|Wednesday, 10 August 2022|
CROATIA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE: FEBRUARY 1995
Three years after the Republic of Croatia declared independence, one-quarter of its land continued to be occupied by rebel Serbs. No progress was made in 1994 in implementing the Vance Peace Plan, and the United Nations Protective Force (UNPROFOR) continued its peacekeeping activities in four U.N. protected areas (UNPA's). A March cease-fire created a 2-kilometer-wide zone of separation and led to a dramatic decrease in violence. In December the Government and the rebel Serbs agreed upon a package of economic and confidence-building measures, the implementation of which began with the opening of the Zagreb-Belgrade highway to civilian traffic on December 21.
Croatia is a constitutional parliamentary democracy with a powerful presidency. President Franjo Tudjman, elected in 1992, serves as Head of State and commander in chief of the armed forces, chairs the influential National Defense and Security Council, and appoints the Prime Minister, who leads the Government. President Tudjman's party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), holds the majority of seats in both houses of Parliament. Government influence weakens the nominally independent judiciary. The enormous constitutional powers of the presidency, the military occupation of large sections of the country, and the overwhelming dominance of one political party tend to stifle the expression of diverse views.
The Ministry of Defense oversees the military, while the Ministry of the Interior oversees the police. Both police and military personnel were responsible for abuses, including physical abuse of prisoners and detainees.
In the Serb-controlled UNPA's, the well-armed police and military forces of the self-proclaimed "Republic of Serbian Krajina" ("RSK") continued their pattern of egregious human rights abuses against both Serbs and non-Serbs, including physical violence and "ethnic cleansing." Of the 44,000 Croats who before the conflict lived in what is now UNPA Sector South, only 800 to 900 remain. In Sector North, only 1,000 Croats of an original population of 112,000 remain.
Croatia has a mixed economy in which industry is largely state owned, and agriculture is mostly in private hands. The Government's stabilization program, introduced in 1993, continued to keep inflation low, but little progress was made on either privatization or free market reforms. The continuing division of the country, the massive refugee problem, and the threat of renewed war all limited economic recovery.
While the use of violence by security forces against Serbs in government-controlled areas declined, cases of disappearance and harassment continued near the frontline areas. Ethnic Serbs continued to suffer from ever-present, subtle, and sometimes open discrimination in such areas as the administration of justice, employment, housing, and the free exercise of their cultural rights. In fewer numbers than in previous years, Serbs were also victims of anonymous threats, vandalism, and--more rarely--physical attacks. Many Serbs left Croatia during the year as a result of the combined economic discrimination and physical threats, although the total number was impossible to determine. The Government made only token efforts to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of the more egregious abuses committed in 1992 and 1993 and continued to discriminate against non-Croats in the granting of citizenship. Early in the year, the Government also discriminated against Muslim refugees from Bosnia, using arbitrary detention and forced repatriation.
In the Serb-controlled portions of the UNPA's, there was no improvement in the human rights situation. The police and military forces of the "RSK" continued to use violence, intimidation, harassment, and displacement against nonethnic Serbs to achieve the goal of ethnic cleansing. All residents were subjected to a totally controlled legal system operating in an atmosphere without any of the basic human rights of freedom of expression, assembly, press, religion, movement, or the right to change their government.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial KillingThere were no substantiated reports of politically motivated or other extrajudicial killings in government-controlled parts of Croatia. However, opposition and human rights groups criticized the failure of Croatian authorities to bring to justice the parties responsible for several cases from previous years, particularly those of Serbs killed in 1991 and 1992. Those allegedly implicated in the killings include personnel in the Defense and Interior Ministries, but the Government insisted the charges were baseless.
Reports of political killings in the Serb-occupied UNPA's also decreased, although a disproportionate number of homicide victims in the "RSK" were non-Serbs. More than one-third of the reported 68 homicide victims in the Serb-controlled UNPA's were non-Serbs, according to local (Serbian) police. Out of an estimated remaining Croatian population in Serb-controlled territory of perhaps 4,000, 16 ethnic Croats (or one out of every 250) were murdered during the year. Serbian forces allegedly committed several murders along the confrontation line, including the mass murder of five men in May in Sector West, and the killing of a fisherman near the Dalmatian coast in August. Police apprehended no suspects. A Dutch citizen fighting in the Croatian armed forces died while in custody of Serbian forces several days after his capture near the front lines in April.
