A report published today by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), a Council of Europe human rights monitoring body, praises Poland for progress since earlier reporting.
ECRI notes “with satisfaction” the adoption of the Act of 12 March 2022 on the Assistance to Ukrainian Citizens in connection with the Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. This Act provides people who have fled Ukraine with legal residence and access to education, employment and health care.
In the report ECRI welcomes the amendments adopted to the Criminal Code, which added an explicit reference to hatred on the grounds of a victim’s national, ethnic, racial, political or religious affiliation, as an aggravated circumstance that courts will be obliged to consider in their sentencing. Other commendable amendments to the Criminal Code increased the punishment for promotion of hatred based on amongst others national, ethnic, racial or religious differences.
The report also highlights the city of Gdansk for its immigrant integration model, which successfully serves as a basis to integrate foreigners in the municipality through work in education, culture, health, employment, social assistance and housing, as well as measures against hate-motivated violence and discrimination.
Other positive steps include recently initiated police training to tackle antisemitism and a significant drop in the proportion of Roma children in so-called special schools for children with learning disabilities.
Despite progress, ECRI raises several concerns, including over the independence of the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights, or Ombudsman. The report covers political pressure faced by that office and allegations by various independent sources that the Ombudsman’s budget and other instruments were being used “as means of political pressure”.
ECRI furthermore notes with concern the “prevailing absence” in the Criminal Code of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics among grounds for hate speech and hate-motivated violence, which has resulted in “significant underreporting” of such incidents, in particular by hate speech victims.
Additionally, the rights to freedom of assembly and expression of people promoting LGBTI equality are threatened, according to ECRI. Some local authorities impose so-called preventive bans on LGBTI equality marches while citing security concerns in view of possible counterdemonstrations. The report notes instances of police failure to adequately protect LGBTI equality marchers against LGBTI-phobic violence during such events, which can deter LGBTI people from exerting their right to freedom of assembly.
The report moreover laments the lacking emphasis on promoting equality values in the national core curriculum for schools. Indeed, there have been regular attempts to reduce education on LGBTI equality.
A previously existing migration policy document, which provided a very good basis for successful integration and empowerment of foreigners, was repealed in 2016, and ECRI also notes “with concern” reported reluctance by some local authorities to improve housing for Roma people. An example is the Roma settlement in Maszkowice in the Łącko municipality of the Małopolskie voivodship.
ECRI recommendations for Polish authorities include the following:
- Reverse the attempts to restrict age-appropriate education on LGBTI equality and sex education in schools and instead adopt a zero-tolerance policy against LGBTI-phobic attitudes.
- Initiate legislative amendments to add sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics as explicitly prohibited grounds in the relevant provisions of the Criminal Code.
- Encourage strongly public figures, such as high-level officials, politicians, and religious, economic and community leaders, to take a prompt, firm and public stance against the expression of racist and LGBTI-phobic hate speech and react to any such expression with strong counter-hate speech messages and alternative speech, and promote understanding between communities, including by expressing solidarity with those targeted by hate speech.
- Ensure compulsory training about the effective investigation and prosecution of hate crime for police officers and prosecutors and make courses on the handling of hate crimes available to judges.
- Adopt a national migration policy to constitute a basis for support measures for migrants, including refugees.
- Take more decisive measures – as part of the “Programme for Social and Civic Integration of the Roma Community in Poland” – to improve the housing and living conditions of Roma, notably through mechanisms supporting and inciting/obliging local authorities to reach these goals.
- Fundamentally review the Polish legal and policy framework and law enforcement practices in relation to people fleeing war and other emergencies, including those coming through Belarus, with a view to ensuring equal and effective access to support and protection.