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Poland

Executive Summary

Poland is a republic with a multiparty democracy. The bicameral parliament consists of an upper house (Senate) and a powerful lower house (Sejm). The president and the Council of Ministers headed by the prime minister share executive power. Incumbent President Duda was re-elected to a second five-year term after a second round of voting July 12. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conducted election observation. It found the presidential election was administered professionally despite legal uncertainty during the electoral process due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rescheduling of the election to a later date. It also noted the public broadcaster “failed to ensure balanced and impartial coverage, and rather served as a campaign tool for the incumbent.” The government continued to implement judiciary-related measures that drew strong criticism from the European Commission, some legal experts, nongovernmental organizations, and international organizations.

The police force is a national law enforcement body with regional and municipal units overseen by the Ministry of Interior and Administration. The Border Guard is responsible for border security and combating irregular migration; it reports to the Ministry of Interior and Administration. The Internal Security Agency has responsibility for investigating and combating organized crime, terrorist threats, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Central Anticorruption Bureau is responsible for combating government, business, and financial corruption and may investigate any matter involving public funds. The prime minister appoints and supervises the heads and deputy heads of both offices, which also report to parliament. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Some members of law enforcement entities committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: criminal defamation penalties; violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of ethnic minorities.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. There were no reports of security force impunity.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison.

While courts may sentence a person convicted of domestic violence to a maximum of five years in prison, most of those found guilty received suspended sentences. The law permits authorities to place restraining orders without prior approval from a court on spouses to protect against abuse.

On November 30, a new law entered into force introducing an immediate restraining order that may be issued by police who respond to a domestic dispute. Under the revised law, the perpetrator must immediately leave the location where the violence took place. The president signed the legislation into law on May 19.

The Women’s Rights Center reported that police were occasionally reluctant to intervene in domestic violence incidents, sometimes arguing there was no need for police intervention. The center also noted some women complained police did not properly respond to their calls because they were preoccupied with duties related to monitoring the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions. During the country’s lockdown in March and April due to the pandemic, women’s rights NGOs noted an increase in the number of calls to their hotlines from domestic violence victims.

The law requires every municipality in the country to set up an interagency team of experts to deal with domestic violence.

Centers for victims of domestic violence operated throughout the country. The centers provided social, medical, psychological, and legal assistance to victims; training for personnel who worked with victims; and “corrective education” programs for abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations carry penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment. According to the Women’s Rights Center, sexual harassment continued to be a serious and underreported problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the legal right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children but had restricted access to the information and means to do so. On October 22, the Constitutional Tribunal outlawed abortion in all but limited circumstances, although the implementation of this ruling was delayed. NGOs noted that infertility treatments were only available to legally married couples defined as a man and a woman, restricting access by LGBTI couples and all single persons.

The law obliges both central and local governments to provide citizens with unrestricted access to methods and means serving “conscious procreation,” implemented by the government as gynecological counseling for women and girls and access to contraception. While there were no legal restrictions on the right to obtain contraceptives, a patient’s ability to obtain them was limited, according to NGOs. The Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) noted the government excluded almost all prescription contraceptives from its list of subsidized medicines, making them less affordable, especially for poor women in rural areas. The law also provides that doctors may refrain from performing health services inconsistent with their conscience. According to a report during the year by ASTRA (the Central and Eastern European Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights), doctors regularly used the conscience clause to refuse to write prescriptions for contraceptives. The report also noted that some pharmacies intentionally did not sell contraceptives or have them in stock. The law does not permit voluntary sterilization. According to Federa, young persons lacked sex counseling services.

Although women have the right to comprehensive medical services before, during, and after childbirth, home birth, while legal, is not subsidized by the National Health Fund. According to the Childbirth with Dignity Foundation, standards for perinatal and postnatal care written into the laws are adequate, but the government failed to enforce them effectively. A 2018 report by the Supreme Audit Office indicated women living in rural areas had limited access to medical services related to childbirth due to an insufficient number of gynecological and obstetric clinics in smaller towns and villages.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. According to women’s rights NGOs, access was limited due to victims’ fear of social stigma, some legal constraints, and the use of the conscience clause by medical doctors who refused to provide such services.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for men and women and prohibits discrimination against women, although few laws exist to implement the provision. The constitution requires equal pay for equal work, but discrimination against women in employment existed (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship at birth if at least one parent is a citizen, regardless of where the birth took place. Children born or found in the country whose parents were unknown or stateless are also citizens. The government has a system of universal birth registration immediately after birth.

