Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The law entrusts the ombudsperson and the government plenipotentiary for civil society and equal treatment with the task of “implementing the principle of equal treatment.”
In cooperation with NGOs, the ombudsperson processes complaints, conducts investigations, institutes and participates in court proceedings, undertakes studies, provides other public bodies with advice, proposes legislative initiatives, and conducts public information campaigns. The ombudsperson has no authority to mediate disputes between private entities, even in cases of racial discrimination. The ombudsperson presents an annual report to the Sejm on the state of human rights and civic freedom in the country.
The government plenipotentiary for civil society and equal treatment has a mandate to counter discrimination and promote equal opportunity for all. The plenipotentiary implements the government’s equal treatment policy, develops and evaluates draft acts, analyzes and evaluates legal solutions, and monitors the situation within the scope of application of the principle of equal treatment. The plenipotentiary is subordinate to the Prime Minister’s Office, did not have the same institutional independence as the ombudsperson, and did not have a separate budget.
Both chambers of parliament have committees on human rights and the rule of law. The committees serve a primarily legislative function and consist of representatives from multiple political parties.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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.
The Women’s Rights Center reported that police were occasionally reluctant to intervene in domestic violence incidents if the perpetrator was a police officer or if victims were unwilling to cooperate.
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.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
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.).
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.
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.
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 Jewish cemeteries and the wall of the former Jewish ghetto in Krakow, and sometimes involving anti-Semitic comments on radio and social media. Jewish organizations expressed concern regarding their physical safety and security.
On April 19, residents of the town of Pruchnik enacted an anti-Semitic ritual that involved hanging, burning, and beating an effigy of Judas, who was dressed to look like an Orthodox Jew. On April 22, the Roman Catholic Church condemned the ritual, and the then minister of the interior and administration called the ritual “idiotic, pseudoreligious chutzpah.” On May 14, the local prosecutor’s office stated it would not open an investigation into the incident, describing it as a hundred-year-old local tradition, rather than an incitement of hatred against Jews.
On May 4, the Oswiecim Regional Court sentenced Piotr Rybak to one year of community service for incitement to hatred on nationality grounds. On January 27, Rybak led a protest of approximately 200 far-right nationalists at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration and extermination camp. During the demonstration, Rybak claimed the International Holocaust Remembrance Day glorified Jewish victims and disregarded the deaths of non-Jewish Poles, saying, “It’s time to fight against Jews and free Poland from them!”
On July 1, the Wodzislaw Slaski Regional Court began a trial for 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. 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. On August 7, 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. The ruling was not final.
On July 21, unknown perpetrators defaced a recently renovated wall around the Jewish cemetery in the city of Tarnow with an anti-Semitic inscription. Tarnow mayor Roman Ciepiela immediately condemned the incident and declared the city would pay for the removal of the inscription.
In September media reported anti-Semitic posters were hung at Warsaw bus stops with the slogans “Beware of parasites,” “Stop the [restitution] claim mafia,” and “Stop Jewish occupation.” On September 26, the Warsaw mayor’s office referred the case to the Warsaw prosecutor’s office.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. While the government effectively enforced these provisions, there were reports of some 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. On July 19, the parliament adopted an accessibility law that entered into force on September 19. The law introduced new obligations for public institutions regarding building, digital, and information access for persons with special needs.
A number of xenophobic and racist incidents occurred during the year. On February 2, police detained a 31-year-old man accused of a January 31 racist attack against two individuals in Krakow’s city center. The man argued with his victims using racist language and threatened them with a knife. He was charged with making threats and racist insults and extreme disrespect for public order.
On February 19, the Wroclaw District Court sentenced a 39-year-old man to 10 months of community service and fined him 500 zloty ($127) for spitting on a Cuban woman in Wroclaw in July 2018. Prosecutors charged him with violating bodily integrity and making racially motivated public insults.
On May 29, police charged two men with insulting two Indian citizens on February 4. The incident took place on a public bus, when the two men verbally attacked the victims and hit one of them. On June 19, police detained a third man involved in the attack.
On July 7, an unknown man physically and verbally attacked an Indian student of Gdansk Technical University who was riding on a train in the Gdansk area. The man approached the student, hit him in the face, and shouted offensive remarks at him. Police have not found the perpetrator.