Serbian obstructionism continued to block the excavation of the mass grave sites in the UNPA's. In the case of the mass grave of presumed murdered Serbs exhumed in Sector West in October 1993, the Croatian Government has still not brought any charges.
b. DisappearanceThere were few new cases of disappearances reported. At year's end, the Government reported more than 2,500 cases of missing persons still unresolved from the 1991-1992 war. This figure was down from over 7,000 cases at the beginning of the year. Progress was made in removing names from the list of the missing as a result of prisoner and body exchanges.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or PunishmentThe Constitution prohibits torture or cruel or degrading punishment, but government forces continued to commit such abuses. There were credible reports that security forces frequently beat and mistreated prisoners during detention and interrogation, particularly early in the year. The best documented cases typically involved Serbian or Muslim prisoners. Helsinki Watch indicated in February that the authorities at Lora prison in Split had engaged in the torture and beating of prisoners who were former Yugoslav National Army (JNA) reservists. Six Serbs captured in early July, however, who the Croats claim had infiltrated across the front lines, reported no beatings or mistreatment to the European Community Monitoring Mission which visited them.
Detention facilities generally meet accepted standards of cleanliness, nutrition, and amenities. Jails are crowded, but not to excess, and family visits and access to counsel are available.
Prison conditions in the Serb-controlled UNPA's, however, are reliably reported to be abysmal. Harsh treatment of non-Serbs is commonplace, and the Serbian "authorities" do not punish abusers. Two journalists who were detained in December by local police and paramilitary forces were beaten, as well as subjected to psychological torture, such as death threats.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or ExileThe Constitution contains provisions to protect the legal rights of all accused, but the Government does not respect these rights in practice. The Government frequently abuses pretrial and investigative detention. Most cases of arbitrary arrest or detention involved Muslim residents and refugees in Croatia early in the year, while Croatian and Bosnian government troops were fighting in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina. There were no large-scale police sweeps nor attempted forced repatriations such as took place in late 1993, but refugee organizations continued to report instances in which police arbitrarily detained Muslim refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina and threatened them with forcible expulsion.
Police normally seek arrest warrants by presenting evidence of probable cause to an interrogating magistrate. Police may arrest a suspect without a warrant if they believe he might flee, destroy evidence, or commit other crimes. If police arrest a suspect without a warrant, they have 24 hours in which to justify their decision before the local interrogating magistrate.
After arrest, persons must be given access to an attorney of their choice within 24 hours; if they have no attorney, the interrogating magistrate will appoint one from a list of public defenders. The interrogating judge must, within 3 days of the arrest, decide whether sufficient cause exists to hold the arrestee in custody, pending further investigation. The judge must justify the decision in writing, including the length of detention ordered. These decisions may be appealed, either immediately or later during the detention period. The usual period of investigative detention varies from a few days to a few weeks but by law may be as long as 2 years. Accused persons have the right to have their attorney present during the entire investigation as well as during any appeal of investigative detention. While this is typically the case, there were instances in which detainees did not have adequate access to legal counsel.
In practice, arrestees are almost always bound over for investigation unless it is clear no case against them exists. Once the investigation is complete, persons are usually released on their own recognizance pending trial, unless the crime is a major offense or the accused is considered a public danger. There are no provisions for posting bail, although police will sometimes retain the accused's passport to prevent him from leaving the country.
In the Serb-controlled areas of the UNPA's, virtually no safeguards exist against arbitrary detention, and Serbian forces continued to use detention to intimidate non-Serbs. Many cases involved residents of the Bihac pocket in western Bosnia and Herzegovina, who had to transit Serb-held territory to reach the outside world. In August Serbian forces arrested a Catholic priest as he fled the fighting in the Bihac pocket and held him for several weeks without charge before his release could be negotiated. Serbian forces also commonly arrested Croatian civilians in the separation zone created by the March cease-fire agreement, charging that they were illegally attempting to enter the "RSK."
The Constitution prohibits exile, and it is not practiced.
e. Denial of Fair Public TrialThe legal system consists of municipal and district courts, a Supreme Court, and a Constitutional Court. The High Judicial Council (with a president and 14 members from all parts of the legal community) appoints judges and public prosecutors. Judicial tenure is permanent. The House of Counties nominates persons for membership on the High Judicial Council, and the House of Representatives elects members to 8-year terms. The 11 judges of the Constitutional Court are elected to 8-year terms in the same manner.
The judicial process is not free of ethnic bias or political influence. The Government has not yet established the Provisional Court of Human Rights, mandated by a 1992 constitutional law on minorities. The emergency measures established in 1991 are still being applied, despite a number of appeals by the U.N. Special Rapporteur that these be abolished. The orders provide for the suspension of certain remedies in legal proceedings and give the six-court military legal system jurisdiction over a large number of cases involving civilians.
Although the Constitution provides for the right to a fair trial and a variety of due process rights in both civilian and military courts, in practice, the prosecuting attorney has leeway in deciding whether to bring a case against an individual, and, in cases considered "political," both the indictment and the conduct of trials are sometimes subject to outside influence. In the case of nine members of the Dalmatian Action Party arrested on suspicion of having plotted the bombing of their own political party offices in September 1993, the local military court took jurisdiction. Two trial sessions were held, the latest in April. Observers believe that, as the case looked increasingly weak, the prosecution decided to suspend action. The prosecution did not dismiss the charges, however, which observers decried as an attempt to keep the defendants in legal limbo in order to hamper their political activities.
