Header image for news printout

Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of Poland

11 February 2014

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today completed its consideration of the combined twentieth and twenty-first periodic report of Poland on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Piotr Stachanczyk, Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior of Poland, said that Poland had taken a number of measures aimed at reinforcing legal guarantees of equal treatment and in the area of preventing hate crimes. In 2011, certain European Union provisions on equal treatment had entered into force, complementing the existing legislation. In 2013, the Government had approved the National Action Plan for Equal Treatment 2013-2016, a horizontal scheme for equal treatment in all social domains. The strategy for integration of the Roma community had been effective, it had enjoyed constant and stable funding, and after two decades of systemic actions, the percentage of antipathy towards the Roma among the Polish population had significantly decreased.

During the discussion, Committee Experts commended Poland for providing detailed follow-up on a number of issues raised by the Committee in 2009. They asked about the racial polarization and racial hatred in a very homogenous society, where less than 2 per cent of the population was non-Polish. More details were asked about the work of the Ombudsman’s office, the phenomenon of “anti-Semitism without Jews”, racism in sports, and the direct applicability of the Convention in the courts. The treatment of Roma and in particular their education was discussed in detail.

In concluding remarks, Dilip Lahiri, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Poland, said that the Polish Government had undertaken a large number of steps to improve equal treatment and non-discrimination. At the same time, hate crimes remained a cause of concern. Activities of far-rights groups, hate speech on the internet and anti-Semitic incidents were also among the issues the State party should focus on. Being a largely homogenous country, Poland should perhaps consider a strategic approach, including special measures for a number of minority groups.

Mr. Stachanczyk thanked the Committee for the in-depth analysis, and for acknowledging that Poland had undertaken a serious effort to vehemently fight all forms of racism and xenophobia. No system was perfect, and the Experts pointed out rightly at some lacunae in Polish legislation, which would be given special attention in the coming period.

The delegation of Poland included representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Administration and Digitilization, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Ministry of National Education, Ministry of Justice, Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment, and the Permanent Mission of Poland to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon, when it will start its consideration of the combined eighth and ninth periodic report of Uzbekistan.


The combined twentieth and twenty-first periodic report of Poland can be read here (CERD/C/POL/20-21).

Presentation of the Report

PIOTR STACHANCZYK, Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior of Poland, said that the Government of Poland had made every effort to implement earlier concluding observations and recommendations by the Committee. The State party had taken a number of measures aimed at reinforcing legal guarantees of equal treatment and in the area of preventing hate crimes. In 2011, certain European Union provisions on equal treatment had entered into force, complementing the existing legislation. In 2013, the Government had approved the National Action Plan for Equal Treatment 2013-2016, a horizontal scheme for equal treatment in all social domains.

Over the past years, the Government had been conducting a number of actions aimed at raising awareness and spreading the knowledge of equal treatment, including projects dealing with good governance, regional governance and the media. The Council for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance had been established in 2013, with the main goal of providing for coordination among various government administration bodies and local government bodies in the given areas.

Mr. Stachanczyk stated that Polish Criminal Code had been amended with the view of including crimes motivated by prejudice and hatred. Efforts were also under way to implement the provisions of the Rome Statute, in particular in the scope of crimes against humanity, war crimes and command responsibility.

The issue of eliminating racial discrimination had been present in training sessions organized for the representatives of the judiciary as well as prisoners. The General Prosecutor’s Office had taken a number of actions aimed at increasing the effectiveness of prosecuting hate crimes motivated by race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin or lack of religious affiliation. Each appellate prosecutor had to appoint one district prosecution office to be accountable for conducting preparatory proceedings in cases involving hate crimes. Hate crimes represented a tiny fraction of the total number of all new cases reported in 2012 and 2013.

Efforts continued to be aimed at increasing the competence of police officers through specialized trainings on how to conduct proper actions in events which could be classified as hate crimes, as well as to train policemen on handling the victims of such crimes. Some 70,000 police officers had already been trained under that programme. A number of manuals had been published on the subject matter.

