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Country Reports on Human Rights

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2006-03-10 11:25:36 / News read 3444 reading
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons: The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language or social status, and the government effectively enforced these provisions in practice; however, violence and societal discrimination against women and ethnic minorities persisted.

Women

Domestic violence against women continued to be a serious problem. Police statistics indicated that approximately 88,388 women were victims of domestic violence during 2004, with 17,158 convictions resulting from prosecution. During the year police reported 22,652 investigations, with 21,843 indictment requests forwarded to prosecutors. Women's organizations asserted that the number of women suffering from domestic abuse was probably much higher than reported. Violence against women remained hidden, particularly in small towns and villages.

The NGO Women's Rights Center reported that police were occasionally reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence, particularly when the perpetrator was a member of the police force and when victims were unwilling to cooperate. The police, in cooperation with the state agency for solving alcoholic problems, used the "blue card," a record‑keeping system designed to document incidents of spousal abuse. However, the program had limited effect due to inadequate funding. There were 150,266 cases of family abuse reported in 2004, compared with 137,299 in 2003. The increase in reported cases was attributed to heightened police awareness, particularly in urban areas, as a result of media campaigns and NGO efforts. According to NGOs, courts often treated domestic violence as a minor crime, pronounced lenient verdicts, or dismissed cases. Most convictions for domestic abuse resulted in suspended sentences, although the law provides for up to five years in prison. The law does not provide for restraining orders to protect abused women from further abuse.

NGOs operated a number of centers to assist victims, provide preventive treatment and counseling to perpetrators, and train personnel working with domestic violence victims. Victims and their families received legal assistance from the ministry of internal affairs and psychological assistance from the ministry of labor and social policy, which also operated 9 shelters for pregnant women and mothers with small children and 158 crisis centers. Approximately 341 persons used the shelters during the year, and 31,943 persons used the crisis centers during the first 6 months of the year. However, neither the shelters nor the crisis centers were devoted exclusively to battered women. Women's advocacy groups complained there were too few state‑supported shelters for battered women.

In July parliament passed a domestic violence law that provides for the creation of a national program on counteracting domestic violence, as well as provisions to support victims of domestic violence legally, psychologically, and physically.

Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison. During the year 1,987 cases of rape were reported, a slight decrease from the 2,176 reported in 2004. However, women often were unwilling to report the crime because of the associated social stigma, and NGOs estimated that the actual number of rapes was 10 times higher than reported. Of the 1,773 preparatory proceedings that police undertook for rape allegations, 1,360 were forwarded to prosecutors for indictment.

In divorce cases, courts frequently granted a divorce without providing for a property settlement, forcing women to return to abusive husbands. This problem was exacerbated by a lack of alternative housing.

Prostitution is legal, but pimping is illegal. Experts estimate that 30 thousand to 35 thousand women worked as prostitutes, many of them employed by the country's 1 thousand "escort services." Trafficking in women for the purposes of sexual exploitation was a problem (see section 5, Trafficking).

The law prohibits sexual harassment and regards it as "discrimination because of gender." The NGO Center for Women's Rights believed that sexual harassment was a serious and underreported problem. Many victims either did not report the crime (out of shame or fear of losing their job) or, according to police authorities, withdrew their claims as police investigations progressed. Social awareness of the problem continued to increase, however, as more reports of sexual harassment cases appeared in the media. Cases were typically prosecuted under a law stating that whoever takes advantage of a position of power in a relationship to gain sexual gratification may be sentenced to up to three years in prison. During the year police reported 54 investigations into sexual harassment cases under this law; in 2004 there were 225 such investigations, 13 of which resulted in convictions. Police attributed the difference in results to the incarceration of repeated violators.

The constitution provides for equal rights regardless of gender in family law, property law, and in the judicial system; however, apart from the constitution and the labor code, there were no laws to implement this provision. Women mainly held lower-level positions and frequently were paid less for equivalent work, were fired more readily, and were less likely to be promoted than men.

Women are prohibited from working underground (that is, in mining) or in jobs that require lifting of weights above a specified maximum. The prohibitions are binding on employers and do not permit exceptions even if requested by a female employee or with her consent. Additional restrictions apply to pregnant women.

The ombudsman for human rights monitored women's rights within the wider context of human rights; however, the broad scope of the office's mandate diluted its ability to function as an effective advocate of women's issues.

In November the government abolished the office of the government plenipotentiary for equal status for women and men, which had been charged with incorporating the principle of gender equality into governmental policy, including monitoring implementation of government programs aimed at achieving equal status. Those responsibilities were given to the department for women, family, and counteracting discrimination, which was established at the ministry of labor and social policy in December.

Until the abolition of her office, the plenipotentiary continued to implement her duties. The plenipotentiary protested discrimination of women a number of times during the year. She issued a statement severely criticizing parliament's rejection of a bill addressing discrimination against women. In May she sent protested to the mayor of Krakow over discrimination against women in the Cracovia Marathon, which presented female victors with a financial reward half as large as that of the men. The office of the plenipotentiary also provided financial grants to NGOs working to combat violence against women and to promote women in the labor market.

Children

The government was committed to children's rights and welfare.

During the year the ombudsman for children's rights submitted more than 30 statements to various ministries and other public institutions regarding the rights and welfare of children, including appeals to undertake comprehensive measures to stop domestic violence against children, to enhance children's safety, and to improve their access to preschool education.

Education is universal and mandatory until age 18, and public schools are free. According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), 98 percent of school-age children attended school. Most students continued their studies to the postsecondary level.

The government sponsored some health programs targeted specifically at children, including a vaccination program and periodic checkups conducted in the schools; however, budget shortfalls prevented complete implementation of these programs.

Child abuse was rare. The law prohibits violence against children, and anyone who physically or psychologically abuses a juvenile may receive a prison sentence of three months to five years. However, abuse was rarely reported, and convictions also were rare. Police reported 1,697 cases of the sexual exploitation of children, 158 cases of child pornography, and 70 cases of child abandonment. Schools did not have procedures to protect children from physical or psychological abuse by teachers, and the teachers' work code provides legal immunity from prosecution for corporal punishment in the classroom.

Trafficking in children, primarily for the purpose of sexual exploitation, was a problem (see section 5, Trafficking).

Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits trafficking in persons; however, the country was a source, transit point, and destination for trafficked persons, primarily women and girls but also, to a lesser extent, boys. Internal trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation also occurred.

Several legal provisions specifically address trafficking; however, many convictions resulted in suspended prison sentences. The law prohibits trafficking in persons for the purposes of both sexual and nonsexual exploitation and imposes sentences of 3 to 15 years in prison. Pimping, recruiting, or luring persons into prostitution are also prohibited, with penalties up to 10 years in prison. Individuals convicted of trafficking in children and luring women into prostitution abroad receive the most severe sentences. Traffickers could also be prosecuted under laws criminalizing statutory rape, forced prostitution, and other acts.

Eleven agencies were involved in antitrafficking efforts. The ministry of interior and ministry of justice have primary responsibility for antitrafficking efforts, with the ministry of foreign affairs engaged on bilateral and multilateral levels. The government dissolved the plenipotentiary for equal rights for men and women, which had also been involved in antitrafficking programs.

The national police participated in several bilateral task forces that shared information, tracked the movement of traffickers and victims across borders, and coordinated repatriations and casework. In 6 of the 16 provinces, there were individuals or special teams at the county level monitoring trafficking. The national police coordinated these efforts. There was close cooperation with Ukraine and Belarus.

Individuals were trafficked to and through the country, primarily from Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Belarus, and Moldova. A growing number were members of the Turkish minority in southern Bulgaria and from the Romani population in Romania. There was a decrease in victims trafficked from Russia. Individuals, including citizens, were trafficked to Western Europe, including Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, as well as to Japan and Israel. Some internal trafficking occurred. The extent of the problem was unclear because statistics on prostitution did not distinguish trafficking victims from those willfully engaged in prostitution and other aspects of the sex trade. Of the estimated 7 thousand prostitutes in the country, approximately 30 percent were estimated to be of foreign origin. The international NGO La Strada previously estimated that 75 percent of the foreign women working as prostitutes in the country were trafficking victims. In addition La Strada reported that as many as 10 thousand Polish women were trafficked out of the country annually. NGOs have noted a recent trend toward a higher percentage of victims being trafficked for labor in agriculture and other economic sectors.

