WARSAW, Poland (AP) – The Polish Senate on Wednesday approved a human rights lawyer as the country’s next ombudsman, ending months of political standoff over this sensitive position.
In a vote facilitated by the right-wing ruling party renouncing its objections, senators overwhelmingly approved Marcin Wiacek to be the country’s next human rights commissioner – an independent role the conservative government would want control.
Lawmakers in the lower house of Poland’s divided parliament, the Sejm, approved Wiacek’s appointment earlier this month in the chamber’s sixth vote on an issue that for months has driven a wedge between the ruling party and opposition, creating an impasse.
The office of the Ombudsman is an independent institution which protects the civil rights of individuals, can represent them in disputes with government authorities and has the power to obtain the annulment of certain decisions of the State.
The Senate confirmation came after the ruling Law and Justice party withdrew its reservations on Wiacek. Four other candidates had been rejected, including one twice.
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Wiacek, 39, heads the human rights department at the University of Warsaw. He succeeds Adam Bodnar, who was unpopular with the government for raising issues with him and trying to block some of his decisions.
Bodnar’s statutory mandate expired in September, but he stuck as no successor had been appointed. A ruling by the Polish Constitutional Court, where the government has placed many loyalists, ended Bodnar’s interim status last week.
In his first statement after Senate approval, Wiacek described himself as an “independent” person in favor of resolving the country’s disputes with the European Union. Poland joined the EU in 2004.
He said he supported taking into account a recent judgment of the European Court of Justice ordering Poland to immediately suspend the activity of a new body responsible for disciplining judges and prosecutors. The EU and critics in Poland say the disciplinary chamber, based at the Polish Supreme Court, is undermining judicial independence as many of the cases examined are against judges who criticize the government.
“I think the Disciplinary Chamber should suspend its activity. We must execute the decision of the European Court as soon as possible, ”said Wiacek.
But he also stressed that the Polish Constitution is the supreme law of the nation. The Constitutional Court is due to rule next month on the primacy of the constitution over European treaties.
This story has been corrected to say that the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court sanctions judges, not parliament.
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