The legal system in the Serb-controlled UNPA's remained a sham, with its procedures and practices increasingly open to outside interference by those in power.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or CorrespondenceThe Constitution declares the home inviolable. Only a court may issue a search warrant, stating the justification for the search of a home or other premises. Police may enter a home without a warrant or the owner's consent only if necessary to enforce an arrest warrant, apprehend a suspect, or prevent serious danger to life or important property. In practice, the authorities often failed to adhere to these constitutional requirements.
Military or civil police carried out evictions by force, involving several hundred families, ethnic Serbs and Croats as well as Muslims. In Split, 230 families were reported to be seeking through the courts to remove soldiers who had seized their apartments. Almost all of these cases involved apartments previously owned by the JNA, over which the Ministry of Defense asserted ownership. Referring to property laws which remove tenancy rights as a result of any 6-month absence or if the tenant is ruled to have acted against the interests of Croatia, the Ministry of Defense granted soldiers tenancy of occupied flats. The soldiers then frequently took residences by force of arms, either evicting the current tenants or forcing them to cohabitate.
During the year, human rights organizations became increasingly effective at calling public attention to forced evictions, and their members turned up in large numbers at the announced time of the eviction. But in at least two cases, police beat and injured human rights monitors seeking to obstruct an eviction. In May the Defense Ministry issued public orders to remove any soldiers who had illegally forced their way into an apartment, using force if necessary. But military police never carried out these orders, reporting privately to observers that their commanders had told them to refrain from arresting the soldiers. The tenants of these apartments were typically Serbian families or the spouses and children of Serbs in the JNA who had left Croatia. At a July 12 press conference, President Tudjman justified the forced evictions by linking them to the Serbian aggression against Croatia and eviction of one-quarter million Croats.
The Constitution guarantees the secrecy and safety of personal data, but it was unclear if such guarantees were adhered to in practice.
Serbian authorities in the UNPA's showed no compunction about interfering with the privacy rights of the inhabitants of those areas, particularly non-Serbs. UNPROFOR continued to provide 24-hour patrols of several minority villages to protect the inhabitants from armed bands. The practice of forcibly moving Serbian refugees or soldiers into the homes of non-Serb residents continued as well, which was clearly designed to pressure the non-Serbs to leave. One couple in Sector West was forced to live in their pantry after Serbian soldiers took over the remainder of the house and Serbian refugees moved into their outbuildings. Inhabitants were even denied the right to talk on the telephone, with the authorities putting severe restrictions on international observers who provided mobile telephones to villagers during visits to permit them to call relatives on the other side of the line.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal ConflictsOn March 29, the Government and the leadership of the "RSK" signed a comprehensive cease-fire agreement in Zagreb, the capital, which successfully reduced the amount of shelling to almost zero and the number of shooting incidents by about 99 percent. There were only a handful of fatalities during the year from shooting incidents involving cease-fire violations. However, occasional shelling did occur from Bosnian Serb positions bordering Croatia, most commonly onto the Slavonian city of Zupanja and onto the area around the Dubrovnik airport. These attacks caused substantial property damage but no reported fatalities.
In October and November, the "RSK" military began a concentrated campaign of bombardment and ground attacks against the territory held by the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina in a region known as the Bihac pocket. The Krajina Serbs coordinated these attacks with Bosnian Serb and rebel Muslim forces. The bombings included both artillery and air attacks and were frequently directed against civilian population centers such as Bihac town, Cazin, and Velika Kladusa. Targets included the civilian hospital in Bihac. Numerous civilian casualties resulted from the attacks. In addition, the "RSK" used restriction of humanitarian aid as a weapon against the population of the Bihac pocket, completely shutting off access to government-controlled portions of the pocket for U.N. aid convoys from May until late December.
With small steps toward normalization along the confrontation line under the March 25 cease-fire, the extent of previous mine-laying during the conflict was increasingly evident. UNPROFOR troops, as well as soldiers and civilians from both sides, were victims of unmarked and uncleared minefields. A particularly dangerous situation arose in August when the forces of Bosnian Muslim rebel leader Fikret Abdic were defeated by the Bosnian army and tens of thousands of people left the Bihac pocket, forcing their way into the separation zone to demand entry into government-controlled Croatia. The Government refused to grant entry, and the refugees refused to turn back and leave the heavily mined area. Despite efforts by UNPROFOR to clear the immediate area of mines, several refugees were injured by mine explosions.
Croatian citizens, originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, reported that the Government forcibly mobilized them to fight in the Bosnian Croat paramilitary forces during the first few months of the year.
