Croatia: Update to HRV32095.E of 21 September 1999 on the current treatment of ethnic Serbs by government authorities and other groups; state protection; internal flight alternatives
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Ottawa|
|Publication Date||25 August 2003|
|Citation / Document Symbol||HRV41823.E|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Croatia: Update to HRV32095.E of 21 September 1999 on the current treatment of ethnic Serbs by government authorities and other groups; state protection; internal flight alternatives, 25 August 2003, HRV41823.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/485ba85a23.html [accessed 5 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
According to 2002 estimates published by Minorities at Risk, there are 219,000 Serbs in Croatia out of a total population of 4,384,000 (CIDCM 3 Dec. 2003). This estimate is lower than the one in 2001 that was offered by the leader of the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) who claimed that there were 350,000 Serbs in Croatia (Vjesnik 23 May 2001).
At the end of 2000, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) described ethnic Serbs as "victims of violence, harassment and intimidation" who were discriminated against in "most significant fields of life," and expressed its concern for their security in the war-affected areas of Croatia (COE 3 July 2001, 18). Similarly in 2002, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) noted that the Serb community faced "serious discrimination and violence" (IHF 28 May 2002, 91). However, neither report provided specific examples of violence perpetrated against ethnic-Serbs in Croatia. The IHF noted that, in addition, the Serb population "felt unsafe" and that Croatian citizens held Serbs collectively responsible for the war (ibid., 95). The Minorities at Risk project assessed their security situation as being one which faced continuing high levels of political and economic exclusion (CIDCM 3 Dec. 2003).
Treatment by Croatian Society
The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR), citing a 2002 opinion poll reported that 25 per cent of surveyed Croatian adults believed that Serbs should be expelled from Croatia, a total that increased to 35 per cent and 44 per cent in the war-affected regions of Slavonia and Dalmatia (2003, 187). However, in March 2003, the head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission to Croatia, Peter Semneby, observed that although polls show a high level of xenophobia and intolerance toward minorities, "those tendencies are getting weaker" (Feral Tribune 1 Mar. 2003). The Research Directorate was unable to find reports of attacks on ethnic Serbs or their property, or of human rights abuses perpetrated against them by members of the Croatian society among sources published in 2002 and 2003.
Croatia has several nationalist and right wing political parties that enjoy considerable support and have platforms "broadly antagonistic" to Serbian refugee returns (ICG 13 Dec. 2002, 2). Right wing ideologies enjoy "uncritical promotion" on Croatian state television (HRT), and , up until May 2001, the newspapers Slobodna Dalmacjia, Fokus, and Hrvatsko Slovo were significant for "all types of hate speech (IHF 28 May 2002, 92, 96). They promoted contempt and intolerance towards Serbs and ... [i]n the most extreme cases ethnic cleansing..." (ibid. 96).
Treatment by Officials
The International Crisis Group (ICG) cited Croatia's interest in joining the European Union (EU) as a factor behind its showing "some willingness to take steps towards ending discrimination" against Serbs (ICG 13 Dec. 2002, 1). However, a consulting firm that focuses on the politics of southeastern Europe noted that Croatia had made an "unsatisfactory commitment to the EU benchmarks" for accession (Civilitas Research 27 Nov. 2003). This opinion was based partly on an OSCE observation that minority rights were given insufficient protection and on an EU concern that there were "serious deficiencies regarding the implementation" of adopted legislation (ibid.).
According to the ethnic Serb political party Serb National Council (SNV), "'the identity of the Serbs in Croatia is more stigmatised than recognized," and the current government "'has done nothing to implement the rights of the Serb community'" (HINA 29 June 2002). Furthermore, the SNV said that "Serbs were isolated and that they were not proportionally represented in the state administration and judiciary" (ibid.). The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) also observed this lack of proportional representation in public affairs, even while noting that it was a legal right guaranteed to ethnic Serbs (IHF 28 May 2002, 95). In addition, the IHF observed that Croatian officials did not guarantee the Serb community's legal right to use the Serbian language in administrative affairs (ibid.).
