Human Rights in the 21st Century

The condition of Human Rights in Poland

Author: Michał Tęcza

The changes that have taken place in Poland since the right-wing populist Law and Justice (PiS) party took power in 2015, are visible to the naked eye. The new authorities have destroyed much of the achievements of Poland’s transformation and have begun a slow drift toward exclusion from the community of European democratic states. This is perfectly evident in the case of human rights. The current government does not understand the broad concept of human rights and does not accept the European system of their protection. Consequently, the ruling party denies human rights to arbitrarily designated social groups and hinders the enforcement of said rights. This article presents human rights in the context of two groups that have been targeted by the party in power under the pretext of fighting the so-called “gender ideology,” namely women and LGBT+ people. It is the government’s fight against women and LBGT+ people that has become a symbol of the political struggle for power. Moreover, the near- total ban on abortion and the introduction of “LGBT ideology-free zones” are synonymous with the agenda of Poland’s current rulers. One can easily observe a determination, with which PiS tries to curtail reproductive, sexual and parental rights, which are realized in the principle of individual dignity. This also leads to restrictions on other rights, including the right to self-determination, the right to respect for private and family life, the right to participation in scientific achievements, the right to the highest standard of health care, and the right to freedom from discrimination and violence. Since the ongoing devastation of human rights in Poland would not have been possible without the politicization of the courts and the Church as a source of inspiration, the article will point out the mechanisms of interaction and dependence between the government, the key beneficiaries of judicial reform and the clergy.



Welcome to Poland. A country where the separation of powers has become a sham, where the head of the ruling party is friends with the President of the Constitutional Court, calling her in the media “a recent discovery in his social life of recent years”1, where the same President of the Constitutional Court discusses proceedings before the Court with the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office2, where the first President of the Supreme Court is a former subordinate of the current Minister of Justice (who is at the same time Attorney General), where the National Council of the Judiciary is composed mostly of ruling party nominees, where members of parliament sympathetic to the ruling party go straight from the parliamentary benches to the most important judiciary bodies….

Welcome to a country where the President states LGBT+ people are not human beings, where the children’s ombudsman tells stories about sex educators allegedly giving children “pharmacological agents for gender reassignment,” where local governments declare their territories “LGBT ideology free zones”, where the leader of the ruling party begins meetings with party activists with embarrassing jokes about transgender people, where a printing company can refuse service to an LGBT+ organization citing the conscience clause, where the Minister of Education claims that “so-called anti-discrimination classes basically discriminate against Christians,” where transgender people have to sue their parents to legally correct their documents, where the Prosecutor’s Office indicts people who combine rainbow colors with national or religious symbols, where state television cuts a kiss between two men from a program, where the Development Minister gives an award to a center that offers so-called “reparative therapy.”

Welcome to a place where women do not have the right to decide about their own bodies, where emergency contraception is available only by prescription, where a 17-year-old cannot receive gynecological care without parental consent, although she can legally engage in sexual activity, where the ruling party- sponsored organizations persecute rape victims from Ukraine seeking medical help3, where the most recent high school textbook harasses children conceived by in vitro methods, where effective infertility treatment programs have been replaced by an ideological hoax.

Poland has changed in the last 7 years, that is, since PiS took power. It has changed for the worse. And these changes can be seen with the naked eye. They have resulted in constant disputes with European institutions, large street protests, and Poland’s depressed position on the international arena. The populist right-wing government has destroyed a number of achievements of Poland’s post-1989 political transformation. The laboriously built progress in key areas of modern democracy was squandered within a dozen months of it taking power. One of the key areas that has been devastated by the new government is the issue of human rights. It is all reflected in rankings such as the CIVICUS Monitor. In this global research ranking that assesses and tracks the level of basic civil liberties in nearly 200 countries, Poland’s rating has been downgraded from “narrowed” to “obstructed.” Poland also lost its position in rankings such as Freedom in the World, Sustainable Governance Indicator, World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, and many others4.

The state of human rights in Poland is a product of the current majority government’s actions on multiple levels. A comprehensive analysis of all the “achievements” of the Law and Justice party affecting human rights is beyond the scope of this article, therefore this paper focuses on one extremely important area – the rights of women and LGBT+ people. It is the Polish right’s attacks on these two groups that have been the most vicious and fateful. This article identifies and discusses the PiS government’s actions and inactions aimed at women and LGBT+ people, and places them within the context of human rights protection.

Since it is impossible to analyze human rights in Poland in isolation from the so- called judicial reform and the attack on the rule of law, the first part of the article focuses on the impact of the judiciary on the state of human rights. It will allow us to understand why the ruling party’s takeover of the courts was a priority and how it created the conditions for the destruction of further freedoms in Poland.

Judiciary and Human Rights


Although Poland’s judicial reforms have brought hundreds of thousands of people out into the streets of cities and towns, they have not been able to stir up the emotions comparable equal to those provoked by the changes to the abortion law. It is the PiS’s appropriation of the Constitutional Court that has enabled further assaults on the freedoms of Polish women and men. Today, it is blatantly clear why the reorganization of the judiciary, the replacement of judges and court presidents, the politicization of key administrative bodies, and the gagging of independent lawyers, have been so important to the ruling party. It is now apparent that it is the politicized judiciary that is the fundamental element in the machinery of human rights violation in Poland.