For 5 weeks in the summer, Croats displaced from the Serb- occupied areas of Croatia blocked all checkpoints into the UNPA's, protesting the ineffectiveness of UNPROFOR in reintegrating the occupied territories into Croatia and in assisting the return of the displaced to their homes. They also accused UNPROFOR of supplying the Serbs with nonhumanitarian supplies, including fuel. UNPROFOR accused the Government of being behind the blockades and violating its international legal obligations. While it was not clear that the Government actually organized the blockades, the protesters clearly enjoyed government sympathy and support. After the Government negotiated an inspection procedure to verify that UNPROFOR personnel were not transporting any contraband into the UNPA's, the blockade was lifted.
In the Serb-occupied UNPA's, expulsions, in the form of ethnic cleansing, continued to be used aggressively and with the blessing of local "officials" against Croats, Hungarians, Slovaks, Czechs, and other non-Serbs. Throughout the year UNPROFOR and other international agencies organized the transit of a slow but steady stream of non-Serbs out of the UNPA's.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and PressThe Constitution provides for freedom of thought and expression, specifically including freedom of the press and other media of communication, speech, and public expression, and free establishment of institutions of public communication. In practice, government influence on the media through state ownership of most print and broadcast outlets limits these freedoms. In addition, government intimidation induces self-censorship. Politicians, political activists, and journalists are often reluctant to criticize the Government in public forums for fear of harassment, job loss, intimidation, or being labeled a traitor to war-torn Croatia.
The Government controls all national television broadcasting and all but one national radio station, and retains a controlling interest in two of four news dailies and some weeklies. The sale of a majority of shares in the leading newspaper, Vjesnik, to a local bank appeared to increase rather than reduce government influence at the paper. The chairman of the bank's board of directors is an HDZ Member of Parliament, and the editor in chief of the paper was replaced in December by a less experienced journalist, who despite claiming no party affiliation, had close links with the HDZ. Although these state-controlled or heavily state-influenced media, particularly the press, frequently carry reportage critical of the Government, government control nonetheless ensures an overall editorial slant generally favorable to the Government and the HDZ. Each of the opposition parties is allocated 4 minutes of television time per week. Access to the print media is minimal, with occasional coverage of press conferences and interviews. Two nationally publicized instances of physical threats against journalists by local politicians generated media debate but no action by the Government.
A few newspapers continue to guard their independence, including the daily Novi List in Rijeka, the weekly Globus, the intellectual bimonthly journal Erasmus, the satirical weekly Feral Tribune, and the weekly Arkzin, published by "the Antiwar Campaign." A new weekly, Pecat, with an independent editorial line began publishing in September. Even some extremist publications, with a virulently antigovernment slant, could be purchased at newsstands, although they had very small circulation. The highly popular Feral Tribune, whose material continued to push the boundaries of good taste, was reclassified for tax purposes as a pornographic magazine and, therefore, subject to a 50-percent turnover tax. The Minister of Culture admitted that this reclassification was a result of Feral's continuing attacks on the Government. International papers and journals remained available throughout government-controlled areas, including Serbian periodicals which subscribers continued to receive by mail.
Croatia has four major television channels, as well as regional stations in Zadar, Split, Vinkovci, and Osijek. Zagreb-based Channels One, Two, and Four are part of the official Croatian Radio and Television enterprise (HTV), headed by a well-known HDZ member. Zagreb Channel Three, OTV-youth television, with a signal that reaches only the capital district, has an uncertain legal status and operates at the sufferance of the Government.
Parliament in July passed a broadcasting law providing for the allocation of radio and television frequencies to new, private outlets, but the Government has not yet implemented it. Private local radio stations operate under provisional licenses in Croatia, but their legal status is open to question until the media law is implemented. The broadcasting law mandates that one parliamentary member of the Council for Croatian Television be a minority representative, but this person has not yet been appointed. A seven-member council of government and nongovernmental representatives, established by Parliament in 1993 to protect the freedom of the press, has yet to meet because Parliament failed to appoint a chairman until late in the year.
In the Serb-controlled portions of the UNPA's, freedom of speech and press virtually does not exist. With martial law still in effect, there are no guarantees of press and other freedoms, and the authorities control the tone and content of the media. Serbian papers, usually published in Belgrade, are generally available, although the supply is sometimes sporadic. There is one small paper published weekly or biweekly in Serbian in Sector North.
A few low-powered local radio "stations" broadcast from Serb-held territory in some of the UNPA's, and Croatian radio and television signals are received in these areas as well. The Serbian Television Krajina, whose studios are in Petrova Gora and Knin, broadcasts daily. Two other Serbian mobile studios operate out of Beli Manastir and Plitvice.