Situation of Returnees
In the opinion of the OSCE, the return of refugees remains one of the most significant issues in Croatia (Hrvatsko Slovo 3 Jan. 2003, 2). Of the 280,000 ethnic Serbs who fled Croatia during and after the 1991 to 1995 conflict, more than 100,000 of them have returned (AFP 8 July 2003). Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that 110,000 Serbs had returned to Croatia by the end of August 2002 (2003) while Peter Semneby of the OSCE reports that there are 250,000 mostly ethnic Serb refugees remaining outside the country (Hrvatsko Slovo 3 Jan. 2003, 2). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees identified Serb refugees as having returned to the counties of Zadar, Knin, Sisak and Karlovac and Western Slavonia (UNHCR Jan. 2001, 4). (Western Slavonia encompasses the Croatian counties of Poeko-Slavonska, Brodsko-Posavska and Bjelovarsko-Bilogorska (ASB-EUPRR 30 May 2002)). In addition, the OSCE referred to individuals returning to Dalmatinska Zagora and Sisak-Moslavina (Hrvatsko Slovo 3 Jan. 2003, 3). A 2003 UNHCR review of 43 villages in the Knin district-a sample set constituting 11 per cent of the returnee population-found that only 62 per cent of Serbs surveyed were likely to remain in Croatia, while another 27 per cent were classified as "commuters" who were leaving for third countries or returning to exile (OSCE 3 July 2003, 24n2).
The OSCE mission head Semneby noted in 2003 that one of the major obstacles for returnees is the "terrible economic situation in the areas of return" (Feral Tribune 1 Mar. 2003). However, the ICG noted considerable improvement in the security situation of returnee areas that "no longer present a serious impediment to return," although violence and intimidation still occurred (13 Dec. 2002, 10). The EU observed that Eastern Slavonia, in particular, had seen substantial improvement in its security situation and that the number of "security incidents related to Serb returnees [were] very sporadic and limited to a few regions" (4 Apr. 2002, 10). Serbs returning to the counties of Dalmatinska Zagora and Sisak-Moslavina "suffer[ed] certain types of discrimination related to repossession of their property," and the region of Knin required a great deal "to be done for the creation of conditions for the return of refugees" (Hrvatsko Slovo 3 Jan. 2003, 3).
The OSCE considered the Croatian government's legislative efforts with respect to returnees as showing "progress"; however, the organization added that, "'practical implementation of many programs remains slow and incomplete'" (AFP 8 July 2003). The ICG made a similar observation in December 2002 (13 Dec. 2002, 1). SNV leader Milorad Pupovac "accused the Croatian government of passivity and discrimination against ethnic Serbs in the matter of reconstruction" (TNA 28 Jan. 2002). The President of the Association of Serb Refugees from Croatia and Krajina (Udruzenje Srba Hrvatske Kraj, USHK), which is located in Bosnia-Herzegovina, observed in December 2002 that Croatia has "not made a single worthwhile step toward creating conditions for the return of Serb refugees" (FENA 14 Dec. 2002).
Pupovac also complained to the Croatian President that the judicial system and those in control of property formerly owned by Serb refugees were obstructing the restitution of that property to returnees (HINA 27 Feb. 2002). In January 2002, the Ministry of Public Works and Reconstruction had announced that property was to be returned to Serb refugees "by the end of the year" (TNA 28 Jan. 2002). However, in July 2003, Pupovac reiterated his complaints stating that Bosnian-Croat refugees are occupying Serb returnees' properties (HINA 18 July 2003).