On August 9, the Rzeszow local prosecutor’s office pressed charges against a 34-year-old man for attacking a 22-year-old Polish Muslim woman and her three-month-old baby in Rzeszow. The man was charged with making threats and offending the woman on the grounds of religious affiliation. On August 2, the attack took place as the woman was pushing her baby in a stroller along the river. The man verbally abused her and tried to throw the stroller with her baby into the river. He also made death threats against the woman and shouted, “heil Hitler” and “white power.”
On November 11, the annual Independence Day March in Warsaw was again organized by a coalition of groups, including the National Radical Camp (ONR) and All Polish Youth, widely deemed extremist and nationalist in their ideologies. March organizer Robert Bakiewicz said in a speech preceding the march that “Jews want to plunder our homeland,” referring to calls for broad, expedited private property restitution. While there were no reports of violence, participants chanted slogans such as “Great Catholic Poland” and “This is Poland, not Israel.” A small number of participants displayed a white supremacist version of the Celtic cross.
On November 11, Wroclaw city officials shut down a far-right supported Independence March after participants ignored multiple warnings from police to stop anti-Semitic chants and burning flares. Some participants refused to disperse and threw flares, bottles, and rocks at police, who responded by using water cannons and tear gas in an attempt to control the crowd. A spokesperson for the Wroclaw police said three police officers and two bystanders were injured, and 14 persons were detained.
On November 10, the ABW arrested two persons in Warsaw and Szczecin and accused them of planning to carry out attacks, using firearms and explosives, against Muslims living in the country. The ABW stated the suspects were planning their attacks using the 2011 Norway terrorist attacks and the 2019 New Zealand terrorist attack as models.
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 11.1 million zloty ($2.82 million) for programs to support Roma 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 March 6, media reported that passengers in an Uber vehicle in Warsaw physically and verbally attacked their Ukrainian driver while using vulgar language to refer to his nationality after he refused their request to play music on his radio.
On July 12, unknown perpetrators threw a bottle with unidentified liquid into an apartment rented by three Ukrainian men in Warsaw. Anti-Ukrainian slogans were also placed on walls next to the apartment.
On November 25, prosecutors launched an investigation regarding the insult of a person on grounds of national origin after a woman in Bialystok uploaded a YouTube video in which she verbally attacked a Ukrainian woman on a train, claiming that she was taking up too much space.
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 civil society and equal treatment is charged with monitoring discrimination against 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.
On October 8, the ombudsman issued a statement in which he expressed concern regarding growing discrimination, hatred, and verbal and physical aggression against LGBTI persons.
Several pride marches were met with violent protests. On April 13, approximately 400 participants attended the country’s first march of the year in Gniezno, where around 500 counterdemonstrators threw bottles, eggs, and other objects at police and shouted homophobic slogans.
On July 20, there were violent protests against an equality march in the town of Bialystok where participants were attacked by counterdemonstrators who tried to block the march. The counterprotesters verbally abused the participants and threw various objects at them. Minister of Interior and Administration Elzbieta Witek criticized “hooligan behavior that infringes the rights of others” and “hinders the duties of police,” whose job it is to “ensure security regardless of the slogans or beliefs proclaimed by citizens.” On July 23, Prime Minister Morawiecki sharply condemned violence against marchers at the event.
On July 25, Przemyslaw Witkowski, a journalist working for a left-wing periodical, was beaten in Wroclaw after he openly criticized anti-LGBTI graffiti he saw on a wall near one of the city’s bridges. On July 30, police apprehended the perpetrator and charged him with causing damage to health and making threats connected to political affiliation. On November 18, the man was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison and a 5,000 zloty ($1,290) fine. The verdict was subject to appeal.
On September 28, police used water cannons and tear gas to control counterdemonstrations during Lublin’s second annual equality march. Police detained 38 persons who attempted to disrupt the march, including a married couple who brought explosive materials to the march. The man and woman were charged with illegal production and possession of explosive devices and could face up to eight years in prison, if convicted.
Politicians from multiple political parties made statements attacking LGBTI “ideology.” For example, in August PiS party chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski said the country must defend itself from “the people in our country who want to encroach on our families, our schools, our lives…to take away our culture and freedom…to undermine what is normal.”
During the year more than 30 local governments around the country adopted anti-LGBTI declarations, nonbinding documents that mainly focused on preventing “LGBTI ideology in schools.” LGBTI NGOs pointed out that those resolutions may have a chilling effect on institutions subordinate to local governments and may increase the number of hate crimes. On December 10, the ombudsman filed five suits with provincial administrative courts against some of the local governments that had adopted anti-LGBTI declarations, arguing the declarations discriminated against LGBTI persons and violated their human rights.