Friday, February 25, 2000

1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, February 25, 2000

...The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens; however, problems remain in some areas. Prison conditions are generally poor. A cumbersome legal process, poor administration, and an inadequate budget hamper the court system. Court decisions frequently are not implemented, particularly those of the administrative courts, and simple civil cases can take as long as 2 or 3 years. As a result, public confidence in the judicial system is lacking. Many poorly paid prosecutors and judges have left public service for more lucrative employment. The threat of organized crime has provoked legislative responses that raise questions regarding the right to privacy. The Government maintains a large number of wiretaps without outside review.

There are some marginal restrictions in law and in practice on freedom of speech and of the press. With few exceptions, the new Criminal Code provides protection for journalists' sources. Spousal abuse continues to affect many women. Women continue to experience serious discrimination in the labor market and are subject to various legal inequities as a consequence of paternalistic laws. Child prostitution is a problem. There were incidents of desecrations of graves in Jewish cemeteries, and anti-Semitic graffiti was sprayed on a Jewish community center. There is some societal discrimination and violence against ethnic minorities. The Government has worked constructively toward resolving issues of concern to the Jewish community. Although the right to organize unions and bargain collectively largely was observed, some employers violated worker rights provided for by law, particularly in the growing private sector. Trafficking in women and children in, to, and from the country is a problem.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings.

In January 1998 a police officer was charged with the beating death of 13-year-old Przemek Czaja following a basketball game in the Baltic Coast city of Slupsk. The boy's death, caused when local police charged a group of sports fans, touched off 4 nights of riots and caused scores of additional injuries. The officer was sentenced in May to 6 years in prison. Appeals have been filed in the case.

A police officer indicted in connection with the shooting deaths of two unarmed civilians and the wounding of another in Brodno, a suburb of Warsaw, continues to await trial. The officer was suspended from the police force and was charged with excessive use of force. The trial was scheduled to begin in October.

In April 1998, a provincial court in Lublin sentenced the former Lomazy police chief to 15 years in prison in connection with the 1997 shooting death of a 19-year-old man who was held for police questioning. This ruling subsequently was overturned in the appeals court, and a new trial began in September in the local district court.

Trials related to extrajudicial killings during the Communist period continued during the year. A new trial began in a Katowice appeals court in October in the case of 22 riot policemen accused of killing miners during the Communist martial law era after a 1998 appeals court decision annulled their acquittals. On September 28, the decision of a district court was upheld in the case of the appeal of two officers convicted in 1997 of the 1983 Communist era beating death of Grzegorz Przemyk. One officer was sentenced to 2 years in prison for participating in the beating, and the other officer was found not guilty of attempting to destroy the file in the case. In November the Supreme Court ordered a new trial for former Communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski and nine other officials who allegedly ordered police to shoot workers during the 1970 riots in Gdansk. The Court ruled that the trial that began in the Gdansk provincial court should be started over in the Warsaw district court. No new trial date was set. On December 9, lawyers representing miners submitted a motion requesting the retrial of former Communist Interior Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak for his role in the pacification of the Wujek mine, but a Katowice district court did not rule on the motion by year's end.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Criminal Code prohibits torture, and there were no reported incidents of it; however, on several occasions during the year police used force to disperse protesters who became violent or to break up illegal roadblocks (see Section 2.b.).

In June 1998, a Gdansk court indicted 11 riot policemen for their participation in the October 1997 beating of soccer fans attending a match in the town of Gdynia. The officers' activities, which took place before, during, and after the match, both at the stadium and at a nearby bar, were captured on videotape. A civil case against the officers, launched by the father of one of the teenage victims, also is pending. Both civil and criminal cases stemming from the incident were pending at year's end.

There was no progress during the year on the appeal filed after an Olsztyn court granted the appeal of two Szczytno police officers in December 1998 who had been found guilty of beating two men detained in September 1996.

In the case of three police officers in Bytom who were arrested and charged with the rape of seven underage detainees in 1994, one officer was sentenced to 4 years and 6 months in prison, while the other two received 3-year sentences.