United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Poland, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa5414.html [accessed 6 May 2015]
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Four years after the fall of communism, Poland is a parliamentary democracy based on a multiparty system and free and fair elections. A popularly elected President shares power with a Prime Minister and bicameral Parliament. The coalition government led by Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka and the Democratic Union party fell in May on a vote of no confidence which passed by one vote, and President Lech Walesa dissolved Parliament. In parliamentary elections held in September, the Democratic Left Alliance, a successor to the former Communist party, won a plurality of the votes and formed a coalition Government with the Polish Peasant Party. The Government, headed by Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak of the Peasant Party, has a comfortable majority both in the Sejm (the lower house) and the Senate (the upper house). The Polish armed forces and the internal security apparatus are subject to governmental authority and under civilian control. There is some ambiguity over how the President and the Prime Minister share power over the military. This issue is to be addressed with new legislation which President Walesa and the Pawlak Government are considering and ultimately with a new constitution. Regular police were accused of using excessive force to disperse demonstrations in Warsaw on three occasions and of brutality in dealing with homeless people and foreigners. Poland's fledgling market economy provided opportunity to associate with others, pursue private interests, and own private property. However, the struggle to continue the rapid pace of transition from a centrally planned economy to a market-oriented system caused a steady rise in unemployment, with women and younger workers suffering disproportionately. Discontent among Poles who believed that the reform process left them worse off than before contributed to an increase in voter support for leftist parties which promised to cushion the pain of economic reform while preserving democratic institutions. Some infringements of the rights of free speech and assembly occurred in 1993. Polish courts handed down convictions based on a section of law that imposes fines and prison sentences on persons who criticize a state body. A new broadcast law went into effect in March, and some of its provisions were criticized for potentially impinging on the freedom of the electronic media. On occasion police used excessive force to disperse demonstrators who, they claimed, violated the rules governing public demonstrations. Women continued to be hampered in their struggle for equality in the workplace by the lack of legal redress. Regulations on religious education in schools, supported by the rightist Christian National Union (ZChN), a member of Prime Minister Suchocka's coalition, fueled much controversy, and the Ombudsman raised the question of their legality to the Constitutional Tribunal which ruled, in part, in his favor. An attempt in the Sejm to recall the Ombudsman was frustrated by the dissolution of Parliament.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of politically motivated killings, but in July police allegedly beat to death two homeless people living in Warsaw's central train station. The Warsaw district prosecutor opened a special investigation into the incident.
There were no reports of abductions, secret arrests, or clandestine detention by police or official security forces.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
No allegations of torture were reported. Some incidents of police brutality received wide publicity in the Polish press in 1993. Members of a Carmelite monastery that provides medical aid to the homeless living around the train station reported that the people in their care often claim to have been beaten by police. The district police commandant acknowledged to the press that it is standard police procedure to use force with homeless people under certain circumstances, including when trying to compel them to vacate public areas. Police also used force to disperse public demonstrations. In June police broke up a demonstration of center-right parties in Warsaw's Castle Square by beating demonstrators with nightsticks. The Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection (or Ombudsman) asked the prosecutor's office to begin an investigation into the incident. In September police dispersed a demonstration organized by a pacifist group protesting obligatory military service by beating protesters with nightsticks and shoving them into police and unmarked vehicles. There were no arrests. On the night of the September parliamentary elections, members of a center-right party held an impromptu demonstration in the streets of Warsaw; police also used force to disperse them. According to the official account of the incident, demonstrators resisted police when they were asked to move to the sidewalk; however, a journalist reported that demonstrators in fact obeyed the police and moved to the sidewalk; nevertheless, police dragged them into squad cars, beating them with nightsticks. No charges were brought by the victims. The Ombudsman's office reported that it examined over 40 complaints of police brutality against foreigners in 1993. Overall, prison conditions continued to improve in 1993. The Ombudsman presented proposals for more lenient sentencing to the Ministry of Justice and the Central Board of Penal Institutions to reduce overcrowding in prisons. The Ministry of Justice had not taken action by year's end. However, conditions in juvenile detention centers remained poor. The Helsinki Committee reported that financial difficulties resulted in a lack of food for detainees in some institutions, and personnel were generally more abusive toward detainees than prison guards were toward prison inmates. Human rights organizations reported that they have permanent passes to visit prisons and juvenile detention centers and that they can monitor their operations freely. No laws currently exist regarding the rights of psychiatric patients admitted to mental hospitals. A press report in September stated that, of some 142,000 Poles admitted yearly to mental health facilities, over 20,000 were placed there against their will. Under current procedures, a doctor's order alone suffices to have a patient confined to a mental institution.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
No arbitrary arrests were reported in 1993. Polish law allows a 48-hour detention period before authorities are required to bring formal charges, during which detainees are normally denied access to a lawyer. Once a prosecutor presents the legal basis for a formal investigation, the law provides the detainee access to a lawyer. A detainee may be held under "temporary" arrest for up to 3 months and may challenge the legality of his arrest through appeal to the district court. A court may extend this pretrial confinement period every 3 months until the trial date. Human rights organizations reported that most detainees were released on bail pending trial, although in a few instances detainees were held in jail for over a year awaiting trial. The Ombudsman worked to improve detention facilities in 1993. His office submitted proposals to allow detainees access to telephones, which are still relatively difficult to obtain for average Poles. A change in procedure required that an investigator be present at the time a detainee is charged with a crime. In September the Ombudsman demanded publicly that policemen, public prosecutors, and judges provide prisoners of foreign nationalities with information on their legal rights in languages understandable to them. He asked that prison authorities ensure that prisoners are not served meals banned by their respective religions; he said that they should also be guaranteed access to their native press and literature. The Government took no action by year's end. There is no exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Poland has a three-tier court system, consisting of regional and provincial courts and a Supreme Court which is divided into five divisions military, civil, criminal, labor, and family. A Constitutional Tribunal may offer opinions on legislation but has no real authority. It is elected by the Sejm, which can overrule the Tribunal's findings. Judges are nominated by the National Judicial Council and appointed by the President. They serve until the age of 65 and may apply for an extension until age 70, after which they are retired. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. At the end of a trial, the court renders its decision orally and then has 7 days to prepare a written decision. A defendant has the right to appeal a decision within 14 days of the written decision. Appeals may be made on, among other grounds, the basis of new evidence or procedural irregularities. Criminal cases are tried in regional and provincial courts by a panel consisting of a professional judge and two lay assessors. The seriousness of the offense determines which of these is the court of first instance. Once formal charges are filed, the defendant is allowed to study the charges and consult with an attorney, who is provided at public expense if necessary. Once the defendant is prepared, a trial date is set. Defendants are required to be present during trial and may present evidence and confront witnesses in their own defense. The right to testify is universal. Trials in Poland are normally public. The court, however, reserves the right to close a trial to the public in some circumstances, such as divorce cases, trials in which state secrets may be disclosed, or cases whose content might offend "public morality." The court rarely invokes this prerogative. The Senate Office of Intervention reported that it received some complaints in 1993 that Polish judges released or convicted defendants at their whim. According to the Office of Intervention, the majority of Polish judges are holdovers from the Communist era when their verdicts were influenced by the Communist party, and therefore they do not have the proper training to implement the law. An amendment to the law on the court system, which went into effect in September, made it possible for the Ministry of Justice to recall a judge if a disciplinary commission demonstrates that the judge violated the principle of "court independence." In effect this amendment gives the executive branch the power of recall over the judiciary. From the day the appeal is filed, the judge in question is suspended from duty. The motion is then considered by five judges from the disciplinary commission, who are selected by the Polish General Assembly of Judges. The president of the Warsaw district court resigned in protest over the amendment, and both the Association of Polish Lawyers and the Ombudsman protested its implementation. In August the Ombudsman challenged the amendments before the Constitutional Tribunal, which had already opened proceedings on the constituionality of the amendments. On July 1 a law went into effect introducing appellate courts into the Polish judicial system for the first time since before World War II. These courts deal with appeals based on procedural issues only, not on the substance of a particular case. The controversy about former Communists and secret collaborators continued after the fall of the Olszewski government in 1992. A special committee was formed in the Sejm to consider the various draft bills that would have instituted systems of political screening for public officials. It did not complete its work prior to the dissolution of the Sejm. A screening provision, however, was written into the electoral law of 1993, requiring that all parliamentary candidates sign a statement that they had never collaborated with the secret police. Some individuals have been tried or are being investigated for state crimes under communism. Adam Humer, a former employee of the state security bureau, was tried for torturing and killing prisoners; the trial was unfinished at year's end. Thirteen more former state security agents are currently awaiting trial on similar charges.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Government does not arbitrarily monitor private mail or telephones. There is no Polish legislation that guarantees the right to privacy, although Poland has signed the European Convention on Human Rights, in which Article 8 guarantees that right. Poles do have the legal right to privacy of correspondence, and police are not legally able to enter a private residence without a search warrant, but nothing prohibits the Government from creating a bank of information on its citizens. Because of the lack of an overall revision of the Penal Code, some laws concerning interference with correspondence remain in effect which do not conform to international human rights standards; however, they are no longer enforced. Under Articles 30 and 31 of the Polish Penal Code, a prison inmate must seek the permission of a prison warden to contact a human rights organization. The Ombudsman lodged a protest in 1993 with the Minister of Justice to have these articles rescinded. Polish law forbids arbitrary forced entry into homes. Search warrants issued by a prosecutor are required in order to enter private residences. In emergency cases when a prosecutor is not immediately available, police may enter a residence with the approval of the local police commander. In the most urgent cases, in which there is not time to consult with the police commander, police may enter a private residence after showing their official identification. No allegations that Polish police abused search warrant procedures in 1993 were reported.