UN human rights experts urged Poland Tuesday to probe all allegations of harassment of human rights defenders, including journalists and translators, near the Belarusian border.
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders states that interpreters, journalists, doctors, and others who work for the protection of human rights, are human rights defenders. In the last few months, thousands of migrants, mostly from Iraq, have been stranded near the Polish-Belarus border. As the majority of the migrants can’t speak Polish, interpreters are essential in ensuring that their human rights are upheld.
However, an increasing number of reports of these humanitarian workers being mistreated has recently emerged. In response to this trend, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor said:
I am receiving several reports of harassments from human rights defenders who assist migrants and document human rights violations against them at the Polish-Belarusian border, and I am deeply concerned at this practice.
In November 2021, volunteer interpreter Jakub Sypianski, who has been assisting refugees and asylum seekers, was reportedly stopped and harassed by armed troops while driving home. Around the same time, armed soldiers also harassed media personnel reporting the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers, as well as journalists documenting the human rights situations of migrants at the border.
Irene Khan, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said, “reports that these journalists are being persecuted for documenting such human rights violations are appalling.” Lawlor and Khan urged Poland to investigate the accusations and provide the media and humanitarian workers free and secure access to the country’s borders.
It’s noteworthy that in December 2021, the UN Human Rights Office called upon Belarus and Poland to resolve the migrant and refugee crisis at their mutual border.