June in Poland started with the celebrations of the 24th anniversary of first partially free parliamentary elections, which took place on the 4 June 1989. After 24 years, the Polish Parliament declared the 4 of June the Day of Freedom and Civil Rights.
During the past month important events related with human rights and the activity of watchdogs have taken place. First of all in the beginning of the month, between 7 and 8 June the second Congress of Freedom was organized. This year the main subject during the two days of sessions, lectures and panel discussions was the issue of freedom in the cyberspace. The 2nd Congress of Freedom lasted for two days and gathered over 200 participants. Over 68 speakers have voiced their opinions. The speeches were divided into three categories – “Society”, “Resourcefulness” and “Law and Ideas”. The event was organized by Project: Poland, Entrepreneurial Poland, Liberal Culture, Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights and Centrum Cyfrowe. As can be seen in one of the reports: during the Congress it was specifically underlined that after the initial period of loosing ourselves in the possible benefits of internet freedom, the citizens are slowly starting to approach it more cautiously. The society is discovering the arising issues related with transferring many of the real-life problems to the internet, such as digital divide, escalation of hate speech and also increased control. More about he Congress can be read HERE and HERE.
The second very important event, called the 5th Congress of Women* was this year organized under the motto “Partnership, Solidarity, Diversity”. During the weekend of the Congress, Warsaw was visited by 8.5 thousand women from all over Poland! The representatives of various environments such as political leaders, physicians, lawyers, mayors, representatives of NGO’s etc. met during two days filled with numerous workshops and panel discussions. This year’s Congress’s guest of honour was the Saudi princess Ameerah Bint Aidan Bin Nayef Al-Taweel. Watchdogs such as Federation for Women and Family Planning (FEDERA) or Feminoteka had their own appearances and expert panels during the Congress. You can find more information on what was going on during the 5th Congress of Women here: www.kongreskobiet.pl.
The third of the already mentioned June events was the Equality Parade, which took place in Warsaw on the 15th of June. Third year in a row the president of Warsaw Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz and the President of the Republic of Poland Bronisław Komorowski, refused to take Honorary Patronage, however the parade was supported by a Member of the European Parliament Joanna Senyszyn (SLD, S&D) and Ulrike Lunacek (Zieloni, Greens/EFA) who through a video posted on the internet invited everybody, in the name of The European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights (counting over 150 members) to attend the parade. The video can be viewed HERE. Honorary Patronage over the event was taken by the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment Agnieszka Kozłowska-Rajewicz.
The Equality Parade, which each year takes place in Warsaw, is arranged by the Organizational Committee, a rank-and-file initiative, which democratically and without any leadership undertakes all decisions related to the event. The formal representative of the Committee is the Equality Voluntary Foundation, officially established in November 2011. This year 8 thousand people participated in the Equality Parade. Pictures can be seen HERE.
Unfortunately during the night between the 15 and 16 of June, after the Equality Parade was over, a homophobic attack took place in the Warsaw city center, directed against a member of the Polish Parliament Robert Biedroń and several other men. The Campaign Against Homophobia has already alarmed in this matter and issued a statement (in Polish only).
Protection of personal data and the right to privacy – American invigilation of the European internet.
Despite all these events, the number one subject in June was protection of privacy. This subject has surfaced thanks to media reports concerning the actions of US administration, which employed (and still employs) modern technologies to gather information about their own citizens and citizens of other countries, as a part of the war against terrorism.
The American services used a program called PRISM which gave them access to almost all contents generated by internet users. This includes not only Americans but also all users of big internet corporations such as Facebook or Google, from which the US Administration collected data. This case was widely debated by media all over the world. The Panoptykon Foundation, an organization engaged in protecting basic human freedoms including the right to privacy and protection of personal data, was constantly informing about the discussion on this subject, the UE intervention and the opinion expressed by the non-governmental environment.
In this context it is worth mentioning, about the new free trade agreement, which is being negotiated between the European Union and the United States that has raised almost as many voices as the PRISM case. The civil organizations are already asking themselves should we prepare for a second ACTA, and are carefully following the whole process, aware that it may lead to another controversial agreement which – as the Panoptykon Foundation alarms – will limit citizen’s privacy under the pretence of war against internet piracy.
When speaking about personal data protection, we shouldn’t forget about the reform of personal data protection law, which is being developed by the European Union. This process is constantly being monitored and commented upon by the Panoptykon Foundation, who in June informed about an alarming opinion by Artcile 29 Working Party, who is an independent advisory body involved in data protection and protection of privacy, and which expressed its grave doubts and a negative assessment concerning the so called profiling. According to its opinion, profiling i.e. categorizing people according to their characteristics or behaviors, utilized to undertake key decisions such as granting credits is based on statistical correlation and is accompanied by a margin of error. Therefore, this method is inseparably connected with the risk of discrimination, exclusion and consolidation of social stereotypes.
