Human Rights in PolandPoland has been a liberal democracy ever since it transitioned from communism in 1989. It is a nation that enjoys free and fair elections and civil liberties protections; however, there is a strong partisan divide in Poland. The Law and Justice Party has become skeptical of the efficacy of liberal democracy; it has enacted a number of authoritarian reforms, enhancing the power of the party and undermining checks and balances enshrined in the Polish constitution. Here are seven facts about human rights in Poland:

  1. Speech is free in Poland, but there are some limitations. A person with a public platform can be fined and even jailed for promoting anti-government activity, amorality and disrespect for religion. However, these restrictions are rarely enforced.
  2. Freedom of the press is a constitutional human right in Poland, but recent laws enacted by Poland’s governing party have limited that freedom. Starting in 2017, journalists must be pre-approved in order to interview legislators in the halls of Parliament. The Law and Justice Party has also made moves to have more influence on public media. The party amended Polish law so that the treasurer has the power to choose the heads of public media, rather than an independent board. Polish public media officials were quickly replaced with Law and Justice party officials after the amendment was passed.
  3. Roma, LGBT and Muslim communities experience frequent discrimination in Poland. In 2016, violent hate crimes rose by 40 percent and most of these attacks targeted Muslims. Despite this, Poland has shut down its Council for the Prevention of Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance.
  4. Women have equal rights in Poland, but domestic violence and sex trafficking are still significant issues. The Polish government recently defunded the Women’s Rights Center, which had played a major role in aiding female victims of domestic violence. Polish officials have claimed that they shut down the institution because it did nothing to help the male victims of domestic violence.
  5. Poland has been going through a constitutional crisis, as the Law and Justice Party has taken steps that increase the power of the party and reduce the power of the Constitutional Tribunal – the nation’s highest court. The crisis began when the Law and Justice Party refused to seat five judges appointed to the court by the previous ruling party, and instead nominated their own. The tribunal ruled this act unconstitutional, but the government refused to release the ruling, making it technically non-binding. The Polish government has passed several laws designed to make the tribunal run less efficiently, and has appointed party ally Julia Przyłębska to be president of the tribunal. These actions have raised concerns among the EU and the U.S. that the Polish government is eroding democratic checks and balances.
  6. In 2016, Poland passed a counter-terrorism law that gives the government far-reaching surveillance powers. The law allows for the government to wiretap and monitor the communications of people the government fears might be involved in terrorism-related activities. The government has the power to continue these activities for three months without oversight, as well as use illegally obtained evidence in court and detain suspects for up to two weeks.
  7. Polish prisons fail to meet the standards set by other European countries. The minimum legal size of a jail cell in Poland is 32 square feet, which falls below the internationally recognized standard. Many prisons are in need of renovations and lack adequate healthcare and accommodations for prisoners with disabilities.

Though the Polish ruling party is encroaching on the nation’s civil liberties, there are still actions that can be taken to protect human rights in Poland. Poland still has free and fair elections, and if that remains unchanged, the Polish people have the power to democratically reject these illiberal reforms by voting in candidates that promise to restore power to the Constitutional Tribunal. The EU also has the power to sanction Poland if it goes too far – something it threatened to do last month in the face of efforts to stack the Constitutional Tribunal with even more party allies. Both of these situations should bring hope to the people of Poland, as it makes the improvement of their human rights a very possible outcome of the future.

Carson Hughes

Causes of Poverty in Hungary

The latest official statistics that can be found regarding poverty in Hungary are from 2015 by the Hungarian Central Statistical Office (KSH). According to their definition of the poverty line, 35 percent of the Hungarian population were living below the poverty line in 2015. More recent statistics have not been released due to a controversy over the KSH’s definition of poverty. However, by the United Nations’ standards, 46.6 percent of Hungarians in 2014 were impoverished, living on less than $300 a month.

