The right to life and human dignity
As the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights reported the first reading of two governmental bill drafts took place on the 10th of July. The drafts concerned the presidential ratification of two protocols completely abolishing the death penalty: the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Protocol No. 13 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, concerning the abolition of the death penalty even during wartime. As the foundation underlined, Poland is one of the last member countries in the European Council that are still against the second protocol.
At the end of July the Constitutional Tribunal found that the amendments to the Act on Upbringing in Sobriety are unconstitutional. The regulations expanding the implication of physical coercion measures towards people brought into sobering-up-stations were questioned. An Amicus Curiae opinion on this matter was expressed by the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights in cooperation with Obywatelskie Forum Legislacji [Civil Legislation Forum].
The European Court of Human Rights
The Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights together with Association for Legal Intervention have addressed the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in correlation to the fact that the Polish authorities didn’t execute the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights given in proceedings concerning overcrowding in Polish prisons (cases Sikorski and Orchowski against Poland). The Court has found that in these cases the prohibition of using torture was infringed (Art. 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights) because of overcrowding of the prison cells in which the convicts were held. The Court has also pointed out the systemic nature of this problem. According to the organization, the judgments pronounced in the cases of Sikorski and Orchowski against Poland have not been executed. The organizations have appealed to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to supervise the execution of these judgments.
At this point it is worth mentioning the report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on executing judgments pronounced by the European Court of Human Rights published in July by the Polish government. Unfortunately, as we can see in media reports it is not very informative, as it simply consists of a series of links to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe’s web pages. However, Adam Bodnar from the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights emphasized – regardless of its content, it is a success that for the first time in history the government reported on how it executes such judgments.
Unfortunately as the July events have shown, non –governmental organizations in Poland still have a lot to do in the fight for tolerance.
– Minorities and belonging to a race
The summer vacations season begun with a controversial opinion given by the prosecutor’s office in Kilece and the appointed expert linguist. They decided, that the insulting entries, which appeared in 2011 on one of the internet forums addressed to a businessman from Kielce the contents of which say: “This business is run by a typical fat, big headed Jew”, “I warn you about this company. It’s run by typical Jews”, “He does not play fair, because he’s a Jewish mongrel” are not offensive towards the businessman in relation to his nationality and are a mere satire consisting of stereotypical epithets. Acknowledging the expert’s opinion, the Prosecutor’s Office did not find the businessman to be defamed and insulted on a background relating to nationality. More information can be found in the article: Prosecutor’s Office: “Jewish mongrel” is not an offence. Expert: it’s a satire. This case was discussed not only by the media but also by organizations such as the Open Republic Association.
This organization issued a statement in the beginning of July in which it called the attention of the media and bodies of public authority to the topic of hate crimes, hate speech and methods of fighting them. At the same time, the organization alarmed about press information concerning shocking decisions made by prosecutors, judges and experts giving consent or even expressing acceptance for spreading hatred and stereotypes which, according to the Association, reflects the mentality of the Polish society and its elites. The Open Republic also reminded that despite increased efforts from the Police, Prosecutor’s Office and courts, allocating additional financial resources, organizing trainings for officers of different services, the Ministry of National education has still not joined the debate. As the organization emphasizes, schools and kindergartens should be the places where the fundamentals of tolerance and mutual respect for every person should be taught, regardless of his race, ethnicity, nationality or religion, but also regardless of his sexual orientation or disability.
On the 16th of July the Board of the Open Republic Association commented on the actions of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość senators who, as Gazeta Wyborcza informed on 13th of July, signed a letter written in the defense of a PiS councilman, sentenced to a PLN 4500 fine for threats addressed towards the participants of a protest march against homophobia (shouted at the participants, for example: “A good gay is dead gay”, “If we catch you, we will break you”, “Once with sickle, once with hammer smash the red rabble”) which took place in May 2012 in Kielce. In the organization’s opinion, the PiS senators who claimed that “this judgment is a threat to democracy” gave evidence to the fact that it is them who do not understand the idea of democracy and the independence of courts. The Association is of the opinion that judgments like this support the development of standards of behavior of a state official – an elected representative of the society (a councilman, member of the Parliament, senator).
At the end of the month a new scandal has erupted around the Białystok court, which decided that the officer of Border Guard, who called Chechen citizens “parasite scum” on an internet forum was not found guilty of defamation. The officer was acquitted and in the reasons for the judgment we can read that the term “scum” is used in literature for evaluating fictional characters. This judgment did not only outrage organizations fighting discrimination. A commentary on this matter was provided by prof. Ewa Łetowska, an ex-Ombudsman, who found the judgments to be surprising and undermining to the authority of the system of justice.