Academic freedom is generally respected in Croatia. However, there is apprehension within the academic community concerning the centralizing effects on faculty and programs of the university reform law. When it became apparent that the new government Council for Higher Education could not review all the revised academic programs prior to the start of the 1994-95 school year, the Government delayed introduction of the new curriculums.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and AssociationThe Constitution provides that all citizens have the right to peaceful assembly and association for the protection of citizens' interests or the promotion of social, economic, political, national, cultural, and other convictions and objectives. Citizens may freely form, join, and leave political parties, trade unions, and other associations. In practice, the rights of peaceful assembly and association are respected in Croatia. The Government requires permits for rallies but grants them routinely. Political parties, refugee associations, women's groups, and others held peaceful rallies and demonstrations without hindrance or incident. These gatherings included events which both supported and criticized government policies. All citizens enjoyed these rights, including members of the Serbian and Muslim communities.
In Serb-controlled areas, however, these rights were not respected. In the fall, local media reported that several men were arrested in the Serb-held town of Benkovac when they protested a recent military mobilization by local Serbian authorities.
c. Freedom of ReligionThere is no state religion. The Constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion and free public profession of religious and other convictions. All religious communities are free to conduct public services and to open and run social and charitable institutions. Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and Islam are the major faiths in Croatia, and there is also an active Jewish community. The majority of practicing Croats are Roman Catholic, and the Government provides an option of Catholic religious education in schools.
There are no formal restrictions on religious groups. The main mosque in Croatia is in Zagreb, where it serves not only as a religious center but also as a social aid office for the large Bosnian Muslim refugee population. Croatian Protestants from a number of denominations, as well as foreign clergy, actively practice and proselytize. Some foreign religious organizations seeking to provide social services reported bureaucratic obstacles to their establishment in Croatia, but it was unclear if this had any connection to their religious character. A Baptist church seeking to purchase property for a new church site also reported problems receiving the necessary approvals.
The close identification of religion with ethnicity had earlier caused religious institutions to be targets of violence. The investigation into the bombing of the Serbian Orthodox eparchy in Karlovac on December 24, 1993, led to no arrests. During the night of December 20, a bomb exploded inside the Orthodox church of the eastern Slavonian city of Osijek, causing some damage. Police have not arrested any suspects. The Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Zagreb remained open, and several other Orthodox churches and monasteries operated freely in government-controlled Croatia. Although the majority of Orthodox clergy left at the start of the war in 1991, a few priests and nuns, most of them retired, remained to carry out religious duties. International human rights monitors said these clergy reported generally good relations with their Catholic neighbors.
Most Catholic churches in the Serb-occupied UNPA's have been destroyed. In Sector East, only one active Catholic priest (a Slovak) remained.
While most requests for conscientious objector exemption from military service were granted, a human rights organization voiced concern over the denial of conscientious objector status earlier in the year to some who refused mobilization to fight in the Bosnian Croat paramilitary forces against the Bosnian government army. Serbian human rights groups also claimed that the authorities withheld conscientious objector status from ethnic Serbs who were called up for service, including several who were awaiting final rulings on their citizenship status and were therefore not obligated for military service. There is no provision for conscientious objector status in the Serb-occupied areas.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and RepatriationAlthough the Constitution states that anyone who is lawfully in Croatia has the right freely to move and choose a residence, the Government places certain restrictions on this right. All persons must register their residence with the local authorities. There are no reports that anyone has been refused the right to register a change of residence, except in cases where the lodging arrangements are irregular (i.e., an unauthorized sublet). One purpose of the law, which is a holdover from the previous system, is to ensure that landlords are properly declaring rent, and to ensure that individuals with "residence rights" to "socially owned" apartments are not earning illegal rental income.
Citizens have the right to travel abroad, to emigrate, and to return home. Under exceptional circumstances, the Government may legally restrict the right to enter or leave the country if necessary to protect the "legal order, health, rights, or freedoms of others." There is no evidence of government abuse of this authority. There are no reports of authorities refusing entry or exit to any Croatian citizens, except in infrequent cases of military personnel denied leave when requested.
There are restrictions on freedom of movement for all journalists and all male citizens from age 18 through 55 in the cities and areas close to the confrontation lines. Journalists, as well as others, must request permission to enter the conflict zones.
The Government imposed no significant legal restrictions on the movement of refugees, displaced persons, or national minorities resident in Croatia. Many refugees, however, were housed in remote locations with little or no means of public transport. There were several confirmed cases of forcible return of refugees to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Government tried to enforce strictly a policy of admitting no new refugees unless transit to a third country was assured. In practice, large numbers of refugees, primarily Muslims forced from Serb-held northern Bosnia by ethnic cleansing campaigns, entered Croatia and stayed, although the number was much lower than in 1992 or 1993.
The Government also continued into early in the year to relocate refugees from coastal tourist facilities to inland areas. Often this policy met with resistance from refugee groups who did not want to be uprooted and separated from the people with whom they had spent the last 2 years. In one highly publicized case, police and military recruits forcibly loaded the largely Muslim refugee population of the Savudrija camp in Istria onto buses and sent them to three other facilities. The authorities then turned over the Savudrija camp to the mainly Bosnian Croat residents who had been living at the Pineta tourist resort, which was being returned to its Slovenian owners.
