The following information is based on the Amnesty International Report 2021/22. This report documented the human rights situation in 149 countries in 2021, as well as providing global and regional analysis. It presents Amnesty International’s concerns and calls for action to governments and others.
The authorities continued to erode the independence of the judiciary and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that two of Poland’s high judicial bodies did not meet fair trial standards. There was a further rollback of sexual and reproductive rights. Criminal charges used to curtail freedom of expression were dropped, or the activists acquitted. Several regional councils withdrew anti-LGBTI declarations but violations of LGBTI rights continued. Border guards pushed asylum seekers back to Belarus. Poland did not implement the ECtHR ruling regarding Abu Zubaydah, who remained held in the US detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The government continued to target judges and prosecutors who raised concerns over the lack of independence of the judiciary. In January, the National Prosecutor transferred seven prosecutors to new posts within 48 hours and hundreds of kilometres away from their place of residence. Six of the prosecutors were members of an association defending the rule of law. NGOs criticized the transfers as punitive.
International concern over the erosion of judicial independence continued.1 In March, the European Commission (EC) referred Poland to the EU Court of Justice over its 2020 law on the judiciary, which prevents courts in the country from submitting requests to the Court of Justice for preliminary rulings in relation to disciplinary proceedings against judges. In July, the Court of Justice ruled that the Disciplinary Chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court lacked the independence and impartiality required by EU law.
In response, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal held that such rulings were not compatible with the Constitution and asserted the primacy of Polish law over EU law. In November, the Constitutional Tribunal declared Article 6 (the right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights incompatible with the Constitution. In December, the EC launched another infringement procedure against Poland over the rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal.
The ECtHR also ruled that Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal and the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber failed to meet fair trial requirements. In May, in Xero Flor v Poland, the ECtHR held that the actions of the legislature and the executive amounted to unlawful external influence in the election of three judges of the Constitutional Tribunal in 2015. In July, in Reczkowicz v Poland, the ECtHR held that the Disciplinary Chamber was not an independent tribunal as irregularities in the appointment of its judges severely compromised its legitimacy.
In April, the ECtHR formally requested a response from Poland about alleged violations in the case of Judge Paweł Juszczyszyn, who had been suspended by the Disciplinary Chamber in 2020 after he questioned the independence of the National Council of the Judiciary.
Judge Igor Tuleya, an outspoken critic of government interference with judicial independence, continued to face criminal proceedings after the Disciplinary Chamber removed his immunity in 2020.2
In October, the Group of Experts (GREVIO) monitoring implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) urged Poland to fully incorporate the notion of freely given consent, as required by the Istanbul Convention, and to ensure appropriate sanctions for all non-consensual sexual acts. GREVIO also criticized Poland for the lack of action on domestic violence.
There was a further rollback on sexual and reproductive rights.3 In January, the Constitutional Tribunal published a ruling that the law permitting abortions in cases of severe fetal impairments was unconstitutional. Hospitals in Poland stopped providing abortion services in cases of such impairments to avoid medical staff facing criminal liability. In July, the ECtHR formally requested a response from Poland in the cases of 12 individuals who claimed that the country’s abortion legislation violated their right to a private and family life and the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.
The publication of the Constitutional Court ruling banning abortions in cases of severe fetal impairments triggered protests in January and February. During demonstrations held on 27 January in Warsaw, the police arrested 20 protesters and filed 250 cases alleging administrative offences. The police took the arrested protesters to stations outside Warsaw, which hindered their access to lawyers.
In March, the District Court in Płock acquitted three activists who faced charges of “offending religious beliefs” for possessing and distributing posters and stickers depicting the Virgin Mary with an LGBTI rainbow halo. An appeal by the prosecutor was pending at the end of the year.
In June, the police closed the investigation into a charge of “theft and burglary” allegedly committed by two activists involved in a 2020 poster campaign accusing the government of manipulating Covid-19 statistics.