With respect to reconstruction, the SNV leader complained that ethnic Serbs' requests for assistance in the reconstruction of returned property were being ignored or were refused by the Ministry of Public Works and Reconstruction (TNA 28 Jan. 2002; HINA 28 Jan. 2002). However, an eight-month review of the situation in Croatia published in July 2003 by the OSCE noted that "more Serbs now receive reconstruction assistance than before" and that it is becoming widely available to minorities (3 July 2003, 3; see also ibid., 6). In June 2003, President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan called for ethnic Serb refugees to return to Croatia and cited the availability of a public housing program for refugees in Zagreb (AFP 16 June 2003), that was adopted by the Croatian parliament on 12 June 2003 (OSCE 12 June 2003). A 24 July 2003 report indicates that a project to construct apartments for Serb refugee returnees is due to commence on 1 January 2004 and to be completed by 2006 (SRNA 24 July 2003). This plan was criticized by the President of USHK, because it does little for those refugees temporarily residing in Bosnian and Croat homes in the Serb Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina who are to be evicted at the end of 2003 (ibid. 15 July 2003).
In the opinion of the IHF, minorities in Croatia are "better protected formally than in practice" (28 May 2002, 94) and, in its 2003 annual report, HRW stated that the Croatian government's ability to ensure minority rights remained its "biggest human rights challenge in 2002" (2003). Over the course of 2001, pressure by right wing political groups on the government prevented effective implementation of minority rights policies (IHF 28 May 2002, 95).
Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic cited the Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities (CLNM), the law on the legal standing of religious communities and an agreement with the Serb Orthodox Church as evidence of a "'legislative framework' aimed at improving life for the Serb community" (HINA 6 Jan. 2003). SNV leader Pupovac agreed that these measures are necessary for ensuring the civil and minority equality of Serbs in Croatia (ibid.).
On 13 December 2002, Croatia passed the CLNM, which guarantees minority representation at all levels of elected government, the judiciary and public administration, and the right to elect local and regional representatives (OSCE 3 July 2003, 8-9). While the CLNM established a council on national minorities, that has a consultative role in developing policy affecting national minorities (ibid. 9, 10), the OSCE noted that, as of the beginning of July 2003, legislative changes envisioned in the CLNM have yet to be implemented, and Serb minorities remain underrepresented in the state administration (3 July 2003, 8).
The ICG cited a May 2002 OSCE mission report which acknowledged that local police "mostly deal effectively with ethnically related incidents" although Serbs remain distrustful of their authority (13 Dec. 2002, 10). In the opinion of the EU, "the police service in general performs professionally, and disciplinary proceedings are instituted against officers whose performance is unsatisfactory" (4 Apr. 2002, 6). However, it noted that, in war-affected areas, the police have been reluctant, in some cases, to respond fully to ethnically motivated incidents (ibid.). Additionally, the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights (CHC) noted that the majority of cases of police misconduct against national minorities occurred in war-affected and rural areas and that although the Serb minority complained "often" to the CHC about the police, they generally requested the NGO not to intervene on their behalf (IHF 28-29 Oct. 2002, 18-19).
The Research Directorate was unable to find information pertaining to whether an internal flight alternative is available for ethnic Serbs, in Croatia, among the sources consulted.
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Agence France Presse (AFP) [Paris]. 8 July 2003. "OSCE Urges Croatia to Encourage Serb Refugee Returns." (FBIS-EEU-2003-0708 9 July 2003/Dialog)
_____. 16 June 2003. "Croatia Renews Calls for Serb Refugees to Return." (Relief Web)
Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund Deutschland e.V and European Union Programme for Reconstruction and Return (ASB-EUPRR). 30 May 2003. "Western Slavonia."
Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM). 3 December 2003. "Serbs in Croatia." Minorities at Risk (MAR) Project.
Civilitas Research [Nicosia, Cyprus]. 27 November 2002. "Croatia: European Union Candidacy on Hold."