There are three leading causes of poverty in Hungary that persist today:

  1. The price of real estate in Hungary is high and still rising, considering the devaluation of Hungarian currency. After Sweden, Hungary has the second-fastest rising real estate prices. The average Hungarian family spends $465 a month on rent and utilities alone, leaving little remaining for other bills and necessary items. Also, rent is only affordable for the average family in cities where it is near impossible to find work. Due to the high price of real estate, the average family with two children can hardly save $30 a month.
  2. Unemployment in Hungary remains a problem, though the number of unemployed Hungarians is seemingly decreasing. The current unemployment rate in Hungary is 9.3 percent, which is an improvement compared to earlier years. However, this rate does not take into account the approximately 300,000 people who are employed but receive no employment benefits. This is due to the Hungarian Work Plan that was launched in 2011, which forces the unemployed into employment programs. These employment programs pay a maximum of $200 a month, preventing any forward mobility. Keeping in mind that Hungary ranks eighth internationally regarding work hours, the employed and unemployed alike are both on the verge of poverty.
  3. Private debt is also largely responsible for poverty in Hungary. The government of Hungary offers $39,000 in loans to families with children – which many families accept but cannot afford to pay back. There are many Hungarian families that end up in a circle of debt, in which they accumulate more and more debt they cannot afford to pay off. The rapid devaluation of Hungarian currency adds to this cycle as it has caused private debt to dramatically increase.

The Takeaway

Addressing these causes of poverty in Hungary is necessary in order to help impoverished Hungarians. Approaching these problems effectively will take reforms from the Hungarian government as well as outside assistance. The programs currently being enacted have had major effects on reducing the rates of poverty in Hungary.  Thus, these efforts should continued to be pursued by the Hungarian government and the NGOs enacting them.

Haley Hurtt

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Austria
While holding a position as a peaceful and democratic society, Austria’s human rights record still leaves something to be desired. On the one hand, Austria chooses its leaders in free and fair multiparty elections, and freedom of the press is alive and well; however, there are still many complex institutional problems with human rights in Austria.

In 2008, there were several reports of excessive force by police, societal discrimination against Muslims, Jews and members of unrecognized religious groups, violence against women and children and human trafficking. In addition, several isolated incidents were reported of neo-Nazi and xenophobic extremism towards members of minority groups.

Complaints of police ill-treatment towards minorities are still often met with insufficient investigation and action both by the police and the judicial system. In a study done by the Vienna-based EU Fundamental Rights Agency, over 50 percent of immigrants and minorities believe that Austria has a widespread problem of discrimination.

Going hand in hand with this sentiment, racial profiling is also a major threat to human rights in Austria. For example, in 2009, the Viennese police based a large-scale operation almost entirely on racial profiling; after a string of burglaries, the police carried out searches of all houses known to be owned by people of Georgian or Moldovan origin, all without any grounds of suspicion.

This comes along with several other incidents of police discrimination around the same time, including the killings of a Chechen asylum seeker and a Sikh religious leader, both of which were under-investigated. It was later revealed that in both cases the Austrian police had ignored warnings or requests for personal protection.

This police mistreatment can even go so far as torture, as in the case of Bakary J., a Gambian citizen who was tortured by three Viennese police officers in 2006 when it became apparent that he was residing in the country illegally.

While authorities were at fault for failing to implement safeguards against torture and have not revised any official protocol, the Disciplinary Appeal Commission decided to fire two of the three officers involved and cut off the pension of the third.

Since these incidents, human rights in Austria have come to the forefront of the country’s consciousness. In 2011, Austria was officially elected as a member of the Human Rights Council by the U.N. General Assembly. With this new membership, Austria pledged to combat threats to women’s rights, failure of law enforcement and human trafficking. Also, there is a priority for protection of freedom of religion and the protection of religious minorities.

These are important first steps but, like many countries, Austria still struggles with racism and the role of police. Through these conflicts, the country will work to improve human rights for all its citizens.

Audrey Palzkill

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Denmark
Centuries ago, Denmark was home to Viking raiders, but today, the nation is successful and technologically advanced. The 5.5 million people who live in Demark are governed by a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The Scandinavian nation is very impressive on many fronts, including economics. In 2016, for instance, Denmark’s unemployment rate was just 4.2 percent. Human rights in Denmark are largely protected, but room for improvement remains.

Denmark is one of the 192 Member States of the United Nations and uses that position to advance its protection of human rights. For example, Denmark has pushed for treaties that support the abolition of torture as well as augmenting the rights of people with disabilities.

