Poland Human Rights


In May Poland was referred to the European Court of Justice by the European Commission for failing to incorporate into national law EU legislation prohibiting gender discrimination in access to, and supply of, goods and services. The anti-discrimination legislation had not been adopted by the end of December. However, the government did prepare a draft law to strengthen the powers of the Commissioner for the Protection of Civil Rights to act as an equality body.

Sexual and reproductive rights

Women had difficulty accessing abortion services within the health system even when permitted by law, including in cases when their lives were at risk. Medical service providers and health institutions were not held accountable for denying access to lawful health services or for the consequences of that denial on women's health and lives. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights criticized Poland for not guaranteeing basic sexual and reproductive health services such as contraception and family planning services.

Parliament adopted the Patients' Rights and the Ombudsperson for Patients' Rights Act, which allows any patient to file an objection against a physician's opinion or ruling. Its enactment followed a 2007 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Tysiac v Poland that Poland violated the right to respect for private life because it provided no timely or effective means for women to appeal against doctors' decisions to deny them access to abortion services. However, the new law required the Medical Board to rule on a complaint within 30 days, a delay that could be too long for certain medical procedures and thus constitute a violation of the right to health. In addition, the Medical Board was allowed to return a patient's complaint unanswered if they were unable to cite the legal basis of the rights or obligations being claimed. The need to hire a lawyer was a serious disincentive for patients in low or middle income groups.

In June the European Court of Human Rights asked the government to clarify the circumstances of the death in September 2004 of a 25-year-old pregnant woman, Z. In the months before her death, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and an abscess that required three operations to remove. Z was admitted to a number of hospitals, but none would perform a full endoscopy and other diagnostic examinations for fear of risking the life of the fetus, despite appeals from her family. Z miscarried on 5 September 2004 in the fifth month of pregnancy and died from septic shock on 29 September 2004.

Justice system

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on pretrial detentions and prison overcrowding in Poland.

In February, in Kauczor v Poland, the Court concluded that numerous cases of excessively lengthy detention on remand revealed a "malfunctioning of the Polish criminal justice system" that affected large numbers of individuals.

In Jamrozy v Poland, the Court ruled in September that the extensive length of pre-trial detention – more than two years – violated the right to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial.

In October the Court found Poland in violation of the prohibition of torture or degrading treatment. Krzysztof Orchowski had passed most of his prison sentence in a cell with a personal space smaller than 3m² and at times 2m². The government acknowledged that prison overcrowding was systemic.

Freedom of expression

Criminalizing defamation, an offence punishable by up to two years' imprisonment for journalists (Article 212 of the criminal code), had – in at least one case – an adverse effect on freedom of expression.

In February the European Court of Human Rights found that Poland had violated the right to freedom of expression. In 2000 journalist Jacek Dlugolecki was convicted of insulting a politician under Article 212 and fined. The ruling stated that the penalty amounted to a form of censorship and that the conviction was likely to deter journalists from contributing to public discussion or performing their task as public watchdog.

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