Croatia - Amnesty International Report 2007

Human Rights in
REPUBLIC OF CROATIA

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Head of state: Stjepan Mesić
Head of government: Ivo Sanader
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: ratified

The legacy of the 1991-95 war continued to overshadow human rights. Impunity for war crimes remained widespread and the Croatian judicial system failed to adequately address wartime human rights violations, regardless of the ethnicity of the victims or of the perpetrators. Minorities suffered discrimination. Of at least 300,000 Croatian Serbs displaced by the conflict, approximately 125,000 were officially registered as having returned home.

Background

The first phase of Croatia's accession to the European Union (EU) - the screening by the EU and Croatia of the body of EU common rights and obligations binding member states that candidate countries must accept - was completed in October.

In June parliament amended the Criminal Code to remove imprisonment as a punishment for libel. Although libel remained a criminal offence punishable by a fine, failure to pay the fine would no longer result in imprisonment.

War crimes and crimes against humanity

International prosecutions

In March, Milan Babić committed suicide in the Detention Unit of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (Tribunal). Sentenced by the Tribunal in June 2004 to 13 years' imprisonment for crimes committed against the non-Serb population, he was detained at the Tribunal as a witness in the trial of Milan Martić, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his wartime leadership role in areas under Croatian Serb control.

In April the Tribunal declared Vladimir Kovačević, a former commander in the Yugoslav People's Army, unfit to stand trial on mental health grounds. He faced trial for war crimes during an attack on the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, including murder, cruel treatment and attacks on civilians.

In March the Tribunal fined Ivica Marijačić, former editor in chief of the Croatian newspaper Hrvatski list, and Markica Rebić, former head of the Croatian security service, for contempt of court. In 2004 they had disclosed the identity of a protected witness in a closed session in 1997 of the trial of former Croatian army General Tihomir Blaškić. In September the Tribunal also fined Josip Jović, former editor in chief of the Croatian daily newspaper, Slobodna Dalmacija, for contempt of court on similiar charges. The newspaper had published articles in 2000 about testimony by Croatian President Mesić in a closed session of the trial of Tihomir Blaškić.

In October the Appeal Chamber of the Tribunal confirmed the joining of the cases of Ante Gotovina, Ivan Čermak and Mladen Markač, three former Croatian army commanders charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes against Croatian Serbs, including persecutions, deportation and forcible transfers, and murder. Also in October, the Trial Chamber refused requests by the Republic of Croatia to be allowed to appear as amicus curiae (adviser to the court on points of law) in this and another case against six Bosnian Croat former military and political leaders.

Domestic prosecutions

Most war crimes trials before local courts were of Croatian Serb defendants, who were often not present before the court. Despite some steps to investigate and prosecute war crimes against Croatian Serbs, widespread impunity continued for crimes allegedly committed by Croatian army and police officers.

The retrial at the Split County Court of eight former members of the Croatian Military Police accused of torturing and murdering non-Croat detainees in Split's Lora military prison in 1992 ended in convictions in March. Four of the accused were tried in their absence, and remained at large at the end of 2006. In an initial trial in 2002, all had been acquitted; the acquittals were subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court.

In May parliament lifted the immunity from prosecution of Branimir Glavaš, formerly a local leader in the Osijek region of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union, in connection with an investigation into war crimes against Croatian Serb civilians, including murders. The Supreme Court transferred proceedings from Osijek to Zagreb on the grounds that pressure on witnesses in Osijek could hamper their impartial conduct. In December the investigation was suspended when the health of Branimir Glavaš deteriorated following a hunger strike.

In June the trial started at the Osijek County Court of two suspects charged with war crimes, including murders, against Croatian Serbs in and around Osijek.

In October, six former members of a military formation were arrested on suspicion of murdering Croatian Serb civilians in Osijek in 1991-92. Following the arrests, the Osijek County Court ordered investigation of the role of Branimir Glavaš in these crimes.

In December an indictment was issued by the Zagreb County Court in the case of Rahim Ademi and Mirko Norac, transferred by the Tribunal to Croatia in November 2005. Reportedly, the delay in issuing the indictment was owing to difficulties in incorporating the charges in the Tribunal indictment in an indictment compatible with Croatian law. Former Croatian army commanders, the two were charged by the Tribunal with war crimes against Croatian Serbs during military operations in 1993.

Right to return

At least 300,000 Croatian Serbs left Croatia or were displaced during the 1991-95 war, of whom only some 125,000 are officially registered as having returned, a figure widely considered to be an overestimate.

Croatian Serbs faced discrimination in employment and in realizing other economic and social rights. Many, especially those who formerly lived in urban areas, could not return because they had lost their tenancy rights to socially-owned apartments.

In March the European Court of Human Rights determined that it did not have jurisdiction to rule in a case, Blečić v. Croatia, in which the applicant's occupancy rights to her flat in Zadar during the war had been terminated. The case illustrated the adverse human rights consequences of discriminatory terminations of occupancy rights.

In August the government announced plans to make 4,000 flats available to former tenancy rights holders. However, the plan will not be completed until 2011 and occupants will not be able to purchase the flats at a substantially reduced price, unlike the mostly ethnic Croat occupants who have previously been able to purchase the flats where they lived.

Harassment of Croatian Serbs by private individuals included racist graffiti, threats and damage to property.

In April an explosive device was thrown into the orchard of a Croatian Serb returnee in the village of Gaj, near Gospić. The police identified a suspect but the Gospić Public Prosecutor reportedly did not pursue the case for lack of evidence.

In July four houses of Croatian Serbs in the village of Biljane Donje, near Zadar, were stoned and surrounding vegetation set on fire. The incident was condemned by the government and President. Four men were arrested shortly after, and were charged in connection with the attack.

Violence against women

Reported incidence of domestic violence remained high. In June a 25-year-old woman was killed by her husband, who then committed suicide, while she was visiting her child who had been placed in a home for children in Zagreb. Before being murdered, she had reportedly asked the relevant authorities to assist her and protect her from her violent husband. In August the non-governmental organization Autonomous Women's House Zagreb filed a complaint against employees of local social welfare authorities and two local judges for their failure to act to protect the woman.

Lack of access to education for Romani

children

Member of Romani communities lacked full access to primary education, especially in areas not covered by government and other programmes to promote the inclusion of Roma.

Although "Roma only" classes were increasingly rare, Romani children still experienced discriminatory treatment because of teachers' negative stereotyping and low expectations. Romani children with little or no command of the Croatian language faced extreme difficulties when they started school. The languages spoken by Roma in Croatia were virtually absent from schools, unlike other minority languages.

AI country reports/visits

Reports

Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International's concerns in the region, January-June 2006 (AI Index: EUR 01/017/2006)

False starts: The exclusion of Romani children from primary education in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia (AI Index: EUR 05/002/2006)

Visit

An AI delegate visited Croatia in March.