On behalf of Human Rights Watch, I write to you in concern over a pattern of acts and statements by members of your government that seem intended to instigate violence, hatred and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Poland.
Most recently, the State Prosecutor’s office has issued a letter to prosecutors in the municipalities of Legnica, Wroclaw, Walbrzych, Opole, and Jelenia Gora ordering in sweeping terms investigations into the conduct of “homosexuals” on unspecified allegations of “pedophilia.” This move takes place in the context of threats against LGBT persons and organizations by members of your coalition government.
Your Law and Justice Party this month invited into government two parties—the League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin or LPR) and the Self-Defense Party (Samoobrona RP)—that have a history of intolerance. Members of the League of Polish Families, headed by Roman Giertych, who also serves as deputy prime minister as well as minister of education, have repeatedly vilified lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and threatened both legal and extralegal actions against them.
Most notably, LPR member of parliament Wojciech Wierzejski has called for banning an Equality March planned for Warsaw on June 10, saying that “If deviants start to demonstrate, they should be bashed with a baton.” He later directed the same threat against foreign politicians planning to attend the march, saying that “They should be beaten with batons. Once they feel the pain they won’t come again because gays are by definition cowards.” [Gazeta Wyborcza, May 11]
On May 16, Wierzejski carried these threats further in a letter addressed to Minister of the Interior Ludwik Dorn and Minister of the Interior Zbigniew Ziobro, urging them to investigate lesbian and gay organizations and the “foreign agitators” who, he alleged, supported them. “It is widely known,” he wrote, “that the homosexual community’s agenda is to propagate deviant attitudes among youth, and—what is worse—they are connected to a world of quasi-criminal character, including pedophilia.” He urged the ministries to investigate “whether, and to what extent, there are connections between [homosexual] organizations and pedophile circles and the organized world of drug mafias; what are the legal and illegal sources of financing of these organizations; what is the extent of these organizations’ penetration into Polish schools.” In an interview with TVN 24, he stated that “Every Pole should know about the connections of homosexual organizations with the criminal world.” [Gazeta Wyborcza, May 16]
Authorities initially rejected these calls; the Minister of Justice told reporters that “if Mr. Wierzejski were to have concrete knowledge of concrete criminal activity,” then “legal action would be initiated,” but “only then.” [Ibid.] However, on June 1, press reports indicated that the State Prosecutor had issued orders to investigate “whether some pedophilic actions that involved homosexuals have taken place in that region.” [Gazeta Wyborcza, June 1]
Already, on May 19, the ministry of education—headed by Roman Giertych—had condemned the activities of the Polish non-governmental organization Campaign against Homophobia. In September 2005, the group had cosponsored (with LGBT groups from Bulgarian, Estonia, and Spain) an international youth exchange project called “Do We Need Gender?” training more than twenty participants in issues of gender stereotypes and gender-based discrimination. The deputy minister of education, LPR member Miroslaw Orzechowski, now accused the project of “depraving young people,” and stated that the ministry would work to “prevent such organizations from getting money in the future.”
This threat is consistent with the stated position of Minister Giertych, who has said that “There is no room, nor will there ever be any room for homosexual activism within the school system in Poland on my watch.” It is unfortunately also consistent with a pattern of action against the rights of LGBT people and organizations to protect the rights to free speech and assembly. In 2004 and 2005, as mayor of Warsaw, President Kaczynski banned Gay Pride marches—a peaceful exercise of the freedom of assembly which had taken place several times in previous years without incident. (The parades were allowed to proceed after administrative courts held the bans unconstitutional. During his election campaign, Kaczynski said that he would continue to ban gay demonstrations, as “public promotion of homosexuality will not be allowed.” [Gazeta Wyborcza, May 19]) In April 2006, a “March for Tolerance” in Krakow was violently attacked and pelted with stones and eggs by demonstrators from the All-Polish Youth (Mlodziez Wszechpolska)—a movement affiliated with the LPR, and founded by Minister Giertych himself.
All persons have a right to freedom of speech. Political figures, however, have a responsibility to promote the human rights of all members of their communities. 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. 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 government statements and policies against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Poland directly violate these international standards. We urge you to prevent invasive and unjustified investigations into the conduct of persons in Poland on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We urge you to condemn the statements of MP Wierzejski; publicly to disavow threats and vilification directed against LGBT people and LGBT organizations; and to affirm that all people should enjoy their rights regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. In particular, we urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that the June 10 Equality March planned for Warsaw is permitted to proceed and to ensure that similar demonstrations throughout Poland can take place without interference or intimidation. Poland’s young but vibrant democracy demands no less.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program
Human Rights Watch
Cc: Minister of Education Roman Giertych