Addressing Human Rights and Rule of Law Backsliding ‘From Below’: The Case of Civil Society in Poland

Activity: Talk or presentation / Performance / SpeechesTalk or presentation - at conferenceAcademic


The European Union (EU) is said to be facing a ‘crisis of values’ (Mos, 2020) in which its core like human rights and the rule of law, are internally contested by some member states. This trend is especially evident in member states like Hungary and Poland- where standards for democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and fundamental rights have rapidly declined since 2010 and 2015, respectively. Correspondingly, research on interventions to this crisis has grown, mostly focusing on the role of institutional actors (e.g. European Commission)(Matthes, 2021). Little research acknowledges the role of non-institutional actors, like civil society organisations (CSOs), despite these actors’ growing role in confronting various forms of backsliding, heavily engaging interventions like legal mobilisation (Christopoulou, 2022; Pedahzur, 2018). This article, therefore, addresses this gap by answering the following questions: How do Polish civil society organisations respond to human rights and rule of law backsliding and what are the limitations of these responses? It is informed by semi-structured interviews with 16 Polish CSOs focused on human rights and/or rule of law backsliding and the cataloguing of the activities of 178 Polish CSOs with the same foci. As the most autocratizing country in the world (Autocratization Turns Viral: Democracy Report 2021, 2021) and one in which CSOs have reacted considerably to threats to human rights and the rule of law (Dobler, 2020), Poland provides an excellent case study. Through this case study, the paper contributes to nascent research on the role of noninstitutional actors in addressing human rights and rule of law backsliding. Results suggest a myriad of interventions by CSOs; however, significant challenges persist.
Period22 Mar 2023
Event titlePopulism, Non-State Actors and Legal Mobilization in Europe
Event typeWorkshop
LocationFlorence, ItalyShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • rule of law
  • judges' associations
  • activism
  • civil society