The authorities in Serb-controlled areas continued to enforce a coercive regime, including curfews and strict travel limitations near the front lines. Threats against the non-Serbs in protected villages effectively confined them to their homes. Serbs who crossed over from government-controlled Croatia were eagerly welcomed for propaganda purposes.
At year's end, an estimated 20,000 of these refugees remained on Serb-occupied territory in Croatia, although some 6,000 men from this group had been mobilized by Krajina Serb and rebel Muslim forces to fight in the Bihac pocket in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina. Up to 5,000 refugees were believed by the UNHCR to have left the camps, apparently for territory taken by the rebel Muslim forces, but information on their numbers or whereabouts was sketchy at best. When the Croatian Government refused to permit entry, the Serbian authorities provided temporary shelter to some, while abetting the movement of some 15,000 others into a no man's land in a cease-fire zone near Karlovac.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their GovernmentCroatia is a multiparty democracy in which all citizens 18 years of age and older have the right to vote by secret ballot. The President, elected for 5 years, exercises substantial power, authority, and influence but is constitutionally limited to two terms. Parliament is composed of the House of Representatives and the House of Zupanije or Counties, and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) holds a majority in both houses. Its leader, President Franjo Tudjman, was reelected in 1992. Serbian authorities in the UNPA's refused to allow residents in the areas they control to participate in the Croatian election.
Although there are no legal restrictions on participation by women or minorities in the political process, they are represented in only small numbers in Parliament, the executive branch, and the courts. Nine women hold seats in Parliament, including one who is the president of the House of Counties and two who led opposition parties. Federal election law requires representation for minorities in Parliament, with proportional representation for any minority that makes up more than 8 percent of the population. The Federal Election Commission designated 13 Serbs to "represent" the Serbian community in Croatia, which comprises 11 percent of the population, in the 138-seat House of Representatives. The Social Democratic Party (the reformed Communist party), which had received 5.4 percent of the popular vote, obtained 7 of these 13 seats, and the Serbian People's Party, constituted to represent the Serbian community's interests, which had received over 1 percent of the vote, obtained 3 seats.
The "RSK" held elections in December 1993, which neither UNPROFOR nor any other international body recognized as legitimate. No international or other unbiased observers were present, and the "RSK" authorities clearly manipulated the vote. After "RSK" authorities declared that no candidate had received the necessary 50 percent of the votes to win the "presidency" (which reportedly required the annulment of many ballots), they called for a second round of voting in January. With Belgrade's control of local media outlets, the results of the second round reversed those of December, and Milan Martic, the candidate supported by Serbian President Milosevic, "won" the "presidency." The "parliament" had a strong plurality of rival Milan Babic's party members. No minorities are represented in either the "parliament" or the "government."
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human RightsHuman rights groups in Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, and Osijek worked to prevent human rights abuses in their respective localities and brought their concerns to the attention of local and national authorities as well as domestic and international media. Principal areas of activity were problems of forced evictions (see Section 1.f.), citizenship rights and employment discrimination (see Section 5), and conscientious objectors (see Section 2.c.).
Government officials continued to refer to certain prominent human rights organizations and activists in highly critical terms in public statements and interviews. Police also failed to arrest any perpetrators in cases involving personal threats or attacks against them or their property. But over the course of the year, government authorities began to address more seriously some of the primary concerns of human rights organizations, such as citizenship rights and evictions, engaging in a public dialog particularly on the latter issue. Police were also ordered to refrain from using force against demonstrators at the sites of planned evictions. Despite the increased dialog, however, human rights groups remained highly critical of the Government's human rights record.
The situation in Split continued to be most hazardous for human rights monitors due to threats from local extremists. Local police beat one monitor as he attempted to prevent a forced eviction. Human rights workers in Zagreb also reported receiving threats against themselves and their families. The home of Slobodan Budak, a prominent human rights lawyer and deputy chairman of the Croatian Human Rights Committee, was severely damaged by a bomb on the day before he was to cochair a conference on human rights and the issue of forced evictions.
Major local human rights groups include the Croatian Helsinki Commission, the Antiwar Campaign, the Dalmatian Solidarity Committee, the Dalmatian Committee for Human Rights, and the Center for Peace and Human Rights. The Serbian Peoples' Party and the Social Democratic Union have human rights committees. The Serbian Democratic Forum, another local human rights group, focused primarily on the concerns of the Serbian community. All of these groups have publicly criticized the Government's human rights policy. International human rights organizations were also active in Croatia.