Child Abuse: A government ombudsperson for children’s rights issued periodic reports on problems affecting children, such as the need for improved medical care for children with chronic diseases. The ombudsperson’s office also operated a 24-hour free hotline for abused children. The government continued its public awareness campaigns, aimed at preventing physical violence or sexual abuse against children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, although courts may grant permission for girls as young as 16 to marry under certain circumstances.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual intercourse with children younger than 15. The penalty for statutory rape ranges from two to 12 years’ imprisonment.

Child pornography is illegal. The production, possession, storage, or importation of child pornography involving children younger than 15 is punishable by three months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment. During the year police conducted several operations against child pornography and alleged pedophiles.

According to the government and the Children Empowerment Foundation, a leading NGO dealing with trafficking in children, trafficking of children for sexual exploitation remained a problem.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Union of Jewish Communities estimated the Jewish population at 20,000. Anti-Semitic incidents continued to occur, often involving desecration of significant property, including a synagogue and Jewish cemeteries, and sometimes involving anti-Semitic comments on television and social media. Some Jewish organizations expressed concern regarding the physical safety and security of their members.

On February 27, a member of the lower house of parliament, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, said, “As a result of the pogroms, the strongest and the most gifted [Jews] survived…. The Jews are a power because they had pogroms.” He added, “There are even theories that rabbis deliberately provoke pogroms precisely so that Jews survive and then there is natural selection.”

During the year there were several attacks on Jewish properties and houses of worship. Examples included: defacement in mid-March by unknown perpetrators of a plaque commemorating the local Jewish community and Jewish residents of the city of Szczecin, who were killed during World War II in the Belzec extermination camp; the breaking of a synagogue’s windows on April 14 in the city of Wroclaw by a man who used neo-Nazi speech and gestures; and the tipping over of dozens of tombstones by unknown perpetrators in three Jewish cemeteries in the city of Zabrze and the towns of Dobrodzien and Tarnowskie Gory in September.

In mid-June a narrative appeared in public media during the presidential campaign that drew accusations of anti-Semitism from the domestic and international Jewish community. On June 15, the state-run television broadcaster ran a story claiming that the main challenger to the incumbent president would use public funds to “compensate Jews” with respect to private property restitution should he be elected president. It also claimed the candidate’s approach to restitution “was not based on Poland’s interests” and included images of Israel, George Soros, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and money falling out of a bag. On June 16, American Jewish Committee Central Europe acting director Sebastian Rejak sent a letter to the Polish Media Ethics Council stating that public television coverage could “incite hatred and contempt towards Jews in the world and Polish Jews.” On June 18, Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland released a joint statement that declared, “public media should educate and integrate, not divide” and added, “we must all speak against the use of anti-Semitism or hatred of any other group for political purposes.” On June 29, the OSCE issued a first-round presidential election assessment that stated public television had become “a campaign tool for the incumbent” with reporting that had “clear xenophobic and anti-Semitic undertones.”

A trial of six persons accused of publicly promoting Nazism in 2017 by organizing a celebration of Hitler’s birthday in a forest, donning Wehrmacht uniforms, and burning a swastika continued at year’s end. The incident was secretly filmed and later broadcast by undercover television journalists. The main organizer of the event, a member of the neo-Nazi Pride and Modernity Association, pleaded not guilty, claiming the event was private. In August 2019 in a separate case, the Gliwice Regional Court decided to dissolve Pride and Modernity, stating that the event was tantamount to approval or even affirmation of Hitler and Nazism. In November 2019 the legal representative of the association appealed against the decision. On February 5, the Gliwice District Court suspended the appeal procedure due to the continuing separate trial into irregularities related to the registration of the association.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions, and there were reports of societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. The government restricted the right of persons with certain mental disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs.

