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Poland Round-Up

'Catastrophe for rape survivors' as Poland limits access to morning-after pill

A leading human rights organisation has warned a new law in Poland limiting access to emergency contraception will have a “catastrophic impact on rape survivors”.

The law, which comes into effect next month, ends prescription-free access to the morning-after pill. Andrzej Duda, the Polish president, gave his official consent to the law late on Friday despite the opposition of human rights groups and opinion polls showing must Poles opposed it.

“We consider it as another blow to women’s rights, and will affect teenagers and those in remote rural areas, and will have a particularly catastrophic impact on rape survivors,” said Draginja Nadazdin, director of Amnesty International in Poland, in a statement issued on Sunday.

Under the old law any female aged 15 or over could buy the morning-after pill over the counter but now anybody seeking it will have to a see a doctor first.

Critics say this could take too long to arrange and lead to unwanted pregnancies, even in the case of rape, because the pill has to be taken as soon as possible after sex.

Quick access to a doctor could be even harder for people in rural areas, and young girls in particular may baulk at seeing a physician owing to a sense of shame.

Konstanty Radziwill, the health minister in Poland’s conservative government, has justified the changes by arguing that hormonal means of contraception were being abused and had harmful health effects.

By being forced to see a doctor, the minister said, women will now “get advice on whether these substances negatively affect their health”.

He has also suggested the pill induced an early abortion.

Health experts have dismissed Mr Radziwill’s claims, pointing out the morning-after pill prevents conception rather than causing an abortion, and that there is little or no scientific evidence indicating it had harmful and long-lasting side-effects.

To some Poles the law is yet another attempt by Poland’s government to curry favour with the Roman Catholic Church, which opposed the use of the pill.

Late last year hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across Poland after the government proposed an almost complete ban on abortion.

An April opinion poll showed that 57 per cent favoured continued prescription-free access to the morning-after pill.


Polish Government Chops Down Europe’s Primeval Forest

WARSAW, Poland, June 22, 2017 (ENS) – European environmentalists are ringing alarm bells to alert the world to what they say is a “nightmare” of destructive logging in the Bialoweza primeval forest on the border between Poland and Belarus.

This UNESCO World Heritage site is inhabited by European bison, elk, lynx and rare species of birds, such as the three-toed woodpecker and pygmy owl. The former hunting ground of the Russian tsars is a unique wilderness within Europe.

Under the pretext of fighting the bark beetle, Poland’s ultra-conservative government is chopping down the Bialowieza forest. The latest timber-harvesting machines are being used to fell ancient oak trees in the forest.

“My worst nightmare is coming true,” said biologist Adam Bohdan from the Wild Poland Foundation, which has been researching the forest for many years.

“Only international pressure can put a stop to this nightmare,” said Bohdan.

To protect the forest, Bohdan and his allies have set up a protest camp, and young people are chaining themselves to trees and bulldozers to stop the deforestation.

Jaroslaw Krogulec is head of conservation at the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds, or OTOP, which acts as BirdLife Poland. “The scale of man-made devastation that has been wreaked here in recent years is spine-chilling. Miles upon miles of forest have been logged,” he says.

“Effectively, we are in a state of ecological emergency. Vast stretches of this once magical forest resemble a natural disaster zone – but there is nothing ‘natural’ about this,” writes Krogulec in a plea for help co-authored by his colleague Gui-Xi Young. “This is human vandalism.”


Blockade in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest, June 8, 2017 (Photo by Greenpeace Polska)

“In the past weeks, our e-NGO coalition has updated UNESCO about the destruction and we call urgently on the {European] Commission to immediately start the second step of the infringement procedure and issue an official reasoned opinion without further delay.”

The situation on the ground clearly shows that Poland is not taking the concerns of the Commission into account and the case should be taken to court if necessary, write Krogulec and Young.

“The tragedy of Bialowieza is more than just the devastation of nature, it is the destruction of memory and the eradication of hope,” they mourn.

While the official national park is protected, logging is taking place in areas that have been given every other special recognition there is available – Natura 2000, UNESCO World Heritage and recognition under the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program.

“If the world can stand by and watch these areas disappear in silence, then what chance is left for the rest of our planet?” ask Krogulec and Young. They explain how the devastation of Bialowieza forest came about.