In November, a district court in Warsaw convicted journalist Ewa Siedlecka of criminal defamation for articles she wrote in 2019. She had exposed a hate campaign linked to the then deputy justice minister, which targeted judges opposing “reforms” which undermined judicial independence.
In response to continuing violations of LGBTI people’s rights, the European Commission launched infringement procedures. In September it requested that five regional councils withdraw anti-LGBTI declarations adopted in 2019, making it a condition of receipt of EU funding. In response, also in September, four regional councils withdrew such resolutions.
Border guard officials admitted pushing back asylum seekers to Belarus. Between 18 and 19 August a group of 32 asylum seekers from Afghanistan, who had entered from Belarus, was pushed back to the Belarussian side of the border. All 32 tried to seek international protection in Poland but Polish border guards would not allow them to access Polish territory. Despite two orders by the ECtHR, Poland failed to provide the group with food, water, shelter, medical assistance and access to lawyers.4
In October, parliament adopted amendments to the Law on Foreigners and the Law on Granting Protection to Foreigners under which those who cross the border “irregularly” must leave the territory of Poland and are banned from re-entry. The law thus makes it generally impossible for people who enter “irregularly” to seek asylum in Poland.
On 2 September, the President declared a state of emergency on the border with Belarus, which prohibited access to the border area by journalists, media workers and NGOs, and barred lawyers from accessing asylum seekers.5 On 1 December, an amendment to the law on border protection banned entry into the border area without time limits.
In April, Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian national detained in Guantánamo Bay, submitted a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calling for his release. Abu Zubaydah had been held in a secret detention site in Poland between 2002 and 2003, and Poland again failed to implement fully the ECtHR ruling and carry out an effective investigation of the case.
In December Ewa Wrzosek, a Warsaw district prosecutor and member of Lex Super Omnia, an association defending the rule of law, was notified by Apple that her phone had been targeted by Pegasus spyware from surveillance company NSO Group.
Charges against an activist facing up to three years in prison for helping a pregnant woman access abortion pills in Poland must be dropped said Amnesty International today ahead of the resumption of her trial in Warsaw tomorrow.
The Polish authorities have arbitrarily detained nearly two thousand asylum-seekers who crossed into the country from Belarus in 2021, and subjected many of them to abuse, including strip searches in unsanitary, overcrowded facilities, and in some cases even to forcible sedation and tasering, Amnesty International said today.
The Polish authorities must relieve volunteers from the responsibility of receiving people fleeing from Ukraine and address the chaotic and dangerous situation in Poland to ensure that they do not face further suffering, said Amnesty International after the organization concluded a 10-day visit to the country.
Asylum-seekers and migrants trying to enter the EU from Belarus and facing pushbacks and other human rights violations on the Polish border, are subjected to horrific torture or other ill-treatment, inhumane conditions, extortion and other abuse at the hands of Belarusian forces, new evidence gathered by Amnesty International reveals.
In response to today’s proposals from the European Commission which would allow Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to derogate from EU rules, including by holding asylum-seekers and migrants at the border for 16 weeks with minimal safeguards, Eve Geddie, Director of Amnesty International’s European Office said: “The arrival of people at the EU’s borders with Belarus is entirely manageable with the rules as they stand. Today’s proposals will further punish people for political gain, weaken asylum protections, and undermine the EU’s standing at home and abroad. If the EU can allow a minority of member states to throw out the rule book due to the presence of a few thousand people at its border, it throws out any authority it has on human rights and the rule of law.
People’s rights are being violated by governments in Europe and Central Asia, who are cracking down on protests and seeking to erode the independence of the judiciary to avoid accountability, …
Women activists around the world have been at the forefront of the battle for human rights in 2018, Amnesty International said today as it launched its review on the state …
International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. “Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
Poland’s legal system falls dangerously short when it comes to protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and other minority groups from hate crimes, Amnesty International said in a new report today less than two months ahead of general elections.
This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change.