‘Highest ranks’ of Polish government are putting LGBT+ lives at risk, says top European human rights commissioner

Dunja Mijatovic Poland

Politicians at the “highest ranks” of government in Poland are putting LGBT+ lives at risk, according to a top European human rights official.

In a memorandum on the stigmatisation of LGBT+ people in Poland published Thursday (3 December), Council of Europe commissioner for human rights Dunja Mijatovic criticised authorities in Poland for the appalling treatment of queer people in the country.

Mijatovic’s 16-page report noted that stigmatisation of LGBT+ people in Poland is a “long-standing problem”, but said “homophobic statements by leading public figures” was creating an atmosphere of “hate and intolerance”.

She said anti-LGBT+ bias in Poland had been identified as a problem by past commissioners as far back as 2007, but that the situation was starting to improve up until 2017, according to polling.

However, since 2017 there has been a “worrying turn for the worse”, with anti-LGBT+ sentiment on the rise – and the discriminatory attitudes are coming from the top.

Mijatovic said she is now worried that progress on acceptance of LGBT+ people in Poland has “slowed down or reversed”.

“It is difficult to dissociate this phenomenon from the promotion of anti-LGBTI sentiment in society by public officials,” the commissioner wrote.

Human rights expert criticised Andrzej Duda, president of Poland.

In her report, Mijatovic said the rise in “hateful rhetoric” against the LGBT+ community was facilitated by gaps in the legal and policy framework in the country, noting that there are no provisions in law for same-sex partnerships or legal gender recognition.

The commissioner called on the government of Poland to come up with a national action plan on equality as a matter of priority, and urged them to consult with non-governmental organisations working with the LGBT+ community.

She also said Polish authorities must introduce “comprehensive sexuality education” in schools in an effort to curb hateful attitudes against the LGBT+ community.

Mijatovic also criticised Polish president Andrzej Duda, noting that anti-LGBT+ sentiment hit its peak in the country during the lead-up to the presidential election earlier this year.

She said Duda “repeatedly resorted to anti-LGBTI rhetoric as an attempt to gain support” and accused him of using “antagonising language” about queer people.

“The impact of stigmatising statements may be hard to quantify but it has clearly been felt by many LGBTI people in Poland,” she wrote.

Freedom of expression must not be misinterpreted as a licence to trample on the reputation or rights of others.

“As has been the case with the upshot of anti-LGBT declarations and family charters, the Commissioner has received reports of a rise in public acceptance of bullying and violence against LGBTI people in Poland.”

The commissioner said that the situation is having a “huge toll on the mental health” of LGBT+ people in Poland.

Concluding the report, Mijatovic said she was “deeply concerned about the propagation of negative and inflammatory homophobic narratives by many public officials in Poland, including people in the highest ranks of government”.

She said that freedom of expression is a “fundamental value” in a democracy, but said that it must come with “duties and responsibilities”.

“Freedom of expression must not be misinterpreted as a licence to trample on the reputation or rights of others,” Mijatovic wrote.

She said the stigmatisation and hate of minority groups “carries a real risk of legitimising violence, sometimes with fatal consequences”.

“Hate and dehumanisation, especially when applied constantly or at the highest level, have an impact not just on victims but also on their communities and on the well-being of the society. They send a signal of social exclusion and threaten social cohesion and he peaceful coexistence of different groups.”

She urged public officials in Poland to “reverse this trend” by legalising same-sex unions, making legal gender recognition a reality, and working to foster LGBT+ acceptance in Polish society.