to membership of the European Union: the main elements of the rule of law, well established in EU law, have been undermined, the legal foundations of the EU (the principle of the primacy of EU law, the autonomy of EU law, the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the EU) have been called into question.  The destruction of the basic principles of the functioning of the state is of such a profound nature that Polexit has begun to take real shape. 

•    The violation of international law, including the legal standards of the Council of Europe and the European Union and, above all, the Polish Constitution in matters concerning the rights of migrants, including the use of illegal pushbacks, the use of hate speech against migrants and various minority groups as a political instrument, necessitates a profound change in policy, law and practice by politicians and officers of many services

•    Last but not least, it is important to return to the issue of helping Ukraine against the brutal aggression of Putin's regime. Polish society has provided massive spontaneous aid to Ukrainian refugees, and Poland has also become an important logistical hub in providing military and economic international assistance to Ukraine. However, more than a year after Russia's aggression against Ukraine, the United Right unhesitatingly reached out to anti-Ukrainian emotions in order to consolidate its electorate during the election campaign, the violation of the rule of law in Poland was attempted to cover up without embarrassment with arguments related to 'aid given to Ukraine', and a narrative began to appear with increasing frequency, alluding to the infamous nationalist practices of the early 1920s, according to which an independent Ukraine, as a potential ally of Germany, would constitute a threat to Poland. There were even threats to stop providing military aid to Ukraine and to block its accession negotiations with the EU. All this in the context of a violent campaign against an important EU and NATO member state, the Federal Republic of Germany, and against the European Union. This had little to do with the intention expressed in the Reykjavik Declaration to fully support Ukraine against the aggression of the Putin regime. It contradicted Poland's fundamental interests, which should be directed towards playing the role of a promoter of Ukraine on the path to the EU and holding a balanced discussion on the difficult Polish-Ukrainian past.  
4. We attach the text of the Reykjavik Declaration and its annexes to this statement. This is because we believe that the Declaration should become the subject of an intensive debate in Poland, not only in the context of assessing the destructive actions of the United Right. For the Declaration is also an optimistic document - it helps to find the way and to specify the actions for the restoration of the rule of law in Poland and for the rebuilding of a democratic state and the formulation by the new government of a programme to meet the fundamental challenges of the future. 
      On behalf of Poland, the Declaration was signed by the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda. This implies his special responsibility in the current intra-political situation in Poland. As president of the state, he should act not as a party functionary of the Law and Justice party, but independently as head of state.
Therefore, we ask the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, to support actions that will lead to the full implementation of the commitments made at the Fourth Summit of the Council of Europe in the Reykjavik Declaration. As representatives of civil society, we declare that we will observe and support the actions of public authorities to repair Polish democracy and restore the rule of law in Poland.

- Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
- Institute of Public Affairs 
- Committee for the Defence of Democracy
- Conference of Polish Ambassadors
- Professor Zbigniew Hołda Association
- Free Courts

[4th Summit] Reykjavík-DeclarationE

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