Prawa autorskie: Fot Ludovic MARIN / AFP)Fot Ludovic MARIN / ...

Tekst Pauliny Pacuły pt. „Najnowszy raport z USA o prawach człowieka. Najgorzej w Ukrainie. A jakie problemy ma Polska?” opublikowaliśmy 30 marca 2023 r.

Prepared annually for the past 50 years, the US State Department’s human rights reports are among the best and more comprehensive studies of their kind in the world.

As transpires from the 2022 report, the worst situation in terms of respect for human rights is currently in Ukraine because of Russia, as well as in China, Iran, Myanmar (Burma), South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan.

The report also analyses the situation in Poland. It highlights problems with:

  • guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary;
  • freedom of expression because of the validity of laws on insulting religious feelings and the criminalization of defamation;
  • the protection of migrants’ rights;
  • the protection of reproductive rights;
  • discrimination and anti-Semitism;
  • breaches of privacy and illegal wiretapping (the matter of the use of Pegasus spyware in Poland).

Restriction of the right to a fair trial

As arises from the US State Department’s assessment, by dismantling the independence of the judiciary in Poland, the authorities are breaching the right of every citizen to an effective remedy and a fair trial.

The ability to transfer judges and prosecutors without their consent and the fact that the same individual holds the position of minister of justice and prosecutor general create the opportunity to have a direct political influence over the activities of the courts and prosecutor’s office, the report reads.

The report also emphasizes that, despite the changes in the disciplinary system of judges and the replacement of the Disciplinary Chamber with a Professional Liability Chamber, the system still does not guarantee independence of political influence.

Furthermore, according to the annual EU Justice Scoreboard evaluation of confidence in the judiciary, only 24% of respondents in Poland believe the judiciary is independent.

We wrote about this here:

Przeczytaj także:

Surveillance with Pegasus and restrictions on media freedom

The report also mentions breaches in the area of freedom of expression and media freedom. The acquisition by the state-owned oil company, Orlen, of the Polska Press media group, which is the main publisher of the local and regional press in Poland, is one such breach. This breach has continued since 2021, when the acquisition took place.

The fact that a state-owned company has ownership control over a large media publisher restricts media freedom by maintaining political influence over a large segment of the media market.

The withholding of the decision to renew the broadcasting licence for TVN is also a breach in this area. The National Broadcasting Council had been processing this case for 19 months; the decision to extend the licence was made just four days before the expiry of the previous licence. The owner of TVN contested the case in court and won. The Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the National Broadcasting Council should have issued a decision within a maximum of 60 days.

The surveillance of political opponents and members of the judiciary with the Pegasus spyware revealed by the Canadian-based Citizen Lab is also a serious breach of human rights. It includes breaches of privacy and the confidentiality of correspondence. The report also draws attention to the lack of due judicial review of the activities of the services.

Disaster on the Polish-Belarusian border

Serious human rights breaches take place regularly on the border with Belarus, emphasize the authors of the report. The report mentions the problem of the use of so-called push-backs, namely turning people back after they have crossed the border to seek refuge in Poland. This especially applies to migrants and refugees from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, who are prevented from applying for asylum or international protection.

OKO.press is constantly monitoring the situation of migrants on the Polish-Belarusian border. There have already been 40 fatalities of the crisis on the border. The Border Group has helped more than 14,000 people in a year and a half.

The US State Department’s report also draws attention to the problem of detaining asylum seekers or people applying for subsidiary protection in guarded refugee centres. This is a breach of, among other things, the right of movement. Border guards can only place such a person in a guarded centre on the basis of a court order. Courts issue such consents automatically. Migrants are held there for much longer than the 3 months allowed by law; children are deprived of access to education during that time.

Conditions in the centres are sometimes worse than in prisons. Two Iraqis are currently on hunger strike in a guarded centre for foreigners.

Meanwhile, Poland has recently changed the law, which will make things even worse for foreigners:

Reproductive rights and domestic violence

The report also highlights a positive change: tougher penalties for rape. The President signed an Act amending the Penal Code on 2 December, increasing the maximum penalty for rape to 15 years. The Act also introduces 3–20 years’ imprisonment for gang rape, rape of a family member, armed rape, rape of a pregnant woman or recording a rape. Additionally, the Penal Code has increased penalties to life imprisonment for rape of a minor and rape with particular cruelty. All these amendments entered into force on 12 March 2023.