The law states that buildings should be accessible for persons with disabilities, but many buildings remained inaccessible. Public buildings and transportation generally were accessible, although older trains and vehicles were often less so, and many train stations were not fully accessible.

The law states that education is obligatory for all children, including those with disabilities. Children with disabilities may attend schools where they are integrated with children without disabilities, or they may attend separate schools, depending on the significance of their disability.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

A number of xenophobic and racist incidents occurred during the year. Several incidents tied to the COVID-19 outbreak occurred in the early days of the pandemic.

On February 28, a bridal store in Warsaw refused to serve two female customers of Indonesian origin because employees thought they might be infected with COVID-19.

On March 25, three men attacked a young Chinese woman who worked at the Silesian University in the town of Sosnowiec. The men surrounded her and shouted “coronavirus” and “China” at her. Police detained one man who was charged with assaulting the woman on the grounds of her national origin, for which he could face up to a three-year prison term.

On November 11, the annual Independence Day March in Warsaw was again organized by a coalition of groups, including the National Radical Camp and All Polish Youth, widely deemed extremist and nationalist in their ideologies. Unlike previous years there were no reports of slogans targeting national or ethnic minorities, but violence occurred mainly between some march participants and police. There was also an incident where participants threw flares at a building displaying a rainbow flag and the logo of a women’s rights group, starting a fire (no injuries were reported).

Societal discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. The 2011 national census recorded 16,723 Roma, although an official government report on the Romani community estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 Roma resided in the country. Romani community representatives estimated that 30,000 to 35,000 Roma resided in the country.

Romani leaders complained of widespread discrimination in employment, housing, banking, the justice system, media, and education.

During the year the government allocated 11.2 million zloty ($2.88 million) for programs to support Romani communities, including for educational programs. The Ministry of Education helped finance school supplies for Romani children. The Ministry of Interior and Administration provided school grants for Romani high school and university students, postgraduate studies on Romani culture and history in Krakow, and Romani-related cultural and religious events.

The Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities continued to experience harassment and discrimination. On February 9, seven men verbally and physically attacked a group of five foreigners from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia in the city center of Torun. One of the attackers, who turned himself in to police, was charged with using violence and making threats against others on the grounds of their national identity. On February 18, the man was placed in pretrial detention for three months. Police were searching for other perpetrators at year’s end.

On May 23, a man physically attacked a Ukrainian man and insulted his nationality in a store in the city of Gdansk. Police intervened and charged the man with public insult on the grounds of national identity. The man pleaded guilty and received 10 months of community service.

On June 27, a man attacked a Belarusian security guard in a store in Krakow after the guard asked him to leave the store for not wearing a face mask. The man verbally abused the guard and spat on him several times. On July 2, police detained the man and charged him with public insult on the grounds of national identity, for which he may face up to a three-year prison term.

During the year there were incidents of xenophobic attacks targeting those of African and Middle Eastern descent.

On July 14, two men attacked and shouted racist insults at a man of African descent at a bus stop in the town of Wieliczka. A bystander defended the victim and was also brutally attacked. On July 17, police detained one of the attackers and charged him with public incitement to hatred on the grounds of nationality, inflicting bodily harm, and making death threats. The man was placed in pretrial detention for three months.

On August 2, a group of six men verbally and physically assaulted a group of four foreigners, including citizens of Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, on a street in Krakow. Four of the suspects were arrested and faced up to five years in prison for violence on the grounds of race or nationality. Police continued to search for the other two perpetrators at year’s end.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

While the constitution does not prohibit discrimination on the specific grounds of sexual orientation, it prohibits discrimination “for any reason whatsoever.” The laws on discrimination in employment cover sexual orientation and gender identity but hate crime and incitement laws do not. The government plenipotentiary for equal treatment is charged with monitoring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and groups. LGBTI advocacy groups, however, criticized the plenipotentiary office for a lack of interest and engagement in LGBTI issues. The ombudsperson also continued to work on LGBTI human rights cases.

