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August 2013 – Polish watchdogs acitivities

Human dignity, prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment

The Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights had to intervene a couple of times last month. One of these interventions was undertaken after a series of alarming press articles discussing the subject of relieving patients from pain. The publications suggested that the Polish physicians very rarely and reluctantly prescribe strong painkillers to non-terminal patients. The foundation proved that the issue of curing pain is completely marginalized in Polish hospitals, where patients are left to suffer unnecessarily. The data presented by the media show that Poland uses 5 times less morphine than countries in Western Europe. The Foundation wrote a letter to the Minister of Health Bartosz Arłukowicz asking to deal with this problem. According to the organisation the physicians might be infringing Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights prohibiting torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In August the Foundation was also contacted by convicts from one of the penitentiary units who asked for an intervention because of bad sanitary conditions and lack of healthcare for prisoners. In a letter to the head of the penitentiary unit the organisation asked for providing information concerning the epidemic of salmonellosis allegedly raging in the prison.

Integration of people with disabilities

An operation to save workplaces of people with mental disorders has been going on in Kraków for the last couple of months. It all started with a decision made by the Voivode of Małopolska – Jerzy Miller, who resolved not to extend the lease agreement for the hotel and receptive centre “Green Spot” in Kraków, which employs over 20 people with disabilities. For the past three years the centre was run on the basis of a social agreement signed in 2010 by Stowarzyszenie na Rzecz Rozwoju Psychiatrii i Opieki Środowiskowej [Association for the Development of Psychiatry and Community Care] and Firma Społeczna Laboratorium Cogito [Cogito Laboratory Social Company], a company established by the Association. The Viovode did not extend the lease agreement for the Company but he also changed the regulations determining the conditions of participating in the tender for renting out the centre. His decision excluded all entities without a public benefit organisation status from the tender thus excluding the Cogito company, that employs people with mental disorders.

From the beginning the “Green Spot” Boarding House & Training Center received a wide support, not only from the local and national media, NGO’s, the Patients Ombudsman, the Governmental Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment but also from many individual people. Since the beginning of June a petition was written to the Voivode of Małopolska and a special Facebook profile was created.

Many organisations have joined the initiative to save the centre, including the Helsinki Organisation of Human Rights which wrote a letter to Jerzy Miller in August. The organisation pointed to the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, according to which the state is obliged to protect and support the disabled people’s right to work and to help them participate in social life. The Foundation has also expressed concern regarding the fate of the disabled employees of the centre. More information regarding the situation of the “Green Spot” Boarding House & Training Center can be found HERE.

Discrimination 

-LGBT

The Polish organisations became involved in actions supporting the LGBT community in Russia in relation to the recently introduced ban on promotion of homosexuality. The Watchdogs reported the World’s reaction to the situation of LGBT people in this country. The discrimination of homosexuals in Russia was reproved by the president of the United States. A petition was created, calling for moving the Winter Olympic games from Soczi to Vancouver.

Information relating to the campaign could be found on Federa’s Facebook profile, while the Campaign Against Homophobia organised a kissing happening in front of the Russian embassy on the 25 of August as a protest against the new Russian law.

In Poland not a law but homophobic comments on the subject of gay-sportspeople, voiced by public figures provoked an outcry and protest of communities fighting for the rights of LGBT people. An ex-football player currently a member of the Parliament – Jan Tomaszewski commented on the behaviour of Russian athletes who kissed on the podium of the World Championships in Moscow saying that he couldn’t imagine to have a gay person on the team, but he would welcome a law abolishing gay propaganda in Poland. This statement was commented upon not only by LGBT activists but also Polish football players who stood in the defence of homosexual persons.

-Foreigners

August was also a month of fight against racism. The first three days of the month were dominated by the Woodstock Festival, a music festival that has been organized by the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity for over 20 years now. This year during the festival the anti-discriminative Never Again Association reactivated the Music Against Racism campaign, organized four day football championships as a part of their “Let’s Kick Racism out of Stadiums” campaign, anti-discrimination workshops and a multicultural information centre.

