On 9th of December, around 100 representatives of civil society organisations and networks from across Poland gathered in Warsaw to celebrate the International Human Rights Day. The event was organised by the Federation of Polish NGOs in partnership with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Civic Network Watchdog Poland, and the Henryk Wujec Civic Fund. This year’s events were part of the Watch Docs – Human Rights in Film Festival, which is organised annually by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. On the 8th of December members of OFOP’s network for Partnership and EU funds participated in a workshop on civic monitoring of EU programmes. On the 9th of December Jakub Jaraczewski from Democracy Reporting International gave a lecture on the most often repeated myths about the rule of law, based on the examples from Poland and Hungary. The participants were also addressed by Andreas Accardo from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, who stressed the significance of a systemic engagement of civil society actors.
During the three eventful days participants discussed the result of their cooperation with the office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (in the framework of “Our Ombudsman” Initiative), issues of access to public information, as well as plans for the future. Prof. Adam Bodnar, former Ombudsman, discussed sources of hope and inspiration for civil society. Bodnar stressed the need to recognise and appreciate the long-term effects of protest actions and involvement of civil society. In this context, in particular, civic actions to defend the judiciary yield noticeable results. Prof. Bodnar encouraged the participants of the gathering in Warsaw to keep up the work.
During the closing gala of the Watch Docs festival – for the first time – representatives of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the National Federation of Polish Non-Governmental Organizations, the Amnesty International Association and the Henryk Wujec Civic Fund presented the Henryk Wujec Civic Award. The idea behind this initiative is to show appreciation to representatives of institutions, who contribute to the defence of the civic space by supporting activists and CSOs in their daily work. The first recipient is Dr. Hanna Machińska (for her work at the office of the Commissioner for Human Rights). Machińska, in her moving speech, assured that she will continue to work for the protection of human rights and thanked representatives of civil society for the award.
Participants had the opportunity to meet and talk to the filmmakers present at the festival, who dedicated their work to human rights issues. The films and discussion focused on the situation at the Polish-Belarusian border, the war in Ukraine, and the climate crisis. Finally, the meeting has been a wonderful networking platform and great opportunity to celebrate the achievements of civic initiatives and organisations in these difficult times. All participants emphasised that this year, the need to come together for the Human Rights Day was felt particularly strongly.