Another project, to start in March 2014 and be conducted in 10 languages, would aim at acquainting immigrants with the provisions of hate crime law applicable in Poland, and providing them with information on which remedies they had if they were confronted by what could be classified as hate crimes.

In October 2013, the first meeting of the Polish Campaign Coalition, made and supported by 53 institutions and organizations, had taken place. Some activities of the Campaign included social media presence, interaction with the Polish Parliament, conducting workshops for university and high school students, and monitoring of issues concerning hate speech in the public discourse. Educational actions had also been taken in order to disseminate knowledge on cultural diversity and to teach Jewish history and culture, including teaching about the Holocaust.

Mr. Stachanczyk informed that over the previous years, the Ministry of the Interior and the Border Guard had conducted a number of actions with the view of ensuring that foreigners were kept in humane conditions in the guarded detention centres. Particular attention had been placed on the detention of the minors. A wide scope of alternative measures could now be applied in lieu of detentions, and if detention proved necessary, it would be applied for the shortest time necessary. Regarding detention facilities, it was now mandatory that members of the same family be placed in one room, and that all detained foreigners could move freely throughout the facilities. The number of training courses for detention centre officers, including foreign languages, had been increased. As of May 2014, adult migrants would be able to study at public adult schools under the same conditions as the Polish nationals, for free.

Actions had also been taken to reinforce the system of support to the victims of trafficking. The Government was aware that perfecting the system of supporting victims of human trafficking required amendments to the currently applicable legislation, which involved the adoption of a new Foreigners Act in 2013.

Regarding the issue of the Roma, the Polish Government was aware of the cultural differences of that community and the resulting consequences for them in the contemporary world. The strategy for the integration of the Roma community had been effective, and it had enjoyed constant and stable funding and had involved a number of experts and academics. A multi-tier monitoring system of effectiveness of actions within the frame of that strategy had been developed. After two decades of systemic actions, the percentage of antipathy towards the Roma among the Polish population had significantly decreased.

Mr. Stachanczyk stressed that the current, combined twenty and twenty-first report had been prepared in coordination and cooperation with non-governmental organizations. Draft reports had been posted on the Government’s website, and comments provided by civil sector had been analysed in detail.

Questions by Experts

DILIP LAHIRI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Poland, stated that since 2009, Poland had provided detailed follow-up information on a number of issues raised by the Committee, including the situation of the Roma and racially motivated crimes, and Poland had undergone a Universal Periodic Review in 2012.

The Polish Jewish community, which had numbered more than three million in the 1920s, now consisted of only 20,000. The fact that many of the Polish Jews in the Second World War had been killed or driven out by their non-Jewish compatriots was still a source of great controversy and bitterness, and the source of Poland’s so-called anti-Semitism without Jews. A recent poll aimed at high school students had presented disturbing results on the persisting antipathy against Jews.

Mr. Lahiri said that of the 39 million Polish citizens, only 1.4 per cent had declared a non-Polish ethnicity and nationality in the 2011 census. Racial polarization and violence in what seemed a remarkable homogenous society ought to be examined and better understood.

Could the delegation provide feedback on the adequacy of resources provided to the Ombudsman’s office? The Ombudsman regrettably had no authority to act in support of victims’ claims of discrimination in the private sector. Could more information be provided on the work and impact of the Council for the Prevention of Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance, established in 2013?

Regarding direct applicability of the Convention in the courts, could more information be provided on any such cases?

The growth in the number of incidents of racist and bias-motivated crimes was causing concern, including an increasing number of racist and xenophobic incidents in football stadiums, mainly against people of African descent and Jews.

Mr. Lahiri expressed concern that at least four far-right groups and organizations were still reportedly active, as well as an extremist website.

Could the delegation provide more details on the fact that the majority of offenders had received only a fine without probation?

