Racial discrimination and attacks on Roma in Poland
10 April 2001
On September 29, 2000, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Advisor on Roma and Sinti Issues, Mr Nicolae Gheorghe, together with his assistant, Ms Salome Hirvaskoski, and three colleagues were refused service at a bar/café in central Warsaw before being forcefully removed by security staff. The group wished to have a business lunch and had taken a table at the Guiness Pub, Koszykowa Street 1. According to Mr Gheorghe, the waitress refused to serve them and asked them to leave, which they refused to do. The manager also insisted that they leave and called a private security company, called “Juventus”. Two members of the group became frightened and left, but Mr Gheorghe, Ms Hirvaskoski and a colleague, Mr Gabriel Babus, remained. Five men arrived from the security company and physically dragged the three from the bar, ripping Mr Gheorghe’s jacket in the process. Mr Gheorghe called the police from outside the bar. Officers arrived promptly and took statements from those involved, but officials were reportedly of the opinion that Polish law allows restaurant and bar owners to choose whom to serve and that there had therefore been no breach of the law. The District Public Prosecutor’s Office began an investigation into the incident, apparently due to the high profile of the victim involved. However, they announced on December 20, 2000, that the investigation had been discontinued due to the lack of criminal character of the incident. Poland ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 1968, which specifically requires state parties to take all necessary means to guarantee to all, without distinction as to race, “the right of access to any place or service intended for use by the general public, such as transport, hotels, restaurants, cafes, theatres and parks” (Article 2 in conjunction with Article 5 (f)). The failure to treat this incident with the seriousness it merits is a clear violation of Poland’s commitments under international law.
In other news from Poland, in early December 2000, neo-Nazi groups subjected Roma residents in the Polish town of Brzeg to repeated harassment, it has been reported to the ERRC. Racist graffiti was sprayed on the houses of Roma families on three streets and the assailants broke windows and attempted to break down doors. The police were reportedly called, but failed to arrive in time to arrest the attackers. The commander of the local police, Officer Stefan Gornicki, dismissed the attacks as false stories and alleged instead that the Roma had painted the racist graffiti themselves. According to the Warsaw-based non-governmental organisation Never Again, Officer Gornicki accused the Roma of paying each other for false witness statements and reportedly stated that the Roma only pretend to be persecuted in order to claim asylum in Western Europe. Speaking to local journalists after the attacks, non-Romani residents reportedly expressed their approval of the activities of the neo-Nazi groups.
(ERRC, Never Again)