The most striking example, well-known even throughout Europe, of the judiciary’s restriction of human rights in Poland, is the near-total ban on abortion. Even though Poland already had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe before the Law and Justice government came to power, the topic of further tightening of the law was regularly brought up by the right and the Church, particularly during political crises. However, it seemed that the parliamentary majority would not dare to further restrict women’s rights for the fear of social outburst. Instead, it has been achieved with the use of the politicized Constitutional Court, which virtually banned legal abortions in 2020. What the elected politicians failed to achieve, the politically-appointed judges accomplished on their behalf. Denying access to legal abortion constitutes a violation of pregnant women’s human rights, including the right to life, health, protection of family life and privacy, freedom from discrimination, freedom from torture and cruel treatment. “Poland has chosen to sacrifice women’s right to safe and legal abortion care for the sake of protecting the right to life of the unborn, and has thereby violated international human rights obligations,” admitted independent UN human rights experts5. The Human Rights Committee, which monitors the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in its interpretation of the “right to life,” states that “States must ensure safe, legal and effective access to abortion when the life and health of the pregnant woman are at risk or when carrying the pregnancy to term would cause substantial pain or suffering to the woman, especially when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or when the fetus is damaged.” In addition, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) stated that the restrictions, which apply only to women making reproductive choices and result in women being forced to carry almost every pregnancy to full term, cause mental and physical suffering. Moreover, the restrictions are recognized as violence against women, and can lead to torture or to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment6.

Polish right-wing politicians do not see the woman’s right to decide about her own health, body, sexuality and procreation as a human right. Moreover, the restriction imposed on the abortion access is interpreted in terms of restoring the moral standards emanating from the Church. However, even the PiS’s appointees cannot deny that fighting the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a direct blow to the human rights protection system. Nevertheless, the politicized Constitutional Court – following in the footsteps of the Russian tribunal – has ruled the Convention unconstitutional. Among other provisions that were deemed unconstitutional was the one that guarantees everyone the right to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law (Article 6(1) of the ECHR – Right to a Fair Trial)7. As a result of the ruling, the Polish Court has granted itself the right to challenge ECHR judgments, distanced Poland from the European system of human rights protection, and narrowed the right of Polish women and men to protection from abuse.

The above examples show that in Poland, it is the judiciary that is the driver of human rights erosion in the country. It was not the members of parliament of the current government that have passed the laws banning abortion. These decisions have been made in the politicized Constitutional Court. The current government does not need to undertake legislative actions in order to implement its program of redefining the catalog of human rights. The only thing they have to do is to refrain from taking the necessary actions, from properly interpreting the already existing laws, and to simply use their loyal appointees to build the atmosphere of fear. The courts present such a profound tool of political power that PiS has no intention of surrendering it – even at the cost of billions of Polish zlotys that could be spent on rebuilding the economy, which are available in the KPO (Economic Recovery Plan). As a result, the ruling party continues to propose increasingly more laws designed to destroy the judiciary’s independence.8

Women’s Rights


The abovementioned almost total ban on abortion has become a symbol of the Law and Justice Party’s fight against women’s rights. However, it should be pointed out that this is not the only activity of the current parliamentary majority against these rights. Poland’s right-wing parties have been particularly fierce and consistent in restricting reproductive rights, perceiving them – as instructed by the Church – as a source of evil and depravity. Prime Minister Beata Szydło began her tenure by dismantling the in vitro infertility treatment program . In 2017, she led the charge to restrict the availability of emergency contraception. Prime Minister Szydło is also known for her fierce opposition to the Istanbul Convention on Combating Violence against Women. She became famous for, among other things, praising the Zakopane local government for not implementing the law on counteracting domestic violence (in other words, for failing to set up teams of psychologists, educators and local police officers that would bring help to victims of violence).

The fact that sexual and reproductive rights are considered human rights reflects the realization of the principle of individual dignity. Sexual and reproductive rights are also protected by a number of other rights, including the right to self- determination, the right to respect for private and family life, the right to benefit from the achievements of science, the right to the highest standard of health care and freedom from discrimination and violence9. According to international human rights standards, all states are obligated to guarantee their equal protection. Unfortunately, the Polish state restricts these rights and promotes discriminatory social norms regarding sexuality, procreation and parenthood. The tragic consequences of the right’s actions against women’s rights are evident. The media have been reporting on a rising number of deaths of pregnant women who – for the fear of consequences or for ideological and religious reasons – have been denied the right to legal abortion. The government’s extreme conservative allies can even be seen harassing Ukrainian war rape victims in an effort to prevent them from obtaining abortion.

LGBT+ Rights


When talking about human rights in Poland in the context of LGBT+ people, one must first consider whether the representatives of the current government treat LGBT+ people like human beings. It clearly appears that they do not. One does not need to look far, but recall the words of the “first person of the country”. “They are trying to tell us, ladies and gentlemen, that they are people. But what it really is, is ideology,” the president said during the 2020 campaign10. There are more outrageous statements from the Law and Justice politicians, for example this address by Przemysław Czarnek, a leading homophobe of the current government: “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s stop discussing these LGBT abominations, homosexuality, bisexuality, equality parades.” In another statement, he urges: “Let’s defend the family against this kind of corruption, depravity, absolutely immoral behavior. Let’s defend us from LGBT ideology and stop listening to this idiocy about some human rights or some equality. These people are not equal to normal people, and let’s finally end this discussion.” It is appalling that of a person that makes such statements has been appointed Minister of Education and Science, and put in charge of Polish education – to the dismay of Polish students, their parents and guardians11.

