Statement on Court Case Against Professor Jan Grabowski - 10.02.2021

The Human Rights Research and Education Centre (HRREC) and the Scholars at Risk (SAR) uOttawa Program stand in support of Jan Grabowski, full Professor in the Department of History at the University of Ottawa, who was sued for libel in a Polish court along with Prof. Barbara Engelking, a Member of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, for their research relating to the Holocaust in Poland. The case was based on the book Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland, a 1,600-page, two-volume historical work in Polish, co-edited by Grabowski and Engelking. The court rendered its verdict on February 9, 2021 and ordered the scholars to apologize for defamation. Professors Engelking and Grabowski can appeal, however the outcome of this case could determine the fate of independent Holocaust research under Poland's nationalist government.

For years Professor Grabowski, a Polish-Canadian whose father was a Polish Holocaust survivor, has faced considerable anti-Semitic harassment by nationalists, both online and at lectures in Canada, France and elsewhere. The case received support from the Polish Anti-Defamation League and through it by the Polish Government, which has tried to suppress research into Polish complicity in the Holocaust. The League has attempted to silence Professor Grabowski in the past by criticizing both his academic credibility and his personal integrity. In fact, the staff at our Centre has witnessed some of these attacks and received negative correspondence since hosting a Scholars at Risk uOttawa event featuring Prof. Grabowski in 2017.

In October 2020, the United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression issued a report to the General Assembly which focused on academic freedom with contributions from our Human Rights Clinic. In it, the UNSR highlighted the special role played by academics and academic institutions in democratic society. The text notes that, "without academic freedom, societies lose one of the essential elements of democratic self-governance: the capacity for self-reflection, for knowledge generation and for a constant search for improvements of people’s lives and social conditions". Read the UNSR Report in English and French.

The HRREC and SAR uOttawa strongly condemn the decision of the Polish court and stress the importance of protecting academic freedom in Canada and abroad, without fear of attacks on a person or his/her reputation. We join the statement issued by the University of Ottawa supporting Professor Grabowski’s “right to pursue historical inquiry unencumbered by state pressure, free from legal sanction, and without fear of extrajudicial attack.”

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