Croatia continued to pursue full integration into the European Union (EU). In November, the EU Commission issued its progress report on Croatia which noted that there remained widespread impunity for war crimes committed against Croatian Serbs, as well as a number of obstacles to the sustainable return of Croatian Serbs.
Following parliamentary elections in November, the ruling conservative party Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) was confirmed as the majority party in the Croatian parliament. The HDZ was closely followed by the centre-left Social Democratic Party. Both parties needed the support of junior coalition parties to form a government. Coalition talks were ongoing at the end of 2007.
In December, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Permanent Council decided to close the OSCE Mission to Croatia, but to maintain an OSCE office in Zagreb to carry out activities related to war crimes trials and to report on the implementation of the government’s “housing care” programmes (see below).
War crimes and crimes against humanity
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (Tribunal) continued to try alleged perpetrators of serious violations of international humanitarian law.
- In June, Milan Martić, who held various leadership positions in the self-proclaimed Serbian Autonomous District and Republic of Serbian Krajina, was found guilty of various counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against non-Serbs in areas under Croatian Serb control. He was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment. The Tribunal found that Milan Martić took part in a joint criminal enterprise whose purpose was “the establishment of an ethnically Serb territory through the displacement of the Croat and other non-Serb population”.
- In September, former Yugoslav People’s Army officers Mile Mrkšić and Veselin Šljivančanin were sentenced to 20 and five years’ imprisonment respectively for their roles in war crimes committed in 1991 in Ovčara, near Vukovar. Mile Mrkšić was found guilty of murder, for having aided and abetted the murder of 194 non-Serbs who had been removed from the Vukovar Hospital, and of the torture and cruel treatment of prisoners of war in Ovčara. Veselin Šljivančanin was found guilty of torture, for having aided and abetted the torture of prisoners of war. A third co-defendant, Miroslav Radić, was acquitted of all charges.
The Croatian judiciary continued to investigate and prosecute war crimes. However, in the majority of cases criminal proceedings were related to cases where the victims were ethnic Croats. There continued to be widespread impunity for crimes allegedly committed by members of the Croatian Army and Croatian police forces, despite some steps taken to investigate and prosecute war crimes against Croatian Serbs.
- In June, the trial against Rahim Ademi and Mirko Norac began at the Zagreb County Court, whose case had been transferred by the Tribunal to Croatia in November 2005. The accused, former Croatian Army commanders, were suspected of having committed war crimes against Croatian Serbs during military operations in the so-called “Medak pocket” in 1993. The OSCE Mission to Croatia, which was monitoring proceedings, reported that in September and October 26 prosecution witnesses, including 10 “endangered” witnesses, failed to testify during the trial. The vast majority of these witnesses reside or were believed to reside in Serbia.
- Proceedings continued against Branimir Glavaš for his alleged involvement in war crimes committed against Croatian Serb civilians in and around Osijek. Branimir Glavaš had formerly been a local leader of the HDZ in the Osijek region and, between 1990 and 1992, was secretary of the Osijek Municipal Secretariat for National Defence. Branimir Glavaš and six other indictees were charged with the unlawful arrest, torture and killing of Croatian Serb civilians in Osijek in 1991. He was also suspected of having failed in 1991 to prevent his subordinates from detaining, ill-treating and killing civilians and of having directly participated in some of the crimes in his capacity as local military leader. Proceedings against Branimir Glavaš were transferred to Zagreb, following requests by the Chief State Prosecutor to reduce pressure on witnesses. The trial before the Zagreb County Court started in October.
Despite significant developments with regard to crimes committed against Croatian Serbs in Osijek, elsewhere in Croatia no meaningful steps were taken to tackle impunity for crimes allegedly committed by members of the Croatian Army and police forces. No progress was made in the investigation of such crimes in Sisak, for example, where according to local organizations more than 100 people, mostly Croatian Serbs, were allegedly murdered in 1991-92 by Croatian forces.
In October, Željko Peratović, a freelance journalist who had reported extensively on war crimes in Croatia, was detained on suspicion of having revealed state secrets on his internet blog, reportedly in connection with information he published on alleged war crimes committed in the Gospić area. He was released on the following day after having been questioned by police.
Right to return
At least 300,000 Croatian Serbs left Croatia during the 1991-95 war, of whom only approximately 130,000 were officially recorded as having returned, a figure widely considered to be an overestimation of the real numbers of those who had returned. A survey commissioned by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and published in May estimated that less than half of registered returnees live in Croatia.
Croatian Serbs continued to be victims of discrimination in access to employment and in realising other economic and social rights. Many Croatian Serbs could not return because they had lost their rights to socially owned apartments. Implementation of existing programmes to provide “housing care” to former tenants and occupants remained slow.
Among those who had formerly lived in private properties and who had formally repossessed their homes, some could not return because their homes had been made uninhabitable by looting and devastation.
Violence against women
Croatia was reported as being increasingly a country of destination for female victims of trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. It remained a country of transit for people trafficking. In April, the Delegation of the EU Commission to Croatia and the Office of Human Rights of the Government of Croatia presented an EU-funded project to combat trafficking in human beings. The project aims to improve coordination between law enforcement agencies and co-operation between police, social welfare institutions, non-governmental and international organizations, and to improve protection for victims of trafficking.
In September Croatia ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
Discrimination – Roma
Members of Romani communities in Croatia lacked full access to primary education. Romani children continued to experience 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 not used in schools, unlike other minority languages. The majority of Romani children remained excluded from pre-school programmes.
In June, a report supported by the Open Society Institute, a non-governmental organization, and the World Bank, presented an assessment of progress in implementing the objectives to which countries taking part in the Decade of Roma Inclusion have committed. Croatia ranked sixth out of nine countries which have joined the Decade of Roma Inclusion. The report highlighted that the authorities had introduced a range of measures, especially with regard to education, but these remained sporadic and needed to be integrated into more systematic policies.
In May, in the case of Šečić v. Croatia, the European Court of Human Rights found that Croatia had violated provisions prohibiting discrimination and torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Šemso Šečić, a Romani man, had been attacked in 1999 by two men who beat him with wooden planks, shouting racial abuse, and had sustained multiple rib fractures. The Croatian authorities failed to promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigate this crime, and the perpetrators have remained unpunished.
- Amnesty International delegates visited Croatia in February.
- Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International’s concerns in the region, January-June 2007 (EUR 01/010/2007)