United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child Reviews Poland
Today, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child reviews Poland's compliance with the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (ICRC). In the run-up to today's meeting, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) submitted written comments to the Committee for consideration during its review.
ERRC concerns as they relate to specific articles of the ICRC, and as described in its written submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, followf in summary:
As to Article 2, the Government has not taken appropriate measures to ensure that all children are protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members. According to documentation by the ERRC and that of other non-governmental organisations, Romani children in Poland, like Romani adults, suffer widespread discrimination in virtually all spheres of public lifefrom the administration of justice and the protection of the family to education and housing.
As regards Article 3 of the Convention, the ERRC has documented a number of cases in which Polish authorities have taken action against Romani children and families in flagrant violation of the principle of the best interests of the child. Areas of particular concern in this respect include the treatment of alien Romani children on Polish territory and the administration of juvenile justice.
As to Article 6 of the Convention, the Government has failed to ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of Romani children. In particular, Polish authorities have engaged in discriminatory practices in granting municipal housing to Romani families, in developing the necessary infrastructure for a minimum standard of living, and in facilitating the access of Romani children to health care. Moreover, the development of entire generations of Romani children to their full potential has been hindered by segregationist practices in the field of education, providing Romani children sub-standard education in often inadequate material conditions.
As to Article 9, the ERRC is concerned about a recurring pattern of forced separation of alien Romani children from parents during expulsion procedures from Poland. The ERRC has documented cases in which police have placed Romanian Romani children in state care, without proper and full judicial review and without taking into consideration the best interests of the child. Parents of children remanded into state care are frequently not provided with information concerning the whereabouts of their children, much less with the opportunity to maintain personal relations and direct contact, or to reunite with them.
As regards Article 12, the ERRC is concerned about the fact that the views of Romani children and their families are often not taken into consideration by Polish authorities in deciding upon the placement of children in state care or in segregated school facilities. The ERRC has also received reports of Romani children and their families whose views have not been heard during the administration of juvenile justice.
As to Article 24, despite explicit constitutional provisions protecting the right of access to health care for all Polish citizens, Romani children in Poland are in practice often blocked from exercising this right. The access of Romani persons to health services is often severely impeded because many Romani communities live in segregated settlements, in isolated villages or on the outskirts of the cities, in areas with neither public transportation nor readily available telephone service. Moreover, the extremely poor living conditions of Romani families exacerbate their poor health.
As to Article 27, the ERRC is concerned about the standard of living of Romani children, in particular in the area of housing. The majority of Romani families in Poland live segregated from the rest of the population, inhabiting sub-standard housing, barracks or shanties, with insufficient sanitation, and without potable drinking water, electricity or gas. Romani families are often denied requests for municipal housing.
As to Articles 28 and 29, the ERRC has documented systemic violations of the right to education with respect to Romani children. These violations take the form of widespread discriminatory and segregationist practices, such as the segregation of Romani children in separate, substandard classes or in classes for the mentally disabled, racially-motivated abuse in school, and the apathy of Polish school authorities in combating low attendance and high drop-out rates among Romani school-age children.
As to Article 37, the ERRC is concerned about the recurrent subjection of Romani children to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by both state and non-state actors, as well as about the unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Romani children. The ERRC has documented a number of cases in which children have been subjected to such treatment by law-enforcement officials, as well as by sympathisers of nationalist extremist and/or racist movements. When such cases occur, they are rarely investigated adequately, and even more rarely prosecuted by the authorities.
As to Article 40, police officials sometimes arbitrarily bring charges against Romani youths and children who, under duress and without a full understanding of the proceedings to which they are subject, confess to crimes they may not have committed or to crimes with which they should not have been criminally charged. Moreover, children alleged or accused of having infringed the penal law are often subjected to torture and/or physical abuse, and/or are not granted appropriate procedural guarantees such as the right to legal assistance or to contact their families.
In light of the above, the ERRC recommends that the Government of Poland undertake the following:
- Promptly bring those responsible for racially motivated crimes against Romani children and youth to justice.
- Carry out thorough and timely investigations into all alleged instances of police abuse of Romani children and youth, including violence, unlawful searches, malicious investigation of violence against Roma, harassment, and failure to investigate racially motivated crimes and/or protect potential victims of violent attacks.
- Bring Polish law into conformity with the requirements of Council Directive 2000/43/EC, "implementing the principle of equality between persons, irrespective of racial or ethnic origin" by adopting a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. Ensure that the implementing body mandated by the Directive is strong, fully independent and adequately staffed and funded.
- Ensure effective remedy for cases of discrimination against Romani children and youth in the field of housing, health care, social protection and other sectoral fields.
- Terminate discriminatory and segregationist practices in the field of housing, and provide Romani families with legally recognised habitable shelter, security of tenure, and adequate basic infrastructure.
- Implement a comprehensive school desegregation plan, such that all Romani children may fully realise the right to education. Without delay, end the practice of segregating Romani children into so-called "Gypsy classes" or into classes for mentally disabled students. Integrate all Romani students into mainstream classes and, where necessary, design and implement adequately funded and staffed programmes aimed at easing the transition from segregated to integrated schooling.
- Design pre-school programmes for Romani children to learn the primary language of schooling and to attain a level ensuring an equal start in the first class of primary school.
- Develop and implement catch-up or adult education programmes aimed at remedying the legacies of substandard education and non-schooling of Roma.
- Where instances of abuse in the school system are reported abuse including exclusionary practices, physical and verbal assault, humiliating treatment, and failure by teachers and school administrators to protect Romani children from peer abuse without delay, punish school authorities responsible, and implement measures aimed at preventing further abuse.
- Develop curriculum resources for teaching Romani language, culture, and history in schools, and make them available to all schools, so that all children in Poland learn of the valuable contributions Roma have made to Polish society.
- Provide free legal aid to members of weak groups, including Roma, children, and the indigent.
- At the highest level, speak out against the problem of anti-Romani sentiment and racially motivated crimes against Roma; at all levels, acknowledge and speak out against racism, racially motivated crime, patterns and practices of discrimination, and segregation. Address the root problem of anti-Romani racism in Poland by developing and implementing anti-racism curriculums for schools and campaigns for the media, so as to address widespread negative attitudes against Roma and racism generally.
- Conduct comprehensive children's rights, human rights and anti-racism training for the national and local administration, members of the police force and of the judiciary.
The full text of the ERRC submission is available on the Internet at ERRC: International Advocacy .
Further information on the situation of Roma in Poland, including the recently published ERRC Country Report "The Limits of Solidarity: Roma in Poland After 1989", is available on the Internet at http://errc.org.