For many years there has been an ongoing debate in Poland concerning the circumstances in which abortion should become legal or even if it should be legal at all. During one of September sittings of the Sejm a first reading of a draft bill that toughens the current law regulating this matter took place. The purpose of the project which was later put to vote, was to introduce a prohibition against abortion in cases where the fetus is diagnosed with a serious and non-reversible congenital disorder or an incurable fatal disease. In real life this would mean that the woman would be forced to give birth even if the baby would not survive more than a couple of hours or days after the birth. According to the opinion of the organizations defending women’s rights this project deprives women of their right to decide if they feel up to giving birth to a terminally ill child. The Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning initiated an action to convince the male and female members of the parliament to reject the draft bill after the first reading. The intervention included a demonstration in front of the Sejm, discussions, sending out emails and tweets to the members of the parliament. The organizations presented them also with a joint petition signed by the Feminoteka Foundation, the Autonomy Foundation, the Campaign Against Homophobia and the Fundacja Rodzić po Ludzku [Giving Birth Humanly Foundation]. Federa organized also a press conference “No to toughening the anti-abortion law”, during which guests pointed out different views on what would the passing of this amendment actually bring. In the end the amendment draft did not garner enough votes.
The fight against discrimination
The watchdogs are also continuing their fight against discrimination.
In September a new campaign against racism and xenophobia was launched in Białystok. The campaign named “Wiele kultur. Wiele nienawiści?” [Lots of cultures. Lots of hate?] was opened by the TrzyRzecze theatre. A special poster was created for the campaign, showing two photographs. On the left a photograph picturing the events of the Kristallnacht and on the right a picture of a door to the apartment of a Chechen refugee and his wife, that was set on fire. The pictures was signed “Berlin 1938” and “Białystok 2013” with an additional commentary “back then they also called this: just an act of vandalism”. This poster is TrzyRzecze theatre’s idea to draw attention to the problem of racism in Białystok. As a part of Gazeta.pl’s “Wykopmy rasizm z Białegostoku” campaign [“Let’s kick racism out of Białystok”] which we’ve talked about in previous articles, the Theater launched an internet portal zamalujzlo.pl which gives the opportunity to report signs of “hate speech” – inscriptions and drawings made on walls. Every report is examined and dealt with accordingly.
Hate speech in the internet
Through 18 and 19 of September a conference was taking place in Warsaw, it’s title: “Hate speech in the public debate – where does the responsibility lie?” organized by the Ministry of Administration and Digitalisation and the European Council. The issues of hate speech, freedom of speech and legal solutions were discussed by scientists, NGOs representatives and politicians from Poland and other European countries. The debate featured reports on recently committed crimes that relate to these problems. An account from the conference can be seen here and here.
A couple of days later on the 24 of September, a meeting with the communities engaged in the fight against hate crimes initiated by the General Prosecutor Andrzej Seremet was held at the Office of the General Prosecutor. The invited organizations included among others: The Open Republic Association and the Never Again Association – the problem of growing xenophobia is a serious issue that requires the involvement of many entities including the Prosecutor’s Office. The public interest demands that all racist and xenophobic crimes should be persecuted even when they affect only a narrow social group – said Andrzej Seremet during the meeting. The participants agreed that a close cooperation and exchange of experiences between the prosecution and the organisations lies in the public interest and that such meetings should be held periodically.
At this point it is worth mentioning the idea of training courses of fighting racism and xenophobia for prosecutors, which will be organised by the Open Republic and Never Again Associations. According to a member of the Ruch Narodowy [National Movement] – Adam Zawisza these organisations are extremely leftist and they are demonstrating an ideological view on the Polish national tradition. Watchdog organizations are attacked by the right-wing National Movement.
Protection of privacy
More information concerning the US PRISM scandal were also revealed last month. The Panoptykon Foundation, Amnesty International and the Helisnki Foundation for Human Rights organized a debate on the 11 of September discussing the boundaries of electronic surveillance. The acceptability and limits to mass surveillance were discussed during the debate as well as protection of privacy and legal regulations that should ensure it. The subject of Poland’s participation in the PRISM program was also mentioned. The outcome of the debate was a decision made by the Human Rights Committee of the Sejm and Senate to hold hearings of the government and public services in relation to PRISM. Poland will also try to urge the European Committee to make the negotiations with the USA on trade partnership dependant on receiving clarifications regarding this and other surveillance systems. The participants were also emphasising the necessity to find a solution to Poland’s problems with supervision of secret services and protection of privacy. The watchdogs present during the discussion announced that they will keep an eye on these matters. A summary of the debate can be found here. The full debate can be viewed here.
On the 23 of September 13 principles regarding the introduction of regulations allowing the control of communication between citizens were announced in Geneva. All countries wishing to introduce such regulations should follow these principles. They were developed by civil organisations from all over the world including the Panoptykon Foundation and published for the first time on the 31 of July 2013. We wrote about International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance here.
Involvement of society
The ePF Foundation working for the development of an open and transparent authority and civil involvement launched a new initiative in September called “Code for Poland”, i.e. a series of meetings for programmers coding for their local communities. The objective of the campaign is to promote “coding”, “programming” and “being a developer” as modern forms of patriotism. The foundation wants to involve young developers to create new solutions for everyday challenges of interaction between the citizens and the government and to create modern applications for public services which will encourage the Polish society to participate in public life and to utilize open data. More information regarding the Code for Poland initiative can be found here.
There are no citizens without democracy and there is no democracy without citizens
Finally, it is worth mentioning an event important to all the Polish watchdogs – the inauguration of the Citizens for Democracy program financed from the Norwegian Funds and EEA. This program led by the Batory Foundation in partnership with the Polish Children and Youth Foundation in future years will finance the activities of NGO’s working to develop a civil society, social justice, democracy and balanced development. The subsidies from the 150 mln PLN which form the budget of the Program will be predominantly used to increase the citizens participation in public life, popularizing democratic values and human rights, the development of advocacy and civil control, supporting groups in danger of exclusion, supporting non-governmental organisations and helping the development of the third sector. Over 300 representatives of NGO’s participated in the conference at the inauguration of the program. All information regarding the Citizens for Democracy program can be found here.
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.