The abovementioned quotes make it clear that the Polish right-wing parties deny LGBT+ people their humanity and associated rights. In the process of justifying their policies, however, they do have a powerful ally, i.e. the Catholic Church. PiS is famous for its good relations with the Church. Representatives of the church, in turn, are famous for their willingness to meddle in politics, which makes the two ideal partners. The party needs the churchgoers on election day, and the episcopate needs money and successful propaganda in its fight against the manifestations of modernity. Archbishop of Krakow Marek Jędraszewski, greatly in keeping with the government’s rhetoric, called “LGBT ideology” a “rainbow plague,” during a mass12. This way, Polish traditionalists, both clerical and secular, try to convey that LGBT+ people are a threat to their children and traditional values such as marriage, family and the Catholic faith. The Church does not take much notice of history, which has known many tragic examples of groups of people being dehumanized. These types of statements are simply dangerous for LGBT+ people. They give permission for aggression, humiliation and contempt. What’s equally important, they impact victims’ lives and health causing anxiety, depression and can even lead to suicide13.

A symbol of the Polish right-wing’s attitude toward LGBT+ people is the declaration of “LGBT-free zones” by local governments dominated by PiS and their allies. This has been a direct response to Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski (an opposition representative) signing a declaration of respect for the rights of LGBT+ people14. “LGBT ideology-free zones” mean little in practice. The resolutions have no legal effect, but nevertheless a strong symbolic meaning, indicating the primacy of homophobia and transphobia, and contempt for human rights in these areas. Their very enactment should be regarded as blatant discrimination15, to which the European Commission has not been indifferent and decided to speak to local governments in the language of money. The threat of losing millions of euros from the Cohesion Fund, which were to be used by regional governments to fulfill their election promises, has caused some ardent supporters of “LGBT-free zones” to cool their segregationist fervor16. But where the language of European money has failed to change attitudes, the Supreme Administrative Court (NSA) has taken action, invalidating some of the resolutions. The NSA noted that according to the Constitution, Poland is the common good of all citizens, regardless of their nationality, gender, social class, religion, or political beliefs. Citizens must have the same rights and obligations, and no one can be discriminated against. According to the Court, the resolutions violated the ECHR and European laws. With more annulment cases still pending, there is a good chance that all the shameful resolutions that shatter the sense of security and stigmatize LGBT+ people, will be eliminated from the system17.

The European Union’s role is crucial in discussions around human rights and whether specific groups of people are entitled to protection or not. The issue of “LGBT ideology-free zones” can be seen as the culmination of discussions at the level of EU institutions, and it has led to the adoption of a number of legal and political acts. The European Parliament’s 2019 resolution on discrimination against and incitement to hatred of LGBTI people in the public sphere is particularly incisive. It begins by reminding us “that the rights of LGBTI people are fundamental rights and that the EU institutions and member states therefore have a duty to uphold them in accordance with the Treaties, the Charter and international law.” Further in its text, we can find words of condemnation of discrimination against LGBTI people, of incitement of hatred and the creation of zones in Poland. The document called on the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the Committee of the Regions to look into the issue and into the situation of LGBTI people in Poland. However, the attitude of Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his allies towards EU bodies is well known. And as this article has already shown, the only leverage in pressuring the Polish authorities is money, not resolutions and values.18



The plight of LGBT+ people is clearly visible in national and international rankings. For the second year in a row, Poland has ranked last in the European Union, when it comes to LGBT+ rights, according to ILGA Europe’s European ranking19. There are only 5 countries with a worse ranking (one fewer than a year ago) – Belarus, Russia, Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. This ranking shows that Poland is legislatively stagnant, and no country has experienced such a regression as to remove Poland from the last place.

Poland also performs dismally in surveys conducted among members of the LGBT+ community itself. A report by the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH) on the social life of LGBTA people in Poland shows that 69.4% of LGBTA youth have had suicidal thoughts and 49.6% have had symptoms of depression20. These numbers come as no surprise when one considers what people associated with the government do and say about LGBT+ people. The education superintendent of Malopolska has written on Twitter that the fight for equal rights of homosexuals “promotes, among other things, pedophilia”21, and former Law and Justice deputy (now Constitutional Court judge) Krystyna Pawłowicz, commenting on the suicide death of a 14-year-old harassed for years at school “for being different,” writes on Facebook: “First they promote unnatural attitudes and relationships among children and young people, who tend to be susceptible to various unusual behaviors – and then, when these abnormal behaviors are violently pointed out by peers and in extreme situations end tragically, it is the leftist ideologues of moral pathologies who turn everything on its head and falsely, brazenly lament the ‘murderous intolerance’ of their peers. If you refrain from sowing social pathology, there will be no death toll to reap”.22 These statements are not isolated – similar ones are made almost daily by the politicians of the right.

LGBT+ youth do not remain unaffected by such statements. A 2019 study shows that LGBT+ youth are more likely to experience mental health problems than their heteronormative peers. Among the most common are depression, suicide attempts and susceptibility to psychoactive substances. Prevention in mental and sexual health costs much less than treatment.23 70% of LGBT+ youth experience violence24, resulting in concentration deficiencies, impaired academic performance and truancy. It can be concluded, therefore, that due to the failure of the school system in Poland to provide adequate protection and education when it comes to diversity issues, LGBT+ youth are being deprived of the right to education and equal access to education guaranteed by the ECHR. An important solution would be the introduction of classes pertaining to anti-discrimination, equality and diversity. Meanwhile, the man in charge of education in Poland said: “The so-called ‘anti- discrimination classes’ conducted by ‘some of the NGOs’ are ‘classes that can be easily called brainwashing of children and young people.’ These are classes on gender, sexuality and other things that should never take place in schools.”25 The Ministry, acting hand in hand with the education superintendents, not only tries to implement legislative changes, but also sows fear among school principals and teachers. In 2019, a bill proposing imprisonment for anyone (in practice, people working in schools), who publicly shares knowledge about sexuality with people under 18, was submitted to the parliament. Those who work directly with children and young people are afraid to conduct equality lessons, to openly support LGBT+ students and to oppose the oppressive system.

