Since its election in 2015, Poland’s governing populist Law and Justice (PiS) party, now in its second term, has endeavoured to systematically undermine democracy and human rights. Humanists International has followed Poland’s turn toward authoritarian illiberalism and the concurrent rise of religious conservatism with increasing concern. In 2019, Humanists International used its attendance at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw – Europe’s largest human rights conference – to highlight threats to gender equality and the rights of women in Poland.
In light of the Polish government’s continued demonization of the LGBTI community, and its recent attacks on sexual and reproductive rights, judicial independence and the rule of law, Humanists International shares two statements from our Polish Members, and a letter signed by a coalition of Polish atheist, humanist and secular civil society organizations, calling for the restoration of democratic and secular values, accountability for police abuses and an end to human rights violations in Poland.
More than 100 municipalities in Poland have adopted resolutions rejecting “LGBTI propaganda” and declaring themselves to be “pro family”. According to an “Atlas of Hate” map created by local activists (shown below), over a third of the country has now effectively become an “LGBTI-free zone.” While the resolutions themselves are without legal effect, they nonetheless send a menacing symbolic message to the LGBTI community: “you are not welcome here”.
PiS has long made the ‘defence of Christian principles’ a key aspect of its public policy. Politicians at its highest levels have denounced “LGBTI ideology” as “threat” to Poland and its Christian values. During his re-election campaign, Polish president Andrzej Duda, an ally of the PiS, called LGBTI rights an “ideology” more destructive than communism and pledged to “defend children” by banning “the propagation of LGBTI ideology” in schools. Earlier this month, Poland’s Catholic episcopate called for the establishment of conversion clinics to help LGBTI people to “regain their natural sexual orientation.” Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Poland.
With PiS exercising control over both the presidency and the government, the most effective opposition so far has come not from the government, but from grassroots activists. In the face of increasingly homophobic rhetoric from leading politicians, the Polish LGBTI movement has only grown in strength, with Pride marches attracting more supporters and taking place in an increasing number of towns.
The State has countered increasing grassroots activism with arrests and violence. Dozens of LGBTI activists have been arrested on the basis of an overly broad blasphemy law after a campaign involving the placement of rainbow flags on prominent public monuments, in violation of their rights of freedom of expression. In August, 48 protestors were detained and others met with violence and homophobic slurs from the police during a peaceful protest in Warsaw.
The Polish government has not limited itself to attacks on LGBTI rights, but has pursued policies to undermine women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, and democracy in general, too.
Poland already has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. During the lockdown the lower house of parliament discussed a bill (which came into being after a citizen petition) to impose a near-total ban on all legal abortions. The bill has for the moment been shelved, but the danger of it resurfacing is ever-present. The PiS government also recently announced its intention to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women, claiming that it “makes a number of extreme leftist assumptions”.
In addition to the erosion of fundamental human rights, democracy and the rule of law continues to deteriorate in the Polish state. For over four years, and despite the Article 7 proceedings launched by the European Commission against Poland in 2017, the PiS party has stopped at nothing to undermine judicial independence and politicize its courts of law. Judges who have spoken out against the threats to judicial independence, are frequently threatened with state-led campaigns of intimidation, disciplinary proceedings and criminal charges.
Kaja Bryx, Vice-President of the European Humanist Federation and President of Polish Rationalist Association, issued the following statement in response to recent events:
“When you hear about human rights violations in Poland, barely three decades after the Solidarity movement won freedom and democracy for us, you ask yourself what exactly went wrong here. We call upon the Chief of Police in Poland, gen. insp. Dr Jarosław Szymczyk, to launch an internal investigation in regards to the procedural abuses and reported Human Rights violations at Warsaw police stations on 7 and 8 August and take appropriate action against the responsible police officers without delay. We also call upon the members of the Law and Justice party who fought for a free and democratic Poland over 30 years ago, to remember who they were and what they fought for, to honour this legacy and defend the same values again, before it’s too late.”
Nina Sankari, Vice President of Kazimierz Lyszczynski Foundation, said the following:
“We condemn increasing violations of citizen’s rights in Poland, i.e. announced withdrawal of Poland from the Istanbul Convention, official support for the „LGBT-free zones” or inscription “God, honor, Patria” on Polish passports. Recent brutal actions of police against LGBT protesters in Warsaw are qualified as degrading and inhuman treatment in the Final Report of the Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture. As Humanists International member, we call for international solidarity to stop repression and welcome the EU debate on activating art.7 procedure on rule of law, so that democratic&secular values are restored”.
Kazimierz Lyszczynski Foundation is amongst the 13 Polish atheist, humanist and secular civil society organizations who signed a letter ahead of the debate which took place in the European Parliament on 14 September on the situation in Poland.