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Although these freedoms are generally provided for in the Constitution, they are subject to some restriction in law and in practice. Polish citizens may generally express their opinions publicly and privately. Article 270 of the Penal Code, however, states that anyone who "publicly insults, ridicules, and derides the Polish Nation, Polish People's Republic, its political system, or its principal organs is punishable by between 6 months and 8 years of imprisonment." The Government continues to use this law against its critics. Article 273 imposes a prison term of up to 10 years for a person who commits any of the acts prohibited by Article 270 in print or through the mass media. In March two students in the town of Brzeg who admitted to shouting "Down with Walesa Communist agent" at a demonstration were fined the equivalent of an average Polish monthly salary for "abusing and discrediting" the President. This decision was overturned on appeal in July. In June, 12 people were arrested for putting up posters announcing a demonstration; the posters claimed that members of the Government had collaborated with the secret police under communism. Helsinki Watch and the Free World Fund, both New York-based human rights monitoring groups, have called on the Polish Government to rescind Article 270 but have received no response from the Government. The Penal Code stipulates that offending religious sentiment is punishable by a fine or a 2-year prison term. Under this provision of the law, in late 1992 the Christian National Union (ZChN), a political party, brought charges against the rock group Piersi for a song called "The ZChN is Coming." The song, which is sung to the tune of a religious hymn, describes a priest who gets drunk and crashes his car, and his parishioners lament that they will have to finance the cost of a new one. Five persons complained to the Warsaw district prosecutor that the song had offended their religious feelings. The prosecutor's office announced in April that it would not press charges, and the ZChN is appealing the decision. A radio producer was fired for playing the song on Polish Radio 3, a government-owned station, but was reinstated after members of the Democratic Union Party intervened. In March a ZChN deputy unsuccessfully sued the Poznan weekly Poznaniak over the publication of a satirical picture of the Madonna and Child with the deputy's face superimposed on the face of the baby Jesus. In May ZChN deputies reportedly sought to sue a Poznan movie theater for showing the film "The Last Temptation of Christ"; the deputies admitted they had never seen the film, and none of the film's 600 Poznan viewers signed the deputies' complaint. The Poznan district prosecutor declined to pursue the case. The print media in Poland are uncensored and independent, although they may be subject to prosecution under the Penal Code provisions described above. The majority of today's periodicals have a left-of-center slant; the spectrum of political opinion was reduced in 1993 because of the closure of several right-of-center publications for financial reasons. The Government owns a controlling interest (51 percent) in one major newspaper, Rzeczpospolita, which serves as the semiofficial newspaper of record. No barriers exist to the establishment of private newspapers other than readership demand and capital. Journals also appear regularly on newsstands. Books expressing a broad range of political and social viewpoints are widely available, as are foreign periodicals. Citizens have access to foreign publications and foreign radio broadcasts. Television is still mainly under the control of the Government. However, regional television centers are more autonomous and active; some are cooperatively owned and control their own budgets and in some cases even their own frequencies. An ever-increasing segment of radio media is independently owned and self-financing and exposes its listeners to a broad array of points of view. In March a new broadcast law took effect to regulate the licensing of the numerous private radio and television stations which began broadcasting after the fall of communism without sanction, in the absence of any legal means to obtain a license. The law stipulates the formation of a National Broadcasting Council (NBC) to implement the law. The NBC has very broad prerogatives: it is to supervise programming, allocate broadcasting frequencies and licenses, and apportion subscription revenues. It may interpret these prerogatives at its discretion. As of year's end, the NBC had granted two licenses. Unlicensed stations are not being shut down. The NBC is nominally an apolitical body. Although the nine people nominated to the NBC were obliged under the law to suspend any membership in political parties or public associations, they were in fact chosen for their political allegiances, nominated by the Sejm, the Senate, and the President following political bargaining. This raised serious questions about the independence of broadcasting from government influence. Private broadcasters were concerned that the awarding of licenses for the limited number of broadcast frequencies available could be politically motivated. Private broadcasters whose applications for licenses are rejected may appeal to the Administrative Court, which is empowered to rule solely on whether the procedural process by which the NBC reached its decision was in keeping with the law, not to examine the reason for the application's rejection. The law stipulates that programs should not promote activities that are illegal or against Polish state policy, morality, or the common good. The law also requires that all broadcasts "respect the religious feelings of the audiences and in particular respect the Christian system of values." This particular provision was the source of much controversy before the Sejm finally approved it. Human rights organizations charged that the law does not fully define the term "Christian values," thus requiring media owners themselves to reconcile different interpretations of religion in order to determine what such values constitute. Since the NBC has ultimate responsibility for supervising the content of programs, these restrictions could be used as a means of censorship. The penalty for violating this provision of the law is up to 50 percent of a broadcaster's annual fee for the transmission frequency, plus the prospect of having the license withdrawn or experiencing difficulty in renewing the license when it expires.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Poles enjoy the freedom to join together formally and informally to promote nonviolent causes and protest government policies. Permits are not required for public meetings but are required for public demonstrations; demonstration organizers must obtain these permits from local governing authorities if the demonstration might block a public road. For large demonstrations, organizers are also required to inform the local police of the time and place of their activities and their planned route. Every gathering must have a chairperson who is required to open the demonstration, preside over it, and close it. In June police used force in Warsaw's Castle Square to disperse a demonstration of center-right parties who were questioning the Government's ties to the former Communist security apparatus. The organizers had obtained permission for a demonstration and parade originating from a different location. The Ombudsman asked the prosecutor's office to investigate whether the demonstrators' rights were violated. Just after the September parliamentary elections, members of the center-right Center Alliance party held an impromptu demonstration on one of Warsaw's main thoroughfares; police arrested 10 people in connection with the incident, including a journalist, allegedly for disturbing the peace. The Ombudsman asked the Constitutional Tribunal to adjudicate the rules for demonstrations, complaining that the rules do not specify if district authorities may set a different route and different destination for demonstrators. He also claimed the rules do