Minister Czarnek, in connection with the attempts to ban NGOs from conducting educational activities in schools, said: “I would be happy when no NGOs are allowed at schools. (…) The school is a place where teachers do the teaching and NGOs can, for example, remain in local community centers.” In such an atmosphere of fear, there is really no need for any statutory bans and punishments. They only need to wag their finger in public TV programs and announce further restrictions to achieve a chilling effect in schools and to drive NGOs out of classrooms.

In addition, there is another worrisome aspect of the Law and Justice education reform, i.e. the changes in the number of hours allocated to particular subjects. Successive PiS ministers have been changing the education programs, adding more and more ideologically oriented content. It turns out that there are as many as 608 hours of Religious Education (RE) in eight years of primary school education. By comparison, there are 760 hours of Mathematics, and 190 hours of Geography, Biology or Computer Science, correspondingly26. The Religious Education curriculum itself is homophobic by design. It clearly defines the requirements for young people: “In terms of knowledge – the student points to biblical texts on homosexual acts, and list health risks associated with homosexual intercourse”.27 There is no shortage of warnings against same-sex relationships as a “threat to the modern family.” The standards of Religious Education lessons and the church’s stance on LGBT+ people certainly contribute to the problems of non-heteronormative youth, fueling negative attitudes among some of their peers and bullying at school.28 Notably, in a highly publicized case in 2017, one of the three RE textbooks available, with a particularly paradoxical name “Living to Believe and Love”, proved to be damaging and discriminatory.

The ECHR states: “No one shall be deprived of the right to education. In the exercise of its functions in the field of education and teaching, the State recognizes the right of parents to provide such education and teaching in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions.” Religion and philosophy, however, cannot negate scientific knowledge. The Polish Ministry of Education and Science has taken the religious beliefs clause firmly to heart, but pushes the part about scientific knowledge, and therefore access to credible science, deep into the background.

The issue of religion in Polish schools has been controversial for years. Poland has been obligated by the 1993 concordat agreement with the Vatican to conduct Religious Education lessons in public elementary and secondary schools, as well as in kindergartens and make the lessons available to those who wish to participate in them. In practice, it means that Religious Education lessons are held in almost all schools in Poland. The provisions of the concordat agreement clearly state that “the Catholic RE curriculum and textbooks are developed by the Church authority and communicated to the competent state authority. In matters of the content of religious education, the teachers are subject to church regulations and instructions, and in other matters to state regulations.”29 Taking religion out of schools would involve amending the concordat agreement, and that, with the current government in power, is not an option30.

These are not the only recorded attempts to shape young people in the schools in a nationalist-traditionalist spirit, and the ruling party’s plans have long been known. Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Ryszard Terlecki, of the Law and Justice party, while commenting on the package of reform legislation proposed by the Minister of Education, declared in 2020: “Education should lead the young to be patriotic. Then they will certainly vote for PiS.”31 The package was called by the media “Lex Czarnek”and the president of the Polish Teachers Union Slawomir Broniarz called it “a step towards the education of the future PiS voter.”32 President Duda, however, vetoed the bill under considerable public pressure (right after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began). Minister Czarnek has not yet said the last word, and work on further changes is underway at the Education Ministry. One of the Ministry’s latest ideas is a new school subject, History and the Present. Along with the new subject came a textbook recommended by the Ministry, which has stirred up controversy, sparked protests from local governments, and outraged parents. The textbook, authored by a former Law and Justice MEP professor Wojciech Roszkowski, is criticized for being biased, pushing certain ideology, disregarding facts, and promoting the author’s personal opinions on historical and social issues. Among other things, one can learn from the textbook that “among the most popular political ideologies today, one should characterize socialism, liberalism, feminism and gender ideology.”33 The most controversial passage, however, concerns criticism of the in vitro method. Clearly, the Minister of Education and Science is happy with the textbook the government promotes everywhere – even at the post office.

In view of the content delivered in classes, it is impossible for LGBT+ youth to feel treated equally and with respect, to maintain their psychological well-being and to feel safe in Polish schools. The content provokes aggression, exclusion and harms basic human rights, which are mocked by Minister Czarnek: “Let’s stop listening to the nonsense about some human rights.” This despite the fact that the Preamble to the Education Law directly refers to human rights and the Polish Constitution: “Education is guided by the principles contained in the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, as well as the indications contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Neither the Minister nor any other official should forget this. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

