Polish ombudsman wins Rafto Prize for human rights

OSLO: Polish civil rights lawyer Adam Bodnar and the institute he heads won Norway’s Rafto Prize on Thursday for defending human rights and judicial independence, which have come under attack since the arrival in power of the Law and Justice Party (PiS).
Bodnar, 41, has since September 2015 served as Poland’s human rights ombudsman, a type of mediator, attempting to reverse changes in the law that infringe the legal protections of vulnerable groups.
“Since Law and Justice (PiS) won the Polish election in October 2015, the party has used its majority in the national parliament to adopt legislation that reduces the independence of the courts and centralises state powers,” wrote the Norwegian foundation that awards the Rafto Prize.
“New laws grant the government control of state media and place severe limits on freedom of information and political lobbying. The rights of vulnerable groups have been repeatedly ignored,” it said.
In this situation, Bodnar has emerged as “an advocate of democracy, a defender of minorities and fundamental human rights,” the foundation said.
“This prize is an expression of support for institutions like mine, which is particularly important at a time when citizens’ values are being threatened,” Bodnar said.
He underlined that the award is not dedicated to him personally but goes to his entire ombudsman office.
The prize of $20,000 (17,000 euros) will formally be presented on November 4 in the western Norwegian town of Bergen.
The Rafto Foundation said Bodnar, being a civil servant, cannot accept the prize money, and that it would identify and donate the prize money to a civil society working for human rights in Poland.
Bodnar holds a Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Warsaw and became involved in civil rights movements after working at an international law firm.
He is now harshly criticised by the Polish conservatives in power whom he blames for multiple violations of the rule of law, particularly in the areas of judicial independence.
Named after the late Norwegian human rights activist Thorolf Rafto, four past winners of the prize (Aung San Suu Kyi, Jose Ramos-Horta, Kim Dae-Jung and Shirin Ebadi) went on to win to Nobel Peace Prize, whose laureate for 2018 will be announced on October 5. — AFP