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Committee Against Torture asks government about situation in Poland

Last week in Geneva, the Polish Government provided explanations to the UN Committee Against Torture regarding the periodic report on the implementation of the Convention against Torture. Wojciech Wegrzyn, Under-secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice led the Polish ten-member delegation. The Committee asked the Government about such issues as secret CIA prisons in Poland, conditions in penitentiary facilities and guarded centre for foreigners and cases of abuses of police powers. The HFHR presented to the Committee a comprehensive report with comments to the Government’s position. Amnesty International also submitted a report.

During the Committee’s session prosecutor Piotr Turek with the Prosecutor General’s Office confirmed that the third CIA suspect allegedly detained in Poland, Yemeni citizen Waleed bin Attash, had received the status of an aggrieved party to the ongoing investigation of the CIA black sites in Poland. Answering the Committee’s questions, prosecutor Turek informed that the probe into CIA prisons had been extended until 11 February 2014 and ensured that the proceedings are not at risk of being time-barred. He further said that 62 witnesses had been questioned in the case and informed that 43 volumes of case files had already been collected. So far the prosecution has sent four requests for legal aid to the US Department of Justice. The US authorities have responded with a single refusal.

“We think that the issue of CIA secret prisons in our country is one of the key problems related to the prohibition of torture in Poland”, says Dr. Adam Bodnar, HFHR Deputy President. “In our report we discussed both the proceedings which have been conducted in Poland for some time and the applications of two CIA detainees submitted to the European Court of Human Rights”, adds Dr. Bodnar. Al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah complained to the ECtHR citing the excessive length of the domestic proceedings. The Strasbourg Court is expected to hear the matter on 3 December. Prosecutor Turek also said at the CPT session that apart from an Agent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs representing Poland, the Deputy Appellate Prosecutor in Kraków will also appear at the hearing before the ECtHR.

Commenting on the conditions in prison facilities, the Government noted that the situation had improved over the last few years. The number of pre-trial detention orders issued in Poland has dropped. The country’s prison occupancy rate is 97.2%. “Nevertheless, we have once again observed in our report that in Polish prisons there was still less than four square metres of floor space per inmate”, says Katarzyna Wisniewska, HFHR lawyer.

Members of the Committee asked the Polish Government about cases of abuses of police powers. Government representatives noted that between 2007 and 2011 no compensation was awarded to victims of illegal Police violence. The Committee inquired whether this meant that there were no cases of abuses of police powers within the period in question.

“In our report we mentioned two cases in which Police officers were investigated for extorting testimony. The cases occurred in Lidzbark Warminski and Siedlce over the last two years”, says Irmina Pacho, a lawyer with the HFHR.

During the session, representatives of Poland also noted the improving conditions in guarded centres for foreigners. In the HFHR’s opinion, there is much to be done in this area. There is a number of issues that still need to be addressed: access to healthcare, psychological care, class organisation, or child detention.

The Committee Against Torture will issue recommendations for Poland at the end of its 51st session, on 22 November 2013.

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