Civil Unions


An issue that has been controversial in Poland for years, and governments of no political party have been able to resolve, is civil unions. Currently, Poland is one of the six European Union countries whose laws do not recognize same-sex unions (along with Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria)34. The lack of marriage equality, let alone civil unions, is an exceptionally blatant example of human rights violations. The ECHR speaks of equality of all before the law and the general prohibition of discrimination35. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union also speaks of equality of all before the law. It also adds a provision that “any discrimination shall be prohibited in particular on grounds of sex, race, color, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation.”36 What, then, is depriving same-sex couples of entering into formal unions and enjoying the same rights as different-sex couples, if not discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation? Poland, however, has limited the application of the Charter. In 2007, when the Law and Justice party was in power, it decided not to sign the document, and to draw up an additional protocol. The reason? One of their main arguments was to prevent interpretations of the law by the European Court of Human Rights that would lead to a change in the definition of family and force the Polish state to recognize gay marriage37. The additional protocol affirms the primacy of national law, and the Polish Constitution leaves no doubt, stating: “Marriage as a union between a man and a woman, family, maternity and parenthood are under the protection and guardianship of the Republic of Poland.”38 The provision is not a big obstacle to the possibility of registering same-sex unions in Poland39, but it is an excellent excuse not to do so.

The first attempts to legislate civil unions took place as early as 2003, unsuccessfully, of course. Later, several more efforts were made, but it was usually claimed that the public was “not ready,” that most people were against it, that the climate was not favorable, that there were more important issues…. The last attempt, although doomed to failure under the right-wing populist government, was made in 2018. The draft was prepared in cooperation between the liberal Nowoczesna party and civil society organizations. However, it was not sent for further legislative work after a negative review by, among others, the Office of Parliamentary Analyses.40 It was argued that it was unconstitutional because it equated civil unions and marriage.

As a result, same-sex couples in Poland are not guaranteed such rights as the right to information about health, the right to decide on medical treatment, the right to receive a corpse and burial, the right to statutory inheritance without high taxation, the right to inherit from a partner if no will has been drawn up, the right to joint property and joint taxation, the right to guardianship benefits for taking care of a sick partner, the right to joint insurance, the right to a pension from a deceased partner, the right to adopt a child of a partner, the right to joint adoption, the right to changing one’s name or taking a double name41. In addition, transgender people who are married and would like to affirm their gender must divorce, even when they form a happy relationship42. In the opinion of the Commissioner for Human Rights, there is no doubt that due to the European consensus and the well-established case law of the ECHR, member states of the Council of Europe are obliged to ensure that same-sex couples can legalize their relationships. If a state does not decide to open the institution of marriage to same-sex couples, it must introduce the alternative institution of civil unions. In the opinion of the Commissioner, such a legal state of affairs leads to an unjustified violation of the state’s positive obligation under Article 8 of the ECHR on grounds of necessity. It unjustifiably differentiates the legal situation of persons in a permanent same-sex relationship from those in a different-sex relationship, for whom the possibility of marriage and the exercise of the rights associated with it remains open43.

There is not the slightest chance for marriage equality under PiS rule. The politicized Constitutional Court will uphold the so-called conservative values, which is best evidenced by the words of a former Law and Justice (PiS) deputy, now a judge of the Court, Krystyna Pawłowicz: “Anything other than the natural union of man and woman is a pathology, and as such cannot be “under the protection and care” of the state. Similarly, unions of a man and a goat or a woman and a dog. People with pathologies, moreover, are subject to the law on general principles and enjoy various rights regardless of their illness.”44 45 This is a typical manipulation by those who oppose the formalization of same-sex unions. Extremely vulgar and dehumanizing statements by both female and male right-wing politicians set new standards in Polish politics. Standards that are detrimental to human rights and offer very little hope for changes toward equality of all citizens before the law, respect, a sense of security, or humane treatment.

Ban on Propagation of Homosexuality


To better illustrate how difficult the political situation is for LGBT+ people, and what can be expected, it is worth mentioning the bill that is being discussed by the parliament. The civic bill was created by the Life and Family Foundation. The foundation’s website welcomes visitors with the slogan: “Together, let’s stop abortion and LGBT!”. The title of the bill is “Stop LGBT”46. The materials prepared by the originators state that 140,000 signatures were collected in three months “thanks to the commitment of thousands of people of good will.”47. The project was submitted to the parliament and as a result of the vote, has been sent for further deliberation. The leading idea of the draft is to ban the “propagation of homosexuality.” What does “propagation” mean? It turns out that it is “any form of dissemination, distribution, agitation, lobbying, assertion, expectation, demand, instruction, recommendation or promotion.”48 That’s not all. The bill bans the organization of Pride parades. According to the authors of the bill, during the parades “there are, among other things: excesses exhibitionist in nature, profanity, provocation, defiling of Catholic symbols, the clergy and the lay faithful. The emblem, the flag and other national symbols are ridiculed. The Church and normalcy are fought against. An important part of the work of homo-activists is the recruitment of children and young people into the political LGBT movement.”49 Even leaving aside the lies and manipulation that this statement abounds with, the project violates a number of rights enshrined in the ECHR, as well as those guaranteed by the Polish Constitution. These include the right to expression and freedom of assembly and association. In addition, the bill speaks of a ban on “the demand for the adoption of children by homosexual couples,” and declares that it “provides a dam to demands for homo marriage and homo adoption.”50. If it enters into force, it would mean a ban not only on adoption by same-sex couples, but on the very act of demanding it. The bill is dangerously reminiscent of legislative acts passed in Hungary and even in Putin’s Russia. The Polish right wing, whose mouth is so full of anti-Kremlin rhetoric, draws fully on the worst models from the East when it comes to LGBT+ rights.

