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.
Targeted by Hatred, Forgotten by Law shows how the state has excluded whole communities from hate crime legislation, including homeless people, people with disabilities and the LGBTI community.
“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,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination in Europe and Central Asia.
The LGBTI community in Poland faces widespread and ingrained discrimination across the country. While there are no reliable official statistics, Campaign against Homophobia, a major Polish LGBTI organization, recorded at least 120 homophobic or transphobic hate crimes in 2014 alone, though the true figure is believed to be much higher.
In the city of Szczecin, members of the LGBTI community spoke of living in fear since a 20-year-old gay man was brutally beaten to death after leaving a gay club in January 2014. His body was found on a nearby construction site with his face covered in bruises and his trousers pulled down – the eventual cause of death was drowning, as his face had been pushed into a puddle repeatedly.
Authorities ignored the possibility that the killing could have been motivated by homophobia and the court treated the attack as a common crime when it convicted the two men responsible.
In May 2015, Dariusz, an anti-Nazi activist and street artist, was kicked and spat on in front of one of his murals depicting a rainbow in Zywiec, while verbally abused as a “faggot whore.” But in the written record of the judgment against the man responsible, the insults are simply called “vulgar,” with no mention of a homophobic motive.
Poland has also seen a number of vicious beatings of homeless people over the past years. But despite some of the attacks were at least partially motivated by the victims’ socioeconomic status, they have been treated as ordinary crimes by the police.
Stanisław, a homeless person living in Rzeszów, was beaten up and set alight in October 2012. Although the perpetrators acknowledged they had attacked other homeless people out of “boredom” in the past, the sentence did not reflect the gravity of the motivation.
“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.”
The protection gap means that there are no institutional mechanisms – like specialized prosecutors or police coordinators – to deal with attacks based on discrimination along the lines of disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or social and economic status. Nor are there any efforts to develop effective policies to prevent these hate crimes, investigate all cases and prosecute those responsible.
Poland lacks a systematic effort to collect data on attacks against these groups by the state, meaning that authorities have no way of knowing the scope of the problem.
Efforts to reform the criminal code have stalled, despite a bill being tabled in 2012 to protect LGBTI individuals, people with disability or older people from hate crimes. The proposal has met furious resistance from some parts of Polish society, with one MP in 2015 calling it an attempt “to introduce a sick ideology of gender which promotes sexual pathologies."
The issue is likely to remain contentious ahead of Poland’s general elections on October 25 this year.
“Poland must once and for all take concrete steps to ensure that all minority groups in the country receive the same protection by law. The next government and parliament must make human rights a priority, and top of the list should be to end discrimination. No person in Poland should have to live in fear of violent attacks just because of who they are,” said Marco Perolini.