Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July 2014, 15:15 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Croatia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Croatia, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3924.html [accessed 31 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis 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.
CROATIA

 

The Republic of 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. He 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, and the HDZ has ruled Croatia since independence in 1991. A new Government was named in November after multiparty elections were held for the lower house 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.

In March the United Nations protective Force (UNPROFOR) mandate was modified to include monitoring of the international borders of Croatia and an increased presence of human rights monitors in the U.N. protected areas. The mission was renamed the United Nations Confidence Restoration Operation (UNCRO). In May and August, the Government launched military offensives against three rebel Serb-held zones and recovered the territory after 4 years of breakaway Serb occupation. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that approximately 180,000 Serb refugees fled into Serb-controlled territory in Bosnia and Croatia and Serbia/Montenegro during the two campaigns. Only the Eastern area of Croatia remains outside effective government control, although both the Government and local Serb leaders signed an agreement in mid-November to bring this area under complete government control after a transitional period of 1 to 2 years. Abuses continued in rebel Serb-held areas. Tens of thousands of expelled Croat and Muslim refugees continued to arrive from Serbia and Bosnia.

The Ministry of the Interior oversees the police, while the Ministry of Defense oversees the armed forces (HV). Civil police have no authority over military police or over uniformed military personnel. The national police have primary responsibility for internal security, but in times of disorder, for example, during and after the May and August offensives, the Government may call on the army to provide security. Both the police and army are responsible for external security. Civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the professional security forces. However, official personnel from each service were responsible for significant abuses committed in the reclaimed territories. In Serb-controlled areas, well-armed police and military forces continued their pattern of human rights abuses against both non-Serbs and Serbs.

Croatia's economy is slowly changing to a market-based free enterprise system. Industry is largely state owned.

Agriculture is mostly in private hands. Family-owned small enterprises are multiplying. The stabilization program kept inflation low throughout the year. The continued occupation of the eastern area by rebel Serbs, the massive refugee problem, and the two military offensives all limited economic recovery. The slow transition and the war economy contributed to polarizing economic disparities.

There were serious human rights problems during the year, the most flagrant violations being committed during and after the May and August military operations. Although the Government generally respected the human rights of ethnic Croats, its human rights record worsened with respect to minority groups, especially ethnic Serbs. The bulk of violent abuses occurred in the reclaimed regions, after the military and police operations. The Government failed to establish adequate civil authority to control vengeful renegade arsonists, looters, and murderers who still operated with impunity in the reclaimed areas months after the offensives had ended. The Government sought to legalize and institutionalize the population changes resulting from these offensives, rather than welcome back Serb refugees. After the military actions, it appeared less than genuinely interested in devising measures to restore confidence in the Serbian community, or even in maintaining an ethnic Serb presence in Croatia. The security forces committed, cooperated in, or ignored many of the abuses in the reclaimed areas. The Government did not effectively seek out or punish those involved, except in a few token cases. The Government temporarily suspended key provisions of the National Minorities law in September and still has not established the provisional human rights court, as mandated by the 1992 Constitution. Specific abuses committed included ethnic-based killings, arbitrary detention and torture, restrictions of movement and repatriation, mass destruction and confiscation of property, denial of fair and expeditious trials, and infringements on freedom of speech and the press. Societal discrimination against women and ethnic minorities and violence against women are problems.

Rebel Serb authorities committed human rights abuses in the areas they controlled. The police and military forces continued to use violence, murder, intimidation, and displacement against Croats and minorities to settle incoming Serb refugees and achieve their goal of ethnic cleansing in the areas they controlled. In May, provoked by the Government attack on Western Slavonia, the self-proclaimed "Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK)" President Martic ordered the bombing of Croatian civilian centers, including Zagreb. At least six civilians died in these incidents. Residents of the "RSK" were subject to a controlled, quasi-legal system that operated without freedom of expression, assembly, press, religion, or movement and which denied citizens 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 Killing

UNCRO officials registered 300 to 500 reports of killings in reclaimed parts of Croatia. Most killings were ethnically motivated and occurred long after the military offensives were over. Only in the most public cases were effective government investigations carried out and perpetrators punished, mostly as a result of pressure from international authorities and human rights groups. Among those implicated in the killings were civilians, civil police, and active duty military personnel, especially members of the nonprofessional "home guard" brigades.

There were numerous and brutal killings. For example, in late August, seven elderly civilians were shot, slaughtered, and burned in the village of Grubori. The oldest victim was 90 years old. Witnesses saw uniformed special police and HV at the scene. At first, government officials claimed that the civilians were caught in a clash between HV and enemy troops. Months later a few Croats were arrested for the murder of these civilians and were still under investigation at year's end. On September 28, in the village of Varivode, UNCRO monitors found the bodies of nine elderly Serbs who had been shot to death. Thirteen individuals were arrested for these killings. At the end of the year, the Government claimed that it had investigated 26 murders and resolved 15 cases, charging a total of 20 individuals, including 3 soldiers and 1 policeman.