Access to Services


The Polish state and those who uphold so-called “traditional values” have also usurped the right to restrict LGBT+ people’s access to services. One example is the case of a printer from Lodz who refused a LGBT+ foundation to print posters because of his beliefs. As a result of the cassation filed by the Minister of Justice- Prosecutor General against the verdict finding the printer guilty of misconduct, the case went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed the cassation, which angered the Minister. He did not lay down his arms, and applied to the politicized Constitutional Tribunal for a ruling more along his own lines51. The Tribunal sided with him – of course – and ruled that “the criminalization of the refusal to provide services deliberately without just cause constitutes an interference with the freedom of the service provider, in particular the right to decide on the conclusion of a contract, the right to express one’s own opinions, or to act in accordance with one’s conscience.”52. Minister Ziobro commented on this shocking verdict in his characteristic manner: “I welcome with great satisfaction the verdict of the Constitutional Tribunal regarding the refusal to perform services. No one under the banner of tolerance should use the apparatus of the state to force others to violate their own freedom. This verdict is a celebration of freedom. That freedom of conscience, religion, which determines the identity of each Polish citizen, but also economic freedom, because this freedom was also the measure of the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision.”53.

The Tribunal’s ruling gives enormous room for abuse and is a worrying step toward systemic discrimination and marginalization of LGBT+ people in the service sector. The ruling itself undermines the human right to equal treatment, as it is unlawful to discriminate in access to goods and services offered to the public – on the basis of personal characteristics. The law “on equal treatment” lists such personal characteristics as gender, age, disability, religion, worldview, race, nationality, ethnicity, as well as sexual orientation. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly stressed that the ECHR does not protect every act motivated or inspired by religion or belief54. More broadly, the Court’s ruling opens the floodgates to unjustified denial of services to any marginalized group that is, in principle, particularly vulnerable to discrimination. Human rights organizations are anxiously awaiting more cases of denial of services and discrimination under the guise of the conscience clause.

State Media


Unquestionably, equal treatment is a human right guaranteed by an act of the highest order. The Constitution of the Republic of Poland states that “Everyone has the right to equal treatment by public authorities. No one shall be discriminated against in political, social or economic life for any reason.”56 This provision, however, has become mute with regard to the state broadcaster, TVP. TVP was one of the first politicized institutions after the Law and Justice (PiS) party took power. Structural changes and personnel reshuffling led to all positions being filled by managers and “journalists” most loyal to Law and Justice (PiS) (TVP was headed by a former MEP and Kaczynski’s spin doctor57). As a result, TVP has become a propaganda tool of the government, actively promoting hatred against LGBT+ people, women and other minorities. It has become a place of hatred that divides Poles into the good and bad, fuels conflict between social groups – despite the fact that it is funded with taxpayers’ money (including LGBT+ people’s taxes).

There is no question of adequate representation of LGBT+ people in social campaigns, TV series, films, commercials, no question of TVP promoting equality. On the other hand, cases of discrimination abound. One of the more notorious – and with a surprisingly optimistic ending – is the case of the quasi-documentary film “LGBT Invasion.” The take-down production was aired in primetime by a public station in October 2019, just before the parliamentary elections. The film, as advertised, was to reveal the behind-the-scenes operations of activists within organizations supporting the LGBT+ community – their funding sources, goals, methods58. After watching the material, the audience learned that “LGBT ideology” has taken over all of Western Europe, and that Poland is a sanctuary of sanctity and upholds morality by defending its citizens from depravity. Further absurd claims in the footage were, for example, that the ultimate goal of gay people is to legalize pedophilia. In order to produce the material, TVP went so far as to plant a volunteer into one of the most prolific LGBT+ organizations to record them., KPH (Campaign Against Homophobia). The case was reported to the Warsaw District Court, which ruled in June 2022 that with the publishing of the film, TVP had violated the personal rights of KPH and the people shown in it. “The purpose of the Invasion was to disgrace the LGBT community, to intimidate viewers and to present the ruling Law and Justice party as the ultimate salvation,” the judge declared, adding that the victims had been turned into persecutors, and that TVP had betrayed the mission it was supposed to fulfill. The Court ordered the payment of compensation to the LGBT+ organization in the amount of PLN 35,000 (more than €7,300), a total ban on the screening of the film (including parts of it), and an apology in the main edition of the TVP1 news service. In the justification of the verdict, the judge stated that the film used manipulation, statements taken out of context, and that “the purpose of Invasion was to disgrace the LGBT community, intimidate viewers and to present the ruling Law and Justice party as the ultimate salvation.”59.

Such a verdict is, unfortunately, an exception. TVP almost on a daily basis, and most intensively during election campaigns, attempts to scare its viewers with LGBT+ people, creates a negative image of the LGBT+ community and spreads lies. It supports and promotes homophobia, transphobia, and invites people who shamelessly vilify minorities to news and debates programs. TVP lies, manipulates, promotes hate speech and faces no consequences for it.