The Polish watchdogs reacted to the racist violence directed against the Czech Romani. The Open Republic Association and the Foundation for Social Diversity have issued their statements on this subject. The Open Republic approached the Czech Ambassador with a letter, in which it expressed its concern about the events in Czech Republic and its solidarity with the EGAM’s stand (European Grassroots Antiracist Movement), which requested the Czech authorities to use all measures possible to end the racist attacks and form a national program of preventing such assaults and protecting democracy. The Foundation for Social Diversity appealed to the media to publicize information about acts of racism and xenophobia and to conduct a debate on social diversity in a responsible way. It also asked the courts and prosecutors to effectively prosecute and adequately administer justice towards people and groups fueling the hatred, who follow and spread neo-Nazi ideology and symbols. It also asked governmental authorities and self-governing bodies to arrange and implement preventive programs that will support social integration and stop violence originating from prejudice and hatred. This appeal was among others signed by the Open Republic Association, Association for Legal Intervention and the Roma People Association in Poland.
The subject of detention centers for foreigners repapered in July. The Association for Legal Intervention informed that most of the changes proposed by the Association and the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights regarding the arrangement of detention centers for foreigners have been taken into consideration by the Border Guard. The changes include roll-calls, walks, baths and visits. HERE you can see the Border Guards full response to the remarks made by the organizations.
Apart from numerous interventions and exerting pressure on state authorities (but not only) by organizations fighting discrimination related to origin, the watchdogs dealing with other types of discrimination were also very active.
In the beginning of July The Campaign Against Homophobia informed about its successful intervention and exertion of pressure on the Ministry of National Education, who after an appeal of CAH and 31 other non-governmental organizations decided to withdraw a homophobic textbook on Family Life Education.
Last month CAH undertook an intervention in a case of an assault and battery of Bartłomiej Lis, Wrocław’s curator of the Modern Art Museum and a social activist. In a letter addressed to the Mayor of Wrocław the organization pointed out that the actions of the perpetrators were probably motivated by prejudice towards the victim’s sexual orientation and outlook on life and that several similar incidents have recently occurred in Wrocław (among them: an assault on a squat called Wagenburg, an assault on Centrum Reanimacji Kultury [Culture Reanimation Centre], destruction of the Wrocław Synagogue, the issue of Wrocław’s Romani people, attacks on Equality Marches or disturbing the lecture of prof. Zygmunt Bauman at the Wrocław University). As the Wrocław Police has declined to accept the incident report (most likely because the victim was not sober) the organization asked the mayor to provide information on what actions have the police or the mayor taken in this case.
In July the Polish Society of Anti-discrimination Law made an appeal to the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment to work for the cause of extending the obligation to introduce rational improvements* for disabled people. In the current legal status there is no obligation to implement such changes for people remaining in non-employment working relationships, which is against the general rules of equal treatment in employment. According to the PSAL it’s a result of lack of implementation of European law in the Polish legal order.
Foundation Institute for Regional Development has informed about alarming reports regarding threats to co-financing the remunerations of disabled people, which might soon be significantly lowered as a result of a new EU ordinance. More information on this subject can be found HERE.
– Violence against women
The good news the organizations defending women’s rights (including Feminotkea) publicized in July is that Bronisław Komorowski signed the novelization of penal provisions, which will allow prosecuting rapists ex officio. The Act also addresses the issue of hearing the confessions of the victims of such crimes.
The bad news is that in July the results of an audit performed by the Supreme Audit Office were published, which state that the amendments to the Blue Card – rules of conduct when facing domestic violence, introduced in 2010 have turned out to be a failure. According to the Audit Office’s report the procedures are too bureaucratized and lengthy and the courts usually pronounce suspended sentences for perpetrators of domestic violence. Only in 6% of cases any corrective or educational actions were performed, that might have permanently altered the culprits attitudes.
The Feminoteka Foundation launched a photo campaign in July “Głosy Przeciw Przemocy” [Voices Against Violence] through which it wants to voice its protest against violence towards women, domestic violence but also a protest against the current standards of masculinity, oppressive towards women and men alike. The pictures are being published on the website of the Głosy Przeciw Przemocy” [Voices Against Violence] group and on the “Prosto Antyseksistowsko” [Simply and Anti-sexist] blog.