Serbs in the occupied areas also committed ethnically motivated killings within the sectors and along the confrontation line, with a disproportionate number of non-Serb victims. For example, in June three Croat garbage collectors were kidnaped by East Slavonian Serbs during a regular run to the Osijek city dump inside the separation zone. Two individuals were released, but Serb authorities in Erdut eventually claimed that the third, Franjo Ivos, was killed. No suspects were ever apprehended, and local authorities insist that the body was lost. In October Serb snipers from this sector killed two Croats in Belisce. Rebel Serbs also targeted U.N. personnel. A Kenyan UNCRO soldier was shot dead in July in sector south. In January in sector east, one Russian battalion soldier and three local Serbs were shot under unclear circumstances, possibly involving black market activity. In September four Danish U.N. soldiers were killed near Dvor as Bosnian Serbs deliberately targeted a U.N. observation post across the Una river in Croatia. HV units had attempted to cross the river, and fire was exchanged between the two sides. UNCRO officials claim that the position of a tank's gun indicated that it had targeted U.N., and not HV, positions.

No progress was made on the excavation of mass grave sites in occupied areas until Croatian forces obtained control of the territory. Government sources claim to have located over 250 mass graves in the former Serb-occupied territories, and the Government began uncovering some of the sites. After many of the bodies were identified, they were released into the custody of family members. Based on eyewitness reports, the Government charged individual rebel Serbs with murder, some of whom were tried in absentia.

b. Disappearance

Few new cases of disappearances were reported. At year's end, the Government reported more than 2,800 cases of missing persons still unresolved from the 1991-92 war. Some progress was made in removing names from the list of those missing as a result of prisoner and body exchanges and of identification of corpses exhumed in the reclaimed areas. An unknown number of cases of missing Serbs remained open at the end of the year as a result of the two government offensives. The Government made no public effort to investigate these cases.

c. Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture or cruel or degrading punishment, but government forces continued to commit such abuses in some instances. Security forces at certain prisons beat and mistreated prisoners during detention and interrogation. After both offensives, foreign observers saw the wounds of rebel Serb detainees who complained of such treatment at detention centers, in Varazdin in May, for example, as well as at other sites. However, such cases were not routine, and there was no evidence of systematic torture in Croatian jails. Most Serb detainees interviewed by international monitors reported good treatment. There were no reports of abuses or mistreatment of common criminals arrested and detained in Croatian jails.

Except for the short-term detention facilities used to house civilians rounded up after the military actions, detention facilities generally meet minimum international standards of cleanliness, nutrition, and amenities. Jails are crowded, but not to excess, and family visits and access to counsel are available. Detained rebel Serbs arrested for armed rebellion were mainly held in military prisons, as with most security prisoners. After the August offensive, the Government increasingly restricted access to these Serb prisoners by UNCRO and other international observers until late in the year.

There were credible reports of torture and other abuse in Serb-controlled areas. Harsh treatment of non-Serbs was commonplace, and Serbian authorities did not punish abusers.

In March a British citizen of Croatian descent was detained for a month in Knin and tortured with electric implements. Two of the three Ojisek garbage collectors kidnaped by East Slavonian Serbs (see Section l.a.) complained that they were tortured and otherwise mistreated during their detention. Local police and paramilitary forces reportedly beat and robbed detainees, as well as subjected them to psychological torture, such as death threats. Prison conditions in the Serb-controlled areas were reliably reported to be abysmal.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution contains provisions to protect the legal rights of all accused, but the Government does not always respect these rights in practice. The Government frequently abuses pretrial and investigative detention. The most prominent case of arbitrary arrest occurred in late October when 15 persons, mostly prominent ethnic Serbs, were detained for espionage. The court eventually charged the suspects after holding them in detention for 3 months. Army special forces troops arbitrarily arrested several dozen rebel Bosnian Muslim refugees in the Kupljensko camp at the end of the year and forcibly repatriated them to Bosnia. Refugee organizations continued to report similar instances in which Muslim refugees were detained and threatened with forcible expulsion.

Government police and military forces rounded up the remaining civilian populations of the formerly occupied areas immediately after both offensives. The elderly, women, and children were confined in collection centers outside the war zone, some for several weeks. Government officials explained that this measure was taken for detainees' own safety, until their "identification" was verified, and their homes were demined. Many homes were looted during their absence. Draft age men were taken to separate centers and held even longer until a determination was made whether to investigate them either for war crimes or for armed rebellion. Over 1,500 men were detained after the attack on Western Slavonia, about 200 of whom were investigated at length. The Government extended the amnesty for armed rebellion to cover the period from August 17, 1990, to May 10, 1995.

Police normally seek arrest warrants by presenting evidence of probable cause to an interrogating magistrate. Police may carry out arrests without a warrant if they believe the suspect might flee, destroy evidence, or commit other crimes. Such cases are not uncommon. The police then have 24 hours in which to justify their decision before the local interrogating magistrate.