Within its own borders, steps are taken to protect human rights as well. Free speech and a free press are two of the many human rights in Denmark protected by the nation’s constitution. According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 report, Denmark’s government did not limit either of these practices.

The report also demonstrated that Denmark does not violate the integrity of its people. Prison and detention centers keep with international standards, fair trials are granted and each individual’s privacy is respected.

One area in which Denmark’s reputation regarding human rights is less widely praised is when it comes to the nation’s treatment of refugees. According to The Washington Post, many European nations have experienced an influx of immigrants over the past decade. Some of the actions taken by Denmark’s government include slashing benefits to refugees, allowing police to confiscate refugees’ valuables and taking steps to make it increasingly difficult for refugees to reunite with their families.

As the laws in Denmark have changed, so too have the have peoples’ sentiments. Ideas regarding refugees that in the past would have been considered outlandish have infiltrated more mainstream ideology. Denmark has received much criticism for this. In fact, Human Rights First, “an independent advocacy and action organization that challenges America to live up to its ideals” stated that this is a violation of refugees’ human rights.

The evidence suggests that Denmark is more successful at protecting the human rights of its own people than of others.

Adam Braunstein

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is a modern nation located in Western Europe, between Belgium and Germany. The nation is home to more than 17 million people; three-fourths of them are Dutch. Over the years, the nation has proven itself to be a world leader by becoming a founding member of NATO and what is now the European Union. An area in which the Netherlands needs to improve, however, is its protection of human rights. While there are measures in place to protect human rights in the Netherlands, significant room for improvement remains.

According to the 2015 United States Department of State’s report on human rights in the Netherlands, there are several aspects concerning the protection of those rights that are particularly weak in the country. There has been widespread hostility and unfair treatment toward certain religious and ethnic groups; Muslim immigrants and Jewish people in particular have been afflicted. In an effort to quell the discrimination, 200 Jews and Muslims marched from a synagogue to a mosque in an effort to demonstrate solidarity. It is important to consider that the constitution forbids discrimination based on religion and that it is a crime under the law to publicly say things that promote hatred of religious groups.

Another human rights issue in the Netherlands that needs to be addressed is overcrowding in certain prison and detention centers. The prison and detention centers in the Netherlands meet international standards for the most part, but overcrowding has been a problem in Sint Maarten as a result of prison renovations.

The Department of State’s report also noticed discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons. However, this is one area in which the government is taking steps to combat discrimination. For instance, the law mandates that elementary and secondary schools address diversity and LGBTI issues as a method to alleviate the problem through education. Courts in the Netherlands even have the ability to provide higher penalties to perpetrators of violence against LGBTI persons who acted because of their bias against this community.

The Netherlands has made notable progress in protecting certain human rights, but hopefully they continue to make strides forward in order to improve on human rights in all areas.

Adam Braunstein

 

AndorraSituated in the mountains between Spain and France, it’s easy to forget about Andorra, one of the smallest states in Europe. Because of its duty-free shopping, winter sports and hot summers, it is a popular destination for the eight million tourists that visit annually. Travelers enter the country from either France or Spain, since it has no airport. The following facts and figures in Andorra paint a picture of prosperity and ongoing challenges.

  1. Andorra doesn’t get much press. This may be due to the small population (less than 100,000), and the actual area of the country is only about two-and-a-half times the size of Washington, D.C.
  2. Most of the country’s GDP comes from tourism and investments. The majority of employed individuals work in a service-industry position. The population enjoys a high standard of living. In 2016, unemployment was 3.7 percent. Poverty statistics are currently unavailable.
  3. Andorra has six major political parties. Additionally, there are several smaller parties at the parish level.
  4. Despite being so small, It also has a higher per-capita income than both Spain and France. It was a tax haven until France and Spain opened its borders. Andorra has no external debt.
  5. Andorra imports all of its food. Only 5.5 percent of its land is arable.
  6. Andorra is not without problems. One concern is affordable housing. While most of the housing in the country is new, it is also scarce. A look at lucasfox.com shows properties selling from 200,000 Euros ($228,000 USD) to well over a million Euros ($1,141,000 USD). Amendments to residency requirements have recently been made in order to open the market. It used to be a person buying property in Andorra had to have lived there for at least 20 years. Locals continue to live with their families in farmhouses.
  7. Environmental concerns included solid waste disposal, deforestation and overgrazing.
  8. In terms of health, nearly a third of the population is obese. According to 2014 statistics, 8.1 percent of its GDP (an estimated $3.327 billion as of 2015) was spent on health. Life expectancy is 82.8 years.
  9. Andorra is looking to attract foreign investing. Before 2008, non-residents could own 33 percent of a company. After living in the country 20 years, they could then own 100 percent of a company. This was due to concerns about foreign ownership on the economy.