– Equality and Diversity
In the beginning of July the Responsible Business Forum informed, that the number of companies joining the Diversity Charter** in Poland is growing. In the whole Europe the number of the Card’s signatories equals 6500 while in Poland the Charter has already been signed by 67 companies. According to the Responsible Business Forum the growing interest of Polish companies towards this initiative is a signal, that the issue of diversity and its influence on the condition of companies is gaining wider acknowledgment.
We are also happy to inform that we have the first woman with a motorcycle speedway license in Poland. In 2011 the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights intervened to allow women to participate in speedway competitions and practices. The foundation explains its intervention as follows: “Examples of participation and successes of women in speedway competitions all over the world prove that applying the criteria of gender in selecting contestants is neither objective nor justified. Among the countries with a developed motorcycle speedway league, each one has at least one successful female competitor. Actions directed towards excluding women from participation in speedway competitions and practices based only on the issue of gender work against the constitutional equality and are an act of discrimination”. Congratulations!
Human rights freedom of speech and the right to information
In July there was also a lot of talk about Edward Snowden and the revealed infringements of human rights made by the USA. Many organizations have spoken on this matter including the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights and the Panoptykon Foundation. According to the opinion of the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights no law can prevent from revealing information concerning infringements of human rights and to make such information public is to simply take advantage of the freedom of speech. The Foundation supported the stand of Human Rights Watch pointing out that in USA no real protection exists for people who pro publico bono reveal secret information on human rights infringements (the so called whistleblowers). Katarzyna Szymielewicz from the Panoptykon Foundation wrote on the pages of Gazeta Wyborcza that – Poland should stand in the defense of its citizens rights, so also in the defense of Edward Snowden who alarmed that they were being broken. If we really believe that the standards of protecting privacy and freedom are important we cannot treat somebody like a criminal, just because in an act of civil disobedience he revealed that they were systemically broken.
The Polish oppositionists of the PRL era have also risen in his defense, and wrote an open letter in which they are demanding to offer him asylum in Poland.
Protection of privacy
July witnesses the continuation of the PRISM affair, works on the European reform of personal data protection and a free trade agreement between USA and the European Union. Unfortunately as the Panoptykon Foundation alarmed the chances that the Americans will start following European standards of personal data protection are slim, while the European institutions, who through their rhetoric defend civil rights*** yield before the paradigm of safety and free trade when it comes to “real politics”. Therefore privacy gives way to economical interests. As the Panoptykon Foundation reports, the PRISM scandal did not harm the negotiations between USA and the European Union regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the member countries decided that investigating this case and collection of data will take place parallel to trade negotiations and discussions between experts on data protection. The organization alarms that fulfillment of commercial interests may come at a price of privacy of EU citizens! The European Parliament will soon check if the Americans have spied on EU countries and institutions and propose appropriate measures. Meanwhile the organization explains how our personal details find their way to the USA and comments on further actions of EU authorities and Polish institutions in regard of personal data protection.
The Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights is also actively participating in relation to this matter. In the opinion of Adam Bodnar, vice-president of the Foundation of Human Rights – If we know that USA is spying on everybody in the world, including our own citizens, then our authorities should consider and maybe react to this through diplomatic means. Angela Merkel is undertaking such actions I don’t see it happening here. That is why in the end of the month the organization approached the parliamentary committees, the Ministry of Administration and Digitalization of Poland and the Ministry of the Interior, asking for answers regarding the protection of privacy of Polish citizens in the internet.
We would also like to inform about the international operation against electronic surveillance. NGO’s from all over the world have joined together to promote the “International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance”. These principles define the standards which should be observed by governments all over the world if they decide to interfere with communications between their citizens. The creators of these regulations had one thought in mind: the electronic surveillance has gone too far and it needs to be restrained. The “Principles” are the results of a year’s worth of efforts by over a 100 citizen organizations such as the Panoptykon Foundation. Organizations as well as individuals are welcome to sign the principles. More information can be found at the www.necessaryandproportionate.org website.
Access to public information
We return to more local issues. In July Citizens Network Watchdog Poland published a video on the internet in which it talks about restrictions to the citizen’s rights to access public information and to supervise the authorities, referring to the statements and judgments of the Supreme Administrative Court’s judge Irena Kamińska. The judge introduced a new term to the jurisdiction – “an internal document” which figures neither in the Constitution of the Republic of Poland nor in the Access to Public Information Act. According to the organization judge Kamińska also expresses opinions unsupported by facts, regarding “overuse of the right to information” which are gaining a wider circle of followers. Citizens Network Watchdog Poland considers such opinions to be not untrue not only because the number of petitions for public information addressed to offices is not as high as the officials claim, but also because it questions the idea of “overuse of the right to information”. It is after all one of the human rights and can human rights be overused? The organization also intervened on the issue of presenting the idea of public disclosure in the Ministry of Justice’s journal “Na wokandzie” which published the controversial statements of judge Kamińska.