not specify whether, in a situation in which the demonstration is not dissolved, police may intervene to disperse demonstrators who refuse to change the site of their protest (see also Section 1.c.). There has been no government response. Private associations need governmental approval to organize and must register with their district court. The procedure basically requires the organization to sign a declaration that it will abide by the laws of Poland. In practice, however, the procedure itself is complicated and may be subject to the whim of the judge in charge. The Helsinki Foundation noted three instances in 1993 in which organizations experienced problems in obtaining court approval. The first was in Opole, where a German organization was denied the right to change its charter to include citizens of countries other than Poland. The German organization filed a lawsuit to have the charter changed and won its suit in a higher court, but the Opole judge, who initially denied the change, filed for extraordinary powers to regulate the group, fearing a rise in the influence of the German minority in the region. The second occurred in Kielce, where a society of Gypsies (Roma) ran into difficulty in gaining court approval because of a local judge's refusal to grant such approval to Roma; eventually, the group did gain approval. The third instance involved a group of veterans of the German Wehrmacht army, forcibly conscripted Poles as well as Germans, who wanted to form a society and were denied permission; the case had not been resolved by year's end. A German minority organization in Opole experienced difficulty when it applied to drop the word "minority" formally from its name. The Government refused to allow the designation to be dropped, even though equivalent Belarusian and Lithuanian groups do not have the word "minority" in their names. The Government also ruled that only Polish citizens could join German minority groups; this is not a requirement for other minority groups, which may induct members regardless of their citizenship status.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of conscience and belief, and citizens enjoy the freedom to practice any religion. Religious groups may organize, select, and train personnel, solicit and receive contributions, publish, and engage in consultations without government interference. There are no government restrictions on establishing and maintaining places of worship. The vast majority of Poles are Roman Catholic, but Eastern Orthodox, Ukrainian Catholic, and much smaller Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim congregations meet freely. The Catholic Church maintains over 16,000 churches, schools, and other institutions and continues to build new ones. It also publishes significant numbers of books and periodicals, as does the independent Catholic press. The Constitution provides for the separation of church and state. State-run radio broadcasts Catholic mass on Sundays. As a result of the 1989 roundtable negotiations, the Catholic Church is authorized to issue licenses to radio and television stations which are equivalent to licenses issued by the National Broadcasting Council; it is the only body outside the NBC allowed to do so. The broadcast law incorporated this roundtable decision. A controversial ordinance regulating religious education in schools, which was signed by the Minister of Education and went into effect in April 1992, was also strongly supported by the Catholic Church. In August 1992, the Ombudsman filed a list of eight objections to the directive with the Constitutional Tribunal on the grounds that the directive violated the principle of separation of church and state. In April 1993, the Tribunal ruled that it was against the law to demand declarations from parents or older schoolchildren that the children were not going to take part in religion classes at school or that they attended religion classes elsewhere. It also decreed that it was illegal to give a grade in religion or ethics on the official school certificate if the subject was taught outside the school. The Tribunal further supported the Ombudsman's objection that if a bishop withdrew his recommendation for a religion teacher, this could mean that the teacher would lose his or her job. On the other hand, the Tribunal ruled that hanging religious symbols in classrooms is legal, as is a prayer at the beginning of classes. Debate in Parliament over the future of the directive was suspended after President Walesa dissolved the Sejm in May, leaving the rest of the directive in effect. In July the Government signed a Concordat with the Vatican which, while specifying that the Roman Catholic Church and the State are "autonomous and independent," nevertheless confirmed the Church's right to "maintain religious instruction in schools," permitted church marriages to be legally binding without a civil ceremony, and obligated the State to subsidize the Pontifical Theological Academy of Krakow and the Catholic University in Lublin, as well as to contribute to the maintenance of properties belonging to the Church. The Concordat had not been ratified by year's end.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Within the country Poles move freely and easily and may freely change their place of residence. Foreign travel is unrestricted, and Poles may obtain passports easily. Citizens who have left Poland have no trouble returning. There are no restrictions on emigration. During the first part of 1993, Poland continued to serve as a country of transit for illegal migrants headed to the West, particularly citizens of the former Soviet Union, Romania, and Bulgaria seeking to apply for asylum in Germany. The flow of asylum seekers across the border in 1993 reached a high in April, when border guards caught 2,186 people attempting to cross the Polish-German border illegally. In May Poland signed a migration agreement with Germany, as an amendment to the 1991 Schengen accord, to readmit immigrants who crossed the Polish border illegally into Germany. The agreement specified a 6-month time period from the day of crossing into Germany during which the German authorities are allowed to return an immigrant. The agreement went into effect on July 1 in conjunction with a new German law that severely tightens asylum procedures. Poland's position on East-West migration thus changed from a point of transit to a potential country of first asylum. Since implementation of the new German asylum policy began, the number of people illegally crossing the German border from Poland has declined greatly, and the leading Polish official for refugee affairs reported that there had not been a corresponding rise in the number of refugee applicants in Poland. According to the Warsaw representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), however, the Polish Government actively discouraged some refugees from applying for asylum, especially citizens of the former U.S.S.R., Bulgaria, and Romania. Although Poland signed the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees in 1991, since March the Government has stopped issuing permanent residence documents to registered refugees (one of the provisions of the Convention), thus limiting a refugee's ability to seek gainful employment. The Government has further refused to allow undocumented refugees to apply for asylum, contrary to another provision of the Convention. There was one known report indicating mistreatment of asylees. The UNHCR reported that the Government deprived two Bosnian Gypsy families of refugee status and privileges after they had already been accepted for asylum and were living in a government refugee facility. According to the UNHCR, the decision to deprive the families of status stemmed from the refugees' social behavior and therefore was not reached in accordance with standard procedure: the daughter of one family had attempted to commit suicide, while another Bosnian Gypsy refugee, who was not part of either family but shared the same nationality, was supposedly involved in a brawl, an allegation that was disputed by witnesses.