Polish Supreme Court slams ‘unconstitutional’ govt reforms
Poland’s Supreme Court justices on Tuesday denounced the right-wing government’s controversial judicial reforms as “unconstitutional”, adding their voice to a chorus of criticism at home and abroad.
The reforms introduced by the Law and Justice (PiS) party had already led the European Commission to launch unprecedented disciplinary proceedings against Warsaw over what it sees as systemic threats to the independence of the Polish judiciary.
Many of the new legal provisions “go against the standards of the Polish constitution, in addition to violating the principle of separation of powers, the independence of the courts and judges and the security of tenure of judges,” the Supreme Court said on its website.
The statement was adopted by the general assembly of the court’s justices. Sixty-nine of the judges endorsed the text, three voted against and three others abstained.
One of the new laws approved last month by President Andrzej Duda ends the mandates of nearly half the Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf, who denounced the legislation as a “coup”.
Another reform has given parliament the power to choose members of the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), whose task is to oversee judicial impartiality. Critics say this change risks reducing the body’s independence.
KRS president Dariusz Zawistowski resigned this week “as a sign of protest”.
Last month, the European Commission triggered article seven of the EU treaty against Warsaw, which could eventually lead to the “nuclear option” of the suspension of Poland’s voting rights within the bloc.
Poland’s new Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who was chosen as part of the governing party’s quest to mend strained ties with the EU, said last week that he hoped to explain the basis for the reforms to Brussels without having to make concessions.
The PiS government began making the changes after coming to power in late 2015 and says the reforms are needed to combat corruption and overhaul the judicial system still haunted by the communist era.
US takes tough stance at allies’ North Korea talks
The United States urged an escalation in pressure on North Korea over its nuclear missile program Tuesday, despite a more cautious tone from key US ally South Korea.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, co-hosting the Vancouver event with Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland, called for North Korean ships to be intercepted and for new punitive measures to be implemented every time Pyongyang tests new weapons.
He received tough backing from his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono in public opening remarks, but South Korea’s Kang Kyung-Wha sounded a more cautious note and told the 20 senior envoys sanctions pressure is already making progress.
“First, we all must insist a full enforcement of UN Security Council sanctions as this is the letter of the law. We especially urge Russia and China in this matter,” Tillerson said.
“Second, we all must work together to improve maritime interdiction operations. We must put an end to illicit ship-to-ship transfers that undermine UN sanctions.
“And, third, there must be new consequences for the regime whenever new aggression occurs.”
The tough US stance comes as some have welcomed North Korea’s decision to meet with Seoul’s representatives and to send a delegation to the South’s upcoming Winter Olympics as a sign that tensions may be lowered.
But Kono urged the allies not to let their guard down as they seek to force Pyongyang to agree to negotiate its own nuclear disarmament.
Without mentioning South Korea by name, Kono warned that Kim Jong-Un’s regime “must be intending to drive a wedge between those tough countries and those that are not so tough.”
“I am aware that some people argue that because North Korea is engaging in inter-Korean dialogue we should reward them by lifting up sanctions or by providing some sort of assistance,” he said.
“Frankly, I think this view is just too naive. I believe that North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear missile programs,” he said.
For her part, Kang welcomed the international solidarity behind the sanctions regime, but her opening remarks in Tuesday’s session carried a more optimistic message than that of her Japanese neighbor.
“I believe that the two tools, tough sanctions and pressure on the one hand and the offer of a different brighter future on the other, have worked hand in hand,” she said.
“Indeed the concerted efforts of the international community has begun to bear fruit,” she explained.
“We should take note that the North has come back to inter-Korean dialogue for its participation in the Winter Games, as evidence and observations accumulate to show that sanctions and pressure are beginning to take effect.”
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