Good governance – openness and transparency of public finances
Money is always a hot topic. Such was the case with the judgment made by the National Chamber of Appeal from July this year. The judgment confirmed the charges made by the Public Procurement Office against the Supreme Court, that it has infringed the law by not organizing a tender for modernization of its internet website. The law obliges to call for tenders for every public expenditure of above EUR 14,000 while the Supreme Court spent over half a million of Polish Zlotys on its website. This case was revealed thanks to the Fundacja ePaństwo [eState Foundation] which gained access to the agreement for executing the order by exerting its right to information.
The next information is also related to finances. Following the statements of Platforma Obywatelska politicians concerning the introduction of a project that would cancel state financing of political parties, a group of NGO’s (the Stefan Batory Foundation, Fundacja Forum Europejskie [European Forum Foundation], The Institute of Public Affairs, Projekt: Polska Association and School for Leaders Association) alarmed that this decision is against the public interest. They reminded that financing political parties from state budget was introduced in 2001 to prevent political corruption. The organizations warned against such a solution to the problem of financing political parties and once more called for a debate and bringing changes to this issue. In the statement published by the abovementioned organizations we can read that:
- Political parties should be obliged to publish financial statements and scans of invoices on their websites
- The amount of governmental financing for parties should be diminished
- Extending the powers and strengthening the National Elections Committee so that it will be able to supervise expenses of political parties not only concerning formal but also essential terms.
According to the signatories of the statement such changes would support equalizing opportunities for new and old political groups, forcing parties to search for supporters in a more dynamic way and first and foremost to publish financial statements which will cause irregularities to be revealed and would stir the debate on transparency of political parties finances. The statement can be found HERE.
The Referendum for removing the President of Warsaw from her office
Just before the end of gathering signatures under the petition for a referendum to call off the President of Warsaw Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz from office which was going on for a couple of months, the Prime Minister Donald Tusk appealed to ignore the referendum. The words of the Prime Minister: I hope that the citizens of Warsaw will give their vote of confidence to Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz by not participating in the referendum, have appalled the organizers of the “Masz głos, masz wybór” [You have a vote you have a choice] campaign, whose goal is to encourage Polish people to participate in elections. – We are deeply moved by the Prime Minister’s words as Poland’s great problem is that citizens don’t want to participate in elections because they don’t believe in the power of their votes, they think they don’t matter. That’s why asking them to not take part in the referendum is a bad idea – said Joanna Załuska, vice-president of the Batory Foundation and the director of the “You have a vote you have a choice” program. Discouraging people from participating in the referendum outraged also its initiators, the mayor of Ursynów Piotr Guział and the Warsaw Self-Governance Community (WWS). Gathering signatures ended in the next to last weekend of July. WWS gathered 166 thousands of valid signatures and the referendum will take place on the 13th of October.
In July the initiative of Stowarzyszenie Szczecinianie Decydują [The Citizens of Szczecin Decide Association] drew much attention, when on the 19th of July it organized the Szczecińska Noc Antykorupcyjna [The Szczecin Anti-Corruption Night]. This was the first event of its kind in Szczecin and its purpose was to draw the attention to create an open, public, transparent register of agreements signed by the city.
In the beginning of 2013 the Association approached the office with a petition to create a register of all agreements made by the municipality, which would include all information concerning who was commissioned with what and for what amount. The city government responded that it has no legal abilities to create such a register, so the organization asked for providing all recent agreements signed by the office instead. The office provided these agreements and the Association invited (a movie with the invitation can be found HERE) all the men and women of Szczecin to participate in the creation of such a register. The Anti-Corruption Night proved to be a success, and the commitment of the citizens has surpassed the organizers expectations. Who knows, maybe this event will become cyclical?
* Rational improvements consist of undertaking necessary changes or adjustments to specific needs of a disabled person, reported to the employer.
** The Diversity Charter is an international initiative supported by the European Committee and implemented in 12 countries of the European Union. The Charter is a written commitment of employers to introduce working solutions for the development of the policy of equal treatment and managing diversity at the workplace and to popularize them among business and social partners. The Responsible Business Forum is the coordinator of the Polish Diversity Charter.
***European Union and PRISM: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/content/20130701STO14753/html/A-question-of-trust-MEPs-call-for-answers-from-US-over-spying-scandal; http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-13-607_en.htm; http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-641_en.htm).
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.
Translation of this text was financed by the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe.