International Jewish Lawyers' Group Calls for Poland to Strike Down Holocaust Law

The law, which the Polish parliament passed in January, criminalizes rhetoric accusing the Polish people or state with responsibility or culpability for the crimes of the Holocaust

Polish President Andrzej Duda and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz, in Oswiecim, Poland, April 12, 2018
\ KACPER PEMPEL/ REUTERS

The International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists has called on Poland's constitutional court to strike down the country's controversial Holocaust law, which the Polish parliament passed in January. The law makes it a criminal offense to accuse the Polish people or Polish state of being responsible or a partner to the Nazi crimes and outlaws the use of the term "Polish death camps" in reference to death camps that Nazi Germany established in Poland during World War II. It also makes it an offense to blatantly minimize "the responsibility of the real perpetrators of the crimes."

The law was signed by Polish President Andrzej Duda, who referred it to the constitutional court for its review, effectively suspending its implementation prior to a court ruling. The law calls for a fine or up to three years in prison for anyone violating the law.

In a friend of the court brief filed with the Polish constitutional court on Tuesday, the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, which has thousands of lawyers around the world, took the position that the law severely and disproportionally restricts freedom of expression protected by international and European rights conventions which Poland is a signatory of, and is also inconsistent with the Polish constitution's protections of freedom of expression.

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“The imposition of such criminal restrictions on freedom of expression not only violates constitutional and international law’s standards but also harms Poland itself and its relations with the Jewish people,” Meir Linzen, the group's president, said.

"The organization recognizes that Poles were the victims of the Nazi horror regime, after Poland ceased to exist as a state, and were under Nazi occupation since the beginning of World War II. The organization acknowledges and is grateful for the Poles who risked their lives in helping to save Jews during the Holocaust. That being said, it is impossible to ignore the fact that some Poles assisted the Nazis in their actions to exterminate the Jewish people, and there is no place to impose restrictions on freedom of expression regarding this sensitive and painful issue, which should be the subject of free and unlimited public discourse and academic research."

The Polish parliament's approval of the law created a crisis in Poland's relations with Israel and the Jewish community worldwide. Opponents of the legislation, including Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance authority and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, have claimed that the law promotes Holocaust denial and limits debate on the part that some Poles played in the Holocaust.

Observers in Poland and Israel have said they expect the Polish constitutional court to hold a hearing on the law in the coming weeks, although no official date for a hearing has been set.