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Croatia: Governmental and non-governmental resources available to women victims of spousal abuse or domestic violence (2003-2005)

Publisher Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 2 February 2006
Citation / Document Symbol HRV100746.E
Reference 2
Cite as Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Croatia: Governmental and non-governmental resources available to women victims of spousal abuse or domestic violence (2003-2005), 2 February 2006, HRV100746.E, available at: [accessed 23 April 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.

Country Reports 2004 indicates that the number of cases of domestic violence reported to the police in Croatia has increased, with more than 50 per cent more cases registered between January and March 2004 than for the same period in the previous year (28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 5). This increase was corroborated by the Croatian news agency HINA (25 Nov. 2004). Country Reports 2004 also indicates that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) criticized police policies that left assessing the need for restraining orders and other measures up to the discretion of the police, and complained that the judicial system was "slow to schedule first hearings, issued few convictions, and administered only minimum prison sentences and fines" (28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 5). Freedom House reported that "[d]omestic violence against women is believed to be a widespread and under-reported phenomenon" (11 Aug. 2005, 175). One news source stated that domestic violence is unreported because of "general lack of trust in the police" (Lincolnshire Echo 26 Feb. 2005). According to Stop Violence Against Women, "[v]iolence against women is a serious problem in Croatia" and sexual assaults are underreported (6 July 2005). The organization also stated that

[m]ost women who experienced domestic violence or rape were reluctant to report it both because the patriarchal society imposes a sense of shame upon the victim and because victims are usually economically dependent upon their abusers ... and ... because police were often poorly trained and unresponsive. However, NGO's reported in 2004 that police were doing a better job handling domestic violence cases (StopVAW 6 July 2005).

In its concluding comments on Croatia, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) noted, when examining the anti-discrimination legislation of Croatia, that it was "concerned that insufficient measures [had] been put in place to ensure [its] speedy, consistent and effective implementation ... [and was further concerned with the] lack of information about women's use of existing complaints mechanisms" (UN 15 Feb. 2005, Para. 21). CEDAW criticized Croatia because those who worked with the reformed laws did not have sufficient knowledge of them (ibid.). CEDAW also indicated that Croatia did not have sufficient resources to address issues affecting women and to promote gender equality (ibid., Para. 25). CEDAW also noted that there was a "high incidence of domestic violence," that shelters for women were scarce and that there was a "lack of clear procedures, or protocols, for law enforcement and health-care personnel who respond to cases of domestic violence" (ibid., Para. 31).

One newspaper article reported that rape is not considered a serious crime in Croatia as convicted rapists receive short sentences, and that the procedures are such that they enable "secondary victimisation" by the courts (The Guardian 29 Apr. 2005). This newspaper also stated that "[r]eliable statistics on rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment are impossible to obtain.... [T]he overwhelming majority of incidents go unreported because of the perception that men may act with impunity, while the women will be stigmatised or worse if they go public with their complaints" (ibid.). Nonetheless, the same article, quoting unnamed experts, said the rate of "sexual crimes" in the Balkan countries was comparable to that of western Europe, although the reception and treatment of such cases is different (ibid.).

The Vice-President of the Republic of Croatia, and Minister of Family, Veterans' Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity provided the Research Directorate with a copy of the "National Strategy Against Family Violence, for the Period from the Year 2005 till the Year 2007" which contained the following data on family violence (Croatia 2005): Between 1 July 1999 and 31 December 2003, the police filed a total of 24,518 cases of family violence as misdemeanour offences (ibid., 47). Between the 1 January 2003 and 31 December 2003, a total of 1,118 offences of family violence as criminal offences were committed, "which represents a rise of 82.7% in comparison to the year 2002" (ibid., 48). Also during the year 2003, the police received a total of 14,263 requests for intervention from the police in situations of family violence (ibid.). From 1 January to 31 March 2004, 3,426 persons were harmed as a result of a misdemeanour offence of family violence; of these, 66.4 per cent were females (ibid.).

According to the Coalition for Work with Psychotrauma and Peace (CWWPP), although the Croatian government has enacted legislation to address domestic violence, it "still has a problem with implementation of this act in the field and they are doing nothing about prevention of domestic violence in society in practice" (Aug. 2004). The CWWPP also suggests that a 24-hour hotline should be created, as the ones that currently exist operate for only a few hours per day, and suggests that counselling services and shelters are needed for women and children victims of domestic violence (CWWPP Aug. 2004).

Legislative Initiative

In 2003, Croatia adopted the Gender Equality Act (StopVAW 6 July 2005; Freedom House 11 Aug. 2005, 175; UN 27 Oct. 2003, 11; UN Mar. 2005, 108). This was the first legislation to proscribe sexual harassment (StopVAW 6 July 2005). This law addresses discrimination based on gender and establishes the Office for Gender Equality to "carry out tasks relating to the realisation of gender equality" (Croatia 18 July 2003, Art. 18) and establishes the Gender Equality Ombudsman to "monitor the implementation of this Act and other regulations relating to gender equality and report thereof to the Croatian Parliament" (ibid., Art. 21).