Also, the organisation appealed to the Polish authorities to ratify the Convention on fighting cybercrimes together with the additional Protocol on fighting racism. Poland signed the Protocol in 2003 but hasn’t ratified the document yet. The Association’s petition can be signed here. In Żywiec and Białystok anti-racist murals were made while the “Zamaluj faszyzm” [Paint over fascism] campaign began in Lublin where information about places with racist or fascist pictures or signs will be gathered, and such pictures or signs painted over. The Open Republic Association was reporting about all of these activities.

This is not all concerning the fight with discrimination based on race and national origin. In August we received information of how the Wrocław authorities allocated a million PLN to the Police for the purpose of fighting neo-fascist groups and to effectively combat racism and xenophobia (we have written about racist attacks in Wrocław several times in our reports).

Unfortunately racist and xenophobic attacks are on the rise. As the Open Republic reported, after the Malta journal “The Malta Independent” informed in the beginning of August that Poland will open its borders to 50 refugees from Africa, the All-Polish Youth together with the Obóz Radykalno Narodowy (ONR) [National Radical Camp] created an event on Facebook called “No to the immigrant. Yes to the repatriate”. It is supported by 3000 people. In its appeal the Ruch Narodowy [National Movement] wrote “We mustn’t allow here what is happening in Western Europe, flooded by millions of Muslims and third-world habitants. […] Such situation is a threat: to the safety of our continent, to the possibilities of growth, to prosperity and to the future of our culture, religion, national identity. We don’t want this in our country”. Ruch Narodowy [National Movement] demanded that the scale of repatriation for Polish descendants exiled to Siberia and Kazachstan in 20th century should be increased, because as the RN members said “(there is) money for transferring culturally alien immigrants, while the Polish State is neglecting our countrymen in the East”. In reality 6 immigrants out of the planned 50 strong group actually arrived in Poland as a part of the European program of relocating refuges, while 90% of the total expenses were covered by the European Refugee Fund.

Thanks to the actions of the watchdogs in August the Polish media discussed the deportation of a Georgian family from Holland, whose case is being investigated by the lawyers from the Association for Legal Intervention

Among the members of the deported family was a 7 year old girl with leukaemia. The Dutch Immigration Office decided to deport the family to Poland, because earlier the family filed a petition to receive a refugee status in Poland and according to the law there is a possibility to be deported to the country in which the person seeking for asylum has filed his documents. The Dutch authorities have committed negligence and might have even broken the law by ignoring the parents pleas for medical aid for their daughter. The Association is considering to file a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg.

The organisations are also constantly performing their expert functions. The Legal Intervention Association and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights have presented their remarks to the draft of the act on foreigners. According to the government the project will introduce multiple easements, thanks to which foreigners will be able to receive resident permits much faster and easier. However the organisations pointed out that not all of the proposed solutions are appropriate. For example the project will support the detention of children of immigrants – something the organisations have protested against. The requirement of learning the Polish language when applying for permanent residence and for a EU long term residence permit have also been questioned. You can view all the remarks here. You can view the organisation’s previous achievements within the scope of influencing the Act on foreigners can be found here.

The Legal Intervention Association approached the Head of the Office for Foreigners asking for an immediate cessation of the office’s adopted approach, regarding negative decisions in the proceedings for granting a refugee status resulting in banning the petitioner from entering Poland or other Schengen countries in the future. According to the organisation such practice is unacceptable and illegal.

Reproductive rights and women’s rights

In the beginning of August the Federation for Women and Family Planning was encouraging to sign the Call to Act addressed to membership countries and UN agencies, regarding the implementation and abidance of sexual and reproductive rights similarly to human rights. This appeal was created during a conference on human rights in Hague, in which Federa and ASTRA representatives participated.

The organisation guarding reproductive rights was also involved in the 28 September campaign – Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. For the last couple of years this event was organized by the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), which groups together organisations and people supporting women’s right to make decisions concerning their body and who consider the right to terminate pregnancy as one of human rights. Federa was informing and inviting to join the campaign.

Freedom of thought conscience and religion and the right to education

Despite three years that have passed since the European Court of Human Rights pronounced a judgment in the case of Grzelak against Poland in which Poland was found guilty of infringing the prohibition of discrimination and the freedom of thought and science, the access to ethics lessons in schools has not improved. During a press conference organized by the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights in the end of August the sluggishness and inconsequence of the Polish authorities in the field of implementing proper regulations was pointed out. The organisation appealed, that as long as all Polish schools don’t ensure a real alternative to a Roman Catholic catechesis the Religion grade should not be present on School Reports as it stigmatizes people of different than Roman Catholic creed and is an infringement of Article 9 of the European Charter of Human Rights in connection with Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The right to privacy and personal data protection

The case of Edward Snowden and PRISM or in other words – the American surveillance remained a hot topic in August. The media all around the world were discussing how the USA used whose data and how. In Poland the Panoptykon Foundation was keeping and eye on the case and was reporting and alarming about all available press coverage on this topic*.

