The Transatlantic Assault On The Rule Of Law

Political leaders in the U.S. and U.K. have made concerning statements in recent days that have indicated a disregard for the rule of law. Trump ally Roger Stone, who had been convicted of lying to congress and witness tampering in the Russia investigating only to have his prison sentence commuted by the President, is reported in the Guardian to have said that Trump should “seize total power and jail prominent figures including Bill and Hillary Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg if he loses to Joe Biden in November.” Trump himself said in a Fox News interview on Sunday that he would “put down” left-wing protests on election night using the Insurrection Act of 1807, threatening the violent suppression of citizens’ right to protest. There are fears that Trump will not allow a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election, as his former lawyer Michael Cohen expressed in his testimony at a 2019 Senate hearing.

Members of the British Government have made equally alarming proclamations regarding their plan to introduce the U.K. Internal Market Bill, a piece of legislation that has caused great concern both within the U.K. and internationally due to the fact it breaks international law by providing ministers with powers that breach the U.K.’s obligations under the Brexit withdrawal agreement signed earlier this year. The bill has been criticized by the Scottish Government as an “assault on devolution,” and also has the potential to jeopardize the peace process in Ireland if it results in a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

With just a few months to agree a deal with the E.U. regarding arrangements after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December, the move also threatens to derail negotiations on the deal. But perhaps the biggest issue is the fact that the U.K. is openly willing to break commitments made under international law. Former Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair have both condemned the action as “irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice,” stating that “it questions the very integrity of our nation.”

When Parliament ratified the agreement in January it was clear that the U.K. had agreed to there being a de facto customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. To then introduce legislation that violates this agreement has serious consequences for the U.K.’s international reputation, as it shows the world that it cannot be held to its word. That is particularly damaging at a time when the U.K. is trying to negotiate trade agreements with the E.U., the U.S. and others. On a more fundamental level, it undermines the commitment to the rule of law that enables the international system to function. What do tyrants have to fear about arresting or murdering citizens that oppose them, as has happened recently in Belarus, Bolivia and Turkey, when the supposed “leader of the free world” seems willing to do the same? How can the U.K. possibly call for states to abide by non-proliferation, peace, or disarmament agreements if it does not uphold international law itself?

Trumps comments regarding how he would “put down” protestors, as well as his heavy-handed response to Black Lives Matter protests, which has seen unmarked federal agents being deployed to overwhelmingly peaceful protests, are deeply concerning. The U.K.’s intransigence regarding international law would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Yet despite the harm these actions are causing in the present, through their degradation of the rules of domestic politics and the international system, their greatest consequences may be yet to be felt.


Pregnancy Register Sparks Outrage In Poland

Polish Health Minister Adam Niedzielski has introduced a centralised register for all
pregnancies in the country, due to come into effect in October this year. This has sparked
widespread outrage, with many viewing it as a further infringement of women’s rights in
Poland. The register comes into effect over a year after Poland’s Constitutional Court
approved the strictest abortion laws in the European Union. Under these new measures,
health professionals will be obliged to register all pregnancies and miscarriages, ostensibly to
update current national health records. However, this will also allow the government to
monitor the outcome of pregnancies and identify illegal abortions, conducted both in Poland
and abroad.
Opposition leader and former EU Council President, Donald Tusk, condemned the
decision, with many other liberal MPS supporting his stance. Gabriela Morawska-Stanecka, a
left-wing politician denounced the government’s decision. “The plan is to introduce a blanket
ban on all abortions – even abroad. Women will be put under surveillance once a doctor puts
their pregnancy into the registry.” The Polish health ministry has denied these claims, stating
that the register is only part of a larger digitalisation process and will help to improve the
quality of care in the health system.
Reproductive rights in Poland have long been divisive. However, these latest
measures are among the strictest imposed yet, sparking widespread concern. This concern
was heightened after the government proposed a bill founding the Institute of Families and
Demography last year. This institute would seek to counter Poland’s alarmingly low birth
rates by promoting the “vital role of family to the social order.” The Institute would have
access to personal data and prosecutorial powers, with many fearing that it would be used to
prosecute those seeking abortions.
Rates of legal abortion were exceptionally low even before the new legislation was
introduced, though now this number has dropped further, with only victims of rape, incest, or
with an immediate threat to their lives capable of accessing safe and legal abortions. This has
not decreased overall abortion rates, with reproductive rights organisations stating that they
have never been more in demand. The restrictions fail to serve the government’s purpose,
with birth rates continuing to decline, and instead put people’s lives in unnecessary danger.
There have been calls on the EU to act, citing the register as a violation of women’s
rights, however, the EU’s power to respond is limited. In 2021, the Polish Constitutional Court ruled that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) did not supersede the Polish national
court’s authority, severely undermining the primacy of EU law. This ruling could lead to any
legal actions taken by the ECJ being rejected outright by Warsaw. Poland is already subject
to the EU’s Article 7 procedure, through which it could lose its voting rights, though this
measure is currently being vetoed by Hungary, in response to the same article being invoked
upon itself.
Many, like Urszula Grycuk, of the Federation for Women and Family Planning in
Poland, advocated for financial repercussions. “Since values do not speak to the Polish
authorities, please talk money to them so block funds, and if possible, redirect the funds
where they could serve the values the EU stands for, by supporting civil society financially.”
Poland is the largest recipient of EU funding, receiving more than €18 billion in 2020 alone,
and the withholding of funds could have a substantial effect on the Polish government’s
willingness to cooperate with the Union. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the Commission,
has approved a multi-billion Covid recovery payment for Poland but has confirmed that the
funds will not be released until key rule of law issues have been rectified, giving hope for
increased action from the EU.
Denying or dissuading people from accessing medical care, which includes abortions,
only puts people’s lives at risk, and the Polish government’s increased monitoring of
pregnancies only exacerbates this issue. The international community must condemn the
Polish government’s actions and do more than engage in dialogue, action must be taken to
protect fundamental human rights, whether through sanctions, fines, or other legal measures.
The longer that inaction persists, the greater the danger to women’s rights.

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