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UN experts urge Poland to acquit woman human rights defender Justyna Wydrzyńska

15 March 2023

GENEVA (15 March 2023) – UN experts today strongly condemned the sentencing of Justyna Wydrzyńska, a Polish woman human rights defender who was found guilty of assisting in the process of obtaining abortion and demanded her acquittal from all charges.

In 2020, in the context of her activism, Justyna supported a victim of gender-based violence in obtaining a voluntary termination of her pregnancy through medication. The activist has appealed the decision and is requesting her acquittal.

“We are outraged by this sentencing,” the experts said. “This is the first time a woman human rights defender has been convicted in Poland.”

The UN experts urged competent judicial authorities in Poland to acquit Wydryńska from all charges.

Wydryńska is one of the founders of an activist collective that has campaigned against abortion stigma in Poland since 2006. The collective offers trainings and counselling on how to obtain safe abortion.

“Justyna Wydryńska’s work must be supported, not criminalised,” the experts said.

“The charges against Ms. Wydrzyńska appear to be intended to punish her work as a human rights defender and to instil fear among those who are supporting Polish women in accessing safe abortion care, and already working in a hostile environment,” they said.

Since a Constitutional Court ruling in 2020, Poland’s abortion legislation has been among the most restrictive in Europe. Abortions are only permitted on two grounds: when the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the pregnant woman and when it is the result of a rape or incest. Even in those situations, multiple barriers limit women’s access to abortion in practice, particularly those from low-income and rural communities.

The experts warned that the 2020 ruling has a chilling effect as medical professionals fear repercussions even in situations where abortion remains legal. “This exacerbates health risks for women seeking an abortion,” they said.

While the mere possession or self-management of abortion-inducing medicines is not a crime in Poland, any person or doctor who helps pregnant women to obtain an abortion outside the limited grounds permitted by law is liable to sanctions of up to three-years in prison.

The experts said people in Poland in need of a safe abortion rely on non-governmental organisations and human rights defenders for trustworthy information and lifesaving support.

“Their work remains even more crucial now as thousands of refugees fleeing armed conflict are arriving in Poland with critical healthcare needs, including those related to sexual and reproductive health,” they said.

“The activism of individuals like Ms. Wydrzyńska often results in the only chance to access a safe abortion in Poland where services to terminate a pregnancy are, in practice, made unavailable by the various restrictions in place. These activists should be protected, not prosecuted,” the UN experts said.

They reiterated a statement issued on World Contraception Day and International Safe Abortion Day 2022, calling on states to decriminalise abortion and protect sexual and reproductive health rights.

Nearly a year ago, the UN experts expressed their concerns to the Polish Government regarding the charges against Justyna Wydrzyńska.

“The Government of Poland must drop the charges against Ms Wydrzyńska, revise its legislation with a view to decriminalising abortion, ensure access to essential medicines required for safe self-management of abortions, and cease targeting human rights defenders in Poland, particularly those advocating against the country’s restrictive abortion law,” they said.

ENDS

Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Working Group on discrimination against women and girlsDorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, Meskerem Geset Techane and Melissa Upreti.

The experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Karin Hechenleitner Schacht (+41 22 917 84 58 / [email protected])

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) and Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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