Poland to avoid rights meeting where it will face scrutiny

WARSAW, Poland - Poland said Wednesday that it will not send representatives to a meeting of an international human rights body that is examining a controversial legislative change in the central European country, accusing the group of bias.

The Venice Commission, a body of legal experts within the Council of Europe, Europe's top human rights watchdog, is scheduled to meet on Friday and Saturday. Commissioners are expected to weigh in on new Polish legislation that changes the functioning of the constitutional Tribunal, the country's top legislative court.

Poland's Foreign Ministry told The Associated Press in a statement that Polish officials would not attend the meeting because they do not want to legitimize a commission they consider biased.

Council of Europe spokesman Panos Kakaviatos told the AP that "such a boycott is unusual for an opinion of this importance."

Poland's Foreign Ministry insisted that the decision to forego the meeting was "not a boycott."

The Venice Commission has previously expressed highly critical opinions on Poland's attempts to change the makeup and functioning of the court, a process the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party began soon after assuming power in November.

The commission has said that earlier attempts by Poland's government to change the law regulating the court threatened rule of law and democracy in the former communist nation. The European Union and the United States also have criticized changes concerning the court that have effectively weakened its ability to act as a check on the government.

In Poland, government critics have staged street protests over the past year, accusing the government of trying to eliminate checks and balances on its power in order to gain unilateral authority over state institutions.

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