Adam Bodnar, the outgoing human rights ombudsperson, used his annual speech to the Polish Parliament to sum up his five years in office.
Bodnar, a staunch government critic, is due to leave his office on July 15 after a contested court ruling removed him from his post.
In his last speech to parliament on Friday, the ombudsperson said his tenure coincided with a period of heightened threats to the rule of law in Poland by the ruling Law and Justice party.
He said recent years have been characterized by “unusual legal chaos, multiple violations of the Constitution and violations of the principle of the separation of powers”.
Bodnar noted that civil rights violations in Poland had increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, his office received 72,000 requests for assistance, 22% more than the previous year. He attributed the increase to government restrictions on citizens’ rights during a series of lockdowns that lacked a valid legal basis.
According to the ombudsman, the country had to examine the human cost of the pandemic and draw the necessary conclusions from the government’s handling of the crisis.
Bodnar called for a thorough investigation into “procedures and mechanisms that have failed in all areas of social life” and for the creation of a compensation fund for the families of Covid-19 victims, “who have lost their relatives due to the negligence of public authorities. ”He said the government should also cover operating losses in accordance with the constitutional principle of the liability of public authorities in the event of damage.
Opposition MP Michał Szczerba said Bodnar’s speech served as a mirror in which the government’s inadequate handling of the health crisis was reflected.
Poland’s official death toll since the start of the pandemic is over 72,000 people. However, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the number of deaths in the country exceeds 150,000.
Bodnar has always taken a strong stand against the conservative nationalist government in Poland. He drew the wrath of the Law and Justice Party for challenging its violations of the rule of law and attacks on liberal values, including the rights of women and minorities.
The head of rights was appointed in September 2015, just before the current government took power. Although his term officially ended in September 2020, Parliament did not agree on a successor and he was allowed to remain in office as an interim solution.
In April, the government-captured Constitutional Court, which is filled with appointees by law and justice, ruled that the law which allowed Bodnar to remain in office until a successor was found was unconstitutional and that he had to leave his post within three months.
The move has been described by the opposition as an attempt to remove one of the few remaining controls over the executive.