In recent years, TVP has refused to broadcast advertising spots that show intimacy between people of the same sex60. TVP’s advertising office defends its decisions to refuse the airing of certain content by pointing to numerous complaints about other commercials containing intimate scenes, and on the basis of a provision of the Broadcasting Law that reads: “broadcasts or other transmissions that contain scenes or content that may adversely affect the proper physical, mental or moral development of minors (…) may only be distributed between 11 pm and 6 am.”61 In other words, TVP believes that same-sex relationships and the showing of them on the station’s airwaves can have a negative impact on the development of children and adolescents. The TVP president is not at all secretive about his dislike of LGBT+ people. Asked to comment on the appearance of a single-gender couple in a rival station’s dance program, he said that “TVP would not be ready for that. We have an unambiguous statement in the Broadcasting Act that says that the public broadcaster is obliged to uphold Christian values. Family and marriage are unions of a man and a woman, in the Ten Amendments as well as in the Constitution.” When the journalist asking the question specified that it was a couple dancing, not living together, he heard that it was “winking in that direction,” and that “in dance, it is necessary to dance in pairs and that means a man and a woman. It is the most beautiful. I didn’t like it, so I won’t invite same-sex couples to dance on Polish Television.”62

The reliance on TVP’s objectivity was already lost years ago, it is clear that the aim of the content broadcast by TVP is to reinforce the ruling party’s message. There was a case where the court sided a citizen sued by the president of TVP for the phrase “TVP violates human dignity on a massive scale.”63 The violation of basic democratic values by TVP is recognized by international institutions. “We are concerned by examples of intolerance full of xenophobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic content, especially on the side of the presidential campaign and public television,” assessed observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The direct involvement of the state media on the side of one political option and their permanent efforts against the opposition rises significant doubts about Poland respecting the right to free elections contained in the Convention on Fundamental Rights64.

Many reports have been written about the presidential elections, and major institutions have made no secret of their concern. The OSCE noted that the campaign characterized by hateful rhetoric was causing division in society, and that the biased and unobjective public media fueled the situation instead of preventing it.65 According to a report by the Journalism Society, during the pre-election period, a large disparity was noted in favor of Andrzej Duda in comparison to other candidates. It was also noted that adequate guarantees of objectivity were not maintained in presenting the candidates. The Journalism Society also published a study which shows that before the first round of elections, airtime in the public media was devoted only to Duda and Trzaskowski (despite TVP’s obligation to portray a full and diverse spectrum of political options). Moreover, 64% of the footage at the time devoted to Andrzej Duda was positive, with one exception, which was identified as neutral. Rafał Trzaskowski – an opposition candidate – was portrayed in all of the footage in a negative way, which accounted for 35% of the materials aired by the public station’s news service. The report leaves no illusions and clearly states that this may have had a significant impact on the public opinion and outcome of the elections.66

Situation of Transgender People


A huge problem in recent years, and especially in recent months, is the discrimination against transgender people. It should be emphasized that their legal and social situation is already extremely difficult in Poland. There is no comprehensive law on gender reconciliation, as Andrzej Duda used his first veto after being sworn in as President to block such a legislative act. As a result, transgender people are forced to go through the cruel procedure of suing their own parents for incorrect gender designation on their birth certificates67. A KPH study shows that among LGBT+ people, transgender people are the most likely to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts, and are also a group that is the most frequently discriminated against in the health care system as well as workplace68.

It even seems that Law and Justice is narrowing its field of attack in the upcoming campaign ahead of the parliamentary elections (2023), from LGBT+ to a mere T. Transgender people may become the focal point of the upcoming campaign. A group that the current government will spend the next year scaring its voters with. A group that will be disgraced, degraded and humiliated on TVP. They will be the “refugees” of 2015. The mechanism is well-known, and one can already see it has been set in motion.

Transgender people are an easy target, and as a result, Jarosław Kaczyński has already given the signal to attack. In June 2022, the ruling party began a grand tour of the country, a kind of pre-campaign. Włocławek and Grudziądz were among the first stops of their tour of hatred. Jarosław Kaczyński mocked transgender people, turning up the atmosphere of resentment. In Włocławek, the Law and Justice chairman said, “Someone may disagree with us, have leftist views and actually believe that someone could say that today until half past six, I was a man, and now I am a woman. Well, because, after all, the left believes that this is the way it should be. It’s possible to have such views, such weird views, I believe people who hold them should be treated.”69 It is difficult to say whether Jaroslaw Kaczynski does not actually understand the transgender phenomenon or whether this is a deliberate and calculated campaign strategy at the expense of yet another group at risk of exclusion.70 71 Such utterances made by the most influential man in the ruling party influence public opinion and public sentiment as well as shape attitudes toward transgender people and the LGBT+ community as a whole. The studies and data on attacks on LGBT+ people, the emigration of LGBT+ people, the massive increase in discriminatory behavior, are not surprising72. Nevertheless, they are upsetting and horrifying. They increase the scale of unequal treatment and are a step towards further erosion of LGBT+ rights and freedoms.



The Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be the perfect excuse for the Polish right to tighten its approach. Instead of addressing real socio-economic problems to ensure a fair and speedy exit from the crisis, the PiS government took advantage of the situation and focused on restricting the area of freedom. It has taken aim at social groups it finds hostile, independent national and international institutions, human rights and the system of their protection as a whole. According to Amnesty International, Poland – alongside Hungary, Turkey and Belarus – stood out at this time among a group of countries in the region of Europe and Central Asia with disturbing trends of increased human rights violations. A similar trend has been pointed out by other organizations that have removed Poland from the ranks of truly democratic countries in recent years, e.g. Varieties of Democracy has found Poland to be the country that was declining into autocracy at the fastest pace in the world, and now categorizes it as an “electoral democracy,” a downgrade from just a few years ago, when Poland was still classified in the organization’s highest category, i.e. “liberal democracy”73.