The report draws attention to the significant restrictions on reproductive rights.

The lack of reimbursement of contraception, access to emergency contraception only on prescription, doctors taking advantage of the conscience clause, which leads to limited access to medical services and drastically reduced access to safe and legal abortion,

discrimination of transgender and intersex people in their access to health services, lack of access to reliable sex education – these are serious problems that are the order of the day in Poland.

Although domestic violence in Poland is punishable by a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, the US State Department’s report points out that most people found guilty of domestic violence receive suspended sentences.

Despite the increased penalties for domestic violence and the entry into force of a provision allowing restraining orders to be imposed on perpetrators without prior court approval, there are still many cases where the police refuse to intervene in cases of domestic violence.

Discrimination in Poland

Systemic discrimination and hate speech against LGBT+ people is also a significant problem in respecting human rights in Poland. The US State Department’s report mentions the reports of the Campaign Against Homophobia, from which it arises that non-heteronormative people in Poland live in fear of physical violence, experience exclusion and hate speech.

Hateful, exclusionary rhetoric towards LGBT+ people is used as a narrative to mobilize and cement the electorate of the ruling party.

Furthermore, LGBT+ people are deprived of their basic rights: the right to enter into marriage and the right to adopt. We write about this regularly in OKO.press.

The report also highlights the restrictions on access to the legal identification of gender. Theoretically the law gives such a possibility but, in practice, the process is lengthy, arduous and damaging. A person who wants to make a gender realignment has to sue his or her parents in a civil procedure; if the parents are deceased, the court needs to appoint someone to represent their interests. Transgender people have to present final court judgments to change their identity documents.

The report points out that, although the practice of so-called conversion therapy is offered on a voluntary basis by psychological centres affiliated with the Catholic Church and individual psychologists and psychotherapists, it happens that transgender people are subjected to environmental pressure or are forced to use this practice. This is a serious human rights violation.

The breach of the rights of people with disabilities, who do not have equal access to education, health care, public buildings and transport is also a major problem in Poland.

The whole of the US State Department report on the state of human rights in Poland can be found here.

Criminal regimes? Russia, Iran, China

The worst situation in the world in terms of respect for human rights is currently in Ukraine because of Russia, as well as in China, Iran, Myanmar (Burma), South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan.

Russia is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. There are very many known cases of mass executions of civilians, sexual violence against women and children, disappearances, illegal detention and forced displacement.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is causing a huge amount of destruction. The Russians are shelling schools, hospitals, civilian buildings and critical infrastructure, thereby breaching all principles of international humanitarian law. On 17 March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.

The Iranian authorities invariably deny citizens basic human rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech, religion and belief.

In September 2022, the regime responded with exceptional brutality to peaceful protests following the tragic death of 20-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini. A woman was detained in the capital of Iran on 13 September by the so-called morality police while walking with her brother. The officers claimed Mahsa was wearing a headscarf which was tied too loosely. When the girl resisted arrest, she was brutally dragged into a van and taken to the police station. She was beaten there. She died in hospital from her injuries three days later.

Protests after her death erupted throughout the country and were bloodily suppressed. At least 500 people were killed during the demonstrations, of whom 69 were children. The police arrested more than 19,000 people. The authorities have also been restricting internet access to make it difficult for people to organize themselves.

Myanmar and China: persecuted Muslim minorities

Gross human rights violations are also still taking place in Myanmar (Burma). On 1 February 2021, the Burmese army staged a coup d’état there, declaring a state of emergency and transferring the whole of the executive, legislative and judicial power to the newly created authoritarian State Administration Council led by Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing. Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi and other political leaders were arrested.

The opposition National Unity Government, some armed ethnic minority organizations, civil society activists and dismissed politicians continued their efforts to restore democracy. More than 2,900 people were killed and 17,000 were detained in Burma as a result of the bloody repression of demonstrations and fighting from February 2021 to the end of 2022. OKO.press wrote about the dramatic situation of the protesters in this article.

Furthermore, from October 2016 to August 2017, the Burmese army committed genocide on the Rohingya Muslim minority. Representatives of this minority were attacked, killed, raped, tortured and thrown out of their homes. Approximately 200 villages were burnt down and about 13,000 people were killed.

