Poland: It’s Time to Take Hate Crimes Seriously

September 18, 2015


In January 2014, a 24-year-old Polish gay man was murdered shortly after leaving a club in Szczecin. His body was found on a nearby construction site, his face covered in bruises and his pants pulled down. Medical examiners found that he had drowned, as his face had been pushed into a puddle repeatedly. Authorities ignored the possibility that homophobia motivated the murder, and the court treated this attack as a common crime when it convicted the two men responsible.

Poland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community faces widespread and ingrained discrimination. While there are no reliable official statistics, Campaign Against Homophobia, a leading Polish LGBT organization, recorded at least 120 homophobic or transphobic hate crimes in 2014 alone, although the true number is believed to be much higher.

The murder of the young gay man and the failure of the authorities to address homophobia’s possible role in his killing have left Szczecin’s LGBT community living in fear, according to a new Amnesty International report. Targeted By Hatred, Forgotten By Law shows how Poland’s legal system falls dangerously short when it comes to protecting LGBT people and other minority groups from hate crimes. Whole communities, including homeless persons, people with disabilities, and LGBT people, are excluded entirely from hate crimes legislation.

Every year, hundreds of people in Poland suffer beatings, harassment, and other crimes simply because of their identity or their belonging to a certain minority group. Hate crimes have a pernicious and long-lasting impact on victims and communities, and require a coherent and thorough response from policymakers, law enforcement officials, and the criminal justice system.

According to Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination in Europe and Central Asia, “Poland has a two-tiered legal system that protects some minority groups but leaves others to fend for themselves. If you are a gay man or woman, a person with a disability or a homeless person in Poland and attacked because of who you are, the police will just treat it as an ordinary crime, not as a hate crime – this dangerous protection gap must be closed immediately.

The widespread hate crimes in Poland are part of the disturbing rise of racist and homophobic violence against migrants, Muslims, Roma, and LGBT people across Europe over the past few years – a trend that sets the backdrop for xenophobic responses to the escalating refugee crisis. In February 2015, an Amnesty International report documented the failure of Bulgarian authorities to adequately investigate and prosecute hate crimes, thus fueling fear, discrimination, and violence. In Greece, the police have failed to identify, let alone punish the perpetrators of an August 2014 brutal homophobic and racist attack on Costas and his partner, an immigrant, in central Athens.

L., a student from Mozambique living in Łódź, told Amnesty International about an attack in 2013 on him and his friends by men shouting, “Let’s attack the monkeys.” Despite his two friends suffering a broken jaw and a broken arm, none of them reported the attack to the police: “I don’t trust them, really,” he explained, and recalled fearing that the police would side with the attackers.

In Białystok, local police failed to investigate a series of physical assaults and arson attacks targeting asylum seekers and other immigrants and foreigners, prompting many survivors to leave Poland altogether. Only after a May 2013 arson attack on an Indian-Polish family drew the attention of national authorities did the city police start rounding up those suspected of attacks on minorities. But such violent attacks continued, even as Białystok authorities denied that a wave of hate crimes had taken place, painting some of the perpetrators instead as drunken soccer hooligans acting alone.

“Poland has taken some commendable steps to tackle hate crimes motivated by racism and xenophobia. But it is difficult to swallow that other minority groups who live with the same daily fears and harassment have not been given the same priority,” said Marco Perolini. “Poland has obligations under international law to ensure that all minority groups are equally protected from discrimination. “The fact that authorities are failing to do so is actually discriminatory in itself,” he noted.

Amnesty International calls on the Polish government to pass legislation to amend the Criminal Code so that crimes motivated by discrimination on any grounds, including age, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and social or economic status, are investigated and prosecuted as hate crimes. Amnesty also calls on the European Union to revise its framework on racist and xenophobic violence to ensure that crimes motivated on these grounds are also investigated and prosecuted as hate crimes.

“Poland must once and for all take concrete steps to ensure that all minority groups in the country receive the same protection by law. No person in Poland should have to live in fear of violent attacks just because of who they are,” said Perolini.