U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Poland
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Poland, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa65c.html [accessed 24 April 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
POLANDPoland is a parliamentary democracy based on a multiparty political system and free and fair elections. The President shares power with the Prime Minister, the Council of Ministers, and the bicameral Parliament (Senate and Sejm). Poland has held two presidential and three parliamentary elections in the 8 years since the end of communism. For much of the year, the governing coalition, composed of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), a successor to the former Communist Party, and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), a successor to the Peasant Party of the Communist era, had a nearly two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament. In parliamentary elections held on September 21, Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS)--a broad coalition of rightist, center-right, and Christian-national parties anchored by the Solidarity trade union--gained 33.9 percent of the vote. The new Government is a two-party coalition composed of AWS and its junior partner, the centrist Freedom Union (UW). The judiciary is independent. The internal security forces and armed forces are subject to effective civilian control by the Government. Since 1996 the civilian Minister of Defense has clear command and control authority over the military chief of the general staff as well as oversight of military intelligence. The Government continues actively to reform the military to prepare for full membership in NATO. Poland has made a successful transition to a free market economy. A large and growing private sector and increasing exports to Western Europe have helped fuel a 6.1 percent rate of growth in 1996 and an estimated 6.3 percent rate of growth in 1997. Inflation at the end of the year (at 13.3 percent) and unemployment (at 10.6 percent) remained high but were declining. Since 1989 most small- and medium-sized, state-owned enterprises have been privatized. The new Government has pledged to speed the long-delayed privatization of many of the largest enterprises (e.g., the telephone company, power plants, the national airline). Generous social and retirement programs place an enormous strain on the budget and impede economic growth. The Government intends to implement pension reform in 1999. The fiscal and monetary authorities are pursuing more restrictive policies to deal with a growing current account deficit that, if left unchecked, could create the risk of a financial crisis. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, but there were some problems. Prison conditions are poor. Lack of public confidence as well as a cumbersome legal process and an inadequate budget plague the court system. Court decisions are frequently not implemented, particularly those of the administrative courts, and simple civil cases can take as long as 2 or 3 years. Many poorly paid prosecutors and judges left public service for more lucrative employment. The threat of organized crime has provoked legislative responses that could pose a threat to the right to privacy. Freedom of speech and the press were subject to some minor limitations. Women continue to experience serious discrimination in the labor market and are subject to various legal inequities as a consequence of paternalistic laws. Trafficking in women is a growing problem, as is spousal abuse, and there is some societal discrimination against ethnic minorities. The President and the Government have worked constructively toward resolving issues of concern to the Jewish community. Although the right to organize unions and bargain collectively was largely observed, some employers violated worker rights provided by law, particularly in the growing private sector.