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government Poles have the right and ability to change their government. This right is guaranteed in the Constitution and exists in practice. Poland is a multiparty democracy in which all citizens 18 years of age and older have the right to vote and to cast secret ballots. Governmental power is divided between the President and Parliament, which is composed of an upper house (the Senate) and a lower house (the Sejm). The Constitution provides for parliamentary elections at least every 4 years. The President, elected for 5 years, has the right to dissolve Parliament when Parliament loses confidence in the Government or when Parliament fails to pass a budget, and Parliament may impeach the President. In November 1992, President Walesa signed into law the so-called Little Constitution, which is a transition document to be replaced when a "large," or permanent, constitution is eventually ratified by Parliament. The Little Constitution specifies the division of powers among the President, Prime Minister, and Parliament and delineates ways in which a government may be formed or dissolved. The constitutional balance of power among the presidency, government, and legislature remains amorphous, pending the adoption of a formal constitution. In May President Walesa dissolved the Sejm following a motion of no confidence in the Suchocka government, which passed by one vote. The Suchocka government was the fourth to fall since Poland's first freely elected Sejm took office in 1991. In the resulting elections, held in September, the Democratic Left Alliance, a successor to the former Communist party, won 171 seats out of 460 in the Sejm (20.4 percent of the vote) and formed a coalition with the Polish Peasant Party (132 seats, or 15.4 percent of the vote), with Waldemar Pawlak of the Peasant Party as Prime Minister. The Democratic Union of former Prime Minister Suchocka, which obtained 74 seats, based on 10.6 percent of the vote, is the major opposition party. Only three other parties exceeded the threshold of 5 percent for representation in Parliament, a requirement of the 1992 electoral law aimed at avoiding the fragmentation of political representation in Parliament. This requirement eliminated most center and right-of-center parties that had failed to form electoral alliances. The electoral law strictly limited the amount of broadcast time the parties could buy and provided that all parties registered on the ballot nationwide were entitled to the same amount of free television time. State television provided 90 minutes daily of free time over a 14-day period prior to the election. President Walesa used his office to campaign on the broadcast media's regular programming for the Nonpartisan Bloc in Support of Reform (BBWR), which he created in the wake of the dissolution of the Suchocka government as an alternative to the existing parties. The other parties complained about this discrepancy, and the electoral commission allotted them the equivalent amount of time at a later date. According to the election law, no opinion polls were to be released publicly beginning 12 days before election day. However, one major newspaper illegally ran a poll the day before the elections and was consequently fined. Women comprised some 10 percent of the candidates for Parliament and approximately 15 percent of the candidates elected. A special provision in the electoral law exempted national minority parties from the 5-percent threshold; four members of the German minority were elected under this provision.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Helsinki Committee, a major nongovernmental organization, conducted human rights investigations without government interference in 1993. Leading members of the Committee reported that the Government displays a generally positive and helpful attitude towards human rights investigations. Two governmental organizations monitor human rights in Poland. The Office of the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection (the Ombudsman), established in 1987, is an independent internal body with broad authority to investigate alleged violations of civil rights and liberties. The Ombudsman has no legislative authority and is sworn to act apolitically. He registers each case that is reported to his office and files grievances, when appropriate, with the relevant government office. According to the Ombudsman's office, the Interior Ministry and the armed forces have the quickest rates of response to grievances. There were 1,325 cases still pending in September, however, some dating back to 1988; most of these dealt with the issue of compensation for land that was taken over by the Communist government. The Ombudsman conducted aggressive investigations of human rights infringements in 1993 in spite of an increasingly negative governmental attitude towards his role under the Suchocka government. Under the law, the Sejm can vote to recall the Ombudsman if he proves himself "unfaithful to his oath" to keep faith with the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, safeguard the rights and liberties of citizens, and carry out his duties impartially. As a result of the Ombudsman's eight complaints concerning the Minister of Education's 1992 ordinance regulating religious education in schools (see Section 2.c.), the ZChN led the more conservative parties in the Sejm in accusing the Ombudsman of being "unfaithful to his oath." Nearly 80 deputies from right-of-center parties filed a motion for a vote of no confidence in him in April. The Ombudsman fought back, saying his oath compelled him to promote the separation of church and state. The motion died when President Walesa dissolved the Sejm in May. The second governmental institution, the Senate Office for Intervention, investigates a wide range of grievances. In addition to responding to grievances, it may also investigate judicial proceedings. Created in 1989, the Office conducts investigations and refers legitimate cases to senators whom the investigator feels will be sympathetic to the grievance, regardless of their district or political affiliation. If a senator does not wish to become involved in the case, the Office presents it to another senator or senators until it finds someone willing to pursue the matter. The Office does not release public reports. There are no restrictions on visits by international organizations.