Progress in prosecution of crimes under international law committed during the 1991-1995 war was slow. Many crimes allegedly committed by members of the Croatian Army and police forces against Croatian Serbs remained unaddressed. Some efforts were undertaken by the President and the judicial authorities to deal with the wartime past, but there was little action by the government. Instead, key political figures engaged in attacks on judgements made by international courts. Discrimination against Roma, Croatian Serbs and lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people continued.
In December, Croatia signed the EU Accession Treaty and was expected to join the EU on 1 July 2013. The EU continued monitoring, among other things, the implementation of Croatia’s commitments to tackle impunity for crimes under international law committed during the 1991-1995 war.Top of page
Progress in prosecution of crimes under international law committed during the war continued to be slow.
In April, the State Prosecutor’s office started to develop plans for the implementation of the Strategy for the Investigation and Prosecution of War Crimes adopted by the government in February. In May, specialized courts in Osijek, Rijeka and Split were made operational, in addition to the existing court in Zagreb, in order to prosecute the most significant cases.
However, capacity to prosecute crimes under international law remained low, with only five final judgements delivered in the year. Investigations of around 370 alleged perpetrators were ongoing. There were around 540 cases at a pre-investigative stage, in which the perpetrators had not yet been identified.
The 1993 Criminal Code continued to be applied in these cases, although it did not accord with international standards. The Code lacked clear definitions of crucial criminal concepts such as the principle of command responsibility, war crimes of sexual violence and crimes against humanity. Its application resulted in impunity for many crimes.
Some progress was made in providing psychological support to witnesses, but witness protection measures continued to be inadequate. Those responsible for intimidation of witnesses were not brought to justice.
The authorities failed to provide victims of crimes under international law and their families with access to reparation. Survivors of crimes of sexual violence were denied access to psychosocial assistance and other support. Many of their perpetrators enjoyed impunity.
Some progress was made by the judicial authorities in prosecuting crimes under international law committed against Croatian Serbs. Several investigations were opened, including two into the crimes committed in Sisak and Pakračka poljana.
Also in June, the State Prosecutor charged six individuals with crimes under international law committed during “Operation Storm” in 1995, although no one had been prosecuted by the end of the year. One was charged under command responsibility. According to the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, at least 677 people were killed in “Operation Storm”.
Despite the existence of publicly available information, allegations against some high-profile military and political officials were not investigated. These included allegations against the Deputy Speaker of the Croatian Parliament, Vladimir Šeks, for holding command responsibility for crimes committed in eastern Slavonia in 1991. Allegations against him were based on information from court proceedings against Branimir Glavaš. A Croatian army general, Davor Domazet-Lošo, was also alleged to hold command responsibility for the crimes committed in 1993 in Međak Pocket. Allegations against him were based on court proceedings against General Rahim Ademi and General Mirko Norac.
In October, parliament adopted a law that would make indictments and other legal acts ineffective when issued by the authorities of Serbia, former Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) against Croatian nationals for crimes under international law committed in the territory of the Republic of Croatia. The law was passed after the Serbian judicial authorities requested co-operation from the Croatian State Prosecutor on processing indictments issued by the Military Prosecutor of the JNA in 1992. They included charges for crimes under international law committed by Croatian military and police forces in Gospić. Vladimir Šeks was among the accused.
The law breached Croatia’s obligation to co-operate with the Republic of Serbia in criminal matters. It could result in impunity for crimes under international law committed by Croatian nationals if Croatia refuses to prosecute or extradite them. In October, the President announced that he would request that the Constitutional Court assess compatibility of the law with the Constitution.
The law would allow judicial authorities not to act on requests from the Republic of Serbia for legal assistance in criminal proceedings if acting on those requests was contrary to the Croatian legal order and detrimental to its sovereignty and security. The Minister of Justice, who would be authorized to decide on how to respond to such requests, might dismiss indictments issued by the Serbian juridical authorities.
Five cases related to crimes under international law committed on Croatian territory during the 1991-1995 war were pending before the Tribunal in The Hague.
The Tribunal found military forces and the Special Police responsible for a “large number of crimes” against the Serb population during “Operation Storm”. Ante Gotovina held the rank of Colonel-General in the Croatian Army and was the Commander of the Split Military District at the time. Mladen Markač held the position of Assistant Minister of Interior in charge of special police matters. They were convicted of persecution, deportation, plunder, wanton destruction, murder, inhumane acts and cruel treatment of the civilian Serb population. They were sentenced to 24 and 18 years’ imprisonment respectively.
Government representatives immediately rejected the Tribunal’s judgement. The Prime Minister stated repeatedly that the Croatian government found it unacceptable, and that the Croatian nation should be proud of all people who took part in the operation and contributed to the Croatian victory. In May, both generals appealed against the judgement.
Roma continued to face discrimination in access to economic and social rights, including education, employment and housing, while measures undertaken by the authorities remained insufficient.
The authorities failed to implement the judgement by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Oršuš and Others v. Croatia, announced in 2010. The Court had concluded that the placement in 2002 of 14 Romani schoolchildren in separate classes based on their command of the Croatian language amounted to discrimination on the basis of ethnicity.
Croatian Serbs continued to face discrimination, especially in access to adequate housing. During Croatia’s UN Universal Periodic Review in November 2010, several states recommended that Croatia take steps to combat discrimination against ethnic minorities. Croatia supported recommendations to strengthen its efforts to combat racial discrimination against the Serb minority, in particular in the area of housing, and to increase measures to integrate ethnic Serb and Roma minorities into the fabric of Croatian life.
The first attempt to hold a Pride march in Split was made in June. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights activists had organized the march to call for the equal rights of same-sex couples and an end to the widespread discrimination the LGBT community suffers in Croatia. However, it was interrupted by violence. At least five Pride participants were injured when counter-demonstrators from far-right groups threw rocks and other missiles. One was hospitalized with a head injury.
The police failed to adequately protect the participants from attacks and the Pride march had to be stopped; 44 individuals were prosecuted by the authorities in Split for crimes committed against the Pride participants.
A week after the violent events in Split, the annual Pride march in Zagreb was held successfully without major incident.Top of page