More information concerning the reform of personal data protection, as well as other alarming reports on threats to our privacy can be found on the Panoptykon Foundation’s webpage.
Unfortunately in this report we also continue discussing the subject of broadly defined discrimination, which already appeared in our previous texts. This does not only mean racial discrimination, but also gender discrimination or discrimination against LGBT persons, so in general discrimination described by Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
The fight against racism in Białystok is continuing. The campaign called “Lets kick racism out of Białystok”, initiated by Gazeta Wyborcza, which we discussed in a previous report, is drawing in new groups, including the religious environment, while the representatives of 13 Białystok higher education institutions have issued a joint statement against racist acts of violence, in which they declared taking into account anti-discrimination education elements in future curriculums and developing attitudes tolerant for different cultures, ethnicities or creeds. The recent events in Białystok and elsewhere have been described by Open Republic Association.
Meanwhile, this month around a hundred of members and supporters of the National Rebirth of Poland and Śląsk hooligans interrupted a lecture of prof. Zygmunt Bauman at the Wrocław University. They were shouting “get the f… out” and “Nuremberg for communists” towards the professor. An intervention of an anti-terrorist brigade was needed. This was yet aunother happening from a series of similar events this year. After the attack on prof. Bauman, a petition was issued to the authorities of the Wrocław University against hate speech and manifestations organized by extreme groups. Non-governmental organizations such as Open Republic were calling for signing the petition.
– Anti discrimination law
In 2010 in Poland an equality act was introduced in Poland, its purpose was to implement some of the European Union regulations in equal treatment. From the beginning the NGO’s had reservations towards it. In June the Polish Parliament was debating over a parliamentary draft to novelize this act. On this occasion the Coalition for Equal Opportunities , whose members gather such organizations as the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights, Polish Society of Anti-Discrimination Law (PSAL) or Campaign Against Homophobia published its opinion on this matter in which it is alarming that one of the greatest dangers of the current act is diversifying protection based on characteristics, which leads to unequal treatment. For example only people of certain racial, ethnical or national origin are protected against discrimination in the area of healthcare, but such protection does not include disabled persons or homosexuals. Such diversification has no rational grounds and is questionable from the perspective of the Polish Constitution. That is why the organizations have called for introducing the appropriate amendments as soon as possible.
In connection with the World Refugee Day celebrated in June and the passing of an act concerning foreigners by the Council of Ministers, the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights and Association for Legal Intervention have expressed their joint opinion concerning the adverse changes that the act will introduce against foreigners remaining in detention centers (we have described the situation in detention centers HERE). According to the act, only the Head of the Border Guard unit, which has jurisdiction over the detention center, will be allowed to decide about releasing a foreigner from the center. The organizations are seriously concerned with this issue, as this not only endangers all people remaining in such institutions, but is also against EU regulations.
European Association for the Defense of Human Rights (AEDH), whose members include the Open Republic has stated its opinion in relation to the World Day of Refuge celebrated on the 20 of June. In the appeal “ World Refugee Day … for refugees the European Union still does not want to accept” AEDH presented the current condition of refugees in the European Union and called for solidarity and aiding the refugees.
In our June report we return to the sex scandal in Opole police, about which we already wrote in a previous article. At the beginning of June Feminoteka Foundation intervened and issued an open letter to Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, the Minister of Interior and Marek Działoszyński, police chief constable on double standards in the scandal of gen. Marzec (let us remind, that the chief constable of the Opole police, after revealing the recording of his intimate conversation with a policewoman, was allowed to retire without reduction of his pension or rank, while the policewoman was suspended, a disciplinary action was taken against her, her salary reduced and she is facing being dismissed).
In its letter Feminoteka was calling for implementing procedure standards connected with intimate relations within a workplace and instructing the police officers on acting against sexual abuse at the workplace. The Minister of Interior Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz has answered to this plea, by appointing Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment in uniformed services subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. The plenipotentiary will be monitoring the issue of equality in uniformed services. Unfortunately the Foundation’s appeal to revoke the decision of making gen. Marzec take early retirement or taking back all sanctions against the policewoman have remained unanswered. Furthermore, the chief superintendent against whom the disciplinary action is pending, has sent a copy of a complaint against the police to Feminoteka, in which she writes of being intimidated by the disciplinarian and about methods of exerting pressure and preventing her from exercising her rights.
Following the subject of equality, Feminoteka Foundation alarmed last month about Poland’s low result in the gender equality ranking, based on Gender Equality Index, tested by the European Institute for Gender Equality, according to which Poland is bellow the European Union average in all tested areas. The organization was also writing about the men’s world of media and the unequal remunerations for men and women in Poland.