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for equal rights regardless of sex and grants women equal rights with men in all fields of public, political, economic, social, and cultural life, including equal pay for equal work. In practice, however, women are sometimes paid less, hold lesser positions, are discharged more quickly, and are less likely to be promoted than men. There are no laws providing explicit legal redress for women subjected to such discrimination. Women are employed in a broad variety of professions and occupations, and a handful of women occupy high positions in many branches of government and in the private sector. However, certain Polish laws discriminate against women. Under retirement laws, women may retire earlier than men, and human rights organizations reported that, as a result, employers were generally more hesitant to hire women. Polish law does not adequately address equality in hiring practices. Women are banned by law from working in 90 occupations in 18 fields of industry, health care, forestry, agriculture, and transportation, but unions support the desire of women to gain entry into these occupations. Unemployment disproportionately affects Polish women, who are more likely to lose their jobs than their male colleagues if an employer is forced to scale down, an ever-increasing phenomenon in the transition economy. The Senate Office of Intervention reported that women often do not take advantage of sick leave from work so that they will appear healthier to their employers than their male counterparts. Although women with infants are eligible to receive a maintenance allowance from the State, the amount of the allowance has not kept pace with inflation. The Helsinki Committee reported that some progress had been made in improving working conditions for women in 1993, and the Government had taken some steps to improve labor laws for women. A law providing that only women could take a leave of absence from work to care for a sick child was amended to include men as well. The Helsinki Committee pointed out that men must be 21 years of age to marry, while women need only be 18. According to the Helsinki Committee, it is impossible to estimate the likely extent of violence against women and spouse abuse, although it is certainly a problem in Poland, and the cases that are reported are probably but a fraction of the real number. Police do intervene in cases of domestic violence, and husbands can be convicted for beating their wives. A first offender is put on probation; the penalty for a second offense is from 8 to 12 months in prison.
No special laws exist to ensure the protection of children. Child abuse is very rarely reported, and convictions for child abuse rarer still. Under the law there is no special distinction between children and adults. Until the age of 18, parents have the right to make all decisions concerning their children's medical treatment; the Helsinki Committee reports cases of children being forced to have cosmetic surgery by their parents or of parents deciding whether or not their child will have an abortion. However, education is compulsory until the age of 16. In divorce cases, children have no say over which parent will be granted legal guardianship. There are no procedures in schools to protect children from abuse by teachers; in fact, the teachers' work code guarantees a teacher legal immunity from prosecution for the use of corporal punishment in classrooms. Infant mortality is higher in Poland than in developed countries. According to Polish government sources, this is because of the inadequate availability of acute postnatal care and the conditions in maternity hospitals. A center in Laski for children with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was closed following the burning down of one its buildings. The children have been dispersed throughout Poland.
Poland's population is 97-percent ethnically homogeneous, although small Ukrainian, Belarusian, Slovakian, and Lithuanian minorities reside along the borders, and a German minority is concentrated near the southwest city of Opole. There are no restrictions on Polish citizens from non-Polish ethnic groups holding office. The new electoral law exempted ethnic minority parties from the requirement to win 5 percent of the vote nationwide in order to qualify for seats in individual districts. Four members of the German minority party were elected to Parliament in September. Ethnic tensions exist in the province of Opole, which is approximately 30-percent German. Many of the minority Germans charge Polish citizens and the Government with discriminating against them. Disputes centered over efforts to restore monuments built to honor World War II German soldiers and to put up bilingual street names, which the regional governor claimed were prohibited by law. Controversy also centered on the number of qualified German-language teachers provided by the Government and the weekly number of hours of German-language training provided in schools. According to the Krakow prosecutor's office, seven "skinheads" were arrested in Krakow in connection with the murder of a German truckdriver in 1992. They have been held in detention ever since. No charges have been formally brought against them because the Krakow prosecutor's office and the court medical doctors are at odds as to the actual cause of the truckdriver's death. All minority groups were concerned about education in public schools of their native language and customs. Approximately 30,000 ethnic Slovaks live in Poland, mostly in the southeast. Their main concern is that not enough Polish schools in the region teach the Slovak language. Only about 500 Slovak students are enrolled in Polish schools. The Government operates two elementary schools and one high school in which classes are taught exclusively in Slovak. The Slovak minority also wants the Government to allow trained Slovakian priests to come to Poland so there can be more masses said in Slovak. Several persons were tried for desecrating the Soviet soldiers' cemetery in Elblag during 1992. In September 1993, two men were convicted of vandalizing it, and both were sentenced to 1 year in prison, suspended for 4 years, the performance of public works, and a fine of about $50 to the city. Investigations into vandalism of Soviet soldiers' graves at two other cemeteries continued. Roma reported that they were often victims of random acts of violence in 1993. Many of these were minor acts, such as rocks being thrown through house windows. One example of serious crime, though, was a raid on a Gypsy camp outside Warsaw in September, in which one of the participants was dressed in a police uniform. According to the Helsinki Committee, the police investigation is being conducted seriously and properly. No outcome had been noted in the press by year's end, and it was unclear whether the person involved was actually a police officer. In a public forum of national minority organizations, which was held with the Ombudsman in July at the behest of the Helsinki Committee, Roma leaders claimed that they continued to experience difficulty seeking compensation for damage suffered by Roma during the 1991 anti-Roma riots in Mlawa. The Ombudsman received 122 complaints from foreigners, of which 35 percent dealt with police brutality. Foreigners also complained that they were detained without being informed of the charges against them and for excessive periods of time and that court interpreters were poor.