Human rights also include minority rights, reproductive rights and the rights of migrants to Poland. The level of their protection and respect was never at a particularly high level in Poland, but it met European standards and was slowly evolving in the right direction. Although shortcomings and inadequacies could be pointed out, it seemed that everything was going for the better…. Until 2015, when right-wing populists began to take power. “He who was born in Poland doesn’t laugh at the circus” – the ongoing joke in Poland in response to the government’s successive shocking ideas. The political camp led by Jarosław Kaczynski has accustomed Poland as well as Europe to constant attacks on further social groups, especially the marginalized. Human rights are treated by the Law and Justice party as a tool of political fight. A fight in which no prisoners are taken. A fight in which everyone must take a stand, whether they are for or against the leader and his loyal army. Polish society has become extremely polarized, topics that were once neutral have become political, dividing families and communities. The damage done by the two terms of the United Right74 is so deep that a future democratic parliamentary majority will not be able to repair it quickly. “Cleaning up” after PiS will not be limited to the adoption of a few remedial laws. The restoration of trust in the state and its institutions will take years. It will take years of wise education and public campaigns to radically reduce the hatred against minorities, and it will take a lot of work by civic society to replace the absurdities oozing from the government media and the mouths of politicians, with sound knowledge.


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[8] Among other things, restrictions on judges’ rights to free speech and association, eliminating inconvenient judges. (Access date; 04.05.2023)
[9] Cf. Tehran Proclamation, the final document of the International Conference on Population and Development
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[15] Supporters of the resolutions argued that the resolutions do not affect people directly (as President Duda has already established: LGBTs are not people), but are aimed at protecting the aforementioned traditional values such as a family and the union of a man and a woman, which was further guaranteed by the Local Government Charter on the Rights of Families.
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[17] At the time when discussions on the newly established zones were heating up the public on both sides of the barricade – whether out of anger or joy – a government-sponsored nationwide weekly, Gazeta Polska, began distributing stickers with a crossed-out rainbow flag and the words “LGBT-free zone” The stickers were then visible on kiosks, restaurant doors and service outlets. The public quickly noticed the analogy to Nazism, and the Court banned the distribution of the stickers. The editor-in-chief of the weekly, unable to come to terms with the Court’s decision, called it censorship and tried to appeal, unsuccessfully. Fortunately, judicial reforms have not yet affected all the judges.,114883,25004389,gazeta-polska-drukuje-naklejki-strefa-wolna-od-lgbt-czy.html (Access date; 04.05.2023)
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[20]ób-LGBTA-w-Polsce-raport-za-lata-2015-2016.pdf (Access date; 04.05.2023)
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[23] Johnson, B., Leibowitz, S., Chavez, A., & Herbert, S. E. (2019). Risk versus resiliency: Addressing depression in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America
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[30] Secular School
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[39] Opinion of Ewa Łętowska: (Access date; 04.05.2023)
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[45] She was echoed by the aforementioned Education Minister, who puts religion above the rules of law and medical knowledge: “ (Access date; 04.05.2023)
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[56] A perfect example of this are two cases where people who blatantly discriminated against people with disabilities were punished on the basis of the article just challenged. One was a shoe store owner who refused to serve a wheelchair-bound customer, and the other was a club owner who denied a wheelchair-bound person admission to a concert. Under the new interpretation of the law, the shoe store owner and the club owner had the right to treat wheelchair users this way. (Access date; 04.05.2023)
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[60] E.g., TVP refused to air a commercial spot for a jewelry brand because it featured two women kissing, and a spot for a condom brand because it features two men kissing. In the jewelry brand’s campaign, two more things would violate the sensitivity of viewers, specifi- cally a woman breastfeeding, and a post-mastectomy woman with her cleavage exposed. TVP agreed to air these two scenes, but after 8 p.m. TVP did not agree at any time, to air the scenes with a lesbian couple kissing, which further proves the anti-equality and homo- phobic policies of the government and the station. A condom company spot was met with a similar reaction. The campaign featured a male same-sex couple gently touching each other’s faces and embracing. (Access date; 04.05.2023)
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[63],75398,26919719,tylko-u-nas-kurski-pozwal-telewidza-za-wywiad-w-wyborczej.html (Access date; 04.05.2023)
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[70] ThenextdayinGrudziadz,thechairmanwasequallyprolificwithhishurtfulcontent:”Let’simagine that one of the gentlemen sitting here comes to his work at some point and says: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am not Władysław any more, I am Zosia.’ The West would have everyone conform to this view, because otherwise you are being offensive. And why am I Zosia? Well, because… Maybe tomorrow I will be Władysław again, but today I am Zosia.’ We have to defend ourselves from insanity, we have to defend the family as consisting of a man and a woman and, of course, God willing, children.” (Access date; 04.05.2023)
[71] A similar stand-up on the hate tour took place in Bialystok, where the chairman said, “We have elementary knowledge of biology and we know that gender is already decided at the level of chromosomes. There may happen, but it is just one case permille, that a person is in some way disturbed in this regard in their consciousness. And such people need to be helped. In extreme cases, surgery must be performed. However, this operation does not mean that a woman is actually a man and a man is actually a woman. Only certain appearances will be created. In no way am I against helping those people who have been afflicted by this misfortune. But that doesn’t mean that if there is a shake-up of the traditional model of thinking in other countries, we should shake it up too. Fashions pass, and the nation endures.”,artykul,131041,1,1.html (Access date; 04.05.2023)
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[74] The name used to describe the parliamentary majority, consisting of PiS and smaller allies, including Solidarna Polska.