Mr. Lahiri noted that widespread discrimination against the Roma and threat of forced eviction continued. Living conditions were very poor and attendance of Roma children at school was also low. Other issues included excessive use of force by the police, not only towards the Roma, but also towards foreigners. It had been claimed that Polish authorities did not consider racism and discrimination to be important issues.

Another Expert noted that the State party had used the 2009 concluding observations as the guidance for the preparation of the current report, which was a good way of proceeding. He commended the State party for ratifying a number of international legal instruments over the reporting period.

The Expert noted that the most pressing problem was that of the Roma, which was a Europe-wide issue. In spite of the efforts of the State party, the number of Roma with completed high education was extremely low as compared to the general population.

An Expert asked how the Government intended to deal with a section of the public, which was seemingly allowed to stigmatize Jews by using offensive terms for Jews, even if against non-Jewish persons. The Expert recommended a zero-tolerance approach towards the racist behaviour of football fans.

The issue of statelessness was raised by another Expert, who asked about the number of stateless persons. On the issue of the Roma, data showed that the Roma children were not taking advantage of the possibility of attending bilingual education.

What kind of action was the State party planning to take against right-wing movements which were propagating hate speech? Why were football clubs not punished if their fans used racist slogans?

What was happening in cases of racial discrimination between individuals and companies, and which was the relevant authority in such instances?

Could the delegation provide more information on the programmes for the Roma and the evaluation of such programmes conducted by independent experts, another Expert asked. He also inquired about the teaching of other minority languages.

An Expert asked about the ethnic make-up of the prison population, and what the presence of non-Polish ethnic groups in political life was.

What was the situation regarding the burden of proof when it came to racist and hate crimes? Was there any desegregated information available in that regard?

Another Expert referred to an incident of John Godson, the first black member of the Parliament, who in its aftermath said that there was no racism in Poland, but rather something he called “low intra-cultural competences”.

What were prosecution efforts against the display of Nazi symbols?

A question was asked on the extent of the involvement of the Roma people in designing the policies and programmes which addressed the needs of their own community.

The main challenge in human trafficking was identifying the victims so as to be able to help them. What were concrete activities by the State party in that regard?

What kinds of sanctions could sports associations impose on clubs with racist fans?

The concept of multiculturalism was raised by another Expert, who said that it was multifaceted issue, and asked for the delegation’s opinion on the matter.

Was the closure of a school for the Roma children not going to be seen as a possible case of assimilation? Unity and diversity were two sides of the same coin, and ought to be promoted as such. It was thus important that measures implemented by the State involved a certain level of cooperation of those affected by the policies. Why did the Roma not go to school in significant numbers, why were they starting schooling late and why were they dropping out?

Another Expert said that most points in the State party’s report were very positive. He asked for confirmation of two statistics from the 2002 census, putting Roma at about 12,000 and Jews at just over 1,000.

While it was positive that the Government did not promote special, segregated schools for the Roma, some still existed as the parents of the Roma children reportedly requested so. Could more details be provided on that? One of the most frequently reported reasons for not teaching Roma language was the reluctance of the Roma themselves to learn the language – was that really the case?

Could more clarification be provided on the phenomenon of “anti-Semitism without Jews”? Why did such a phenomenon still exist?

How come Poland, which was the country which had been first invaded by the Nazis in the Second World War, had groups that praised Nazism?

Another Expert asked what measures the State party was taking in order to ensure a positive sense of identity of the Roma people.

Was the special education for Roma mentioned earlier in place only for Roma children with special needs?

The issue of the Roma was also raised by another Expert, who asked on which basis the Roma were residing in Poland. Some Roma were nationals of the country or the European Union, and some were probably nationals of other countries. What were the differences between different groups of the Roma?

Did Roma receive social support from the Government? Had there been setbacks to governmental policies on Roma?

Response by the Delegation

Responding to the questions and concerns raised by the Experts, Mr. Stachanczyk said that issues ought to be kept in perspective. For example, there had been only a few heinous cases when a person had not been allowed to enter a club or a bar because of their race, which had been immediately prosecuted. There was nothing that the State party wanted to eradicate more than racism.

