WARSAW – Poland’s top court ruled Thursday that the country's human rights commissioner can't remain in the job indefinitely after the end of his term until a successor is chosen.
The ruling by the government-controlled Constitutional Tribunal paves the way for the removal of the acting human rights commissioner, or ombudsman, Adam Bodnar, who is unpopular with the conservative government.
Bodnar's term ended in September, and lawmakers had been unable for months to agree on a new candidate. But later Thursday the lower chamber of parliament approved ruling party lawmaker Bartlomiej Wroblewski, as Bodnar's successor. He still needs approval from the Senate, where the opposition has a narrow majority.
Wroblewski, a lawyer, said his main concern would be for people excluded and discriminated against, like the disabled, the elderly, retirees, people with housing problems and underpaid women.
The decision by the court, which has been controlled by the governing Law and Justice party almost since it took power in 2015, is a boon to the party in its bid to control state institutions — from the judiciary to the media — and remove officials who could block its decisions.
It comes shortly after Bodnar's office obtained a court suspension of the government's long-planned takeover of Polska Presse, a large private media group. Bodnar argued that through the takeover, politicians could control the work of the media and the content it offered.
Poland’s ruling party has been seeking to oust Bodnar, but it has been locked in a stalemate with the opposition over the choice of his successor. Bodnar had been appointed with the backing of parties now in opposition.
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said Thursday's court decision “creates a worrying gap in the functioning of the ombudsman institution in-between terms," and the protection of human rights in Poland. "A successor must urgently be selected fully respecting the Polish Constitution and law and international standards,” Mijatovic added.