Warszawa, Poland, 10/30/2020 Women's Strike demonstration in Warsaw. Outraged by a court decision to ban nearly all abortions, thousands of people took to the streets on Friday in the largest demonstration yet. CREDIT: Maciek Nabrdalik / VII / Stanley Center

Is Poland At Risk For Atrocity Crimes?

When COVID-19 forced countries to impose widespread lockdowns last year, there was a concurrent surge in gender based violence and domestic abuse. The United Nations has called this a “shadow pandemic” in which lockdowns everywhere lead to a sharp increase in gender based violence.

This includes Poland, where even before the pandemic levels of gender based violence were extremely high.  During the first month of the lockdown in March 2020, the country’s largest women’s rights center received a 50% increase in calls to its emergency domestic abuse hotline.

This COVID-induced spike in gender-based violence in Poland comes as the country is deep into a democratic backslide. The government of Poland is controlled by the ruling Law and Justice Party which has eroded media freedom and eviscerated the independence of the judiciary, among other anti-democratic moves.  The government is also reactionary in its worldview, including on issues related to gender. It has imposed a near-total ban on abortion and is seeking to withdraw from a key treaty to combat violence against women known as the Istanbul Convention.

My guest today, Annie Hylton is an independent investigative journalist who examined the increase in gender-based violence in Poland in the context of the country’s vulnerability to atrocity crimes. “Atrocity crimes” is generally understood to encompass genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

As she explains, there is research suggesting that the erosion of women’s rights precedes atrocity crimes. And we discuss her reporting from Poland at length in this conversation.

Get the podcast to listen later

Apple Podcasts  | Google Podcasts |  Spotify  |  Stitcher  | Radio Public

Today’s episode is produced in partnership with the Stanley Center for Peace and Security whose project “Red Flags or Resilience?” examines COVID-19’s impact on atrocity risks.  The project uses journalism to explore the connections between the coronavirus pandemic and the factors for risk and resilience to mass violence and atrocities around the world. You can view Annie Hylton’s article on Poland and other works of journalism as they are published by visiting resilience.stanleycenter.org.