After arrest, the law states that persons must be given access to an attorney of their choice within 24 hours; if they have no attorney, and are charged with a crime for which the sentence is over 10 years' imprisonment, the interrogating magistrate will appoint counsel from a list of public defenders. If the sentence is under 10 years, detainees can request court-appointed counsel if they so choose. The court will appoint counsel after charges are levied for the trial. The interrogating judge must, within 3 days of the arrest, decide whether sufficient cause exists to hold the person 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 in 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. Those persons held under investigative detention are often denied certain rights, such as visits, until they are officially charged. Accused persons have the right to have their attorney present whenever they wish during the investigation as well as during any appeal of investigative detention.

In practice, detainees are almost always bound over for investigation unless it is clear that no case exists against them. Once the investigation is complete, detainees are usually released on their own recognizance pending trial, unless the crime is a major offense, the accused are considered public dangers, or the court believes they may flee. There are provisions for posting bail after charges are brought, but the practice is not common. Police will sometimes retain the passports of those released pending trial to prevent them from leaving the country.

By law, rebel Serbs detained after the two offensives could be held under investigative detention, pending charges, for 6 months. In many cases, "RSK" Serbs arrested for armed rebellion did not have adequate access to legal counsel, nor were they informed in a timely manner by the courts of their rights. Few were assigned a public defender until months after their arrest; some saw counsel only once or twice, usually only during a court hearing. Although they had been in investigative detention for 6 months, many such Serbs were tried and convicted in 2 days in November and December, having spoken to their lawyers only once. On December 30, the Government amnestied and released an additional 455 rebel Serbs arrested in August.

In rebel Serb-controlled areas, virtually no safeguards existed against arbitrary detention, and Serb forces continued to use detention as an intimidation tactic. They commonly arrested civilians in the "separation zone." The incident involving the Osijek garbage collectors was the most highly publicized. In January a French journalist was arrested for illegally crossing into "RSK" territory and was sentenced by a military court to 2 1/2 years in prison, although he has since been released. In November two Americans were detained for 3 days by Vukovar local authorities for taking pictures. In November and December, sector east authorities arrested a man from Hungary and a Croat from Osijek, each of whom had "trespassed" onto Serb territory. Until August residents of the "Bihac pocket" in western Bosnia-Herzegovina were sometimes arbitrarily detained while transiting Serb-held territory.

The Constitution prohibits the exile of Croatian citizens. Serbs captured during the offensives who did not originate from Croatian territory were subject to deportation after they served their sentences for war crimes.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Government influence weakens the nominally independent judiciary. For example, during regularly-held judicial elections in 1994, a dispute arose which raised concerns about the extent of political control over the judiciary. In February the High Judicial Council, which is controlled by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Administration, elected new judges for the Supreme Court. However, the Constitutional Court ordered that the nominating procedure be redone, claiming that the Council had not appointed qualified personnel. Chief Supreme Court Justice Milan Vukovic lost his appointment. Minister of Justice Ivica Crnic disputed the election procedures and resigned in March, saying that he did not wish to be involved in an undemocratic and totalitarian procedure.

The Croatian judicial system consists of municipal and district courts, a Constitutional Court, a Supreme Court, an Administrative Court and a High Judicial Council. The High Judicial Council (with a president and 14 members from all parts of the legal community) appoints judges and public prosecutors. The upper house of Parliament nominates persons for membership on the High Judicial Council, and the lower house elects members to 8-year terms. The eleven judges of the Constitutional Court are elected to 8-year terms in the same manner.

In September the Government repealed certain provisions of the 1992 Constitutional Law on Minorities, which included the establishment of a Provisional Court of Human Rights, a court which had never been established (see Section 3). Emergency measures established in 1991 are still being applied. These orders provide for the suspension of certain legal 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.

Nor is the judicial process free of ethnic bias. The investigative detention of rebel Serbs was often based on circumstantial evidence and uncertain testimony. Court authorities, including the detainees' own court-appointed defense counsel, often displayed a strong bias against them. A majority of judges took month-long vacations in mid-August, further postponing investigative hearings. Large numbers of detainees never received legal counsel. International trial observers claimed that witnesses often recanted or changed their stories, presumably due to intimidation on behalf of the accused.

The legal system in the Serb-controlled regions remained a sham, with its procedures and practices totally subject to interference by those in power. Specific information is hard to come by, as these proceedings are closed to monitoring by the UN and other international observers.

The estimated number of political prisoners, including Serbs who remained in detention, was over 500.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The 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.

International observers witnessed the mass looting, destruction, and burning of property in the reclaimed territories by both official military and civilian personnel and by unhindered civilians allowed to roam the area. Within days of the start of the May and August offensives, the first cases of house burnings were reported. Over one-third of the buildings in the former sectors north and south were burned within 2 months of the August offensive. Another third was heavily damaged and uninhabitable. The village of Donji Lapac and many others with a predominant Serb population were burned to the ground. From early August until the end of the year, international human rights monitors reported daily incidents of looting, burning, and threats made to the remaining local population. Monitors continually reported the names and automobile license numbers of perpetrators to government authorities. Most people detained for looting and arson were released after questioning pending further investigation.