Nazi and other extremist groups were using populist rhetoric offering easy solutions to multiple problems, which was what could help explain their durability.

The delegation explained that programmes for the Roma had started in the 1990s, after the fall of communism. Poland was not the only European country dealing with that challenge; it was a pan-European issue, which required a long-term approach. According to the census of 2011, 85 per cent of Roma in Poland had attended primary education, half of whom had completed it. Education was a priority in the nation-wide programmes. Even if the overall absolute numbers remained low, there had been a huge increase of Roma people with higher education over the past 13 years. While the Roma culture was patriarch based and conservative, the majority of the Roma with higher education were women.

There was no problem with segregation in schools, as there were no longer any Roma-only classes in Poland. Roma-only classes had existed in the past, in the 1980s and the 1990s, as a way of attracting Roma children to school. Roma parents were very much in favour of keeping the Roma-only classes, threatening that they would withdraw their kids from schools if those were abolished.

The Roma language in Poland today was subject to various outside influences, which had endangered its survival. Efforts had been taken to write the language down, but there had been resistance among the community. All four newspapers targeted at the Roma community were published in Polish. The delegation explained that the Roma did not want the Roma language to be available to those outside of the community.

In response to the questions on the number of Roma in Poland, the delegation explained that close to 13,000 people had declared themselves as Roma in 2002, and over 16,000 people had done so in the 2011 census. The delegation realized that there were more Roma in Poland than those figures showed; an estimated number stood at between 20,000 and 25,000.

The last population and housing census had also demonstrated an increase of Jews in Poland, from around 1,000 in 2002 to over 7,000 in 2011. All minorities in 2011 had been in greater numbers than in 2002. The minorities’ socio-economic factors did not differ from the majority group, with the only exception of the Roma, who had lower life expectancy and lower access to the labour market.

There was a constant dialogue with the Roma community, which was an ongoing process, in which the Government was hearing out Roma complaints and learning more about their specific needs. Over 100 Roma organizations were active in Poland, most of which had been founded in the course of the last decade.

Assimilation was prohibited by the Law on National and Ethnic Minorities, and the State party was fully aware of the differences between assimilation and integration. Two thorough and in-depth evaluations of the governmental programmes had been conducted, in 2011 and 2013, and they had shown that the projects had been properly tailored for the needs of the Roma community. One identified deficiency was the lack of clear indicators in the programme, which was now being addressed in the new programme. Some resistance by the Roma to any institutional activity connected to the Roma had been anticipated, but there had not been much of it.

Cultural differences and barriers were the most difficult to overcome. The Roma population did not value education to the same degree as other sectors of the population. Roma were, for example, reluctant to place their children in nurseries, as in the Roma culture such an act would mean that the child’s mother was a bad one. Some 16 per cent of Roma children attended special schools, which in practice meant more benefits for the family – it was up to the parents to decide whether to send their children to regular or special schools.

A multicultural education was in place in Polish schools, where all students could learn about traditions of minorities and accept the norms of living in a mixed community. As of 2016, there would be mandatory courses for teachers who worked in schools with minority children. Textbooks for school use had to comply with basic curricula and were required to foster questions of national minorities. In tertiary education, there were efforts to equip professors with multicultural skills. The University of Krakow, for example, had introduced a major on ethno-linguistics of minorities.

On the issue of hate crimes, the Polish Government treated any such allegations very seriously. The struggle against racism and hate crimes was a priority for the Ministry of the Interior in 2014. In 2012, there had been over 200 such crimes, and in 2013, a higher number of crimes had been reported, which could be a sign of greater awareness of the general public, and its readiness to report them.

Different programmes were in place for police officers, prosecutors and the judiciary. Incitement to hatred because of race or ethnic origin was punished appropriately and Polish courts were not lenient on such matters. Over 70,000 police officers all over Poland had been trained thus far; a number of textbooks and manuals were in place for law enforcement officials.

