Very limited progress was made in the prosecution of cases of war crimes allegedly committed by members of the Croatian Army and police forces against Croatian Serbs and members of other minorities during the 1991-1995 war. There was a continued lack of co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (Tribunal) over military documents relating to Operation Storm in 1995. Some cases of attacks on journalists remained unresolved. Discrimination against Roma and Croatian Serbs, in access to economic and social rights among other things, continued.
Accession negotiations with the EU reopened in September. These had been suspended in December 2008 due to a border dispute with Slovenia as well as the lack of co-operation with the Tribunal. As a result of the negative report by the Tribunal’s Chief Prosecutor, some EU member states continued to oppose opening negotiations on the judiciary and human rights chapter.
International justice – war crimes
Both the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) and the Tribunal’s Chief Prosecutor reported that Croatia continued to fail to submit to the Tribunal all outstanding military documents related to Operation Storm, conducted in 1995, for which three Croatian Army generals (Ante Gotovina, Ivan Čermak and Mladen Markač) were on trial in The Hague.
Despite statements by government representatives on the readiness and willingness of the authorities to co-operate with the Tribunal, the search for the military documents remained inconclusive.
The trial of Momčilo Perišić, which included, among other things, charges relating to the shelling of Zagreb in May 1995, continued before the Trial Chamber of the Tribunal.
The trial of Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović resumed in June, following its suspension in 2008. They had been charged with, among other things, racial and religious persecution, murder, deportation and inhumane acts against the non-Serb population in the Serb-controlled areas of Croatia during the 1991-1995 war.
Justice system – war crimes
The authorities continued to fail to investigate war crimes committed during the 1991-1995 war by members of the Croatian Army and police forces against Croatian Serbs and members of other minorities. A lack of political will to deal with those cases remained one of the main obstacles. The disproportionate number of cases against Croatian Serbs was demonstrated in a report in the newspaper Jutarnji List, where the Minister of Justice said in September that 2 per cent of the cases which had been prosecuted by the Croatian judiciary were against ethnic Croats whereas the remaining 98 per cent included cases against Croatian Serbs and other minorities. The Minister’s own view was that this was understandable, as he claimed that Croatian Serbs had committed more war crimes than ethnic Croats.
Measures designed by the government to address impunity for war crimes remained unimplemented. Only one case was under prosecution in 2009 in one of the special war crimes chambers established at four county courts in Zagreb, Osijek, Rijeka and Split. These had been established in 2003 in order to try war crimes cases outside the community where the crimes were committed, a move which was supposed to lessen potential pressure on witnesses and reduce bias.
- In May, Branimir Glavaš and five others were convicted by the Zagreb County Court. Branimir Glavaš, who was convicted for 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, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. The other five were found guilty of the unlawful arrest, torture and killing of Croatian Serb civilians in Osijek in 1991 and sentenced to between five and eight years’ imprisonment.
Shortly after the judgement, Branimir Glavaš, who held a Bosnian passport, fled to Bosnia and Herzegovina and remained there. The Croatian authorities failed to secure his extradition as the two countries did not have an extradition agreement between them.
- An appeal trial started in November before the Supreme Court against the verdict in the case against two Croatian Army generals, Mirko Norac and Rahim Ademi. In 2008, the Zagreb County Court acquitted Rahim Ademi of all charges, although Mirko Norac was found guilty of some of the charges and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. The accused were both 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.
The action plan on prosecution of war crimes cases failed to address ethnic bias in the judiciary. The action plan envisaged that priority cases would be selected by local prosecutors. Following this plan, in the Sisak area, where approximately 100 Croatian Serbs were killed or disappeared at the beginning of the war, none of the cases selected for prioritization involved Croatian Serbs as victims; in all seven priority cases, the victims were ethnic Croats. This only increased ethnic bias and widened the impunity for crimes committed by members of the Croatian Army and police forces.
In March, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed its concerns at reports of ethnic discrimination in the prosecution of war crimes cases and recommended that Croatia effectively investigate and prosecute all war crimes irrespective of the ethnicity of the victims and the perpetrators.
In October, the HRC expressed concerns over impunity for war crimes, including the fact that many potential cases of war crimes remain unresolved and that the selection of cases was disproportionately directed against Croatian Serbs. The Croatian authorities were given a deadline of one year to implement these, and other, recommendations.
In October, the European Commission in its progress report on Croatia also observed that impunity for war crimes remained a problem, especially where victims were ethnic Serbs or perpetrators were members of the Croatian Army. The report stated that many crimes still had not been prosecuted due to a combination of factors, including intimidation of witnesses and reluctance of the police and prosecutors to prosecute such cases.
Freedom of expression – journalists
The authorities continued to fail to protect journalists reporting on war crimes cases and organized crime from intimidation and attacks. The slow progress in the prosecution of some of these cases created an atmosphere of impunity for the attackers.
- There was no progress in an investigation of a physical attack on Dušan Miljuš, a journalist for the newspaper Jutarnji List, who was severely beaten in June 2008 by unidentified individuals in front of his house in Zagreb. The journalist continued to receive death threats.
- In January a criminal case was opened against journalist Željko Peratović for “disseminating information likely to upset the population”. The prosecution was initiated at the behest of the Minister of Interior, whom the journalist alleged was obstructing an investigation into the killing in 2000 of Milan Levar, a potential witness of the Tribunal.
- In March, Jutarnji List journalist Drago Hedl and a photographer were forcibly removed from a public press conference organized by Branimir Glavaš, a member of parliament (before his conviction in May for war crimes in his capacity as local military leader in 1991 in Osijek). In previous years Drago Hedl had faced intimidation, including death threats, as a result of his investigation of war crimes committed in Osijek during the war.
In October the HRC expressed concerns about intimidation and attacks on journalists. It observed that those alleged crimes were rarely investigated and those responsible seldom brought to justice, which diminished the freedom of the press. The HRC urged Croatia to take measures to prevent the intimidation of journalists and to bring those responsible for such attacks to justice.
Roma continued to face discrimination in access to economic and social rights, including education, employment and housing. Measures undertaken by the authorities remained insufficient.
In April, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg held a hearing in the case of Oršuš and others. The case involves allegations of ethnic segregation of pupils in Roma-only classes in the Međimurje region of Croatia.
Both the CERD and the HRC expressed their concerns at the segregation of Romani pupils in the education system.
The Croatian authorities continued to fail to guarantee the rights of Croatian Serbs, many of whom were displaced during the 1991-1995 war.
In October, the NGO Human Rights Watch reported that Croatian Serb returnees continued to face difficulties in repossessing their homes which were occupied by other tenants, often despite court judgements in their favour. Many returnees were not able to benefit from reconstruction programmes and they also faced problems in accessing employment.
In March the CERD expressed its concerns at a substantial number of unresolved cases relating to restitution of property and tenancy rights, and urged the authorities to implement fair and transparent measures to enable the sustainable return of Croatian Serbs.
In October, the HRC urged the authorities to verify the number of people not willing or not able to return, and to explore their reasons for not returning.
Right to health – mental health
In October, the HRC expressed its concerns at the ongoing use of “cage beds” as a measure to restrain mental health patients, including children in social care institutions in Croatia. It called on the country to immediately abolish the use of cage beds and to establish an inspection system in mental institutions.