Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison. Stalking is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. According to national police statistics, through June, there were 741 reported cases of rape. NGOs estimated that the actual number of rapes was much higher because women often were unwilling to report incidents due to social stigma. During the same period, police concluded 278 possible rape cases and forwarded them to prosecutors for indictment, and they forwarded another 36 to family courts (for underage offenders) for indictment.
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, but police do not have the authority to issue immediate restraining orders at the scene of an incident.
During the first half of the year, police identified 7,178 cases of domestic violence. During the same period, police concluded 4,767 investigations and forwarded them to prosecutors for indictment. Through June police registered 36,855 “blue card procedures,” meaning either a police officer intervened in a domestic violence situation or a police officer on duty interviewed a potential victim of domestic violence.
According to some women’s organizations, the statistics understated the number of women affected by domestic violence, particularly in small towns and villages. 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. In his report the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe stated, “Women victims of domestic violence and gender-based violence are still confronted with gender bias on the part of medical staff, police, prosecutors, and judges.”
The law requires every municipality in the country to set up an interagency team of experts to deal with domestic violence. According to some NGOs, this requirement might actually worsen the situation because the interagency teams focused on resolving the “family problem” rather than initially treating claims of domestic violence as criminal matters. The NGOs also believed the additional work required by the procedures discouraged police from classifying cases as domestic violence and might have contributed to a possible reduction in reported cases during the year.
Centers for victims of domestic violence operated throughout the country. In 2015, the most recent year for which statistics were available, local governments provided victims and their families with legal and psychological assistance and operated 220 crisis intervention centers and 13 shelters for pregnant women and mothers with small children. In addition local governments operated 35 specialized centers funded by the government’s National Program for Combating Domestic Violence. The centers provided social, medical, psychological, and legal assistance to victims; training for personnel who worked with victims; and “corrective education” programs for abusers.
The government supports 35 specialized centers for victims of domestic abuse and corrective education programs for abusers and training for social workers, police officers, and specialists who were the first responders for victims of domestic violence.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations carry penalties of up to three years in prison. The law defines sexual harassment as discriminatory behavior in the workplace, including physical, verbal, and nonverbal acts violating an employee’s dignity.
According to the Women’s Rights Center, sexual harassment continued to be a serious and underreported problem. Many victims did not report abuse or withdrew harassment claims in the course of police investigations due to shame or fear of losing their job. Through June police reported 47 cases of sexual harassment, compared with 29 cases during the first six months of 2015.
Reproductive Rights: The government generally recognized the basic rights of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. While there were no restrictions on the right to obtain contraceptives, some NGOs believed their use was limited because the government excluded prescription contraceptives from its list of subsidized medicines, which made them less affordable. Some NGOs also believed that religious factors, such as the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church, affected the use of contraceptives. The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner stated that, in addition, the law’s clause of conscientious objection, invoked by some doctors who refused to prescribe and some pharmacists who refused to deliver contraceptive devices, hindered women’s access to contraception. NGOs reported that refusals of reproductive health-care services continued to be very frequent and that women were often unable to find a health-care provider willing to deliver these services. The law does not permit voluntary sterilization. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, sexuality-related counseling services for young persons were not available.
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.).
The plenipotentiary for civil society and equal treatment has a mandate to counter discrimination and promote equal opportunity for all.
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: There were reports of child abuse, but convictions were rare. A government ombudsman 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 ombudsman’s office also operated a 24-hour free hotline for abused children. In 2015 the ombudsman received 49,674 complaints of infringements of children’s rights. Of those complaints, approximately 50 percent concerned the right to be brought up in a family (citing factors such as limitation of parental rights through divorce and the need for better material support for foster families), 17 percent concerned the right to education, 12 percent concerned the right to life and protection of health, 10 percent concerned the right to protection against abuse, 7 percent concerned the right to adequate social conditions, and 4 percent concerned other problems. The government operated several huge advertising campaigns, including the “You can help–React! Report!” campaign aimed at preventing sexual abuse of children and “Beating. Time to stop it” campaign aimed at preventing physical violence against children.
Early and Forced Marriage: The country’s legal minimum age of marriage is 18, although the guardianship court may grant permission for girls as young as age 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. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics were available, courts convicted 610 persons of sexual intercourse with persons under age 15 and 12 persons of pimping minors.
Child pornography is also illegal. The production, possession, storage, or importation of child pornography involving children younger than 15 is punishable by imprisonment for a period of three months to 10 years. During the year police conducted several nationwide operations against child pornography and pedophiles. Information from authorities in other countries was usually the basis for nationwide operations. Successful prosecution of child pornography remained a challenge due to both the international nature of computer-based crimes and the difficulty of identifying perpetrators.