As these facts and figures in Andorra show, it is a peaceful, small country as a retirement haven, or for those looking for an out-of-the-way skiing vacation.

Gloria Diaz

Photo: Pixabay

Hunger in Liechtenstein

When looking at countries that are suffering from hunger, it is easy to equate the hunger with nationwide poverty. In the case of high-income countries, such as the U.S., such a generalization might lead one far astray from reality.

Liechtenstein is a small country bordering Switzerland on the west side and Austria on the east side. Its GDP is the highest in the world, with people living there making an equivalent average of about $139,100 per year.

Note that the cost of living in Liechtenstein is only 33 percent higher than in the United States, even though they make on average 2.4 times as much as American citizens do. It is unimaginable that poverty can exist in such a wealthy country. However, we must ask, does poverty– or even hunger– in Liechtenstein exist?

The answer is: essentially, no. It is not hunger in the traditional sense, where people are starving or going hungry. In the case of Liechtenstein, there are some people who are not making enough money to have “disposable” income.

In the U.S., this is taken for granted. There are an estimated 45 million Americans living under the poverty line (2013), with 58 million Americans working for minimum wage. However, Liechtenstein doesn’t seem to have any people living under the poverty line, mainly because it has strong social services that tackle the problems of poverty or hunger before they even arise.

A 2008 estimate of households living in conditions that are called “Einkommensschwach,” which literally translates to “weak income” (low-income), is at 11 percent. This is about 3,000 people out of its population of 37,000.

Note that “Einkommensschwach” does not mean “living under the poverty line,” it just means a low-income household. Thus, these numbers convey people’s income even after social services have come into effect. The limit to be considered “Einkommenschwach” is about the equivalent of $28,000 per year.

However, social services in Liechtenstein are so powerful, it basically eradicates all hunger in Liechtenstein, as well as true poverty. During a meeting, the social minister in Liechtenstein even asked the question “With such high incomes, can we really speak about poverty? Wouldn’t this even be unethical to make such a comparison with other countries?”

In other words, not only is hunger in Liechtenstein not a considerable issue, it is even questionable if one can talk about poverty in Liechtenstein at all.

Michal Burgunder

Photo: Pixabay


The quality of water in Europe is often taken for granted by travelers, and there are some countries where it is best to stay on the safe side and use bottled water. Poland is one of many European countries with conflicting reports about tap water quality. Some sites such as TripAdvisor have multiple people vouching for the safety of the tap water, with some even saying that it tastes better than the water in many other European countries such as France and the U.K. Other travel sites have warnings about Polish tap water, claiming that it is unhealthy to drink and tastes horrible. For this reason, it can be difficult for travelers to understand the true water quality in Poland.

According to Poland’s Department of Economics and Management, about 60 percent of Poles are wary of the water quality before boiling it. They fear general pollution, and many are concerned that the smell and taste of the water, which is cited from mildly unsettling to disgusting, could be an indication of unhealthy drinking water. However, despite so many doubts from the locals, the government notes that more than 90 percent of the water in all areas meets the necessary health standards and is safe to drink, and any water that does fall below the safety line only barely fails to meet proper requirements. For the areas where the water quality is not up to the proper levels, water filters can easily improve the quality, both in terms of safety and taste.

Though the government assures that the water quality in Poland is safe to drink, many Poles and tourists use bottled water, especially mineral water, instead of tap water. Poland has a large bottled water industry, and some locals believe that this is one of the reasons that tap water is so distrusted. Since there is a great deal of advertising for natural mineral bottled water, it is easy to imagine why people would avoid the soft tap water in favor of the crisper bottled water.

However, in Poland and many other countries, more than 25 percent of bottled water is just treated tap water. Bottled water is often nothing more than expensive tap water run through a filter, something that can be done in any home for a much smaller cost than buying bottled water. Bottled water is also an environmental burden. The bottles are usually used once then thrown away.

