US Senators appeal to Polish president to veto property restitution bill

A group of US senators have written to President Andrzej Duda urging him to withdraw from or veto a proposed amendment to a Polish law that will limit the ability of claimants to seek restitution for property they lost during and after the WWII.

Under the legislation, passed by the Sejm (lower house of the Polish parliament) in late June, courts may consider appeals regarding administrative decisions on property only if they were made within the previous 30 years. Critics say that would put a time limit on requests for restitution.

"We strongly believe that this legislation would significantly increase the existing hurdles that prevent victims and their families from claiming restitution and compensation for property wrongfully taken by Nazi Germany and by the communist-era government of Poland," 12 senators from the two major US political parties wrote in a letter published on Tuesday.

According to PAP sources, the main initiator of the letter was Republican Marco Rubio from Florida. He was joined by Democrat from Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin, Democrat from Nevada Jacky Rosen and Republican from Oklahoma James Lankford. Eight other senators, seven Democrats and one Republican also signed the letter.

Rubio and Baldwin are the authors of the JUST Act, which obliged the US Department of State to submit a report on problems with property restitution in Poland and other countries.

In the letter, the US politicians appealed to Duda to strongly oppose the bill currently being processed in the Polish Senate, or if approved, to veto it. They argue that this would be the best way for Poland to "demonstrate its clear opposition to the crimes committed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet-backed Polish government."

Senators also wrote that Poland has so far been "a dutiful caretaker" of Holocaust memorial sites and that "its democracy stands as a strong beacon of its ever-present commitment to the rule of law and human rights."

"We firmly believe that the partnership between the United States and Poland is strongest when we are united in our commitment to freedom and justice for the victims of the crimes committed by the Nazis and communists," the US senators concluded.

The US State Department Spokesman had earlier called on Poland to halt work on an amendment to the administration procedure code that has drawn a strong reaction from Israel, which claimed the law closes the door to restitution claims by Holocaust survivors. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the law was "a disgrace" and would seriously damage relations between the two countries.

In response, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a statement claiming that comments from the Israeli side "show an unfamiliarity with the facts and with Polish law" as the law enacts a 2015 ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal. The ministry said that "the amended rules will affect only administrative procedures, including restitution, however in no way will they limit the possibility of filing a civil motion with the aim of receiving damages."

The proposed amendment is currently being processed in the Senate (upper house of Polish parliament) which is set to discuss the bill at its meeting scheduled for this week. 

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