According to the government and the Children Empowerment Foundation, a leading NGO dealing with trafficking in children, trafficking in 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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Union of Jewish Communities estimated the Jewish population at approximately 20,000. Anti-Semitic incidents continued to occur, often involving desecration of significant property, including synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. Hate speech remained a problem, as in July when Ryszard Petru, the non-Jewish leader of the Nowoczesna (Modern) political party received an anti-Semitic death threat.
In July comments by Minister of Education Anna Zalewska appeared to deny Polish responsibility for the 1942 Jedwabne and 1946 Kielce pogroms. Government officials described her remarks as unfortunate and misunderstood, stating Minister Zalewska in a subsequent print media interview acknowledged Poles had committed both atrocities. Nevertheless, critics argued the minister’s comments reflected government actions that politicized a period of Polish history that demands an accurate and objective reckoning.
On February 17, a Radio Maryja commentator made anti-Semitic comments during a broadcast. On July 7, the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council sent a letter to the head of the Redemptorist Order in Warsaw criticizing Radio Maryja for broadcasting anti-Semitic remarks and requesting the radio station not promote anti-Semitic and discriminatory content.
Xenophobic behavior and demonstrations sometimes occurred during sporting events. On August 19, 50 Lodz Widzew sports club soccer fans held a banner over a bridge that read, “19.08., today the Jews got a name. Let them burn,” followed by an obscenity. The fans then burned three effigies representing Jews. By the end of September, authorities were investigating but had taken no action against any of the fans involved.
On September 28, the Wroclaw local court began a trial of a man who burned an effigy of an Orthodox Jew during a November 2015 anti-immigrant march in Wroclaw. On November 21, the court sentenced the man to 10-months’ imprisonment for public incitement to hatred on religious grounds, despite the prosecutor’s request for 10-months’ community service. At year’s end, the sentence was under appeal.
In April, two individuals who destroyed 24 tombstones at a Jewish cemetery in the town of Bielsko-Biala in November 2015 pleaded guilty.
In January, Holocaust survivors, politicians, and religious leaders gathered to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and commemorate the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In July, President Andrzej Duda spoke at the 70th anniversary commemoration of a massacre of Jews in Kielce.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, and the provision of other government services. 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, and at least three laws require retrofitting of existing buildings to provide accessibility. Many buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, because regulations do not specify what constitutes an accessible building. Public buildings and transportation generally were accessible, although older trains and vehicles were often less accessible to persons with disabilities, and many train stations were not fully accessible.
A number of xenophobic and racist incidents occurred during the year. The NGOs Never Again and Open Republic reported a noticeable increase in the total number of hate crimes, pointing out that, although perpetrators mainly used hate speech in the past, during 2015 there were also violent attacks. On November 7, the National Prosecutor’s Office reported hate crimes investigated by the National Prosecutor’s office had risen 13 percent in the first six months of the year.
Prosecutors investigated 1,548 cases of hate crimes, including hate speech, in 2015, compared with 1,365 in 2014. Of these, 793 cases involved the internet, 160 cases were racist graffiti on walls or buildings, monuments and graves, 118 referred to making verbal threats to other persons, 86 cases were related to the use of violence against other persons, 44 involved bodily injury, 39 occurred at demonstrations or assemblies, 31 involved beating by more than one person, 29 involved sports fans or athletes, 25 involved offensive, harmful or embarrassing physical contact, 15 involved press and book publications, eight concerned television and radio programs, and two involved arson. Information on the remaining 198 hate crimes was unavailable.
On February 29, a Poznan local court sentenced two men to prison terms of three months and two years for beating a Syrian national in November 2015. On July 26, the court sentenced a third man to two years of community work for inciting the other two men to beat the Syrian. The court declared that the beating was a purely racist attack.
On June 23, Lodz prosecutors charged a 37-year-old man with racism, discrimination, and causing bodily harm to a 25-year old Algerian female student whom he verbally and physically attacked in the city of Lodz.
On September 8, a man physically attacked a university professor because he was speaking German while riding on a Warsaw tram. The attacker demanded the professor stop speaking German in his presence. When the professor refused, the man hit him in the face and fled the scene. On October 10, police arrested the suspected attacker and placed him in pretrial detention for three months.
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 20,000-25,000 Roma resided in the country. Romani community representatives estimated that 30,000-35,000 Roma resided in the country.
On April 21, unknown perpetrators destroyed a monument in memory of Roma shot by Nazis during World War II in Borzecin. The perpetrators split the wooden monument into pieces with an axe. By the end of September, no police investigation details were available.
In February, Czchow municipal authorities protested the resettlement of Romani community members after municipal authorities from neighboring Limanowa purchased and renovated property in Czchow to resettle three Romani families living in a dilapidated building in Limanowa. Czchow municipal authorities argued they had no experience or resources for integrating Roma, and the families remained in their Limanowa residence.
Romani leaders complained of widespread discrimination in employment, housing, banking, the justice system, the media, and education.