In the beginning of the month 120 organisations from all over the world undertook a joint intervention and appealed to the USA president Barack Obama to drop the charges against Edward Snowden and stop prosecuting him and other whistleblowers who revealed to the general public the abnormalities of the American state. According to the organisations, among which is the Panoptykon Foundation, the information Revealed by Snowden started a very needed debate on the acceptability of mass electronic surveillance and therefore he deserves protection.

The most important postulates of the signatories are:

  • dropping the charges against Edward Snowden, making his passport valid again and ceasing the attempts to prevent him from receiving an asylum in a country chosen by him;
  • initiating wide social consultations regarding the activity of the National Security Agency (NSA);
  • ordering the Department of Justice to declassify and publish all judgements given on the basis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Social organisations all over the world also appealed to the European leaders to abolish systems of mass surveillance directed at their citizens.

Access to public information

In August Citizens Network – Watchdog Poland informed about the alarming plans of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage who wants to classify the personal data and remuneration amounts of artists, that come from public resources. The Ministry’s remarks were taken into account and are currently a part of the suggested changes to the Public Procurement Act. According to the Ministry artists and other authors, whose personal data and remuneration amounts are published in advertisements concerning the awarding contracts are expressing their “outcry” because of this. Therefore the Act will contain an entry according to which “not revealing personal data or the remuneration amount for the contractor of the commission […] – in the scope of cultural activity […] if the contractor stipulated that the information will not be disclosed, before signing the agreement”. According to the organisation these propositions are groundless and stand against the principle of transparency of public resources and the people making use of public money should not be anonymous regardless of their profession or activity. The organisation also invoked the judgment of the Supreme Court from 8th November 2012, stating that the personal details of persons who signed agreements with local self-government units and the amounts of their remunerations should be revealed to the general public.

The Citizens Network alarms that the idea of excluding one group of contractors from data transparency may result in future restrictions to transparency of public procurement and other manners of managing the public wealth.

The association also alarmed that among the proposed changes to the Foreign Service Act one provision restricted the access to various public information and is unconstitutional. According to the proposed changes: information concerning foreign affairs or Poland’s membership in the EU, which when revealed to persons or entities who do not provide public tasks which require access to such data might weaken Poland’s negotiations or process status or in any other way weaken the protection of Polish interests or the interests of Polish Citizens abroad or Polish interests connected to the EU membership, are confidential, legally protected information. According to this entry the confidential status will cover: drafts of international agreements, statements, opinions, instructions, reports and analyses concerning for example international negotiations.

Preventing corruption

In August AKOP (Antykorupcyjna Koalicja Organizacji Pozarządowych [Anti-corruption Coalition of Non-governmental Organisations] filed in their remarks to the draft of the resolution of the Council of Ministers regarding the “State Program of Working Against Corruption for the years 2013-18”. Among others AKOP has as its members The Batory Foundation, Citizens Network Watchdog Poland and the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights. Among the general reservations against the Program were:

  • lack of definition for corruption
  • too overall goals of the Program
  • unclear and inadequate indicators of the Program’s success
  • unclear way of funding the Program – no specifically dedicated resources for its fulfilment
  • lack of deadlines for fulfilling specific goals
  • unspecified forms of responsibility for completing the Program on various stages
  • no plans on making the evaluation reports public

The organisations have also made various other specific remarks, which can be viewed HERE.

Logo funduszy szwajcarskich, Ecorys oraz Euroregion Bałtyk.       

This text is a result of a research prepared within the project “Powerful Watchdogs” supported by a grant from Switzerland through the Swiss Contribution to the enlarged European Union. The report aims to show the up-to-date information regarding activity of watchdog organizations in a given country. The author refers to the classification on watchdog functions, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the international concepts of the transparent governance.

 

CEE TRUST logo.

Translation of this text was financed by the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe.

 

 

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