After years of mostly ineffective protests against the dismantling of the independent judiciary, human-rights standards, relationship with the EU and, finally, against the ongoing deaths of migrants at the Belarus border, you’d be excused for thinking Poles must have lost hope.
Indeed, some on the pro-European side of the expert circles fear Polish democracy might not last until the 2023 elections.
This feeling of frustration, loss of faith in the democratic process or in any chances for justice on the national or EU level led a group of civil society organisations and law firms to step up their game. Significantly.
The Citizens of the Republic of Poland (Obywatele RP) and the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) – two leading protest movements – together with the Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF) human rights watchdog are collecting cases of unjust imprisonment and deprivation of liberty which would fall under Article 7 of the Rome Statute – the founding document of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. The article’s title?: Crimes against humanity.
Sitting justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro or his right-hand man Bogdan Święczkowski down on the same bench as Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga or Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir might seem like a longshot, if not overkill, but shows just how desperate the Polish people have become.
Yet, considering the eventual case will be brought before the ICC by the law firms of former deputy prime minister Roman Giertych, State Tribunal Justice Jacek Dubois and Mikołaj Pietrzak – the only attorney in the country accredited at the ICC – the idea is less far-fetched than it would seem.
As an NGO closely monitoring abuses of fundamental rights in Poland we can confirm that the scale of politically-based deprivation of liberty easily counts in the thousands – from hours spent in freezing cold within so-called police kettles, through overnight detention, to months in detention centres awaiting trial. All without a court verdict, all meant as a means of punishment or intimidation.
The three lawyers preparing the ICC notification agree: the systemic and political nature of these cases indeed places them within the definition of crimes against humanity, with Poland’s 2001 ratification of the Rome Statute making it fall within the Court’s jurisdiction.
Of course, seeing Ziobro, PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński or prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki actually put on trial remains rather in the realm of fantasy. But seeing them called for questioning – less so. Already at the current stage of a ‘preliminary examination’, having been notified by our lawyers on 21 October, the ICC’s prosecutor can summon witnesses, victims and the persons investigated for the alleged crimes.
Presence is mandatory and far harder to evade than the paying of penalties ordered by the European Court of Justice – ignoring the request will result in an international arrest warrant, with no national immunity providing safety.
How far the case will get is impossible for us, mere citizens, to predict. The legal minds have high hopes, but we’ve been burned too many times now to keep our fingers crossed.
So many of us went through hell to finally receive a favourable court sentence, clearing us of any charges, with the real culprits – those in power who unlawfully detained and humiliated us – escaping any responsibility and doing the same over and over again.
Hundreds of activists like Arek Szczurek, Elżbieta Podleśna, Mola, Klementyna Suchanow, Bartosz Kramek or Linus Lewandowski; government critics like Roman Giertych; finally scapegoats used to cover the regime’s own offences like army intelligence head gen. Piotr Pytel or entrepreneur Piotr Osiecki.
All deprived of their liberty for hours, days, months or even years, only to be ultimately proven innocent.
Our wish is to give them a chance for justice. But knowing their oppressors might for once feel the chill they inflict on us every day is a pretty good consolation prize.