Security personnel and military commanders generally did nothing to stop this destruction, and local and international observers often witnessed security forces starting the fires or standing by as they burned. Official investigations and prosecutions for these acts began only after intense international and media pressure on the Government and were viewed as neither serious nor complete. At years end, the Government reported to the U.N. that it had registered 2,878 cases of arson and brought charges against 11 persons. It had identified 1,054 cases of looting, of which 770 had been "clarified," and had charged 1,260 individuals. The Government provided no supporting documentation for these claims.

In August an official decree placed under government administration the abandoned property of citizens who had fled the country for Serbia or other Serb-controlled areas since the 1991 war. The Government claimed that this act was necessary to give Croat refugees decent shelter and to protect the properties from looting and destruction. The decree was viewed internationally as a thinly veiled attempt to prevent the return of Croatian Serbs to their homes. However, it was immediately passed into law by the HDZ-controlled legislature. Owners were allowed a 90-day filing period to reclaim their property, but the new law's complex procedures required a claimant to produce citizenship documents which could not be obtained outside Croatia, and to file a claim in Croatia. Both requirements were practical impediments to Croatian Serbs' efforts to reclaim their property. The time limit for filing a claim was subsequently lifted in January 1996. Although the Government eventually set up processing centers in Belgrade and other nearby capitals, the procedure remained slow.

Military and civil police continued to carry out forced evictions, involving hundreds of families of all nationalities. In other cases, Croatian refugees, often with the appearance of official countenance, forcibly entered the homes of ethnic Serbs and other minorities who had lived for years in family apartments, but who were themselves not listed as the official tenant. Although such evictions were often declared illegal in court, authorities forbade the police to remove the intruders on the basis of a law which requires that a new home be found for a displaced or refugee family before it can be removed from any form of housing, whether it was legally occupying the housing or not.

Forced evictions of ethnic Serbs, Croats, and others from former Yugoslav National Army (JNA) apartments continued. The Ministry of Defense arbitrarily revoked the tenant rights of individuals who had lived in the apartments for decades. Referring to property laws which remove tenancy rights as a result of any 6-month absence, or if the tenant was ruled to have acted against the interests of the Republic of Croatia, the Ministry granted soldiers tenancy of these occupied flats.

The soldiers frequently took residences by force of arms, either evicting the current tenants or forcing them to share the quarters. In November the Government passed a law allowing former JNA apartments to be privatized. Unlike other privatizations, legal tenants had restricted rights to purchase their apartments, and the right to purchase was not guaranteed. Family members of the registered tenant were not allowed purchase rights, nor were individuals suspected of armed rebellion or war crimes. Human rights groups plan to sue the Government concerning the constitutionality of this law.

The Constitution provides for the secrecy and safety of personal data, but it was unclear if such guarantees were observed in practice.

Leaders in the Serb-held regions showed no compunction about interfering with the rights of the inhabitants of those areas, particularly non-Serbs. UNCRO 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.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

In the early morning hours of May 1, special police units and government troops initiated "Operation Flash," an attack to liberate occupied Western Slavonia. Announced as a "limited police action" to gain control of the Zagreb-Lipovac highway, government forces gained effective control of most of the area within 1 day, and a cease-fire was reached on the afternoon of May 3. HV troops restricted the movement of UNCRO forces and surrounded most U.N. bases, including a Jordanian base along the highway and a Nepalese base at Pustara. Although tensions had been building for many weeks, the direct pretext for the attack was the murder of three Croats, who were shot on the highway by a sniper from behind Serb lines.

Rebel Serb forces reacted by shelling several cities, including Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Karlovac, Kutina, Nova Gradiska, Novska, Pakrac, Osijek, Sisak, and Zupanja. Zagreb was shelled on two separate occasions with Orkan anti-personnel cluster bombs. Among the sites hit were a children's hospital and the national theater. The shelling resulted in 6 dead and more than 130 wounded. "RSK" president Milan Martic publicly announced that he had personally issued the order for the capital to be shelled. Days later, he threatened again to "flatten the city" and kill "100,000 people." In October Martic was indicted with two other "RSK officials" by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for this incident.

Over 7,000 Serb refugees fled in front of advancing HV troops over the only bridge across the Sava river to Serb-held Bosnian territory. Government forces left this road open to allow the inhabitants to evacuate. A pocket of Serbs unable to leave the northern part of the sector was surrounded by HV forces and surrendered.

On August 4, government forces launched the larger scale "Operation Storm on the former sectors north and south, and gained effective control of the area within 5 days. The attack began with the shelling of the Serb stronghold of Knin, a civilian target. Rebel Serb forces organized a weak counteroffensive and quickly prepared an evacuation of both military and civilian personnel from the area. Bosnian Serbs shelled several cities in government-controlled Croatia although Zagreb was not hit.

Although reportedly ordered to stay away from civilian targets, government forces were responsible for the indiscriminate deaths of many civilians and U.N. personnel during both actions. The Government later claimed that 188 Serbs had been killed during the May action, of which 54 deaths were civilian. After the August attack, the Government announced that 116 Serbs and 42 Croat civilians had been killed, as well as 402 "RSK" soldiers and 211 HV troops. UNCRO estimates of these figures are higher. During "Operation Flash," the U.N. reported 30 civilian corpses near the village of Novi Varos. Eyewitnesses reported soldiers shooting at fleeing refugees.