The delegation said that an awareness-raising campaign would be launched in March 2014, targeting foreigners and informing them of their rights and what they could expect from the Polish administration and police.

Concerning racism in sports, the delegation said that some racist slogans had been observed, and the Polish Government was responding to it by education, prevention and stricter implementation of the law. Polish sports unions had to act swiftly and organizers of sport events were to be held accountable. Most sports unions had signed a declaration decrying racism. There was a ban against both showing racist symbols and chanting racist slogans. Financial penalties, disqualifications and bans on the presence of fans had been implemented against football clubs.

Answering questions on the Ombudsman’s office, the delegation said that the office stood guard of the principle of equal treatment in general. The Ombudsman was assisting citizens and Government authorities, and might approach any institution to request information on the correct implementation of their mandate. If there was a complaint on unequal treatment in the field of employment on grounds of being a member of a minority, the Ombudsman could call on the labour inspectors to look into the matter. The Ombudsman could not be a legal representative of any party in the court. The budget of the Ombudsman had been constantly increasing over the previous years.

A very low level of complaints regarding unequal treatment was something that had to be changed. When it came to system-wide solutions, the State party had taken measures since 2012 with the view of better collecting statistical data on such complaints. Training had also been conducted for judges and prosecutors to prepare them to better react to any such claims.

The delegation specified that the biggest minority in Poland was the German minority.

Follow-up Questions by the Experts

The Chairperson noted that it was difficult to educate the Roma children, largely due to the unwillingness of their parents to send them to school. He asked for more details on the system of multicultural education in Poland, and what exactly it entailed.

Another Expert raised the issue of the written language of the Roma. Actions had to be taken to preserve the language, even if the community was close-knit and closed.

Was it also prohibited to display communist symbols during sports matches, the Expert inquired.

An Expert noted that language and culture were indispensable parts of a national identity, and if the language were to be lost, that would endanger the survival of the group’s identity. Ways and means had to be found to persuade people, including the Roma, that an effort had to be made to have their language preserved. From the primary education onwards, it was important that minority children were conversant in both their own and the majority languages. It was also important to ensure more presence of Roma children in nurseries.

Another Expert inquired about the State party’s definitions of national and ethnic minorities, and asked for the difference between the two. She expressed considerable concern over the reported commitment of the Roma to sending their children to special schools. That was a symptom of the fact that the Roma had so far had little positive experience with education. What was the State party doing to address the causes and the structural discrimination? What were the particular targets for implementing the European Union-wide strategy for the integration of Roma?

The Expert asked for further information on how it was being ensured that intercultural education was indeed a two-way process.

Response by the Delegation

Mr. Stachanczyk stated that provisions of the Polish Criminal Code prohibited displays of Nazism, fascism or symbols of any totalitarian regimes.

The Roma themselves perceived working for the police as a taboo, and any Roma individual who would work for the police would need to work with another community given that they would be rejected or excluded by their own community. The police were still perceived by the Roma as a reprisal force.

The delegation further explained that there was a law enumerating nine national and four ethnic minorities. The work of the Commission on Minorities included representatives of all the listed minorities.

Cultural diversity was a fact and was acknowledged as such by the State party. Education was not a value to most Roma. They did not see much progress or benefits in completing schools; those going to schools could not work and support their families. Roma perceived life wisdom and experience as more valuable than formalized education.

The State party was well aware that a language was an essential part of preserving cultural identity, but a very strong taboo on that issue existed among the Roma. Efforts to standardize and write down the language had been unsuccessful thus far because of the fervent opposition of the Roma leaders. The Roma in Poland were very orthodox compared to groups in other European countries.

A comic strip on the history of the Roma community in Poland had been published in Polish and two Roma dialects, and had proved to be very popular across the board. Other countries had decided to follow the same suit.

