Despite slow progress in prosecution of war crimes committed by members of the Croatian Army and police forces against Croatian Serbs and other minorities during the 1991-1995 war, the country continued to move towards full integration with the EU. Physical attacks and intimidation of journalists increased.
The November European Commission Progress Report asserted that Croatia would be able to complete the accession negotiations by the end of 2009, and that EU membership would follow by 2011 at the latest.
Following the November 2007 elections, in January the Croatian Democratic Union formed a coalition government with the support of the Croatian Peasant Party, the Croatian Social Liberal Party and the Independent Serbian Democratic Party. A parliamentary representative of the Roma community joined the governing coalition.
In July Croatia signed accession protocols with NATO and the ratification process continued.
In January the OSCE office in Zagreb was established, replacing the OSCE Mission to Croatia which had operated since 1996. It monitors war crimes trials and reports on the implementation of housing care programmes for returnees.
International justice – war crimes
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (Tribunal) continued to prosecute high-profile cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 1991-1995 war in Croatia.
The trial of three Croatian Army generals – Ante Gotovina, Ivan Čermak and Mladen Markač – started in March. They were charged with command responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Operation Storm between August and November 1995. Serious concerns were expressed by the Tribunal’s Prosecutor concerning the lack of co-operation by the Croatian authorities, including their intentional concealment of the military documents concerning Operation Storm.
"There was an increase in the number of physical attacks on, and murders of, journalists."
Vladimir Gojanović, a prosecution witness in the case against the three Croatian Army generals, was threatened on his return to Croatia in May, allegedly by members of veterans’ associations. On 28 May, a group of 20 men tried to assault him in front of Šibenik University but were prevented by the police.
A visit by the Deputy Prime Minister to the three Croatian Army generals at the Tribunal’s detention centre in February was viewed by some as tacit government support for them.
Justice system – war crimes
A number of war crimes cases against lower-ranking perpetrators were prosecuted by the domestic judiciary. However, according to a report by the OSCE Office in Zagreb, the ethnicity of victims and perpetrators continued to affect the prosecution of war crimes cases. In the vast majority of prosecutions, the victims were ethnic Croats, and the perpetrators members of the Yugoslav Peoples Army (JNA) or Serbian paramilitary groups. There was a continuing failure to investigate most war crimes committed by the Croatian Army and police forces, and impunity for the perpetrators prevailed.
Despite the fact that specialized war crimes chambers had been created in four county courts in 2003, they prosecuted only two cases in 2008, both for war crimes committed against Croatian Serbs. The vast majority of war crimes cases continued to be prosecuted by the local courts in the communities where the alleged crimes had been committed. In some cases witnesses refused to testify as they feared for their safety.
Proceedings against Branimir Glavaš – currently a member of parliament – and six others continued at the Zagreb County Court. The accused were charged with the unlawful arrest, torture and killing of Croatian Serb civilians in Osijek in 1991. Branimir Glavaš was also charged with having failed 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 in 1991.
The trial restarted several times from the beginning, most recently in November 2008 following the judge’s failure to hold a hearing in the case for more than three months. On other occasions, hearings were adjourned after the accused or their legal representatives had not appeared in court, on grounds of ill-health or because of dissatisfaction with the way the judge was handling the case. On 24 November, one of the accused, Ivica Krnjak, left the courtroom in protest against the court’s decision that he was fit to stand trial. As a result the hearing was adjourned. In June, Branimir Glavaš publicly disclosed on local television in Osijek the identity of one of the protected witnesses.
Two former Croatian Army generals, Mirko Norac and Rahim Ademi, were tried by the Zagreb County Court. In May the court acquitted Rahim Ademi of all charges whereas Mirko Norac was found guilty of some of the charges and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. The case had been transferred to the Croatian judiciary by the Tribunal in 2005. The accused were indicted for war crimes, including murders, inhumane treatment, plunder and wanton destruction of property, against Croatian Serb civilians and prisoners of war during military operations in 1993. There were serious concerns about the number of witnesses who refused to testify, some of them because they feared for their safety. In October, the State Prosecutor’s Office appealed against the judgment in relation to both of the accused.
Little progress was made in establishing the whereabouts of more than 2,000 people still unaccounted for since the 1991-1995 war, although the Croatian authorities had assumed full responsibility from the ICRC in 2007 for investigating these disappearances.
Impunity for enforced disappearances remained a serious problem due to the failure of the Croatian authorities to conduct thorough investigations and bring perpetrators to justice.
Freedom of expression – journalists
There was an increase in the number of physical attacks on, and murders of, journalists. The majority of such incidents were perpetrated against journalists investigating war crimes and organized crime.
- Ivo Pukanić, owner of the Croatian weekly Nacional, and his colleague Niko Franjić were killed in October by a car bomb in Zagreb. The killing was reportedly due to the investigation undertaken by his newspaper into organized crime activities in the former Yugoslavia. An investigation was opened and the government announced special measures to fight organized crime structures.
- In February and November journalist Drago Hedl, a prosecution witness in the Branimir Glavaš trial, received death threats following his reports about the role of Branimir Glavaš in the murders of Croatian Serbs in the Osijek area during the 1991-1995 war. The alleged perpetrator of the November incident was identified and the investigation against him was ongoing at the end of the year.
- In November a fake car bomb was planted under journalist Hrvoje Appelt’s car. This was believed to be related to his investigation of oil smuggling involving organized crime structures from other countries in south-east Europe.
- Dušan Miljuš, a journalist for the newspaper Jutarnji List, was severely beaten in June by unknown individuals in front of his house in Zagreb following his reports on links between politicians and illegal business activities.
- In April a freelance journalist Željko Peratović received two death threats posted on his blog. One of the threats was investigated by the police and the State Prosecutor’s Office, but the results were not made public. It is alleged that the other death threat was not investigated.
Croatian authorities failed to address the problem of people who had occupied socially owned apartments, and had lost their tenancy rights during the war (many of them Croatian Serbs). In June, an Action Plan on implementation of the housing care programmes was adopted but Croatian Serb NGOs disputed official statistics on the number of people included in the programmes. Reportedly, many of the potential applicants were not able to register their claims due to short deadlines.
Croatian Serb returnees faced problems accessing employment, including in public institutions.
Romani children continued to suffer discrimination in education as the authorities failed to develop and implement a meaningful strategy to address their access to education. Roma segregation in some schools remained a problem.
The authorities failed to provide teaching in Romani languages which limited the progress of some Romani students. The use of Romani teaching assistants was sporadic. Attendance in pre-school programmes was low amongst Roma.
Violence against women and girls
Croatia continued to be a source and transit country for women trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Increasingly, during the summer months, it was a destination for women trafficked from other south-east European countries to service the tourist industry.
In January, a new Law on Foreigners entered into force, enabling temporary residence permits based on humanitarian grounds to be granted for trafficked persons, and providing adults and children with a reflection period of 30 days and 90 days respectively.