On August 8 near Dvor, Croatian air force planes fired on a Serb refugee column fleeing into Bosnia. The Government claimed that the Serbs were moving tanks and other heavy equipment in the same column. One woman died from wounds she received when a refugee column was stoned on August 9 by onlookers in Sisak. That same day, a British journalist was killed and two other persons were wounded near Vrginmost, mistakenly targeted as Serbs by HV forces.

Bosnian government army (ABH) forces entered Croatia during the August offensive with Croatian government consent. While escorting a refugee column in August, UNCRO personnel witnessed the deliberate shooting of 9 to 11 mentally and physically handicapped Serb refugees by irregular units of the ABH. ABH forces also shelled a Serb refugee column in Donji Zirovac on August 8.

During the offensives, the U.N. suffered casualties from both sides. HV forces threatened and captured U.N. observation posts, holding some personnel hostage for several hours. These forces looted many abandoned U.N. compounds. When HV troops entered Knin in August, they prevented anyone from leaving the U.N. compound to monitor the fighting. A Danish UNCRO soldier was used by rebel Serbs as a human shield and was killed by HV fire. The officer responsible for the order to shoot was arrested and a murder charge is pending against him. HV forces threw a grenade into a Jordanian battalion bunker, resulting in 4 to 6 deaths (also see Section 1.a.).

Both police and military forces were responsible for looting and the destruction of property, including the mining and burning of houses. This destruction continued many months after the completion of the action and was later committed by roving civilians as well (see Section 1.f.)

Elsewhere, isolated ceasefire violations caused at least three fatalities. Occasional shelling occurred throughout the year from Bosnian Serb positions bordering Croatia, most commonly targeting Zupanja, Osijek, and the Dubrovnik area. Dubrovnik airport was shelled in April, May, August, and October. Three young adults were killed in a suburb of Dubrovnik from indiscriminate shelling in October. These attacks also caused substantial property damage.

Several deaths occurred throughout the year from mines. The wide extent of mine-laying during the conflict was increasingly evident after HV forces gained control of the three sectors. Soldiers and civilians from both sides, as well as UNCRO personnel, were victims of unmarked and uncleared minefields. Expulsions of Croats, Hungarians, Slovaks, Czechs, and other non-Serbs continued in Serb-occupied areas throughout the year, with the number of incidents increasing in the remaining Serb-held territories after each of the two government attacks. Condoned by local RSK officials, these expulsions served the goal of ethnic cleansing by ridding the region of minorities.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The 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. Journalists are sometimes reluctant to criticize the Government in public forums for fear of harassment, job loss, intimidation, or being labeled as disloyal to Croatia.

The national television broadcasting and radio broadcasting system (HRT) is government controlled. The Government also retains a controlling interest in two of four news dailies and some weekly newspapers. Although these state-controlled or heavily state-influenced media frequently carry reportage critical of the Government, they maintain an overall editorial slant favorable to the Government and the governing party, the HDZ. Both the broadcast and print media also often exclude news reports that put Croatia or its government in an unfavorable light. HRT has several times not broadcast statements by foreign diplomats made in highly public forums on the need to observe human and minority rights. Each of the opposition parties is allocated 4 minutes of television time per week. Access by the parties to the print media is minimal, with occasional coverage of press conferences and interviews.

During October's parliamentary elections, 1 hour of free broadcast time on national television was made available to each of the registered political parties for the pre-election campaign. Time slots were drawn by lot. Paid advertising on national television was, in theory, available, but HRT refused to run advertising spots from one of the major opposition parties on the grounds that some (unspecified) information in the ad was inaccurate and that the ad did not make clear which party was placing it. The HDZ advertising budget dwarfed that of its rivals, and it made heavy use of this budget to buy broadcast time on the national, state-controlled television network during the election campaign.

A few newspapers continue to guard their independence, including the daily Novi List in Rijeka, the weekly Globus, the intellectual bimonthly journal Erasmus, and the weekly Arkzin, published by the Antiwar Campaign.

Some extremist publications, with a virulently antigovernment slant, can be purchased at newsstands, although they have a very small circulation. The highly popular and often critical weekly Feral Tribune was subjected to a 50 percent turnover tax in 1994, though in March, under pressure from the European Union, the tax was lifted by the Constitutional Court.

Government influence over the recently privatized distribution network, coupled with stiff value added taxes levied at several points during the production process, also has an impact on press freedom. It is claimed, though difficult to prove, that the few companies able to print newspapers do not charge the progovernment media for their services; it is also widely believed that Tisak, the national distributor for all newspapers and magazines, removes independent journals very quickly from its newsstands while at the same time charging them a high percentage of the cover price for its services. Certain independent newspapers and magazines claim that they must pay out more than 50 percent of their gross revenues for taxes and distribution costs alone. On the other hand, the high circulation of some popular independent periodicals, Globus being the most visible example, has given them enough financial independence to thrive despite these high taxes and high costs.