On January 25, a Romanian Romani group sued Poland in the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the government violated the European Convention on Human Rights by dismantling their illegal settlement in Wroclaw in July 2015. Wroclaw city authorities destroyed the illegal settlement present in the city since 2009 without advance notification to the inhabitants who lost personal belongings when the buildings were destroyed. At year’s end, the case was pending before the court.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration, 2,360 Romani children between ages six and 16 attended school. During the year the government allocated 10 million zloty ($2.5 million) for programs to support Roma, including for educational programs. In addition the Ministry of Education allocated 700,000 zloty ($178,000) for school equipment for Romani children. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration provided 540,000 zloty ($140,000) in 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.
While at the national level approximately 80 percent of Roma were unemployed, levels of unemployment in some regions reached nearly 100 percent.
There were isolated incidents of racially motivated violence, including verbal and physical abuse, directed at persons of African, Asian, or Arab descent. On September 10, a man verbally attacked two Asian women on a metro train in Warsaw shouting, “Poland is only for Poles” and telling them to leave the country. Police detained the perpetrator.
The Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities continued to experience petty harassment and discrimination. On June 26, approximately 20 individuals tried to disrupt the religious procession of Greek Catholic and Orthodox Church members who were marching from the local cathedral to the military cemetery to commemorate the Ukrainian soldiers who fought for Poland in 1918-1920. On June 27, police charged nine persons with violating the right to public religious practices, which carries a punishment of up to two years’ imprisonment. On December 19, the Przemysl prosecutor’s office indicted 19 individuals for malicious disruption of a religious procession, which carries a possible penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment.
Extremist groups, while small in number, maintained a public presence in high-profile marches and on the internet, and disrupted lectures or debates on issues they opposed. Red Watch, a webpage run by the neo-Nazi group Blood and Honor, listed by name “traitors of the race,” politicians, activists, and representatives of left-wing organizations. The entries often included the home addresses and telephone numbers of the persons listed. Authorities stated they could not do anything, since the site’s servers were located outside the country.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, 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. Persons who want to change their gender must sue their parents. The prime minister’s plenipotentiary for civil society and equal treatment monitors LGBTI problems.
NGOs and politicians reported increasing acceptance of LGBTI persons by society but also stated that discrimination was still common in schools, workplaces, hospitals, and clinics. There were some reports of skinhead violence and societal discrimination against LGBTI persons, but NGOs maintained that most cases went unreported.
Unknown perpetrators vandalized the offices of two LGBTI organizations. In February perpetrators attempted to break into Lambda’s Warsaw office and painted offensive words on the office door. In April unknown perpetrators smashed office windows of Campaign against Homophobia after unsuccessfully trying to force entry into the building. The government’s plenipotentiary for civil society and equal treatment condemned the attacks. Police investigated but could not identify the perpetrators.
In July the Lodz local court imposed a 200-zloty ($51) fine on an employee of a printing house who refused services to the LGBT Business Forum foundation, arguing he would not contribute to the promotion of LGBTI movements. The court administratively ruled the refusal of services a misdemeanor. On July 27, the justice minister/prosecutor general declared the court’s conviction a violation of the freedom of conscience, economic freedom, and common sense. The printer appealed the court decision, and the case remained pending at year’s end.
According to a survey by the Campaign against Homophobia in August, almost 30 percent of LGBTI persons reported having been the victims of physical or psychological violence during the last five years. The report stated LGBTI individuals were two times more likely than the rest of society to be victims of crimes, and transgender persons were at the greatest risk with as many as half of transgender persons reporting they were victims of crime.
The police advisor for equal treatment and the human rights defender cooperated to publish a special handbook for police that promoted officers’ tolerance and understanding of diversity and counseled police officers on how to work with victims of various minorities, including LGBTI individuals.
On February 25, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples could be classified as cohabitants. Under the criminal law, a person closest to the accused may refuse to testify and is entitled to other legal protection. The Supreme Court ruled that legal protection could not differentiate with respect to gender.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The government’s AIDS center received no complaints of discrimination from HIV-positive persons during the first six months of the year.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
During the first months of the year, various groups organized anti-immigrant marches in several towns and cities including Bialystok, Gora Kalwaria, Biala Podlaska, Warsaw, and Lodz.
On February 18, the Lublin local court sentenced a 30-year-old woman to two months’ imprisonment (suspended for two years) and 800-zloty ($203) fine for posting hateful comments regarding Syrian refugees on her Facebook page. The court ruled that she was guilty of inciting hatred on racial and national grounds and public offense of persons of Syrian origin.
On June 28, a Poznan local court sentenced a soccer fan to seven months’ community work and a 3,000-zloty ($760) fine for inciting fans to shout anti-Islamic slogans during a September 2015 soccer match in the city of Poznan.