In 2008, intensive wood extraction from the forest motivated the European Commission to open a structured dialogue with Poland. A compromise set the logging limit at the level needed to fulfil only local community demand for wood. By 2013, the Commission closed the dialogue.

But in March 2016, following a change of government, the new Polish Ministry of the Environment accepted an amendment to the Forest Management Plan for Bialowieza Forest District, approving a threefold increase of timber extraction.

This increase, a breach of the 2013 agreement, was criticized by the most important scientific bodies and institutions responsible for the protection of Poland’s natural resources.

It prompted a public outcry. More than 160,000 people signed an appeal to protect the site. OTOP, as part of a coalition of seven national and international NGOs, submitted a legal complaint to the European Commission warning that Poland had breached Article 6 of the Habitats Directive.

Though the European Commission started a formal infringement procedure in June 2016, Polish officials were not persuaded. In September, the Polish Directorate General of State Forests, an authority under the Minister of the Environment, issued a decision to increase the logging limits and begin wood extraction according to the amended Forest Management Plan.

“Since the end of last year, intensive logging – on a scale that truly begs belief – is destroying the unique integrity of Bialowieza forest. It is impossible to exaggerate the degree of biodiversity that we are losing each and every single day,” write Krogulec and Young.

The Polish Environment Ministry defends its logging program, saying in a post on its website, “We live in an era of threats. One of them is accepting unconditionally the idea of passive protection, or the protection of ecological processes, which may lead to the dying of forests, as is the case with Bialowieza Forest.”

“The spruce bark beetle, which has spread excessively, kills not only individual trees, but also whole patches of the Forest. Other problems add to the problem such as drought or flooding of areas where the Forest died out,” the ministry states.


European bison in Bialowieza primeval forest (Photo by Francesco Carrani)

“The forest is perishing, and with it the habitats of many species, including the ones protected under the Bird and Habitat Directive in the Natura 2000 network,” acknowledges the ministry.

The Ministry has set up 1,400 research areas “spread out in a tight network.” The results of this research are a starting point for forest management, the ministry says.

“We shall see how the story unfolds,” the ministry says on its website. “We will use objective scientific methods and the best specialists in natural environment science. The area left untouched without any activity (1/3 of the area managed by State Forests) will be compared with areas that are managed in accordance with the principles of sustainable development.”

Lukas Straumann, executive director, of the nonprofit Bruno Manser Fund based in Switzerland, is very concerned. His group is circulating a petition addressed to the Polish Environment Minister, Jan Syzszko, in the hope that a large number of signatures will persuade the Polish government to halt the logging.

“I am convinced that we can win this campaign for the primeval forest,” Straumann said. “But it is a race against time. Because the loggers are penetrating ever deeper into the forest every day.”


Primeval forest must lose Unesco protection, says Poland

Environment minister Jan Szyszko has called for Białowieża to lose its heritage status, saying it was granted ‘illegally’

Poland’s environment minister, Jan Szyszko, whom green activists have criticised for allowing large-scale logging in the ancient Białowieża forest, has called for the woodland to be stripped of Unesco’s natural heritage status, banning human intervention.

Białowieża, straddling Poland’s eastern border with Belarus, includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10,000 years ago. It also boasts unique plant and animal life, including the continent’s largest mammal, the European bison.

“The Białowieża forest was granted Unesco natural heritage status illegally and without consulting the local community,” Szyszko said in a statement, after having announced that “a complaint had been lodged with the prosecutor’s office” regarding the matter.

Szyszko said he found it contradictory for the forest to have Unesco natural heritage status – which bans any human intervention – and simultaneously belong to the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected areas, which according to Szyszko allows the current logging.

The Polish government has said it authorised the logging, which began in May last year, to contain damage caused by a spruce bark beetle infestation and to fight the risk of forest fires. But scientists, ecologists and the EU have protested and activists allege the logging is a cover for commercial cutting of protected old-growth forests.

Szyszko would like to see Białowieża granted a different Unesco status – mixed natural-cultural heritage – “and not just natural because man’s activity is visible to the naked eye in this forest”, he said.

Greenpeace, whose activists chained themselves to woodcutting equipment this month to block the logging, immediately denounced Szyszko’s statement as “further manipulation”. The environmental group also said logging was in fact out of line with the Natura 2000 rules.

“This is an attempt by the minister to impose his own narrative,” said activist Katarzyna Kościesza of the ClientEarth environmental group.