International papers and journals remained available throughout government-controlled areas, including Serbian periodicals which subscribers continued to receive by mail.

Croatia has three national television channels and a local television station in Zagreb which reaches a quarter of the population. Zagreb-based Channels One, Two, and Three are part of HRT, the official Croatian Radio and Television Enterprise, headed by a well-known HDZ member. Regional stations operate in Zadar, Split, Vinkovci, and Osijek.

In August Parliament announced the first allocations of frequencies for regional private radio and television stations under the July 1994 Broadcast Law. (No frequencies for nationwide private broadcasters have been assigned for either radio or television.) Two of 4 planned frequencies for television and 4 of 20 planned frequencies for radio at the county (zupanija) level were assigned. Nine of 15 planned frequencies for municipal-level private television were assigned and 88 of 111 planned frequencies for municipal radio broadcasters were assigned.

The Broadcast Law mandates that one parliamentary member of the Council for Croatian Television be an ethnic minority representative, but this person has not yet been appointed. Among the first acts the Government undertook after its forces retook the Krajina was to begin broadcasting programming from the HRT regional station in Knin.

In Serb-controlled regions, freedom of speech and the press virtually did not exist. With martial law still in effect, there were no guarantees of a free press and other freedoms, and the authorities controlled the tone and content of the media. One television station broadcasts from studios in Beli Manastir and Vukovar in the one remaining Serb-occupied area at year's end. A few low-powered local radio stations broadcast from Baranja and Eastern Slavonia. Government radio and television broadcasts are received in these areas as well.

Academic freedom is generally respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The 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, and the Government respects these provisions in practice.

In early December, over 2,000 Croat refugees gathered in Zagreb for the largest antigovernment demonstration since independence to protest the Dayton peace agreement and the loss of their homes in Bosnian Posavina to Bosnian Serbs. The demonstration was mostly peaceful with a few isolated incidents of police harassment of protestors.

In Serb-controlled areas, no antigovernment demonstrations were held throughout the year, and individuals who publicly voiced opposition views were regularly jailed.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion and free public profession of religious and other convictions, and the Government respects these rights in practice. There is no state religion. 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 optional 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, as do representatives of eastern-based religions. 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 with their religious character.

The close identification of religion with ethnicity had earlier caused religious institutions to be targets of violence. The Serbian Orthodox cathedral in downtown Zagreb is open, and several other Orthodox churches and monasteries operate freely in government-controlled Croatia. International human rights monitors said that the few Orthodox priests and nuns who remained in Croatia after the 1991 war reported generally good relations with their Catholic neighbors. After the military offensives in Western Slavonia and the Krajina region, military and police forces guarded most of the Orthodox churches to prevent them from being looted or destroyed. Nonetheless, some were reported to be looted or damaged.

Most Catholic churches in the Serb-occupied areas have been destroyed. In Eastern Slavonia, only one active Croatian Catholic priest remains. A Slovak Catholic priest travels regularly from Serbia to hold masses.

The Government discriminates against Muslims in the issuance of citizenship papers. The Interior Ministry uses Article 26 of the Law on Citizenship to deny citizenship papers to persons otherwise qualified to be citizens of Croatia (see Section 5).

Most requests for conscientious objector exemption from military service were granted. There is no provision for conscientious objector status in the Serb-occupied areas.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution generally provides for these rights, with certain restrictions. All persons legally in the country must register their residence with the local authorities. 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."

The Government refused to allow the almost 200,000 refugees who fled the fighting to return to their homes in the former sectors north, south, and west. Between 10,000 and 15,000 Serbs filed applications to return based on humanitarian considerations, but only 400 were approved by mid-November. Approval was granted only if the individual had immediate family in Croatia who would sponsor his return and could prove legal residence in Croatia before independence. Approved returnees did not return to their homes in the former occupied areas, but were housed by their family sponsor.

There are restrictions on freedom of movement for all journalists and all male citizens age 18 through 55 in the cities and in areas close to the confrontation lines. Journalists, as well as almost all 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 were housed in remote locations with little or no means of public transport. There were several confirmed cases of forced return of refugees to Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially from among the rebel Muslim refugees from the Bihac canton of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Government tried to enforce strictly a policy of admitting no new refugee unless transit to a third country was assured. However, in mid-summer large numbers of Croat and Muslim refugees, forced from Serb-held northern Bosnia by ethnic cleansing campaigns, entered Croatia via a crossing over the Sava river at Davor. Ethnic Croats were registered as refugees, as well as a few Muslims, but most Muslim refugees were immediately repatriated to government-controlled areas of western Bosnia.

The Government also continued to relocate refugees from coastal tourist facilities to inland areas and to recovered territories. Often this policy met resistance from refugee groups who did not want to move to buildings with few modern living facilities or to be uprooted and separated from the people with whom they had spent the last 4 years.