Traffickers targeted young, unemployed, and poorly paid women, particularly those with weak family ties and support networks. Traffickers attracted victims through methods including fake employment offers, arranged marriages, fraud, and coercion. Some victims believed that they were accepting employment abroad as waitresses, maids, or nannies. While traveling to their purported destinations, traffickers confiscated their passports and identity papers and exerted control over them through fear and intimidation. Traffickers threatened victims with violence, and those who resisted or tried to flee were raped, beaten, or intentionally injured.

As many as 90 percent of those trafficked in the country had false travel documents, and the trafficking operation usually involved a network of criminals. One criminal would recruit the victim; a second would provide false travel documents and traffic her across the border; and a third would supervise her work with clients, functioning as a pimp. Arrest statistics indicated that approximately 25 percent of traffickers were noncitizens. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of large-scale auctions of women in Warsaw and other cities. Prices for trafficked women and girls reportedly started at approximately $2 thousand (6 thousand PLN).

There were unconfirmed reports of local police taking bribes to ignore trafficking activity.

Trafficking victims often were afraid to turn to officials for help because border guards and police could potentially deport victims, if they were not identified as such, on immigration law violations. In many cases unidentified victims were deported as soon as possible, preventing the government from providing assistance, despite legal provisions allowing foreign victims with illegal status to remain in the country during the investigation and trial of their traffickers. NGOs attributed the high number of these deportations to the absence of national guidelines for police officers and border guards on how to approach and identify suspected victims. Victims were often prosecuted for carrying false travel documents, working illegally, and violating the terms of their visas.

Deported victims were sometimes met at the border by their traffickers, who provided them with new travel documents and returned them to the country. For example, in 2004 police detained a Bulgarian woman on several occasions, each time with a new identity and passport.

The revised immigration law, which came into force in October, introduces a "reflection period" of up to two months, during which a foreign trafficking victim may remain in the country legally while deciding between cooperating with law enforcement agencies and being deported. If a victim decides to remain and testify against the alleged trafficker, he or she receives a temporary residence permit.

While the government generally lacked resources to support victims financially, it cooperated extensively with NGOs, which provided a wide range of support services. The government leased an apartment to La Strada to use as a shelter for trafficking victims and gave another organization a grant to build a similar shelter. In January 2004 La Strada opened a 12-bed shelter with funding from foreign governments to provide victims with medical, psychological, and legal assistance. This shelter was at full capacity throughout the year. The number of shelters remained inadequate, and NGOs frequently resorted to temporary arrangements to shelter victims.

In April the council of ministers approved the national antitrafficking plan, which received approximately $82 thousand (250 thousand PLN) for victim protection. As part of the plan, a series of trainings for police, border guards, prosecutors, judges, and social workers were held in 10 of the 16 provinces.

All incoming police officers reportedly received antitrafficking training. In September police began implementing the new antitrafficking training program in all police schools, offering general training to all incoming police officers.

La Strada received approximately $33,000 (99,842 PLN) from the government to support its antitrafficking programs. The NGO conducted training courses at six police academies and border guard academies during the year. The courses were designed to improve knowledge of the issue of trafficking in persons among students of both academies. La Strada also offered counseling for victims and their families; developed training and prevention materials; and conducted awareness campaigns on the dangers of trafficking.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services, including health care. The government effectively enforced these provisions; however, there were reports of some societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. There were approximately 5.5 million persons with disabilities in the country at year's end.

The law states that buildings should be accessible for persons with disabilities; however, public buildings and transportation generally were not accessible to these persons. There is no legal obligation to adapt existing facilities to the needs of persons with disabilities and efforts to make improvements in this area have been hampered by lack of funding.

The first deputy minister in the ministry of social policy is responsible for disability-related issues. He supervises the state fund for rehabilitation of the disabled, and is advised by the national consultation council for the disabled. In July the fund approved three new programs to improve the access of persons with disabilities to education and public facilities, and to provide them with information centers. In September the fund approved the Partner 2006 program to support NGOs that implement projects for persons with disabilities.

During the year the government made only nominal gestures of support for strengthening the rights of persons with disabilities. On January 21, the lower house passed an amendment that more clearly defines the role of government financing in vocational and social rehabilitation. An additional bill reforming support and vocational rehabilitation of persons with disabilities was rejected during the first meeting of the lower house committee on May 4.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were occasional incidents of racially motivated violence directed at Roma, typically by skinheads. Individuals of African, Asian, or Arab descent also reported isolated incidents of verbal, physical, and other types of abuse. The small Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities occasionally experienced petty harassment and discrimination.

Societal discrimination against Roma was common, and some local officials discriminated against Roma in the provision of social services. According to its leaders, Roma faced disproportionately high unemployment and were hit harder by economic changes and restructuring than were ethnic citizens. Romani leaders complained of widespread discrimination in employment, housing, banking, the justice system, the media, and education.

In 2004 the government began implementing a "Program for the Roma Community in Poland" to improve Romani living and social conditions, access to health care, and employment opportunities. Coordinated by the ministries of interior and administration, the program was designed to combat ethnically related crime and protect and maintain the Romani culture and identity. The program included hiring Romani teaching assistants, providing vocational training to Roma, and training police on racially motivated crime.

In February 2004 the ECHR upheld the government's 2001 rejection of the application for official minority status by the 170‑thousand‑member Silesian-speaking community. During the year the Silesian community appealed the government's decision and was awaiting the decision of the court of first instance at year's end.

The law provides for the educational rights of ethnic minorities, including the right to be taught in their own language. The German minority in Opole province made up one‑third of the area's one million inhabitants, and some community members continued to complain of inadequate use of German in the province's schools.

On January 6, parliament passed a law establishing a joint committee to advise the prime minister on issues related to minorities, including minority rights, relevant legislative initiatives, and budget resource allocation. The new law also imposes an obligation on public authorities to allocate funds for the protection, preservation, and development of the cultural identity of minorities.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Right-wing groups attempted on several occasions to disrupt gay pride marches. In May the mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczynski, denied approval of a gay rights parade organized by the Equality Foundation, a consortium of gay-rights groups, stating that he would not allow the promotion of gay culture. Despite the denial, on June 11, gay rights activists held a peaceful equality parade during which they complained about the discrimination they experienced in their everyday lives. Marchers were assaulted with objects such as rocks thrown by antigay demonstrators led by the ultraconservative All Poland's Youth League. In September a Warsaw court ruled that the mayor's refusal to issue a permit for the equality parade was illegal. In December the organizers of the parade filed a claim with the ECHR arguing that the country had violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case was pending at year's end.

On November 15, the mayor of Poznan, Ryszard Grobelny, refused to issue a permit for an equality march in that city. The mayor cited security concerns, but the NGO attributed the refusal to social intolerance of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. On November 20, despite the denial of the permit, several hundred people demonstrated in support of gay rights. The activists were harassed, reportedly by members of the All Poland's Youth League, who threw eggs and rocks and made verbal threats that were both homophobic and anti-Semitic in nature. Sixty-eight of the gay rights activists were arrested by police and interrogated about their participation before being released. Approximately one hundred of the violent counterdemonstrators were asked by police for identification in case police decided to investigate further.

On November 25, AI issued a public statement expressing concern over the local "climate of intolerance" against the LGBT community. The statement also criticized the abolition of the office of the plenipotentiary for equal rights for men and women.

There was discrimination against HIV-positive persons. The national AIDS center reported several minor cases of discrimination against HIV-positive persons in the units supervised and funded by the center. The center intervened when complaints were found to be justified.

Full report is available at: www.state.gov
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