Regular army troops were most involved in the Rohingya genocide, but ordinary Rohingya people also joined in with the massacre. Within several weeks, more than 700,000 refugees had crossed the border into Bangladesh to seek refuge there. According to UN estimates, there are now more than 940,000 refugees living in refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazaar region in Bangladesh (data as at October 2022). Half of them are children.

The US State Department only acknowledged the fact that the violence against the Rohingya is genocide in March 2022.

The USA also acknowledged the systematic violence suffered by the Uyghurs, as well as representatives of other ethnic minorities from the region, as genocide and crimes against humanity.

According to the estimates of independent organizations, the Chinese authorities have already locked up more than a million Uyghurs from the north-western part of the country in so-called re-education centres. According to the testimonies of those who managed to survive and their families in exile, prisoners in the camps are subjected to denationalization processes during ‘educational classes’.

The US State Department report emphasizes that the crimes are continuous and systemic. They include torture, rape, manslaughter, forced sterilization and slave labour, and often life-threatening work.

The Taliban persecutes women and girls

Systemic violence is also on the increase in Afghanistan, which has been ruled by religious fundamentalists – the Taliban – in accordance with the rules of Sharia, or religious law, since August 2021.

As transpires from the US State Department’s report, numerous human rights violations of all kinds are being reported in Afghanistan. The report mentions cases of political killings, forced disappearances, tortures and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (including of detainees and people in prison), arbitrary or illegal interference with privacy, punishment of family members for alleged crimes of a relative, illegal recruitment and use of child soldiers, etc.

The Taliban do not respect any standards of freedom of expression; censorship is applied in the country. Freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association are also severely restricted.

Freedom of religion is limited to the right to profess Sunni Islam. Freedom of movement and the right to leave the country are also restricted.

The situation is particularly difficult for women and girls, who have absolutely no access to education. After closing universities to women, in December 2022, the Taliban also prohibited girls from attending primary schools, thereby cutting women off from education at all levels. Access to employment and any participation of women in public life is also very limited.

Cambodia, South Sudan and Syria

The situation is also tough in Cambodia. Although Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government, Cambodia has become a de facto single-party authoritarian state since the delegalization of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2017.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party prevents the activity of any political opposition, while successive elections are rigged. The judiciary is fully subordinated to the executive. At the beginning of March 2023, a court in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, convicted Kem Sokha, a leader of the delegalized Cambodia National Rescue Party of treason and sentenced him to 27 years of house arrest.

In the justification of the verdict, the court announced that Kem Sokha colluded with foreigners and took advantage of human rights and politics as a cover to try to instigate a ‘colour revolution’ to overthrow the legal government. Sokh could have received up to 30 years.

South Sudan and Syria have a dramatic situation. Although the civil war ended in 2018, violence is primarily being perpetrated against citizens by the authorities – the police, the military, the special forces and militias terrorising the civilian population. The weak government is unable to ensure order.

The country is corrupt, journalists are persecuted, arbitrary detentions and arrests take place regularly, prisoners are held in life-threatening conditions, the authorities repress even people living in other countries.

The report from Syria describes mainly political persecution – Syrian oppositionists are arrested, held in prison and tortured. Or they die. The list of missing or illegally detained already contains 154,000 names. In Syria, the situation of the civilian population is still dramatic.

In the case of both South Sudan and Syria, the US State Department report lists human rights violations of all kinds: political killings, contract killings, impunity, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (including by the security forces and armed militias affiliated with the government), killing of civilians, forced disappearances or abductions, sexual violence, domestic violence, child marriages and forced marriages, female genital mutilation/circumcision and other forms of sex-based violence, human trafficking, etc.

Full reports on the other countries are available in the browser at this site.



Paulina Pacuła

Pracowała w telewizji Polsat News, portalu Money.pl, jako korespondentka publikowała m.in. w portalu Euobserver, Tygodniku Powszechnym, Business Insiderze. Obecnie studiuje nauki polityczne i stosunki międzynarodowe w Instytucie Studiów Politycznych PAN i Collegium Civitas przygotowując się do doktoratu. Stypendystka amerykańskiego programu dla dziennikarzy Central Eastern Journalism Fellowship Program oraz laureatka nagrody im. Leopolda Ungera. Pisze o demokracji, sprawach międzynarodowych i relacjach w Unii Europejskiej.