April 30, 2019, THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS – The World Justice Project (WJP), an independent, multidisciplinary organization working to advance the rule of law worldwide, today announced the winner of the WJP Rule of Law Award. The award recognizes extraordinary achievements by individuals and organizations to strengthen the rule of law in exemplary ways.
This year’s award goes to Dr. Adam Bodnar, the Commissioner for Human Rights of Poland (Ombudsman), and the staff of the country’s independent legal institution charged with monitoring citizens’ rights and intervening when such rights are infringed. In recent years, Poland has been experiencing a steady and significant deterioration in constraints on executive powers and respect for freedoms of expression and assembly, as reflected in the 2019 WJP Rule of Law Index.
“We have entered a challenging era in which basic principles of accountability and open government are under attack in both democratic and non-democratic states,” said William H. Neukom, founder and CEO of The World Justice Project. “The creative and tenacious efforts of Dr. Bodnar and his team to protect the independence of Poland’s judicial system and its citizens’ rights to participate freely in civic affairs provide a beacon of hope to others around the world fighting for just laws and equal treatment.”
A leading spokesman for the protection of fundamental rights in Poland and throughout Europe, Dr. Bodnar was elected by Poland’s parliament in 2015 to serve a five-year term as the country’s independent ombudsman for human rights. Since then, he and his staff have been confronted with a series of executive and parliamentary challenges to the independent functioning of Poland’s judicial and prosecutorial system, including its highest courts, and to the exercise of citizens’ rights to participate freely in public affairs. The governing party has also used its parliamentary majority to adopt new laws controlling state media and limiting freedom of information. In response, Dr. Bodnar and the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights have engaged in outspoken defense of Poland’s constitutional principles and directly engaged in strategic litigation to uphold them. Their principled stance against politicization of independent institutions has sparked hateful attacks and personal threats in state media and attempts by politicians of the ruling party to remove him and limit the commissioner’s powers.
“This distinction is an important recognition for all rule of law defenders in Poland - the Ombudsman is just one of them. It is a sign of appreciation and solidarity in view of a serious crisis that we hope to overcome. If we succeed, our experiences will be of great value for other countries and institutions facing similar attacks on judicial independence and constitutional order.”
The World Justice Project Rule of Law Award ceremony will take place at the World Justice Forum in The Hague – a global gathering of over 600 leaders, experts, and practitioners designed to increase knowledge and awareness of the many hurdles to access to justice and to stimulate action to close the justice gap. The award will be presented this year by WJP Board Members Ellen Gracie Northfleet, former Chief Justice of the Federal Supreme Court of Brazil, and Petar Stoyanov, former President of the Republic of Bulgaria.