The forces of Bosnian Muslim rebel leader Fikret Abdic were defeated by the Bosnian army in September, and over 20,000 people left the municipality of Velika Kladusa in northern Bosnia and entered Croatia. The Government refused to provide hardened shelter and the refugees set up a make-shift camp in the village of Kupljensko. Although UNHCR and the international community determined them to be legitimate refugees from Bosnia, the Government refused to grant them this status and sought ways to repatriate them. Severe weather conditions and the lack of proper shelter combined to force many of the refugees to return to Bosnia on their own at the end of the year.

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.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change their Government

Croatia 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 comprised 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.

In elections for the House of Representatives, held in October, the HDZ again won a majority of the seats, and 11 other parties also won seats. International observers faulted the election campaign on a number of points: the electoral law was hastily presented to Parliament and passed after only a few hours of debate; a special franchise for Croats living permanently outside the country was created to include almost 10 percent of the seats in Parliament; ethnic Serb representation--based on percentage of population--was dropped from 13 seats to 3 without a census; changes in constituency boundaries appeared to be arbitrary and non-transparent; the state-run media restricted criticism of government policies and activities; and the election administration was flawed (voter lists were often inaccurate and outdated). The franchise for the diaspora included ethnic Croats born and resident in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but excluded ethnic Serbs born in Croatia, who were living as refugees in Serb-controlled areas. Rules for access to the state-owned media restricted the ability of opposition parties to criticize government policies and activities.

During the election, established polling procedures were generally observed. Poll workers and officials demonstrated a genuine commitment to conducting their work freely and fairly and usually welcomed the presence of foreign observers. There were, however, inconsistencies among polling places, most of which probably resulted from a lack of training for election officials. Problems during voting appear to have curtailed the rights of some minority voters. For example, there were reports that some Serbs were not allowed to vote for the state-wide party list if they exercised their right to vote on the special list for ethnic Serb candidates as allowed under the law. Cases of passive intimidation of Serb voters were also reported by election observers. Representatives of most minority groups (including Serbs) complained that voters had been left off the rolls or had been misclassified as Croats, an error which applied to an estimated 10 percent of minority voters in some areas, according to a number of election observers.

In September the Government temporarily rescinded Articles 21 and 22 (and all other relevant articles) of the 1992 Constitutional Law on Human Rights and Freedoms. These laws had established self-governing special status districts in areas where minorities made up more than 50 percent of the population, namely, municipalities in the Knin and Glina regions. The provisions remain suspended indefinitely, and at a minimum until the results of an April 1996 census are known. This repeal of the special districts law, officially justified by the change in the demographics of the territory, as well as the law confiscating abandoned property, and the refusal to allow the mass return of Serb refugees, contributed to charges that the Government sought to legalize and institutionalize the population changes after the offensives to create a homogeneous country with no significant minorities.

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 courts. Fifteen women hold seats in the 206-member Parliament; one is the President of the House of Counties. Election law requires representation for minorities in Parliament, with proportional representation for any minority that makes up more than 8 percent of the population. Parliament's October reduction in the number of Serbian representatives was based on estimates of the number of Serbs who fled Croatia and the assumption that they would not return, disregarding the fact that they remained Croatian citizens. Two of the three remaining seats were won by the Serbian People's Party and one seat went to the Social Democratic Action Party.

The "RSK" held elections in December 1993 which no international body recognized as either legitimate or fair. The "presidential" candidate sponsored by Belgrade, Milan Martic, "won" only after official manipulation of the vote. After the fall of the "RSK," the long-serving leaders of Eastern Slavonia appointed themselves as the "regional governing council" and "politically" reorganized themselves as a "district," no longer a "republic." No minorities were represented in either the "parliament" or the "government" of the "RSK," nor are any on the council.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Human 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. Most of these groups focused on legal advocacy programs and social services support for the remaining populations in the recovered territories. A coalition of groups was created in May to support and monitor the human rights situation in Western Slavonia. Elements of this coalition were later extended to Knin. Human rights groups remained highly critical of the Government's human rights record.

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 are 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. However, in November President Tudjman named the commander of Bosnian Croat forces, Major General Tihomir Blaskic, to a new post in the Inspector General Directorate of the HV, a day after Blaskic had been indicted by the tribunal. This appointment raised questions about the Government's pledge.

Serbian forces did not permit the formation or functioning of local human rights groups and impeded the work of international human rights groups. An organization called the Danube Peace Bridge, based in southern Hungary, was active in Eastern Slavonia, supported by activists from both Croatia and Serbia. However, local "officials" prevented Croatian human rights monitors from government-controlled Croatia from entering the region. Only U.N. personnel and the European Union Monitoring Mission have limited freedom to observe human rights practices in these areas.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The 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.

Women

Although the Government does not collect statistics, informed observers state that violence against women, including spousal 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.

The law does not discriminate by gender. In practice, however, women generally hold lower paying positions in the work force. Although no statistics are available, the majority of high school and elementary teachers, nurses, and clerical workers are believed to be female. 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.

Children

The Government strongly committed to the welfare of children. Education is compulsory up to age 14. 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.

