|Hanna Machińska says that Poland should continue in its efforts to combat corruption and upgrade public officials' ethical standards|
Ewa Boniecka: How would you asses Poland’s cooperation with the Council of Europe?
Hanna Machińska: Poland has been, from the very beginning, extremely active in all spheres of the Council of Europe’s activities: the country has already ratified 87 conventions and Polish members of parliament as well as members of local authorities are present at all forums of the Council of Europe.
One of the important areas of Polish participation is the debate on the reform of the European Court of Human Rights and the popular Warsaw seminars on the implementation of the court’s judgments. Poland is active in disseminating knowledge on human rights by organizing training programs for judges, prosecutors and other legal professionals.
Another example of Poland’s participation is the promotion of and education about human rights values through summer academies on human rights and democracy, organized for experts and educational leaders from countries of the Eastern Partnership [an initiative aimed at improving ties between six post-Soviet states and the European Union].
On what areas is the Council of Europe currently focusing its attention?
The Council of Europe’s activities focus on the three pillars: human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The human rights activities are based mainly on the European Convention on Human Rights.
In recent years the Council of Europe has focused on new and challenging human rights issues. Its involvement in the democratic transformation in the Arab Spring countries is particularly noteworthy. The Council has established several important institutions for protecting human rights, such as the European Commissioner for Human Rights (Nils Muiznieks), GRETA (responsible for human trafficking), and ECRI (which monitors racism and discrimination).
In the area of democracy it promotes democratic standards, of which the most spectacular example is the World Forum for Democracy.
Finally, when it comes to promoting the rule of law, the Council elaborates common standards and policies.
Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland has a strong influence on the Council’s actions. At the moment he is involved in matters including anti-poverty strategy, the process of integrating the Roma, actions against discrimination as well as implementing human rights standards in the area of the freedom of expression.
The Council’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence has not yet been ratified in Poland because some politicians oppose it on the grounds that it opens a gateway to a different definition of gender. Could this endanger the convention?
The convention was signed by Poland’s representative in December 2012 and if a state signs it, it has the duty to ratify it as well. During the adoption process, some reservations may arise as to the application of certain provisions. But that cannot, however, jeopardize the entire convention.
In my view the process of ratification should go smoothly in Poland and I cannot imagine the convention not being ratified. Let me add that the convention has already been ratified by Albania, Portugal and Turkey.
In its most recent report, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) gave a mixed evaluation of Poland. How do you see the findings?
It’s important to remember that the report focuses on preventing corruption among members of parliament, judges and prosecutors and recommends specific measures addressed to those groups that need to be implemented.
In its most recent report, GRECO describes the progress Poland has made in combating corruption. It emphasizes that a solid legal framework has been established for preventing conflicts of interests and ultimately corruption.
Nevertheless, while the report is generally positive, it points to the areas where further changes are necessary: for example that Poland should continue in its efforts to combat corruption and upgrade public officials’ ethical standards.
I think that what Poland should find particularly encouraging is GRECO’s conclusion that further progress in eliminating conflicts of interests and corruption will lead to strengthening public trust towards members of parliament and the judiciary, which – as the report says – still seem wanting.
How all the recommendations for Poland are implemented will be assessed by GRECO in the second half of 2014.
It seems that average Poles are most interested in how to use the Council of Europe’s mechanisms in cases when the Polish judicial system has failed and they want to file their claim with the European Court of Human Rights. How do you see it?
When I was running the Information Office of the Council of Europe in Warsaw there were hundreds of people wanting to lodge complains to the European Court, but they were not familiar with the provisions of the Convention, so these were mostly inadmissible cases.
Now, the understanding of the Convention is better, but people are still unfamiliar with the admissibility criteria. This means that the Court is constantly being flooded with thousands of applications from all over Europe. This prevents the Court from operating efficiently. At the end of 2012, the total number of all cases before the Court amounted to 128,000.
The average number of applications filed with the European judicial body was 0.79 for every 10,000 citizens in 2012, while the average number for Poland was 1.06. With such a great number of applications, the Court had to change the organization of its work and is now going through a series of reforms.
Fifteen members of families of victims of the Katyn massacre are presenting their case against the Russian Federation to the Court for the second time. How is the case expected to develop?
The case is important both for the applicants and for the general public in Poland. In the first judgment from April 2012 the Court found, under Article 2, that the mass murder of the Polish prisoners by the Soviet secret police was a war crime. However, since no new evidence was discovered after Russia’s ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights, Russia’s obligation to investigate the crime could not be reinstated.
Nevertheless, the Court found that there had been a violation of Article 3 in 10 out of those 15 cases. Under Article 3, the authorities were to respond to the plight of the bereft relatives in a humane and compassionate fashion.
The case was referred to the Grand Chamber, which had to deal with the problem and the compensation issue. The Grand Chamber examined the case on February 13 this year. Several NGOs, including Russian Memorial, were involved in the case from the beginning, as a third party in these proceedings. Now we are waiting for the judgment of the Grand Chamber.
What is the Council of Europe?
The Council of Europe is an international organization that looks to promote cooperation between states in Europe in the fields of human rights, democracy, rule of law, and cultural cooperation. It is not a European Union body, and is indeed completely separate from the EU. Confusingly, however, it shares the EU’s flag and anthem. No country has joined the EU without first joining the Council of Europe.
On its website, the Council says: “the Council of Europe seeks to develop throughout Europe common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other reference texts on the protection of individuals.”
The Council of Europe has 47 members, with a total population of some 800 million. Five countries hold observer status (Canada, the Holy See, Japan, Mexico and the United States).
The Council was founded on May 5, 1949 by 10 countries and is based in Strasbourg, France. English and French are the two official languages. German, Italian and Russian are also used as working languages.
Currently, the presidency is held by Andorra, while Thorbjorn Jagland is the secretary general.
The best-known body of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Committee of Ministers is the Council of Europe’s decision-making body. It is made up of the Foreign Ministers of all member states or their permanent representatives in Strasbourg.
The 47 member states form a death-penalty-free zone. Abolition of the death penalty is a requirement for membership.
Montenegro was the most recent country to join the Council of Europe. It did so on May 11, 2007.
Members of the Council of Europe:
Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom
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