Universal Periodic Review


First session meeting highlights

14 May 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Poland this afternoon, during which 26 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on India, following the review of the country on Thursday, 10 April.

Presenting the national report of Poland was WITOLD WASZCZYKOWSKI, Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who noted that the approach to the question of human rights had changed in Poland as a result of the democratic transformation instigated by the Solidarity movement of 1989. Within the internal context, this process of fundamental change led to the construction and consolidation of a rule of law State, which adopted the main principle of observing and respecting human rights. Within this external context, the change meant that the promotion and protection of human rights was recognized as one of the priorities of Polish foreign policy. It was recalled that the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, organized an international United Nations conference in Warsaw in November 2006. The conference focused on the role of anti-corruption activities in the context of human rights protection. The involvement of Poland in the promotion of human rights was also demonstrated by its participation in the works of United Nations bodies responsible for these questions. The Civil Rights Ombudsman fulfilled the task of a national human rights institution. The national report contained a description of the normative and institutional mechanisms destined to promote and protect human rights in Poland and presented major achievements, problems and challenges in the domain of human rights. Among other things, the report tackled the problems of the judiciary and the penal system and various forms of discrimination, including those related to social problems and the labor market. It was recalled that the Government held meetings with NGOs focused on the UPR process. Although the legislative solutions adopted in Poland complied with international standards they were being constantly improved.

Apart from legislative solutions, Poland had been implementing measures of an institutional and educational nature, as well as long-term plans and operation strategies, aimed at countering such phenomenon as discrimination, racism or social exclusion, the Under-Secretary stated. Following the suggestion of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Committee Against Torture, representatives of ministries, the Police and the Ombudsman commenced works aimed at establishing an independent body, which would consider complaints about activities of Police officers. Education played a crucial role in building a culture of tolerance in the society and counteracting racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. In this framework, a number of training courses were organized on fighting discrimination, protection of human rights and international-cultural education. In recent years, the issues related to multi-culturalism, inter-cultural dialogue and to the promotion of tolerance and understanding for cultural differences had become an inseparable element of teaching curricula for primary and secondary schools. Apart from that, the education for national and ethnic minorities underwent constant development. A programme for the benefit of the Roma minority had been implemented since 2004 and provided for activities in such domains as reducing unemployment, improvement of living conditions and health care, and education was a priority of this programme. In 2008, a group of experts, linguists and governmental representatives was established in cooperation with the Ministry of National Education to prepare a standardization of the Romani language.

A number of initiatives had been undertaken to change stereotypical attitudes as to the role of women in the life of the society, he added. In order to ensure equal opportunities of the persons with disabilities on the labor market, the act on the vocational and social rehabilitation and employment of the persons with disabilities was amended in 2007. The provisions of the Polish Penal Code did not distinguish the discrimination based on sexual orientation as a separate offence. Prosecutors and courts treated crime victims in the same manner, regardless of whether they were homosexual or heterosexual. In order to raise awareness of various discrimination and prejudices towards persons of other nationalities, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation and towards the elderly, and to sensitize the society to manifestations of discrimination towards the above-mentioned groups, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy commissioned the production of a TV spot which was granted the main prize for the best audio-visual programme within the framework of the 2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. The issue of domestic violence was being subject of the Act on Domestic Violence adopted in 2005 and the National Action Plan of Countering Domestic Violence. On prison conditions, it was recalled that a decision issued by the Council of Ministers in 2006 assumed that 17,000 new places shall be acquired in the organizational units of the prison system. A legislative initiative designed to modify the rules for granting conditional early release was aimed at reducing the level of overcrowding in prisons.

During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included cooperation between the Government and civil society on human rights maters; efforts to enhance public awareness on issues of discrimination; the establishment of human rights advisors in the police force and human rights training for public officials and in the mainstream school system; the various efforts of the State to improve the State’s education system; the National Programme against Domestic Violence; the steps taken to eliminate discrimination in the labor markets; efforts to increase the rights of mental patients; the invitation to the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council; and the establishment of the post of Civil Rights Ombudsman.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to measures planned to strengthen its work to combat discrimination and discrimination based on sexual orientation, in particular; the legislative and administrative measures to protect children; the efficiency of human rights advisors in the police force and their impact on the promotion and protection of human rights; the status regarding the ratification of the second optional protocol on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); efforts to promote diversity issues and the need to avoid discrimination in all its forms among the public; whether equality legislation was envisaged to widen participation in the labor market, including for women and disabled people; the difficulties faced in the area of human trafficking and illegal migration; social assistance by the government to poor families; efforts of the state to comply with the requirements of the Human Rights Council’s Institution-Building package to integrate a gender perspective in the Review process; and the successes and challenges encountered in the national programme on domestic violence.

Other issues raised pertained to measures to reverse the problem of prison overcrowding, and the views of the State on electronic surveillance as a possible means of reducing prison overcrowding; efforts to comply with its obligations to the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; efforts to promote the participation of women in public and political life in the country; extraordinary rendition flights for terrorist suspects and secret detention centres; measures being taken to reduce the application of pre-trial detentions; acts of discrimination against people of African origin; good governance measures to uphold human rights; and the role of the Civil Rights Ombudsman in the promotion of human rights in Poland.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To ensure that its legislation was fully in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child; to encourage the State to set a date for the signing of the second optional protocol to the ICCPR; to consider forming twining partnerships with countries who had been through processes of legal reform on minorities issues with a view to promoting change; to take further steps to combat discrimination in all its forms, including on the grounds of sexual orientation; to systematically integrate the gender perspective in the follow up process to the Review; to implement to recommendations issue by the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture to take additional measures to combat hate speech and acts of intolerance; to institute an effective mechanism for the promotion of gender equality and coordination of a gender perspective across all sectors; to ensure that human rights defenders were allowed to carry out their work in a secure environment; and to take steps to follow up on efforts to combat domestic violence.

