HRW Letter to Polish President Lech Kaczynski
February 15, 2006

On behalf of Human Rights Watch, I write in concern over a climate that increasingly threatens the basic rights and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Poland.

As you are undoubtedly aware, on January 18 the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning “a series of worrying events” in member states, “ranging from banning gay pride or equality marches to the use by leading politicians and religious leaders of inflammatory or threatening language or hate speech, failure by police to provide adequate protection or even breaking up peaceful demonstrations,” as well as “violent demonstrations by homophobic groups.”

The European Parliament urged member states “firmly to condemn homophobic hate speech or incitement to hatred and violence, and to ensure that freedom of demonstration—guaranteed by all human rights treaties—is respected in practice.” It also called on them “to promote and implement the principle of equality in their societies and legal systems.”

Human Rights Watch urges that Poland, as an E.U. member state, through its government and you as President, respond positively, promptly and effectively to this resolution.

This resolution is based on human rights standards to which all European Union member states are bound, including Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty, Article 21 of the E.U. Charter of Fundamental Rights, and Directives 2000/43/EC and Directive 2000/78/EC prohibiting direct or indirect discrimination on specific grounds including sexual orientation. It is also based on Poland’s international legal obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

As president of Poland it is your responsibility to speak in defense of the rights freedoms of all Polish citizens, particularly vulnerable minorities. When government officials contribute actively to stigma against a minority that they are obligated to protect, they signal that discrimination and perhaps even violence will be tolerated. Such statements create a dangerous environment for the freedoms of all..

Human Rights Watch has been monitoring with grave reservations several restrictions placed on the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in Poland over the past number of years. We are aware that you yourself have supported restrictions on that minority’s rights in your prior capacity as mayor of Warsaw, as have members of your party and government in public statements.

In 2004 and 2005, as mayor of Warsaw, you banned Gay Pride marches—a peaceful exercise of the freedom of assembly which had taken place several times in previous years without incident. You declared that you were opposed to “propagating gay orientation.” In 2004, you refused even to meet with the organizing group, the Campaign Against Homophobia—reportedly stating, "I am not willing to meet perverts." On the other hand you approved counter-demonstrations by conservative groups opposed to the march, the League of Polish Families and the All-Polish Youth. In the same year, a “March for Tolerance” organized by the Campaign Against Homophobia in Cracow was attacked by over two hundred demonstrators, many skinheads from the All-Polish Youth, who pelted them with eggs, bottles, and rocks, and shouted "Send the fags to the hospital!" and "Perverts, get out of Cracow!"

In 2005, more than two thousand demonstrators, supported by the deputy prime minister and deputy speaker of the Sejm, defied your ban and marched through Warsaw’s streets, despite attacks from counterdemonstrators. Counterdemonstrators threw eggs and rushed barricades in an attempt to beat marchers. You subsequently condemned the fact that police did not stop the march, but that they tried to stop the attackers. Your official position was that “the police undertook to protect an illegal demonstration by gay and lesbian organizations but drastically attacked other illegal gatherings. This situation constitutes an infringement of the principles of social coexistence.”

Also in 2005, following the example of Warsaw, the mayor of Poznan banned a March for Equality and Tolerance in Poznan—one sponsored not only by the Campaign Against Homophobia but by human rights, women’s, and student organizations. When a small number of marchers persisted in assembling, members of the All-Polish Youth assaulted them, throwing projectiles and shouting “Gas the fags!” and “We’ll do to you what Hitler did to the Jews!” In this case, police intervened against the marchers rather than the attackers, arresting sixty-eight of them.

Since you assumed the presidency, your political allies have continued to make ominous statements threatening state action against the public expression or defense of homosexuality. Prime Minister Kasimierz Marcinkiewicz has told the press that if a homosexual “tries to 'infect' others with their homosexuality, then the state must intervene in this violation of freedom.” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the Law and Justice Party, and your brother, called during the 2005 election campaign for banning gays and lesbians from teaching. In January 2006, he condemned a situation where “gay people are allowed to conduct perverse demonstrations in the streets, but it is forbidden to discuss the issue of moral censorship.”

We are also concerned by the election by the Sejm, on January 26, of Janusz Kochanowski as Ombudsman for Human Rights. Mr. Kochanowski has stated in the past that "a culture favorable to pedophilia has come to Poland. … This culture already accepts homosexuality and wants it to be seen as equal to heterosexuality. And there is a link between pedophilia and homosexuality: the majority of pedophiles are homosexual."

That statement is untrue. Further, the mentality it reflects--one in which myth and stigma are used to vilify a minority and nullify its right to participate in society--is inimical to Poland’s vibrant democracy. Fears of “infection” and blatant invocations of prejudice cannot be allowed to decide how citizens exercise their rights. Gays and lesbians marching in the streets pose no conceivable threat to other Poles. To suppress their freedoms threatens all people’s equality.

Poland is a long standing party to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. You will thus be aware that Poland is bound to prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity in relation to any of the rights enjoyed under the Convention. The European Court has on several occasions made clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation is strictly prohibited. Most recently in Karner v Austria, the Court pointed out that “very weighty reasons have to be put forward before the Court could regard a difference in treatment based exclusively on the ground of sex as compatible with the Convention. Just like differences based on sex, differences based on sexual orientation require particularly serious reasons by way of justification.” Similarly, the U.N. Human Rights Committee—charged with monitoring states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) –held in 1994 in Toonen v Australia that sexual orientation should be understood as a status protected against discrimination by the treaty’s equality provisions.

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that actions that taken against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Poland directly violate these international standards. We therefore urge you to affirm that the rights to expression, association, and assembly cannot be denied on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In your new capacity as Poland’s president, you stand under the scrutiny of Europe and the international community to see whether you will work to defend or seek to deny human rights protections. With confidence in the power and permanence of Poland’s democratic development, we hope that you will commit yourself to the former.

Sincerely,

Scott Long
Director
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program
Human Rights Watch

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