Head of state
Bronisław Komorowski (replaced Lech Kaczyński in August)
Head of government
Donald Tusk
Death penalty
abolitionist for all crimes
38 million
Life expectancy
76 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f)
9/7 per 1,000
Adult literacy
99.5 per cent

In October, Poland became the first European country to acknowledge a rendition victim’s claims when a Saudi national allegedly held in a secret detention centre in Poland was granted “victim” status. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health noted that restrictive legislation had resulted in an increase of unsafe, clandestine abortions.


Presidential elections were held in two rounds in June and July following a plane crash in April, in which President Lech Kaczyński and other senior public officials died. As a result of the elections, Bronisław Komorowski – who had been serving as interim President – was sworn in on 6 August.

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Counter-terror and security

A criminal investigation by the Appellate Prosecution Authority in Warsaw into Poland’s complicity in the CIA-led rendition and secret detention programme continued. The Polish Air Navigation Services Agency released information in December 2009 indicating that flights operating under the rendition programme had landed in Poland – mainly at Szymany Airport, near the alleged site of a secret detention facility at Stare Kiejkuty.

Documents released by the Polish Border Guard Office in July confirmed that seven planes operating under the CIA-led rendition programme landed at Szymany airport between December 2002 and September 2003. Passengers, in addition to crew, were aboard at landing and/or departure.

  • In September, the Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that it was investigating claims by Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national currently held at Guantánamo Bay, that he was held in a secret detention centre in Poland. In October, he was granted “victim” status, the first rendition claim to be acknowledged by any European authority.
  • In December, international lawyers co-operating with the NGOs Reprieve and Interights filed an application for Abu Zubaydah for crimes allegedly committed against him while he was held by the CIA in Poland. The application included a request for Abu Zubaydah to be formally recognized as a victim of torture and unlawful detention. Following the recognition of their victim status, Abd al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaydah and their lawyers were given access to the Prosecutor’s investigation files and allowed to take part in the investigation.

In October, the UN Human Rights Committee called on the Polish authorities to ensure that the inquiry into allegations of the involvement of officials in renditions and secret detentions had full investigative powers to call witnesses and compel the production of documents.

  • On 17 September, acting on an international arrest warrant issued by the Russian authorities, police in Warsaw arrested Chechen figurehead Akhmed Zakayev. Following the arrest, Russia demanded Akhmed Zakayev’s extradition, alleging his involvement in terrorism-related activities. On 18 September, Warsaw District Court ordered his release on the grounds of his asylum status in the UK. The District Prosecutor appealed the decision. In October, an Appeal Court upheld the decision to release Akhmed Zakayev, who returned to the UK. On 23 December, the District Court in Warsaw discontinued the extradition proceedings on the grounds that Akhmed Zakayev was no longer in Poland.
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Following several years of preparatory work, the parliament adopted anti-discrimination legislation in December. NGOs criticized its limited scope, however, as the grounds on which discrimination is prohibited do not include gender identity, political opinion, or other status such as marital. They also voiced concern that instead of creating a new independent office to monitor and promote the new legislation, the institution responsible for this would be the Ombudsperson.

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Sexual and reproductive rights

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health highlighted in May that the Act on Family Planning, which revoked economic and social reasons as grounds for lawful termination of pregnancies, had resulted in an increase of unsafe, clandestine abortions. In October, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern that many women were denied access to reproductive health services, including lawful termination of pregnancy.

Human rights monitoring bodies have further identified a conscientious objection clause in the Act, which allows medical personnel to refuse to perform certain procedures, as an obstacle to accessing reproductive rights. According to a report adopted by the Council of Europe’s Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly in September, health care institutions in Poland lacked a formal policy on conscientious objection. The report raised concern over the misuse of this clause by hospital management, who had frequently adopted an unwritten policy of banning some interventions, including abortions.

  • The case of a pregnant woman who died of septic shock after being refused diagnostic care and treatment in several hospitals for fear of risking the life of the foetus was pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
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Excessive use of force

In October, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concerns about reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. It also noted that incidents of police violence were not always reported due to victims’ fear of being prosecuted.

  • On 23 May, at a market in Warsaw’s Praga district, a police officer shot a 36-year-old Nigerian trader who died on the spot. The incident happened during a police action which reportedly involved a licence check of the market traders. The Prosecutor General’s Office started an investigation on 24 May into two cases: excessive use of force by a state agent and bodily harm causing death; and an attack against a public official.
  • One of the leaders of the Campaign Against Homophobia, Robert Biedroń, was arrested and allegedly beaten by the police on 11 November. The incident happened after an anti-fascist demonstration against a march by extreme right groups in Warsaw. Robert Biedroń filed a complaint citing excessive use of force by the police that resulted in a spine injury, bruising and chafing. He was detained for 20 hours and alleged that he had been denied contact with his family and lawyer. The police reportedly accused him of attacking a public official.
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Refugees and asylum-seekers

The refugee centre in the town of Łomża was closed in November following a campaign by a Member of Parliament and a petition by 800 citizens of Łomża. During the campaign, the mostly Chechen refugees were labelled as criminals by some media. Various national NGOs protested against the closure during the school year. After the closure, the refugees had to either look for rental housing or another refugee centre with places available.

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Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people

A significant rise in hate speech and intolerance against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people was noted by the UN Human Rights Committee in October.

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Human rights by region

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A number of countries in Africa celebrated the 50th anniversary of their independence during the year while others prep ...


In the Americas many human rights have been recognized in law, if not always in practice, over the past 50 years. Whi ...

Asia Pacific

In a region with almost two thirds of the world’s population, stretching a third of the way around the planet, ...

Europe & Central Asia

The right to truth and justice, and the determination of victims and their relatives to achieve this how ...

Middle East and North Africa

2010 dawned with Yemen an unusual focus of international attention following an alleged terrorist ...

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