During the year several government officials made anti-LGBTI or homophobic public statements. In presidential campaign remarks on June 13, President Andrzej Duda asserted “LGBT ideology” was a form of “neo-Bolshevism” and “even more destructive” than Communism itself. Former interior minister and sitting Member of European Parliament Joachim Brudzinski wrote on Twitter on June 13 that “Poland without LGBT is most beautiful.” Minister of Education and Science Przemyslaw Czarnek stated on June 13 (he was not yet minister at the time) that LGBTI persons were “not equal to normal people.” On July 30, Deputy Minister of State Assets Janusz Kowalski declared the entire country should be an “LGBT-free zone.” He added that a law should be adopted to prohibit public funding of any activities of organizations that explicitly promote “LGBT.” At an election rally on July 1, President Duda said adoption by same-sex couples constituted experimentation on and enslavement of children. On August 25, then minister of education Dariusz Piontkowski defended the education superintendent of Lodz Province for saying the “LGBT virus…of ideology” was “much more dangerous” than COVID-19. On September 14, Law and Justice Party chairman and soon-to-be deputy prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said “LGBT ideology” was a threat “to the very foundations of our civilization.”

On August 7, authorities used force to detain 48 persons in Warsaw during a protest against the pretrial detention of an LGBTI activist. The representatives of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) operating under the human rights ombudsperson investigated the mass arrest and released a report on September 7 that stated the treatment of detainees by police “constituted degrading treatment, and in some cases…inhuman treatment.” The NPM interviewed 33 of the 48 detainees, who complained, inter alia, about disproportionate use of force by police, use of homophobic or transphobic comments by police, lack of access to food and drinking water, not being promptly informed of the right to a lawyer, and difficulty in contacting or meeting with a lawyer. In an August 8 press conference, the minister of justice stated police had behaved professionally. On September 2, the deputy minister of interior and the chief of police briefed a Sejm committee on the August 7 events and argued the police reaction was appropriate and proportional to the situation.

During the year there were several verbal and physical attacks against members of the LGBTI community. On August 11, two perpetrators using homophobic language brutally beat a man in Poznan. The man sustained a broken nose and concussion as a result of the attack. The attackers were charged with bodily injury and theft. On August 14, an activist affiliated with LGBTI rights groups reported he was physically and verbally attacked in Warsaw because he was holding hands with his LGBTI partner. He reported he had a broken tooth and a black eye and that his partner suffered bruises on his body. Police opened an investigation into the incident.

During the year local governments around the country adopted “family rights charters,” bringing the total number who had adopted such charters or separate declarations rejecting “LGBT ideology” to more than 90 since 2019. These legally nonbinding documents focused in varying degrees on preventing “LGBT ideology” in schools, called for protection of children against moral corruption, and declared marriage as a union between a woman and a man only. LGBTI NGOs stated the declarations may have a chilling effect on institutions subordinate to local governments and may increase the number of hate crimes. On July 14, the Gliwice administrative court struck down a declaration adopted by the Istebna municipality as a result of a complaint filed by the human rights ombudsperson in December 2019. The court ruled the declaration violated administrative law and the constitution, in particular the ban against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro sent appeals against the ruling and a similar one regarding a declaration in the Klwow municipality to the Supreme Administrative Court in September. Meanwhile, on June 23 and 24, the Krakow administrative court rejected the ombudsperson’s complaints against the municipality of Lipinki and the county of Tarnow, arguing that the declarations neither limited nor interfered with the constitutional rights and freedoms of any group of citizens and did not discriminate against any person. On August 18, Ziobro defended local communities that signed such declarations and emphasized the declarations referred to “ideology,” not individuals. Ziobro argued that while local authorities did not persecute LGBTI persons, they also did not accept “offensive actions” of LGBTI groups that tried to “impose their ideology” on others.

On February 11, the Supreme Administrative Court dismissed the final appeal of a same-sex couple who wanted to register the birth of their foreign-born child in the country. The child was born abroad to the two women, and his foreign birth certificate listed them as his parents. Polish birth certificates list spaces for a mother and a father. The Supreme Administrative Court found that a woman could not be listed in the space provided for a father’s name, and a man could not be listed in the space provided for a mother’s name.

A 2019 survey conducted by Pew Research Center found a rise in tolerance toward the LGBTI community in the country, with almost half of citizens (47 percent) declaring society should accept homosexuality, compared with the 2002 edition of the survey, in which 40 percent of those polled expressed acceptance.

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