U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Croatia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Croatia, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa7818.html [accessed 31 October 2014]|
|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.|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
CROATIAThe Republic of Croatia is a constitutional parliamentary democracy with a powerful presidency. The ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) has maintained power since independence in 1991, using its entrenched majority position to deny opposition parties the ability to compete on fair and equal terms in elections. President Franjo Tudjman, the HDZ leader, was reelected in June for a second 5-year term in an election that observers considered "fundamentally flawed." The President serves as head of state and commander of the armed forces, chairs the influential National Defense and Security Council, appoints the prime minister who leads the government, and approves senior appointments in local government. Government influence circumscribes and weakens the judiciary. This, combined with the extensive constitutional powers of the presidency, the overwhelming dominance of the HDZ, its absolute control of television, and the continuing concentration of power within the one-party central government, makes Croatia's nominally democratic system in reality authoritarian. The Ministry of Interior oversees the police, and the Ministry of Defense oversees the military. Civilian police have no authority over the military police or over uniformed military personnel. The national police have primary responsibility for internal security but, in times of disorder, the Government may call on the army to provide security. Both the police and the army are responsible for external security. Although the civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the professional security forces, some members of the police and armed forces committed human rights abuses. The economy is slowly changing to a market-based free enterprise system, and agriculture is mostly in private hands. Family-owned small enterprises are multiplying, but industry is still largely state controlled. The Government's privatization program came under increasing criticism for allotting shares in prime enterprises to those loyal to the ruling party. While the economy recovered somewhat from the devastation inflicted by the war in 1991, the standard of living remained below prewar levels. Unemployment is high, and accusations of government cronyism were common. The Government's human rights record remained poor, although significant improvement was seen in certain areas. It continued to allow serious abuses, particularly regarding the treatment of ethnic Serbs. The Government has still not established adequate civil authority in the former occupied areas (the Krajina and Western Slavonia), and the police were unwilling or unable to take effective action against criminal activity against ethnic Serbs. Looting and threats were common. Beatings and murders still occur, although less frequently than in the past. The response by police was often apathetic, and the Government made little or no effort to seek out, investigate, and punish those responsible for such abuses. Cases of abuse from 1995, the victims of which were almost exclusively ethnic Serbs, remained mostly unresolved. According to credible reports, the police occasionally beat persons. The Government does not always respect due process provisions for arrest and detention. The judicial system is subject to executive influence, and the Government carried out a purge of judges and state attorneys that further called into question the independence of the judiciary. The courts are burdened by a huge case backlog and sometimes deny citizens fair trials. While in general the Constitution and laws provide for a broad range of human rights, in practice the Government continued to implement the law in a discriminatory fashion. The Government infringed on press freedom and used the courts and administrative bodies selectively to shut down or restrain newspapers and radio stations that criticized the Government. Government intimidation induced self-censorship by journalists. The Government exercised provisions of the Criminal Code that allowed it to prosecute those who insult high officials in the press or who make statements which might cause public instability (at times subjectively defined to allow judicial action against opinions contrary to the ruling party). The right of association was circumscribed by a new law in June. In two sets of elections, the Government seriously infringed upon the right of citizens to change their government freely by its almost total control of the electronic media. It also used manipulation of laws, harassment, and economic pressure to control the political process. Although significant progress was made in the provision of citizenship documents to ethnic Serbs in Eastern Slavonia, the last remaining Serb-held enclave, the Government refused to allow ethnic Serbs who had fled Croatia during the military conflict in 1995 to return or vote, effectively exiling and disenfranchising at least 180,000 people. Military and police forces, contrary to officially stated government policy, continued to carry out forced evictions, although fewer than in previous years. Local officials also allowed ethnic Croat refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia-Montenegro to dispossess ethnic Serb property owners. The record of cooperation by government authorities with international human rights and monitoring organizations was mixed. Violence and discrimination against women remained problems. Discrimination in the administration of justice, housing, and jobs against ethnic Serbs and against those who were not members of the ruling party was common. Isolated incidents of ethnically motivated killings and mob violence occurred. Roma also faced discrimination. The United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES) maintained executive authority for the region through January 15, 1998, when the United Nations Security Council concluded that sufficient progress toward reintegration had been made and ended UNTAES mandate. By August the Government had provided citizenship documents to over 145,000 ethnic Serbs in the region, a significant number of whom were Croatian Serbs, now refugees in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia ("FRY") and Bosnia and Herzegovina, who came across the porous border with Yugoslavia to apply. The Government issued employment contracts for Serbs working in enterprises and public offices that were reintegrated into the Croatian system, thereby boosting local Serbs' confidence in their future in the region. Elections for local governments and the upper house of Parliament were held in April and presidential elections were held in June, simultaneously in the region and in the rest of Croatia. A significant number of ethnic Serb representatives were elected to local government bodies. While police remained under the control of UNTAES, they were increasingly brought into alignment with the Ministry of Interior. Following the April elections, an ethnic Serb assistant minister of interior was appointed. Most significantly, by September some 8,000 Croatian Serbs had left UNTAES region for their homes in other parts of Croatia, and approximately 1,500 Croats had returned to their homes in Eastern Slavonia. Overall freedom of movement into and out of UNTAES region increased significantly. While senior government leaders were cooperative, some government officials and local offices often refused to carry out central government directives. Increased access to the Danubian region led to a growing number of incidents of harassment of the ethnic Serbs living in the region by ethnic Croats, although these incidents are small in number compared to the large numbers of people moving back and forth. A significant number of these incidents of harassment were carried out by Croatian members of the Transitional Police Force or local Croatian officials. Ethnic Croat police officers at times were biased in their treatment of ethnic Serbs in the region. Human rights advances included the ratification in September of the European convention on human rights, a notable acceleration in the return of internally displaced Serbs to their former homes in government-controlled territory, and the passage of a law allowing for primary education in minority languages. In addition, the courts late in the year revised some of the more discriminatory parts of a law that effectively expropriated the property of many minority Serbs who fled Croatia in 1995, but there is still no effective mechanism by which Serb owners can recover their property. In a major step, Croatia facilitated the handover in October of 10 Bosnian Croats indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague, including Dario Kordic, one of the most wanted suspects indicted by the tribunal. Also in October, the Government committed to a plan by which it would inform ICTY of new cases of potential interest to the tribunal. However, despite these very positive developments, Croatia's overall cooperation with the tribunal remained uneven. Other handovers occurred only under international pressure, the proposed plan remained unimplemented, and by September no progress had been made in the handover of documents that would assist in the prosecution of ethnic Croats in custody in the Hague.