The Government cooperated with international investigations of war crimes carried out by the U.N. Commission of Experts, permitting free access to refugees for gathering eyewitness testimony, even in cases in which Croats were the likely perpetrators of the witnessed atrocities. The Government pledged its cooperation with the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
Serbian forces did not permit the formation or functioning of local human rights groups and impeded the work of international human rights groups. Many international relief organizations refrained from undertaking operations in the Serb-occupied territories rather than accept the Serbs' demand that they acknowledge the "RSK" as an independent state. Only U.N. personnel and the European Community Monitoring Mission can observe human rights practices in these areas.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social StatusThe Constitution specifies that all citizens shall enjoy all rights and freedoms, regardless of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, education, social status, or other attributes. It adds that members of all nations and minorities shall have equal rights in Croatia. With the exceptions noted below, these rights are observed in practice. One article provides for special "wartime measures" but states that restrictions shall be appropriate to the nature of the danger and may not result in the inequality of citizenship with respect to race, color, sex, language, religion, or national or social origin. Under these measures, these rights have been observed in practice.
WomenThe law does not discriminate by gender. In practice, however, women generally hold lower paying positions in the work force. The majority of high school and elementary teachers, nurses, and clerical workers are female.
Although the Government does not collect statistics, informed observers state that violence against women, including spouse abuse, is common and that the number of incidents has increased in the last few years. Alcohol abuse is commonly cited as a contributing factor. Centers for the psychological and medical care of abused women are open in several cities, and there is a 24-hour hot line in a Zagreb medical center. A number of local institutions and voluntary agencies offer social, medical, and other assistance to abused women and to those traumatized by war experiences. Family crisis associations are also active.
Although the number of female-led organizations has increased since the war, most are devoted to antiwar or humanitarian causes and are poorly organized and poorly funded. There is no national organization of women devoted to the protection of women's rights.
ChildrenThe Government has made a strong commitment to the welfare of children. Schools provide free meals for children, day nurseries are available in most communities even for infants, and medical care for children is free. There is no documented pattern of societal abuse or discrimination against children.
National/Racial/Ethnic MinoritiesOther sections of this report address serious human rights abuses suffered by persons based on their nationality, including cases of government abuse of ethnic Serbs.
Constitutionally, Croatian Serbs enjoy the same protection as other self-identified ethnic groups in the country. In practice, however, there continues to be ever-present, subtle, and sometimes open discrimination against Serbs in such areas as the administration of justice, employment, housing, and the free exercise of their cultural rights. Serbs continue to be particularly vulnerable to attack because of the Government's reluctance rigorously to protect their rights. Attacks against property owned by Serbs, or even Croats with Serb-sounding names, continued in 1994, though at a lesser rate than in previous years. Serbs in Croatia also continued to receive anonymous threats by mail, phone, and facsimile (fax), but in fewer numbers than in previous years. Many Serbs left government-controlled Croatia during the year as a result of the combination of economic discrimination and physical threats.
The makeup of the police force, which consists almost exclusively of ethnic Croats, some with little experience or training in police work, contributed to the problem. As in previous years, the vast majority of cases involving violence against Serbs went unpunished. In one case in Split, an eyewitness informed the police of the identities of the vandals--all members of the Croatian army, but the police made no arrests. In another case, members of the police force abducted a recently retired ethnic Serbian policeman, interrogated him for information about Serbian extremist groups, and beat him severely before releasing him.
Particularly in the early months of the year, the Muslim community in Croatia also suffered from harsh ethnic discrimination. Croatian attacks against Muslims occurred particularly on the Dalmatian coast where there was a large population of Muslim refugees side by side with Croatian soldiers on leave from the front lines in Bosnia and Herzegovina (where they had been fighting against the mostly Muslim Bosnian army). International refugee organizations took great pains to provide what protection they could to the Muslim refugees and rushed through hundreds of cases for resettlement to third countries. With the signing of the Muslim-Croat truce and federation agreement in March, Croatian violence against Muslims declined drastically. Muslims report continued widespread discrimination in many areas, such as citizenship and employment rights.
The Government's practice of discriminating in the issuance of citizenship papers toward ethnic minorities, particularly Serbs and Muslims, drew sharp criticism. Human rights groups have numerous documented cases in which the Interior Ministry denied citizenship papers to long-term residents of Croatia (i.e., resident in Croatia long before the country declared its independence). They estimated that the Interior Ministry denied over 13,000 applications for citizenship, the large majority ethnic Serbs or Montenegrins or persons who had held positions of importance in former Yugoslav federal institutions, particularly the JNA.
Human rights groups complain that the Interior Ministry almost always based its denials on Article 26 of the Law on Citizenship, which permits it to deny citizenship papers to persons otherwise qualified to be citizens of Croatia if it judges there are reasons of national interest to do so. In December 1993, the law was amended to strike language that the reasons for denial should not be explained. But no language was added to say that the reasons for denial must be explained, and human rights organizations reported that the police continued to refuse citizenship applications without full explanation.
