Early parliamentary elections were held in October after Parliament (Sejm) voted to dissolve itself on 7 September following the governing coalition’s loss of its majority after the withdrawal of one of its junior parties. The turnout was the highest since the first post-Communist elections in 1991. A former opposition party, Civic Platform, won the elections and formed a new government in November. The previous administration’s policy of opposing the incorporation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into Polish law was continued by the new government.
‘War on terror’
Poland’s alleged involvement in the USA’s programme of secret detentions and renditions flights continued to be of concern. In February, the European Parliament’s Temporary Committee on allegations of illegal activity in Europe by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concluded that Poland failed to properly investigate claims that the US had secret detention facilities in their territory. It concluded that investigations had not been conducted independently, and that statements by the government to the Committee’s delegation were contradictory and compromised.
In April, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) urged Poland to disclose details of its parliamentary investigation into the presence of secret CIA detention centres in the country. In its concluding observations in July, CAT expressed its concern at the persistent allegations of Poland’s involvement in extraordinary renditions. When asked about this issue, the then Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński said the government regarded the allegations as a “closed issue”.
In June, the Rapporteur on secret detentions for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Dick Marty, issued a second report revealing new evidence that US “high-value detainees” were held in CIA secret detention centres in Poland and Romania between 2002 and 2005. A 2001 secret agreement among NATO members provided the basic framework for this and other illegal CIA activities in Europe, the report alleged.
In June, PACE commented that “it is now established with a high degree of probability that secret detention centres operated by the CIA, forming part of the High Value Detainee program, existed for some years in Poland and Romania”. PACE called for democratic oversight of military intelligence services and foreign intelligence services operating in both countries. It also called for transparent investigations and urged compensation for victims of unlawful transfers and detention. Poland denied involvement with secret detention centres.
In response, the EU Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner, Franco Frattini, wrote to the government in July to highlight its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to establish whether the allegations were true. He had warned in 2005 that member states could face penalties – including suspension of EU voting rights – if they were found to have taken part in the secret CIA prison system. By the end of the year, Poland had not responded.
In September, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture denounced the use of secret detention and renditions in the fight against terrorism.
Discrimination – sexual orientation
Discriminatory attitudes against LGBT people persisted. Openly homophobic language continued to be used by highly placed politicians, including President Kaczyński and the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Roman Giertych.
There were also concerns about proposals announced by the government in March which sought to “prohibit the promotion of homosexuality and other deviance” in Polish schools, and to “punish whoever promotes homosexuality or any other deviance of a sexual nature in educational establishments”. Failure to comply could lead to dismissal, fine or imprisonment.
Although following the dissolution of Parliament these measures were never put into practice, European institutions raised concerns that such measures would be a violation of Poland’s international obligations, the Polish Constitution and the commitments undertaken when the country joined the EU in 2004. They would institutionalize discrimination in Poland’s school system and criminalize anyone who promoted equality.
The European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimir Špidla, stated that the European Commission would use all the powers and instruments at its disposal to combat homophobia. Meanwhile, the European Parliament expressed anger and concern at growing intolerance towards LGBT people across Europe. Polish authorities were singled out and called on “to publicly condemn and take measures against declarations by public leaders inciting discrimination and hatred based on sexual orientation”.
In June, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner expressed strong concerns about a number of aspects of the Polish government’s approach to LGBT people. The Commissioner found “the portrayal and depiction of homosexuality... offensive, out of tune with principles on equality, diversity and respect for the human rights of all”. The Commissioner also expressed his concerns about proposed measures to penalize the alleged promotion of homosexuality in schools. The Commissioner deplored “any instances of hate speech towards homosexuals” and called on the Polish authorities to take a similar stance.
Freedom of expression
In September, the European Court of Human Rights dismissed an appeal by Poland against its original ruling in May in favour of LGBT rights activists from Poland. The activists had successfully challenged a ban on the LGBT Equality Parade in Warsaw in June 2005 by the then Mayor of Warsaw and current President, Lech Kaczyński. The Court upheld its original and unanimous decision that the ban was illegal and discriminatory.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
People with “tolerated stay” status, many of them Chechens from the Russian Federation, continued to be excluded from integration programmes available only to recognized refugees.
There were allegations that asylum-seekers in some detention centres received inadequate medical assistance. The CAT raised concerns also about conditions in transit zones and deportation detention centres where foreign nationals awaiting deportation were held.
- Despite requests, the authorities failed to answer questions about the death of a Chechen national from the Russian Federation, Isa Abubakarow, in October 2006, allegedly after being denied adequate medical care. He had been sent to the refugee detention centre of Lesznowola after being returned to Poland from Belgium in June 2006. The Polish Ombudsperson filed a complaint about reception conditions and lack of medical care in the Lesznowola centre with the Regional Prosecutor of Grójec which was still pending at the end of 2007.
Although in September the government opposed proposals by the Council of Europe for the inauguration of a European Day Against the Death Penalty, in December the new government announced its support for the initiative.
Discrimination against women
In February, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed its concerns about the repeated rejection by Parliament of a comprehensive law on gender equality. The Committee also expressed concerns about the abolition of the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Status of Women and Men in 2005. The new government declined to re-establish the post, despite appeals by NGOs.
Amnesty International visit/reports
- Amnesty International delegates visited Poland in May.
- Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty Internationals’ concerns in the region: January-June 2007 (EUR 01/010/2007)
- Poland: School bill would violate students’ and teachers’ rights and reinforce homophobia (EUR 37/001/2007)
- Poland and Romania: Take responsibility for secret detention sites (EUR 37/003/2007)
- Poland: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review: first session of the HRC UPR Working Group 7-18 April 2008 (EUR 37/005/2007)