ERRC Publication Announcement: Report on Roma in Poland

16 September 2002

Announcement of Publication
ERRC Country Report: The Limits of Solidarity: Roma in Poland After 1989

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, announces publication of the Country Report The Limits of Solidarity: Roma in Poland After 1989.

Intensive field missions conducted by ERRC staff and partner organisations, as well as regular reporting by ERRC monitors, revealed that the human rights of Roma are frequently violated in Poland, where national and local authorities offer little protection from violence and discrimination and often block victims' access to effective remedies. The government has thus far failed to act to guarantee Roma equal rights and to take effective measures to overcome the exclusion of Roma from Polish society.

On the occasion of publication of The Limits of Solidarity, ERRC Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova said, "We have long been concerned that the prevalent discourse about race issues in Poland has downplayed the extent of Roma rights abuses in Poland. Our publication aims to set the record straight."

The report details ERRC concerns in Poland, including:

  • Racially motivated violence: Roma in Poland have been frequent targets of skinhead attacks, racially motivated violence and harassment by non-Romani persons. Reporting such violence and harassment to the authorities frequently led to further attacks and threats against the Romani victims. As a result, many Roma live in a climate of fear that pervades all aspects of their lives, from their interaction with authorities to their ability to access public spaces and services and to participate fully in the lives of the communities in which they live.
  • Failure to protect Roma and denial of justice for Romani victims of racially motivated crimes: The Polish police and judiciary have been slow to react to reports of crimes against Roma and to acknowledge the racial motivation of such crimes. When investigations into racially motivated crimes were launched, they were frequently stalled or discontinued altogether, often with the justification that the authorities did not find sufficient evidence to issue arrest warrants, indictments or judicial sentences ? even in cases in which the alleged perpetrators had been identified by victims and/or witnesses.
  • Police abuse: Police and other authorities in Poland have frequently abused members of the Romani communities by engaging in outright violence, unlawful arrests, searches, seizure of property, harassment or biased investigation. When reporting racially motivated crimes to the police, victims sometimes find themselves charged with crimes they did not commit. Another disturbing pattern of police abuse documented by the ERRC consists of abusive raids upon informal settlements of Romanian Roma in Poland. These often resulted in group deportations, separation of children from their parents and arbitrary seizures of property. The perpetrators of police abuse are rarely investigated and even more rarely punished for their deeds.
  • Racial discrimination in the fields of housing; access to medical care; access to employment; access to social welfare payments; access to goods and services; and access to education: Direct and indirect discrimination pervades all aspects of the relationship between the non-Romani majority and the Romani minority in Poland. Polish anti-discrimination provisions are at present grossly inadequate. In the absence of such legislation, and in the circumstances in which a culture of prejudice, stereotyping and disenfranchisement has developed deep roots in Polish society, Roma find themselves constantly blocked from accessing basic rights and social services. 

The ERRC has established that local authorities systematically refuse to register Roma as residents in local administrative units and thus effectively bar Roma from the realisation of fundamental social and economic rights. Moreover, Roma appear to be the only group in Poland subjected to this discriminatory practice.

The proportionally small number of Roma in Poland?at least in comparison with other Central and Eastern European countries?has been used by Polish authorities to downplay the problems that Romani communities face and to deny the persistent and pervasive nature of anti-Romani sentiment among the majority population. Moreover, throughout the 1990s, Polish authorities have systematically failed to respond to a wave of anti-Romani crime, as well as to ingrained patterns of racial discrimination. Roma in Poland are consequently correct to presume that they cannot rely on the state to shield them from abuse or to provide justice when their fundamental rights have been violated. Roma are also correct in claiming that they are in effect excluded from Polish society as a whole. Measures to date to remedy the human rights situation of Roma in Poland have been inadequate, where such measures have been taken at all.

The ERRC report The Limits of Solidarity: Roma in Poland After 1989 concludes with 17 recommendations to the Polish government, including: 

  • Promptly bring those responsible for racially motivated crimes against Roma to justice, and ensure that when racial animosity motivates or otherwise influences a crime, it receives due judicial recognition.
  • Carry out thorough and timely investigations in all alleged instances of police abuse of Roma, including violence, unlawful searches and seizure of property, 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 the Council Directive 2000/43/EC, ?implementing the principle of equality between persons, irrespective of racial or ethnic origin?. Ensure that the implementing body mandated by the Directive is strong, fully independent and adequately staffed and funded.
  • Undertake effective measures to ensure that local authorities register all persons actually residing in a given municipality, without regard to race.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 and 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 human rights and anti-racism training for the national and local administration, members of the police force and of the judiciary.

Copies of the report are available by contacting the offices of the ERRC.

The full text of the report is also available on the Internet website of the ERRC, at: ERRC Country Report: The Limits of Solidarity: Roma in Poland After 1989.


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