Poland acknowledged that the fact that as many as 16 per cent of Roma children attended special schools was problematic. Parents, teachers and specialists involved in the Roma education could motion for pedagogical centres to thoroughly check the cognitive abilities of the children, with the view of deciding whether there indeed existed a need to send them to special schools. Brochures had been prepared for parents explaining that children should not be sent to special schools.

Concerning the ways minority languages were taught, the delegation explained that the intercultural education meant teaching and learning about different cultural groups who lived in a given area. Majority and minority groups would learn about each other’s history, culture and language. There were also concrete projects in place which were involving local communities.

A number of nurseries and schools existed in Lithuanian, while teaching of the Belarussian language was in place in several north-east counties. For the Ukrainian minority, some 300 students were taught in seven different schools.

Regarding training for police officers, results were quite visible, particularly in the way hate crimes were identified. Information was widely disseminated among the general public, and the victims of hate crimes were increasingly trustful of police officers, and more ready to report such crimes. Consequently, there had been an increase in the number of indictments for hate crimes. Foreigners had also reported being treated professionally by the police officers.

Follow-up Questions by the Experts

An Expert asked about the design and formulation of programmes for the Roma community. When would the next programme for the Roma be signed and put into practice? How many Roma representatives were there in schools, and to which degree were they involved in the preparation of school curricula?

The Expert also inquired about the presence of Roma in the civil service.

To what extent had the independent monitoring of police work been implemented so far?

With regard to the reported rise of right-wing and Nazi groups, the Expert commented that it could not have been explained by an economic crisis, which had had less effect on Poland than it did on most other European countries. Was there another explanation for that phenomenon?

The Country Rapporteur noted that the issue of the Roma was not unique to Poland and that the Committee might have focused disproportionately on that issue.

Response by the Delegation

Regarding the Nazi groups in Poland, the delegation reiterated that their rise had been partly caused by the crisis. Many young people were affected by the unemployment, which stood at 13 per cent nationally.

The delegation stated that the Roma were actively involved in the creation of the programmes. About one hundred Roma had permanent state jobs. In most cases, there was one Roma assistant per school, but in some areas one person was covering a number of schools, if the presence of Roma children in those schools was low. Those educational assistants were all civil servants.
Healthcare among the Roma was also a taboo, and most Roma women were very reluctant to be examined by doctors.

Follow-up Questions by the Experts

An Expert expressed her concern about the treatment of the groups which were not explicitly listed in the legislation.

The Expert encouraged the State party to do its utmost to improve relations between the police forces and the Roma community. The Expert believed that structural causes of the mistrust by the Roma community had to be addressed.

Another Expert regretted that the majority of time had been spent dealing with the situation of the Roma, while ignoring some important achievements made by the State party in combatting racism.

An Expert asked about the body for assistance to the victims, and why it was operating under the Ministry of the Interior and not under the Ministry of Justice.

Response by the Delegation

The delegation responded that the legislation on minorities had been drafted in consultation with the public, and the 13 listed minorities were the ones who had traditionally lived in Poland.

Programmes for the Roma were very comprehensive. Training sessions for police forces were also quite detailed, and their focus was on the respect for human rights.

Concluding Remarks

DILIP LAHIRI, Country Rapporteur for Poland, said that the debate with the Polish delegation had been fruitful. Over the period since the previous report, the Polish Government had undertaken a large number of steps on improving equal treatment and non-discrimination. A number of gaps still remained in the legal framework. Hate crimes remained a cause of concern. Activities of far-right groups, hate speech on the internet and anti-Semitic incidents were also among the issues the State party should focus on. Being a largely homogenous country, Poland should perhaps consider a strategic approach, including special measures for a number of minority groups.

PIOTR STACHANCZYK, Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior of Poland, thanked the Committee for the in-depth analysis, and for acknowledging that Poland had undertaken a serious effort to vehemently fight all forms of racism and xenophobia. No system was perfect, and the Experts pointed out rightly at some lacunae in Polish legislation, which would be given special attention in the coming period.


For use of the information media; not an official record