European Union (EU). 4 April 2002. Commission of the European Communities. "Croatia: Stabilization and Association Report." (SEC  341/COM  163)
Council of Europe (COE). 3 July 2001. European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance. Second Report on Croatia. (CRI34)
Federal News Agency (Federalna Novinska Agencija, FENA) [Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina]. 14 December 2002. "Head of Refugees Organization Says Croatia Doing Little to Ensure Return of Serbs." (BBC Monitoring/Centre for Southeast European Studies)
Feral Tribune [Split, Croatia, in Croatian]. 1 March 2003. Peter Semneby. "Croatia Is Not an Island." (OSCE Mission to Croatia, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe [OSCE])
HINA [Zagreb]. 18 July 2003. "Croatian Serb Leader Says Ethnic Serbs Face Problems Moving in Pre-War Property." (FBIS-EEU-2003-0718 21 July 2003/Dialog)
_____. 6 January 2003. "Croatia's Granic, SNV Leader Discuss Improving Living Conditions for Ethnic Serbs." (FBIS-EEU-2003-0106 7 Jan. 2003/Dialog)
_____. 29 June 2002. "SNV Declaration Says Croatia's Ethnic Serbs 'Stigmatized'." (FBIS-EEU-2002-0629 1 July 2002/Dialog)
_____. 27 February 2002. "Croatian President, Ethnic Serb Leader Discuss Minorities' Rights." (FBIS-EEU-2002-0227 28 Feb. 2002/Dialog)
_____. 28 January 2002. "SNV Chairman Accuses Croatian Government of Discriminating Against Ethnic Serbs." (FBIS-EEU-2002-0128 29 Jan. 2002/Dialog)
Hrvatsko Slovo [Zagreb, in Croatian]. 3 January 2003. Margareta Zouhar. "We Are Assisting Croatia to Fulfill the Conditions for European Integration." (OSCE Mission to Croatia, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe [OSCE])
Human Rights Watch (HRW). 2003. "Croatia." Human Rights Watch World Report 2003.
International Crisis Group (ICG). 13 December 2002. A Half-Hearted Welcome: Refugee Returns to Croatia. ICG Balkan Report. No. 138.
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF). 28 March 2002. "Croatia Annual Report 2002." Human Rights in the OSCE Region: The Balkans, the Caucasus, Europe, Central Asia and North America Report 2002 (Events of 2001).
_____. 28-29 October 2002. Croatian Helsinki Committee. "Croatia." The Role of Community Policing in Building Confidence in Minority Communities: I. Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia." Report of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) to the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on the Role of Community Policing in Building Confidence in Minority Communities, Vienna.
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). 3 July 2003. Mission to Croatia, Headquarters. "Status Report No. 12." (PC.FR/19/03)
_____. 12 June 2003. "OSCE Croatia Mission Welcomes Prime Minister's Call for Refugee Return."
Serbian Press Agency (Srpska Novinska Agencija, SRNA) [Bijeljina, Bosnia-Herzegovina]. 24 July 2003. "Croatian Government to Start Serb Returnee Housing Project by Next Year." (BBC Monitoring/The Centre for SouthEast European Studies)
_____. 15 July 2003. "Serb Refugees in Bosnia Criticize Croatian Premier's Call for Refugee Return." (Excerpt) (BBC Monitoring/The Centre for SouthEast European Studies)
Tanjug News Agency (TNA) [Belgrade]. 28 January 2002. "Croatian Serb Official Uneasy over 'Offhand' Promises to Rebuild Refugees' Homes." (FBIS-EEU-2002-0128 29 Jan. 2002/Dialog)
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). January 2001. No. 7. UNHCR South-Eastern Europe Information Notes. "Croatia."
U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR). 2003. "Country Report: Croatia." World Refugee Survey 2003.
Vjesnik [Zagreb, in Serbo-Croatian]. 23 May 2001. Ljiljana Pandza. "Croatian Serb Leader Views Position of Serbs, Return, Military Service." (FBIS-EEU-2001-0523 29 May 2001/Dialog)
Additional Sources Consulted
Internet sites, including:
Balkan Human Rights Web Pages
European Country of Origin Information Network
European Union Enlargement Candidate Countries
UNHCR, Country of Origin Information Database
World News Connection