Poland is dismantling the hate crime policy, warn civil society groups

grafika raport hate crime onzWARSAW, POLAND – The number of reported racist incidents is rising, yet Poland is slowly dismantling its hate crime protection system – alert Polish NGOs in a new report, published on November 23. The report was submitted by Lambda Warsaw, Association for Legal Intervention and The Diversity Workshop to the UN Human Rights Council. It evidences that, while Poland has failed to address some gaps in hate crime policy for years, the situation has got worse since the new conservative government came to power.

Anti-hate crime organizations Lambda Warsaw, Association for Legal Intervention and The Diversity Workshop prepared the report for the UN Human Rights Council for the third round of the Universal Periodic Review. This control mechanism is set up to determine the state of human rights protection in individual countries. Four years ago, Poland accepted UPR recommendations concerning, inter alia, hate crime. To this day, however, it has not fulfilled them. – Currently, Polish law recognizes only racist and xenophobic hate crimes. International organizations recommend that the law should treat homophobic crimes the same way it treats racism, namely that the punishment should be more severe – said Piotr Godzisz from Lambda Warsaw and University College London, one of the authors of the report.

One example that homophobic motivation does not impact the punishment is the case of a murder of a gay student in Szczecin in 2014, described in the report. When giving the sentence, the court did not consider the motivation, even though evidence showed that the perpetrators were guided by the prejudice against the victim’s sexual orientation.

But the problem is mostly visible with less brutal offences, such as threats or minor physical assaults, which are also the most pervasive. – Studies indicate that hate crimes hurt more than ordinary crimes because they are repetitive and victims are particularly vulnerable. But while victims of racism and xenophobia benefit from enhanced protection, prosecuting cases of threats or physical assaults based on sexual orientation is difficult. In those cases, the victim needs to make a private complaint and pay a court fee, which often discourages them. In result, most LGBT victims do not report to the Police, and incidents go unpunished – said Mateusz Wąsik, Lambda’s lawyer, co-author of the publication. A summary of cases handled by Lambda Warsaw and Campaign Against Homophobia in 2015 shows that, while 53 cases of anti-LGBT incidents were reported to the two organizations, majority of victims did not report to the Police.

A Bill, aiming to rectify the situation of hate crime victims by adding sex, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation and age to the Criminal Code was rejected by the Polish Parliament in October, having received a negative opinion from the government and National Prosecutor’s Office. In a written statement, the Prosecutor General argued, inter alia, that the term sexual orientation is unclear, and might include paedophilia.

Previous Bills to amend hate crime laws were discussed in the Parliament in 2011, 2012 and 2014, during the less conservative rule of Civic Platform party, without success.

The report analyses not only the Criminal Code, but also the work of the Police, prosecution services and judiciary. It shows that, while some concerns, such as low reporting of anti-LGBT hate crimes, have not been addressed for years, a limited progress in other areas was made. For example, Poland introduced a working definition of hate crime for the purpose of monitoring. Sexual orientation, gender identity and disability are included in the definition, despite not being mentioned in the Criminal Code. This was possible by adding a special ‘bias motivation checkbox’ in the Police case management system. Nevertheless, while the box is there, in 2015 it was not checked even once. As the most recent OSCE ODIHR hate crime report shows, Poland failed to register a single case of anti-LGBT or disability hate crime in 2015. – This is surprising, as some cases of homophobic violence were widely publicized, and Police even commented on them in the media. The fact that they didn’t mark them as hate crimes in the system clearly shows that officers need more training on recognizing what hate crime is, and how to use the data collection system – observes Godzisz.

But that they will receive it, there are serious doubts. Since winning the elections in the end of 2015, the conservative Law and Justice government has shown that countering intolerance in Poland will not be a priority. Government officials have consistently failed to condemn widely publicized incidents, such as a case in which a priest alluded, during a mass, that Jews are a cancer for Poland, or a series of attacks on LGBT groups. Far-right groups, such as the National Radical Camp (ONR) enjoy a tacit support of some of the Law and Justice politicians.

The government has also been tinkering with bodies concerned with racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia. In early 2016, the Prime Minister Beata Szydło dissolved the Council for Counteracting Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which existed since 2013. In the next move, the meeting of a working group on hate crime – a consultation body with NGOs – was cancelled last minute and never called again. In November 2016, the Human Rights Protection Team in the Ministry of Interior and Administration, responsible for hate crime data collection and Police training, was dissolved. People and tasks were transferred to the Division for the European Migration Network and Anti-Trafficking. While theoretically only the name changes, the move, advocates warn, is only the first step. – If government representatives speak up about racist attacks on Poles after Brexit, but marginalize the problem at home, should we really not be concerned? – asks Godzisz. – All signs that the government is trying to dismantle the system, which started to be introduced under the previous government and which was about the bear fruits, are there.

Anti-hate advocates make it no secret that they hope that raising the topic on the international forum could help stop the regressive action. – The gaps in protection and persistent disregard for international recommendations puts Poland in a bad light and threatens its international reputation – said dr. Witold Klaus from the Association of Legal Intervention. – We hope that international pressure will eventually result in an increased protection of groups who experience hate violence – he added.

Poland will need to discuss its hate crime record next year in Geneva, during the session of the Human Rights Council.

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Media contacts:

Lambda Warsaw:

Policy, research and advocacy officer – Piotr Godzisz, pgodzisz@lambdawarszawa.org

Legal Intervention Association:

Chairman of the board – Witold Klaus, w.klaus@interwencjaprawna.pl

Diversity Workshop Association:

Board member – Przemek Szczepłocki, pracowniaroznorodnosci@gmail.com.