Press statement

UNAIDS calls on Poland to uphold the rule of law and protect the rights of LGBTI people

GENEVA, 14 August 2020—UNAIDS is deeply concerned by reports of the targeting and arrest of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights activists as they peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association, as well as reports of discrimination, repression, and scapegoating of LGBTI people.

UNAIDS has been made aware that on August 7 a protest against the detention of LGBTI activist, Margot Szutowicz, currently being held for two months of pre-trial detention, resulted in reports of police violence and over 50 arrests. This followed recent arrests of activists for placing rainbow flags on public monuments, ostensibly carried out under Article 196 of Poland’s criminal code, which calls for up to two years in prison for anyone who “offends the religious feelings of others by publicly insulting a religious object or place of worship.”

International and European human rights bodies have affirmed the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. They have also affirmed the fundamental right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The 2016 United Nations General Assembly High-Level Political Declaration on Ending AIDS recognizes that discrimination, particularly discriminatory and abusive use of law enforcement powers, create significant barriers to people’s health and well-being, including their access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services, barriers that governments have committed to removing. Stigma and discrimination have been shown to increase violence, abuse and harassment against LGBTI people and to cause significant harm to their physical and mental health and well-being, their inclusion in society and their ability to access work, education and essential services.

The actions in Poland limit freedom of speech and, when combined with discriminatory application that targets human rights defenders, undermine equality, the rule of law and people’s access to essential services. In the context of closing civic space for advocacy to end discrimination in areas such as LGBTI rights, sexual and reproductive health and gender equality, freedom of speech protections are more vital than ever.

UNAIDS is concerned by the ongoing and intensifying persecution of LGBTI people in Poland, including the encouragement of so-called “LGBT ideology-free zones” throughout the country over the last year and up to recent mounting crackdowns on human rights defenders exercising their fundamental human rights to advocate for an end to discrimination.


The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) leads and inspires the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. UNAIDS unites the efforts of 11 UN organizations—UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, UN Women, ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank—and works closely with global and national partners towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Learn more at and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.


Michael Hollingdale
tel. +41 79 500 2119


tel. +41 22 791 4237

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