Under communism many church properties were absorbed by the State. It is generally more difficult for the Orthodox Church in eastern Poland than for the Catholic Church to obtain compensation for, or the return of, its properties, the Helsinki Committee reported. (See Section 2.c. for discussion of government involvement in religious affairs.) Jewish groups have complained about a playground installed on Kalisz' former Jewish cemetery grounds. There has been no resolution of this issue. Violent anti-Semitic incidents are rare in Poland, and none was reported in 1993. Despite occasional anti-Semitic rhetoric at political rallies and demonstrations, there are no significant anti-Semitic political parties. The neo-Fascist Polish National Community is weak and has no seats in Parliament. Anti-Semitic graffiti sometimes appear in Polish cities, including on Holocaust monuments, and Jews are sometimes subjected to anti-Semitic remarks on the street. The press reported in December that some Poles had complained about an anti-Semitic requirement in Poland's passport application procedure. The requirement specified that people who emigrated from Poland in 1968 on a one-way passport had to sign a special declaration that they had not gone to Israel or that they had not accepted Israeli citizenship. A subsequent investigation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that this requirement had actually been overturned in 1984, but the change was never implemented. In December the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the requirement had been overturned permanentley. A major tension in Catholic-Jewish relations was defused when the Pope intervened to instruct Carmelite nuns to leave their convent at Oswiecim (Auschwitz), which was located in the "Old Theater" immediately outside the former concentration camp.
People with Disabilities
Poland has no laws guaranteeing rights for the disabled. Neither buildings nor public transportation are generally accessible to the handicapped.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
All workers, including the police and frontier guards, have the legal right to establish and to join trade unions of their own choosing, the right to join labor federations and confederations, and the right to affiliate with international labor organizations. Following negotiations with trade unions and employers in 1992-93, the Suchocka government sent new legislation to Parliament concerning trade union rights and collective bargaining under the terms of the so-called Pact on State Enterprises. Parliament was dissolved on May 31 before the legislation could be approved. As few as 10 persons may form a trade union, and a founding committee of 3 persons must register the union in the court of the province where that union's headquarters is located. A decision of the court refusing registration may be appealed to an appeals court. Interbranch national unions and national interbranch federations must register with the provincial court in Warsaw. As of September, 4 national interbranch industrial unions were registered, along with some 17 other major independent industrial branch unions and 3 agricultural unions. The Independent Self-Governing Trade Union (NSZZ) Solidarity is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the World Confederation of Labor. Solidarity has a membership of 2.2 million (with roughly 81 percent paying dues). Spin-offs from mainstream Solidarity include the Christian Trade Union Solidarity (16,200 members) and Solidarity '80 (156,000 members), a militant rival from which a group broke away to form "August 80." The National Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ), the Communist- inspired trade union, was registered in 1983 as the sole legal alternative to the then repressed NSZZ Solidarity. According to trade union legislation of 1991, OPZZ was obligated by law to relinquish "inherited" properties and return assets it acquired (or an approximation of their value at the time they were seized) following the imposition of martial law. The OPZZ did not have sufficient funds to pay Solidarity's claim outright; consequently, negotiations throughout 1993 centered on property claims, some of which had already been improperly transferred either to private hands or to branch unions no longer affiliated with the OPZZ. As a general rule, Solidarity has rejected the OPZZ's suggestion that Solidarity's claims be paid out of the state budget. In a complaint to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the OPZZ alleged that the amount of zlotys (Polish currency) it had been assessed to pay back had been unduly indexed, but the ILO Governing Body found that indexation by the Government was not inconsistent with the requirements of freedom of association in principle. The OPZZ claims a membership of 4.7 million, a figure that independent observers reject as inflated. Solidarity's continued support for the new collective bargaining legislation is contingent on provisions to verify union membership claims. Until then, Solidarity refuses to join negotiations with the OPZZ on the grounds that its inflated membership figures exaggerate its strength at the bargaining table. Among several other independent industrial branch unions, the largest and most influential is the Free Miners' Trade Union, which claims more than 300,000 members. All these trade union organizations operate independently of state control. In alliance with the Social Democrats of the Republic of Poland, the OPZZ, the National Teachers' Union, and several others won 63 seats in the September parliamentary elections under the banner of the Democratic Left Alliance. The Solidarity trade union ran a full slate of candidates independent of any political parties but failed to meet the necessary threshold of 5 percent of the national vote. It will only have nine representatives in the Senate, the upper house of the new Parliament. The Trade Union Act of 1991 is less restrictive than the 1982 version passed soon after the imposition of martial law, but it still prescribes a lengthy process before a strike may be launched. During this period, the law, when strictly adhered to, provides several opportunities for employers to challenge a pending strike including the threat of legal action. An employer the Act makes no distinction between state-owned and private firms must start negotiations the moment a dispute begins. Negotiations end with either an agreement or a protocol describing the differences between the parties. If negotiations fail, a mandatory mediation process ensues; the mediator is appointed jointly by the disputing parties or, lacking agreement between them, by the Minister of Labor and Social Policy. If mediation fails, the trade union may launch a warning strike for a period of up to 2 hours or seek arbitration of the dispute. Both employers and employees have frequently questioned the impartiality of the mediators. A full-fledged strike may not be launched until 14 days after the dispute is announced (strikes are prohibited entirely in the Office of State Protection, in units of the police, firemen, military forces, prison services, and frontier guards). A strike may be proclaimed by the trade union after approval by the majority of voting workers and should be announced at least 5 days in advance. If the strike is organized in accordance with the law, the worker retains his right to social insurance benefits but not pay. If a strike is "organized contrary to the provisions of the law," the workers may lose social insurance benefits; organizers are liable for damages and may face civil charges and fines. Laws prohibiting retribution against strikers are not consistently enforced; the fines imposed as punishment are so minimal that employers can easily afford to pay them. The Government anticipated that the Trade Union Act would discourage labor disputes, but in fact the absence of a stable process for resolving them contributed to a worsening of tensions on the shop floor in 1993. The Suchocka government hoped that the collective bargaining aspects of the Pact on State Enterprises would help remedy that situation, but shop floor tensions turned into full-fledged strikes before the legislation could be passed. The Government faced a major strike in the Silesian coal basin in January and only narrowly avoided a simultaneous stoppage by public service workers. Tensions in the latter sector led to another strike in April, culminating in a successful no confidence motion in the Government launched by Solidarity parliamentarians in May.