Szyszko’s statement comes two weeks before the annual Unesco world heritage session, which this year will take place in the southern Polish city of Kraków. The forest gained the coveted “natural heritage” label in 2011.

Unesco has previously expressed concern over the logging, as has the European commission, which in April warned Warsaw that it could take legal action to halt the logging.


Also this: Poland's Bialowieza: Losing the forest and the trees - In the post-truth era, Polish government is trying to convince us that it needs to chop down a forest to protect it.

Wikipedia: Białowieża Forest

Poland wants to put its courts on trial

The Polish government is taking aim at the country’s justice system, intent on pushing through reforms that critics are warning could threaten the separation of powers.

Polen Protestcamp vor dem Obersten Gerichtshof (DW/G. Gnauck)

A strange protest camp has formed outside the Supreme Court in Warsaw's Krasinski Square. "The court must go to court," reads one sign. The protesters have arranged toilet seats, sofas, and rickety office furniture in a representation of how they see the Polish justice system. The right-wing demonstrators are calling on their right-wing government to crack down on what they see as the excessive power of the courts.

Putting the courts on trial is just what the country's conservative nationalist government wants. On Tuesday, the constitutional court spoke out about the National Council of the Judiciary, an independent organization that plays a decisive role in the appointing of judges. Of the council's 25 members, 15 were previously appointed by various judges' assemblies, but that is now set to change. In future, the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) wants them to be elected by parliament. Additionally, the term of the current council members is to be shortened.

According to the constitutional court, the previous rules for appointing judges to the council were unconstitutional. The decision paves the way for new legislation, which will soon be put before parliament. Effectively, it means that PiS, under the leadership of Jaroslav Kaczynski, will wield considerable influence over the courts, and be able to sideline any troublesome judges.

Giving the judiciary back to the people

The constitutional court resisted this development for about a year, but that came to an end with the appointment of PiS-backed judge Julia Przylebska to the head of the tribunal. Now, the Supreme Court is in the government's firing line instead.

Here, too, parliament - where PiS has an absolute majority - is playing a key role. A group of PiS MPs has asked the constitutional court to determine whether the process for appointing Supreme Court judges is constitutional. If the constitutional court were to rule in line with the government, then law professor Malgorzata Gersdorf, who was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court in 2014, would then be seen as having illegitimately attained her office, paving the way for her removal.

For PiS, such tactics represent a success: they are giving the judiciary back to the people that elected this parliamentary majority. That's according to Stanislav Piotrowicz, a former communist prosecutor who now serves the anti-communist PiS as chairman of the parliamentary judiciary committee.

'A great danger for Polish democracy'

Jaroslaw Kaczynski was educated as a lawyer during the era of communist rule in Poland, a time when the principle of the separation of powers was not as highly lauded. Civil rights activists like Aleksander Hall, however, see that principle as a cornerstone of any democracy. Dating back to Montesquieu, the separation of powers has had significant meaning for every democracy, he said. "But the PiS wants to introduce a completely different system in Poland," Hall added. "This system change is a great danger for Polish democracy and individual freedom."

There will be judges in the future who administer justice independent from the pressure of the government, Hall wrote in Polityka magazine. But, "they will have to deal with chicanery and public smear campaigns, just like constitutional judges and judges from the highest courts. Perhaps also with provocations from the secret services." The campaign against the so-called "courtocracy" destroys respect for the rule of law and the courts, especially on the part of government supporters, he added.

Adam Stzrembosz, the former president of Poland's Supreme Court, has also been critical of the latest developments in Poland. He fears that the attack on the provincial council will "destroy another fundamental instutition of the democratic, constitutional state." Even worse, he added, is the attack on the Supreme Court, whose judges were revamped in 1989.

"How can Jaroslaw Kaczynski so shamelessly call the Supreme Court a bastion of post-communism today?" Stzrembosz asked. "If that is the case, then I suggest Kaczynski give up his doctorate."

President Andrzej Duda, who almost always signs off on Kaczynski's actions, could one day be put on trial for the destruction of the constitutional court, said Stzrembosz. Whatever happens, the outcome will have long-term implications for the country - and its leaders.


Tags: environment, excuze me wtf r u doin, flames on the side of my face, fuckery, important issues, people suck, poland, this is why we cant have nice things, womens rights

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