The US State Department has identified a number of “significant human rights issues in Poland”, including concerns over the rule of law, free speech, the treatment of migrants and ethnic minorities, LGBT rights, and access to sexual and reproductive health services.
However, in its annual report on human rights practices, the State Department also praised Poland for its “quick, decisive actions to protect refugees from Ukraine” following Russia’s invasion last year.
In the introduction to its country report on Poland, the State Department notes that “significant human rights issues included credible reports of:
problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on freedom of expression including criminal defamation and offending religious sentiment laws; reports of mistreatment of irregular migrants from third countries; substantial barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of ethnic minorities, and crimes motivated by antisemitism”.
Regarding the judiciary, the State Department pointed to expert analysis showing that the Polish government’s policies – which purportedly intended to improve efficiency and accountability – have resulted in “growing delays in court proceedings” and the “undermining of judicial independence”.
The report also notes that Poland’s defamation laws make it a criminal offence to insult many public officials, religious sentiment, state symbols and even the Polish nation itself.
This can “pose a real risk of limiting freedom of expression and stifling free public debate”, including having a “chilling effect on journalists”, says the State Department, citing analysis by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.
The report observes that “discrimination and lack of equal rights for LGBTQI+ persons continued to be a problem” in Poland. “Some government officials made discriminatory, anti-LGBTQI+, or homophobic public statements,” it notes, including “transphobic statements” by ruling party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński.
An ongoing crisis at the border with Belarus, where tens of thousands of migrants and refugees – mostly from the Middle East, Asia and Africa – have been trying to cross, has led human rights groups to warn that “asylum seekers…[do] not have adequate access to protection and assistance”, writes the State Department.
It also points to allegations that the Polish border guard has been pushing asylum seekers back into Belarus despite them being likely to face abuse there. This practice has been found to violate the law by Polish courts, notes the State Department.
However, its report also highlights the huge amount of help given to Ukrainian refugees by the Polish government and people following Russia’s invasion in February, as well as the “humanitarian visas” it has issued to Belarusians fleeing their country’s repressive regime.
The State Department has compiled country reports on human rights practices for almost 50 years, with its latest set of reports, released last week, covering 198 countries and territories. Previous reports on Poland have highlighted similar “significant human rights issues”.