b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively
The May 1991 law on trade unions and collective disputes generally creates a favorable environment to conduct trade union activity through provisions for time off with pay, as well as facilities and technical equipment in the enterprise. Notable weaknesses in the law include minor penalties for antiunion discrimination and, given Poland's ongoing economic transition, the lack of specific provisions to ensure that a union has continued rights of representation when a state firm undergoes privatization, bankruptcy, or sale. Unions, management, and workers' councils set wages in ad hoc negotiations at the enterprise level; collective bargaining as such does not exist. When formal agreements have been reached, they are routinely ignored and overtaken by enterprise-level disputes. In response to complaints from the Federation of Mining Unions and the Occupational Union of Employees in the Copper Industry regarding the refusal of the Government to negotiate with the strike committee of miners and copper works group unless Solidarity also participated, the ILO Governing Body urged the Government to begin negotiations with the complainants with a view to concluding agreements on the procedure for settling collective disputes and in order to dispel any possibility of discrimination against them. A common complaint voiced by organized labor is that the Polish laws concerning trade unions and collective disputes presume a fully developed market economy with private employers as negotiating partners. Because the State still is the dominant employer in Polish industry, government ministers get drawn into routine labor disputes, thereby unduly politicizing the process of labor-management relations. The Pact on State Enterprises, initialed by several of the major trade unions in 1992, is designed to address these weaknesses by codifying labor's involvement in the process of enterprise restructuring and privatization. As it stands, however, the law does not take into account the special circumstances created by Poland's transformation from a Socialist centrally planned economy to a market-oriented system in which many grievances arise from Poland's massive, structural economic adjustment. Women, for example, are generally the first fired in a mass layoff because it is assumed that men are the principal wage earners in a family. Throughout 1993, the Government continued to impose a ceiling on wages in state enterprises through a penalty tax, the so-called popiwek, in an effort to link wages to increases in productivity and reduce inflationary pressures in the state industrial sector. The penalty tax is charged on any state company (which does not produce for export) that increases its average wage in excess of a government-set "inflation coefficient." The enforcement of the popiwek tax on excessive wage growth effectively discouraged enterprise or sectoral- level collective bargaining on wages. Current government policy aims to liberalize investment procedures for both domestic and foreign firms rather than to promote special incentive programs. Special duty-free zones exist in or have been contemplated for some 15 to 20 locations throughout Poland but, with the exception of one zone in Poznan and one in Mielec (near Krakow), have not thus far attracted much attention. Thus, traditional export processing zones that relax legal guarantees do not, at this time, constitute a threat to workers' rights to organize. As in all other areas, however, collective bargaining does not exist.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Compulsory labor does not exist in Poland, although it is not prohibited by law. The Polish Government has signed the ILO Convention, which prohibits compulsory labor.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Labor Code forbids the employment of persons under the age of 15. The employment of persons aged 15 to 18 is permitted only if that person has completed basic schooling and if the proposed employment constitutes vocational training. The age floor is raised to 18 if a particular job might pose a health danger. The Government enforces legal protection of minors, but its inability to monitor the growing private sector leaves officials less certain that the problem does not exist.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
A national minimum wage is negotiated every 3 months by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and trade unions. Minimum wages for state-owned enterprises are roughly $85 (Zl 1,650,000) per month at the October 1 exchange rate, which is insufficient to provide a worker and family a decent standard of living. The minimum wage has the force of law, but a significant number of foreign guest workers receive less than the minimum wage, especially in the construction industry. The average monthly wage is roughly $197 (Zl 3,845,000). There is a standard legal workweek of 42 hours which allows 6- or 7-hour days, including at least one 24-hour rest period. The Legal Code defines minimum conditions for the protection of workers' health and safety; a new draft of that code was approved by Parliament. Enforcement is a growing problem because an ever-increasing portion of Polish economic activity is in private hands and outside the purview of the State Labor Inspectorate, which is unable to monitor both the state and private sectors of the economy. In addition, there is a lack of clarity concerning which government or legislative body has the responsibility for enforcing the law. About 102,944 serious work-related accidents were reported in 1992, involving 644 deaths and 3,380 cases of dismemberment. This represents a downward trend in work-related accidents, but as the Government itself has noted, work conditions in Poland are poor. Standards for exposure to chemicals, dust, and noise are routinely exceeded.