The Law on Citizenship clearly distinguishes between those with a claim to Croatian ethnicity and those without. The "Croatian people" are eligible to become citizens of Croatia even if they did not have previous citizenship of the former Socialist Republic of Croatia, as long as they submit a written statement that they consider themselves Croatian citizens. Those who do not belong to the Croatian people must satisfy more stringent requirements through naturalization in order to obtain citizenship, even if they were previously lawful residents of Croatia as citizens of the former Yugoslavia. While an application for citizenship is pending, the applicant is considered an alien in Croatia and is consequently denied rights such as social allowances, including medical care, pensions, free education, and employment in the civil service.
Serbs and other ethnic minorities also suffered from economic discrimination. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights noted in his report that "it appears that Serbs and Muslims are always the first to be dismissed...." While the difficult economic situation in Croatia continued to cause high unemployment for all sectors of society, the Special Rapporteur's concern was amplified by a large number of credible reports that Serbs bore a disproportionate burden in layoffs by a broad variety of employers. Throughout the year, human rights organizations continued to receive inquiries from Serbs who had been fired from their jobs as far back as 1992. While in many cases it was impossible to determine the proximate cause for the firing of an employee, there were cases in which the employee's ethnicity was the stated reason. In one case, a doctor of mixed background was removed from a job in a military clinic because his ethnic background was deemed unsuitable for treating wounded Croatian soldiers. In another case, an ethnic Croatian teacher was fired after a pupil proclaimed her a "Chetnik" (Serbian extremist), referring to her husband, an ethnic Serb who fled Croatia in 1991. In some cases, despite court orders which confirmed the employee's right to employment or reinstatement to a previous position, the employer still refused to rehire workers who had been out of work since 1992.
The Roma minority continued to face societal discrimination and official inaction when complaints were filed. The Croatian Roma Party claimed that, although the officially registered number of Roma in Croatia was 120,000, the actual figure was closer to between 250,000 and 300,000 because many Roma do not bother to register. The population of Bosnian Roma refugees in Croatia was difficult to estimate since the Roma population was so fluid. Other minority groups--Slovaks, Czechs, Italians, Hungarians--did not report any significant discrimination.
The abysmal treatment of non-Serb minorities in the Serb- occupied UNPA's is discussed in other sections of this report.
People with DisabilitiesThere is no specific legislation mandating access to buildings or government services for people with disabilities. However, people with disabilities face no discriminatory measures, and education and job opportunities generally are available.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of AssociationThe Constitution provides that all workers, except military and police personnel, are entitled to form or join unions of their own choosing without prior authorization. There is an active labor movement with three national labor federations and independent associations of both blue-collar and white-collar members. In general, unions are independent of the Government and political parties. Unions may affiliate internationally.
The Constitution provides for the right to strike except in the armed forces, police, government administration, and public services. Strikes by teachers, textile workers, and others occurred frequently, in part over the repeated failure of government-owned or government-run institutions or industries to pay wages on time. Few strikes could be termed successful, as the Government hewed closely to the austerity program it implemented in October 1993 as part of its economic stabilization program.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain CollectivelyCollective bargaining is protected by law and practiced freely. Because of inflation and government austerity measures, the major public service unions found themselves engaged throughout the year in lengthy negotiations with the Government over wages and job security. Like fellow unionists, the federations found that the Government was regularly late in meeting its payroll and in ensuring payment of minimum wages.
Many "socially owned" enterprises have been "transformed" or nationalized as a first step towards privatization. In the current transition to privatization and a free market economy, the unions are under pressure due to job losses, general unemployment in a weakened economy, and their own struggle to become genuine free trade unions.
There is no formal body of law or practice dealing directly with antiunion discrimination issues. Croatia's trade union federations allege that union membership frequently constitute grounds for employment discrimination through transfers to lower paid jobs, suspensions, disciplinary proceedings, dismissals, and forced retirements. They also allege that management interferes in union elections. The unions have taken some cases to court.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory LaborThe Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory work, and there were no documented instances of it. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare enforces this prohibition.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of ChildrenThe minimum age for youth employment is 15 years, which the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare enforces. Under the Constitution, children may not be employed before reaching the legally determined age, nor may they be forced or allowed to do work that is harmful to their health or morality. Workers under 18 years of age are entitled to special protection at work and are prohibited from heavy manual labor. Education is mandatory up to age 14.
e. Acceptable Conditions of WorkThere are national minimum wage standards. Public service unions are pacesetters for the rest of the work force, and they were in the forefront of continuing efforts to encourage the Government to honor its commitments. The minimum gross monthly wage was roughly $92 (536.91 kuna).
National regulations provide for a 42-hour workweek, overtime pay, a half-hour daily break, and a minimum of 18 days of paid vacation annually. It is standard practice to provide a 24-hour rest period during the workweek.
The Government sets health and safety standards, and the Ministry of Health is charged with enforcing them. In practice, industries are not diligent in meeting standards for worker protection, and the Ministry does not enforce them effectively.