Since the tap water is safe to drink, especially with a filter, it makes little sense to continue to rely on bottled water, especially when considering the economic and environmental costs of bottled water. Despite mixed reports, there is good water quality in Poland, so it is safe to go ahead and drink up.

Rachael Lind

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Monaco
Although Monaco is one of the smallest countries in the world, second to the Vatican, it has the highest per capita GDP. The rich flock to Monaco because of the lack of income tax, events such as the Grand Prix and the luxurious lifestyle. It follows that the rate of hunger in Monaco is very low.

This does not mean that hunger is off the radar in Monaco. In fact, Monaco is globally known as a nation helping in the fight against hunger. The leaders in this fight are the nearly 6,000 students that make up the country’s education system. The students work in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP), a humanitarian organization working to end worldwide hunger. Thus far, they have raised thousands of dollars and millions of grains of rice to feed the world’s hungry. They do this through a trivia game.

Freerice is an online trivia game by the WFP that both educates the students of Monaco on the issue of world hunger and provides rice to those that need it. It has become the equivalent of a “national sport” in Monaco, with students raising over a million grains of rice in a period of fewer than six months.

“Freerice offers the perfect blend of humanitarian and educational. The Directorate for Education is pleased to engage our students in the fight against hunger, a pressing issue of our time and a priority for the Monegasque government,” Ms. Muriel Bubbio explained in an article by the WFP. “We strongly believe that learning about other countries and continents such as Africa and Asia requires understanding on global issues such as hunger and how one can contribute to addressing these challenges at an individual, local and national level,” she noted.

This is certainly important in an age in which the world is more interconnected through technology than ever before, and what is even better is it is effective.

In November 2011 alone, the student community in Monaco raised over 8,000 euros for the children in Kenya affected by the Horn of Africa crisis through a bake and trinket sale.

More recently, Monaco attended the 40th Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. in Rome. It was represented by H.E. Mr. Robert Fillon, Monaco’s Ambassador to Italy and the Principality’s Permanent Representative to the Food and Agriculture Organization; Elisabeth Lanteri-Minet, Director of International Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and Martine Garcia-Mascarenhas, Second Secretary at the Embassy of Monaco in Rome. Overall, the conference focused on climate change, sustainable agriculture, food security, hunger and nutrition.

Monaco’s attendance at the conference shows its continued commitment to hunger worldwide, despite the fact that hunger in Monaco is not very common.

Sydney Roeder

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Bosnia and HerzegovinaAlthough there is an abundance of water resources, the water quality in Bosnia and Herzegovina is lacking. Access to drinkable water is far below the standards set by the European Union (EU), which rests on four pillars:

  1. Ensure that drinking water quality is controlled through standards based on the latest scientific evidence.
  2. Secure an efficient and effective monitoring, assessment and enforcement of drinking water quality.
  3. Provide the consumers with adequate, timely and appropriate information.
  4. Contribute to the broader EU water and health policy.

Currently, only about 65 percent of the country’s population has a connection to municipal or public water utilities – the average of European Union countries is 90 percent. Only large urban centers have a satisfactory supply of water, both in terms of quality and quantity. Unfortunately, the poorest and most vulnerable of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s population live in rural areas.

However, help has recently come through the implementation of 18 infrastructure projects within the “Securing Access to Water through Institutional Development and Infrastructure in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Implemented through a partnership with the nation’s own citizens, one of the goals of the program is to educate the country’s water supply companies on how to best provide for their communities.

With financing from the government of Spain and support from the Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund, the program has been able to help 55,000 people gain sustainable access to clean water. Today, disused water pipes have been replaced, returnee settlements have secured connections to sustainable water supplies, more water springs are protected and filter plants have been installed.

This has constituted an overall increase of two percent of citizens with access to clean water. Although it may not seem like much, it is a fundamental step in the right direction. Damages inflicted during the country’s recent war dealt a blow to the country’s infrastructure, as maintenance was neglected and pollution increased. Therefore, it is precisely with programs like this that water quality in Bosnia and Herzegovina will hope to see improvement.

Shannon Golden

Photo: Flickr