People with Disabilities

There is no specific legislation mandating access to buildings or government services for people with disabilities; access to such facilities is often difficult. The Government began a new program to provide several disabled war veterans with publicly financed homes designed especially to accommodate their particular disability. People with disabilities face no discriminatory measures, and education and job opportunities generally are available.

Religious Minorities

The Muslim community in Croatia suffered from discrimination, and Croatian Muslims and Bosnian refugees continue to report widespread discrimination in many areas such as citizenship (see Section 2.c.) and employment rights. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights noted that Muslims (along with Serbs) "are always the first to be dismissed" from jobs (see Section 5).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Constitutionally, Croatian Serbs and other minority groups enjoy the same protection as other self-identified ethnic and religious groups in the country. In practice, however, there continues to be ever-present, subtle, and sometimes open discrimination against Orthodox Serbs in such areas as the administration of justice, employment, housing, and the free exercise of 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, although at a lesser rate than in previous years. Serbs in Croatia also continued to receive anonymous threats by mail, telephone, and facsimile, 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 and the lack of interest shown by the Government in devising measures to restore confidence among Serbs remaining in the formerly occupied areas.

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 of societal violence against Serbs went unpunished. The Government's practice of discriminating against ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Serbs and Muslims, in the issuance of citizenship papers, drew harsh criticism. Human rights groups report numerous documented cases in which the Interior Ministry denied citizenship papers to long-term residents of Croatia (that is, resident in Croatia long before the country declared its independence). 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 for reasons of national interest. The law does not require the reasons to be explained, and human rights organizations reported that the police continued to refuse citizenship applications without full explanation.

The law on citizenship 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. Others 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 and is 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 previously noted in his report that "it appears that Serbs and Muslims are always the first to be dismissed." While the difficult economic situation 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 where the employee's ethnicity was the stated reason. In one case, the only doctor to remain in the Knin hospital following "Operation Storm" was dismissed. 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.

Roma continued to face societal discrimination and official inaction when complaints were filed. The 1991 census shows a total of under 7,000 Roma in the country but community leaders number the group in the tens of thousands.

Other minority groups--Slovaks, Czechs, Italians, Hungarians--did not report significant discrimination to the same extent as the Serb community. At the start of the autumn school year, ethnic Hungarian parents complained that only children whose parents were both registered to be of Hungarian ethnicity could register in Hungarian schools, preventing many children of mixed background from attending. The Italian minority in Istria and other ethnic communities alleged disproportionate numbers of mobilizations prior to both military offensives, as a test of their loyalty to Croatia.

In general, non-Serb minorities in the Serb-occupied areas were treated in abysmal fashion. Most had already been "ethnically cleansed", but those Croats, Hungarians and other remaining non-Serbs were subject to summary detention, harassment, and physical intimidation.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

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.

The right to strike is provided for in the Constitution and is limited only for the armed forces, police, government administration, and public services. Strikes have been infrequent since the end of 1994, with two notable exceptions in the transportation sector. Railway workers went on strike in December 1994 to protest poor safety conditions and late payment of wages. Airline pilots went on strike for a few days in the fall due to a wage dispute. Although there was relatively little labor unrest, workers continue to complain about the inability of government-owned or government-run institutions or industries to pay wages on time. For example, teachers who struck at the beginning of the 1994-95 academic year continued to protest government wage policy and on more than one occasion threatened to resume strike activity. Despite strikes and protests, the Government hewed closely to the austerity program it implemented in October 1993 as part of its economic stabilization program. The railway strike, however, succeeded in gaining greater union representation within management.

Unions may freely affiliate internationally.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining is protected by law and practiced freely. In the spring, Parliament passed a new Labor Code, with union support, which revised the statutes governing collective bargaining contracts, protection for striking workers, and legal limitations on the ability of employers to conduct "lockouts during labor disputes. Many enterprises which were "socially owned" have been "transformed" or nationalized as a first step towards privatization. In the current transition to privatization and a free market economy, unions are under pressure due to job losses, general unemployment in a weakened economy, and their own struggle to become genuine free trade unions.

The new Labor Code deals directly with antiunion discrimination issues. It allows unions to challenge firings in court, and eliminates provisions under which illness had been a valid reason for employers to fire workers. It also erases provisions which, under the old code, required union shop stewards to remain on the job while serving full time on workers' councils, and grants them the right of reinstatement when service is completed. Nevertheless, the trade union federations have alleged that the Government employs strong-arm tactics against employees involved in labor disputes and strikes to force them back to work. Some threats are alleged to include mobilization, or "work obligations," whereby outside workers are drafted to fill positions.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory work is constitutionally forbidden, and there were no documented instances of it. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare is the agency charged with enforcing the ban on.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for youth employment is 15, and it is enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. 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 age 18 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 Work

There are national minimum wage standards. Public service unions are pacesetters for the rest of the work force, and they were in the forefront of continued efforts to encourage the Government to honor its commitments. As of October, the minimum gross monthly wage was roughly $200 (1024 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.

Health and safety standards are set by the Government and are enforced by the Ministry of Health. In practice, industries are not diligent in meeting standards for worker protection.

 

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