The female organizations were also trying to draw the public opinion’s attention to the results of the World Health Organization (WHO) report on violence against women, according to which 35% of all women around the world are victims of violence!
In June Polish organizations like FEDERA were still involved in a protest against limiting women’s right to legal abortion in Lithuania. On the 4 of June ASTRA Network issued a letter to the Lithuanian Parliament on the planned drastic restrictions to pregnancy termination.
In the context of discrimination and violence, we cannot forget about the changes to the policy of prosecuting cases of rape and protecting harmed persons, accepted by the Senate, who not only supported undertaking actions against rape ex officio but also making the so called friendly interrogation rooms more accessible. The Feminoteka Foundation is closely watching the works on the amendments to the act.
Forum for Accessible Cyberspace, whose founding member is the Foundation Institute for Regional Development (FIRR) is protesting against a disadvantageous law interpretation, made by the National Broadcasting Council, because of which the biggest TV stations will only be obliged to show 8 minutes of broadcast with audio description instead of 90 minutes. The organizations focused around Forum for Accessible Cyberspace are alarming – the Media Act obliges television broadcasters to provide 10% of audio description, subtitles for the hearing impaired and sign language in their programs. The National Broadcasting Council and the broadcasters are interpreting this law to the disadvantage of the seeing and hearing impaired. FDC is of the opinion, that the rights of the Polish seeing and hearing impaired are being infringed.
Finishing this part of our article, we return to the subject of civil partnerships, about which we’ve written in our March report.
In the last days of June a new proposition of regulating this issue appeared, prepared by the conservative fraction of Platforma Obywatelska. Campaign Against Homophobia has expressed its opinion on the legislation act on “cohabitation”, explicitly stating that it won’t change the situation of same-sex couples in any way.
Poland before the European Court of Human Rights
In 2009 the EctHR pronounced judgments against Poland in the cases of Orchowski against Poland and Sikorski against Poland. The Court decided that in the abovementioned cases Poland has infringed the regulations prohibiting the use of torture (art. 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Article 4 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of European Union). The cause of this infringement was overcrowded cells in which the petitioners were serving their sentences. The Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights together with the Association for Legal Intervention have addressed the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the subject of not performing the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights by Poland in cases concerning congestion in Polish prisons. The organizations have appealed to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to supervise their performance.
In May the Ministry of Justice backed out of working on an act that would introduce consultation of governmental drafts of normative acts and assessment of the results of implementing regulations, which might have improved the process of enactment in Poland. These works were being carried out since January 2013 in an open formula, with the participation of experts and representatives of non-governmental organizations, including members of Citizens’ Legislative Forum Obywatelskie Forum Legislacji operating as a part of the Stefan Batory Foundation. Grażyna Kopińśka from the “Odpowiedzialne Państwo” program, in her opinion said that it is a bad sign for all active citizens who want to have influence on most important decisions that concern them.
Access to public information
Guarding the right to access public information, guaranteed by the constitution and Article 42 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Citizens Network – Watchdog Poland fulfilled its informative function in June, by writing about changes to the directive on repeated usage of information from the public sector, accepted last month by the European Parliament, and to subsequent changes which need to be implemented to the Polish law.
June was also an active month for our local watchdogs. This time they investigated the earnings of the local authorities. Watchdogs form Legnica, Lidzbark Warmiński and Stepnica checked how much do the officials and people performing important public functions in their municipalities earn, benefiting from the obligation to public financial disclosures. As a local watchdog from the internet portal Naszlidzbark.pl wrote – the reason for publishing the incomes of people who receive money from self governance resources (our taxes that is) is to ensure transparency of public life and to allow society controlling the authorities.
Unfortunately in many instances such information is not published on time or even not published at all. It is also often that the amount of this income raises serious doubts. Regretfully, in Stepnica as well as in Lidzbark and Legnica, the income of the local officials surprised the local watchdogs and shocked them. For example in Stepnica it turned out that the salary of the head of the village has risen by almost 22% since last year. In Legnica on the other hand the salaries of the directors of the municipal companies turned out to be very surprising, as well as the disproportions between salaries of employees from other public institutions.
Other reading (reports, expertise, articles):
- A report on human trafficking in the world (2013 TIP Report).
- Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
* The Congress of women was founded in June 2009 as a social movement, activating women in Poland socially and politically. The starting point were the activities undertaken around the organization of the Congress of Women – or in other words a gathering of 4 thousand women from all over the country, who discussed women’s participation in the last 20 years of Polish history.
Currently the Congress of Women is a social initiative, gathering individuals, NGO’s, representatives of the world of business, politics, science, art, journalism, trade union, employer’s union etc. The Congress gathers women from all over Poland originating from different backgrounds and of different views. It is not related to any institution or party.
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.