Other recommendations included: To give priority to implementing of necessary improvements to the prison conditions, and, in particular, to set up a national programme to combat the overcrowding in prisons; to publish the results of the study carried out by the Government to detect any secret detention centres for citizens accused of terrorist activities; to ensure the conformity of measures on the law of lustration with Poland’s obligations towards international human rights instruments; to continue to promote the participation of women in public and political life; to ensure that practical and public polices on migration were brought in line with the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families and to ratify that Convention; to adapt its legislation to bring in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child; to ratify the Convention on Persons with Disabilities and its optional protocol; to enact a legislative body of anti-discrimination legislation; to carry out training and instructions for law enforcement bodies on racially motivated crimes; and to continue to use human rights advisors in the police force and to share best practices in that regard.

The delegation of Poland provided responses to a series of questions posed to it ahead of time and during the course of the discussion. Responding to written questions submitted ahead of the meeting, the head of delegation stated that the activities of State organs, commonly referred to as lustration, were governed by the act of 18 December 1998 on the Institution of National Remembrance and the act of 18 October 2006 on the disclosure of information about documents of State security organs from the years 1944 to 1990. Concerning the guarantees of judges’ independence, judges in Poland could not be removed from their office and were independent. Judges were appointed by the President of Poland, at the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, made up of the judges’ self-government. With regard to the question about violence against children, Polish authorities undertook a number of long-term measures including, among others, operation crisis intervention centres, family assistance centres and the Programme of Preventing Social Misadaptation and Juvenile Delinquency. The Polish legal system penalized every form of physical or psychological violence against a child, including violence inflicted by its parents and legal guardians, the delegation added.

As to the questions on alleged secret prisons, the delegation said Poland was of the view that these reports were speculative in character, although given the seriousness of the allegations an investigation was carried out and the outcome of the investigation was published in November 2005. The statement issued then strongly denied the speculation in media about secret prisons used for foreign terror suspects. There were no such prisons in Poland.

As to combating racism and xenophobia in Poland, a members of the delegation noted that this was not a very widespread phenomenon in Poland although measures had been taken to address certain cases including conducting training for public functionaries in close cooperation with NGOs, including Jewish organizations, to better monitor and identify such cases. Additionally, a plan had been launched to combat hate-based crimes. In responses to questions on the Law on Equal Treatment, the delegation noted that as per the draft law on equal treatment no one in Poland shall be discriminated against, including on grounds of sexual orientation. There was also a national project on gender equality in place addressing issues arising on promoting gender equality in the labor market. On the issues of poverty, a number of measures had been implemented focusing on social integration with actions geared to improve situations of poverty. The Government identified a number of sustainable social actions and special measures geared towards long-term unemployed persons and those having difficulties integrating socially. There were additional measures targeting children, families and the elderly in rural areas.

Responding to questions posed on the Ombudsman, the delegation confirmed that all persons in Poland were able to submit complaints to the Ombudsman who was able to make recommendations or initiate judicial proceedings before the Courts. The Ombudsman could also initiate and lodge complaints to the Constitutional Tribunal. Concerning human rights advisors, currently there was one human rights advisor attached to the Chief of Police in Poland and 17 human rights advisors to the regional police offices. Their general task was to monitor whether human rights standards were provided for in the activities of the police and to strengthen human rights standards. Human rights education and training was also part of their responsibility. Responding to a specific question on prison systems, the delegation noted that a law on electronic surveillance system will come into effect in May 2008.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Angola, Ukraine, France, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Azerbaijan, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Pakistan, Slovenia, Canada, Malaysia, the Russian Federation, Cuba, Cameroon, Mexico and China.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Turkey, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Algeria, Austria, Norway, Israel and Slovakia.

The 27-person delegation of Poland consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of National Education, the Ministry and Labor and Social Policy, the Senate of the Republic of Poland, the Office of the Chief of the Police, the Polish Institute of International Affairs and the Permanent Mission of Poland to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Poland are Brazil, Japan and Angola.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Poland can be found here.

Adoption of report on India: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on India are Indonesia, the Netherlands and Ghana. Introducing the report GUSTI AGUNG WESEKA PUJA (Indonesia) noted that India had been very receptive to the troika members and noted that the discussion and preparation process of the report was carried out constructively and in a transparent manner. India, as the largest democracy in the world, and given its various measure to uphold economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights was to be lauded. Given the country’s serious commitment to the Universal Periodic Review, the troika looked forward to the final adoption of the report at the next regular session of the Human Rights Council in June. Representing the State under review, SWASHPAWAN SINGH, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the troika for its constructive work and for fully involving India in the process. India had truly benefited from this process. It was greatly satisfying to note that there was a clear and positive recognition of the efforts of India in the area of human rights as conveyed in the discussion and the report. India had carefully noted the recommendations during the dialogue and would review them with due consideration and would report back at the regular session of the Council in June. By identifying concrete areas of cooperation one could make real progress on the ground; India was committed to make a real difference in this endeavor.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Poland on Wednesday, 16 April.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the Netherlands after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of Brazil.

 Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp