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Victim of domestic violence files complaint with UN Committee

UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has communicated a complaint about the use of domestic violence against S. and Poland’s failure to provide her with adequate protection. “This is a landmark case because it is the first time the Committee will hear a case involving Poland”, notes Marcin Szwed, an HFHR lawyer.

Inaction of law enforcement

In the years 2003-2006 the Foundation’s client repeatedly reported to the police and a prosecutor’s office that her husband mistreated her and her children and threatened to set fire to their house. However, the law enforcement authorities did not believe the woman and most proceedings were discontinued. Only one report resulted in an indictment having been lodged by the prosecutor’s office against the victim’s husband. However, not only were the proceedings very slow, but also the accused was never separated from his wife in any way whatsoever at any stage of the proceedings. Finally, in 2006 a tragedy occurred – the man carried out his threats and set fire to his family house, dying at the site. Following the event, our client attempted to seek compensation form the State Treasury for the unlawful inaction of law enforcement authorities, but her action was dismissed in its entirety.


“In our communication we argue, among other things, that at the time when S. was unsuccessfully seeking justice there were no effective laws protecting victims of domestic violence. In recent years, there have been some statutory changes, but nevertheless, not all legal gaps have been eliminated”, explains Katarzyna Wiśniewska, an HFHR lawyer. Moreover, the complaint reminded that in 2014 the UN Committee pointed out that Poland did not have appropriate regulations and recommended that separate provisions on counteracting domestic violence be introduced to the Criminal Code and effective measures to separate a perpetrator from a victim be imposed.

The HFHR also alleged that by disregarding the victim’s reports proving the threat she was facing the state authorities had failed to perform their positive obligation to protect victims of domestic violence. “According to the statistics quoted in our report, the case of our client is not an isolated incident. There are still many criminal cases of domestic violence that end in discontinuation, and even if a perpetrator is convicted, sentences are most often lenient and inadequate. What is more, in most cases the perpetrator is not separated from the victim for the duration of the proceedings”, Mr Szwed says.

In mid-April 2018, the Committee notified, for the first time ever, the Polish Government of the complaint. Poland has six months for presenting a response to the allegations made in the complaint.

What can CEDAW do?

Unlike the European Court of Human Rights, the UN Committee is not authorised to enter binding judgments that oblige states to pay compensation to a complainant. The Committee may still issue recommendations to a state, which may include a call for ensuring that a victim is properly compensated.

The complaint to CEDAW was prepared by the Strategic Litigation Programme and the client is represented before the Committee by Professor Ireneusz C. Kamiński, a legal expert of the HFHR.

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