The Family Law of Croatia was enacted on 11 December 1998 and entered into force on 1 July 1999 (UN 27 Oct. 2003, 10; StopVAW 6 July 2005; SEELINE 15 Feb. 2005; B.a.B.e 2003). Article 118 of the Family Law prohibits "violent behaviour of the spouse or any other full age family member" (ibid.; SEELINE 15 Feb. 2005; StopVAW 6 July 2005; UN 27 Oct. 2003, 10) and Article 362 of the same law subjects those committed of such an offence to 30 days' imprisonment (ibid.; SEELINE 15 Feb. 2005; B.a.B.e. 2003). According to the South Eastern European Women's Legal Initiative (SEELINE) and the NGO Be Active Be Emancipated (B.a.B.e.), the fact that this provision on domestic violence was placed in the chapter on parental care of the Family Law, and the fact that violent behaviour is committed by a spouse or family member over 18 years of age means that Section 118 could be interpreted to provide protection only to children (SEELINE Feb. 2005; B.a.B.e. 2003). However, B.a.B.e. goes on to state that police have intervened using this provision in families with and without children (ibid.). This legislation also stipulates that, when dealing with domestic violence cases, "the police determines the state of affairs, temporarily isolates the offender from the family and presents her/him to magistrates' court and presses criminal charges for committing an offence from Art. 118 of the Family Law" (UN 27 Oct. 2003, 10). In its response to CEDAW, Croatia indicated that the new Family Law was adopted in July 2003 with additional amendments in February 2004 (UN 2 Nov. 2004, 2); however, no information as to the content of these amendments could be found within the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

The Criminal Code of Croatia came into force on 1 January 1998 (B.a.B.e. 2003; UN 27 Oct. 2003, 8) with amendments adopted in December 2000, July 2003 (ibid.) and October 2004 (ibid. 2 Nov. 2004, 3). Article 215(a) criminalizes violence within the family: "[a]ny family member, who by violence, abuse or insolent behavior forces another family member into [a] humiliating position, will be punished with imprisonment for ... three months to three years" (B.a.B.e 2003; UN 27 Oct. 2003, 9; Croatia 2005, 45). The Criminal Code of Croatia criminalizes rape, including spousal rape (StopVAW 6 July 2005; Age of Consent n.d.). Article 188 of the Criminal Code provides that

(1) [w]ho forces another person by acts or by threatening to cause the death or bodily injury to that person or a person close to that person, to sexual intercourse or an equivalent sexual act, will be punished by a prison sentence lasting from one to ten years.

(2) Who commits the criminal act described in the paragraph 1 of this Article in a particularly cruel or humiliating way, or if more sexual intercourse or equivalent sexual acts are committed by more than one perpetrator to the detriment of the same victim; will be punished by at least three (3) years' imprisonment.

(3) If the criminal act described in the paragraph 1 of this Article has caused the death of the person or serious bodily injury, or that person's health has been seriously damaged, or the raped female person has become pregnant, the perpetrator will be punished by at least three (3) years' imprisonment.

(4) If the criminal act described in paragraph 2 of this Article has caused consequences described in paragraph 3, the perpetrator will be punished by at least five (5) years' imprisonment (Age of Consent n.d.).

The Law on Misdemeanours was enacted on 1 October 2002 (StopVAW 6 July 2005; B.a.B.e. 2003; UN 27 Oct. 2003, 10). Article 146(1) provides that "the court may ... detain a person for whom there exists a reasonable doubt that she/he committed an offence: if the person was caught in the act of committing an offence against public peace and order or offence concerning domestic violence for which a prison sentence or fine of 2,000 kunas or more can be pronounced" if it is reasonable to believe that the perpetrator will re-offend (ibid., StopVAW 6 July 2005; B.a.B.e. 2003). According to the Bank of Canada, 2,000 kunas was the equivalent of CAN $423.80 in October 2002 (30 Jan. 2006).

The Law on Protection from Domestic Violence was adopted in 2003 (UN 19 Jan. 2005; ibid. 27 Oct. 2003, 11). It is also referred to as the Law on the Protection from Family Violence (ibid. 15 Mar. 2005; Croatia 28 Feb. – 11 Mar. 2005, 6) or the Law on Protection From Violence in the Family (UN 2 Nov. 2004). Article 4 addresses violence in the family; it stipulates that

any use of physical force o[r] psychological coercion on the integrity of a person; any other act taken by a family member that might cause or bring forth danger of causing physical and psychological pain; the cause of a feeling of fear or personal endangerment or violation of dignity; the physical attack regardless of possible physical injuries; verbal attacks, insults, cursing, name-calling or other ways of crude harassment; sexual harassment; spying and all other ways of harassment; unlawful isolation or limitation of the freedom of movement or communication with third parties; damaging or destroying property or the intention of doing so (ibid., 11).

This law also provides for precautionary or protective measures, which are aimed at protecting victims from being subjected to domestic violence (ibid.; ibid. 27 Oct. 2003, 14; ibid. 19 Jan. 2005). These include

obligatory psychosocial treatment, a restraining order from the victim of violence; the prohibition of harassment or spying on the person who is subject to violence; the obligatory treatment of addiction and the removal of objects meant for or used in perpetrating an offence (UN 2 Nov. 2004, 11).

According to the Government of Croatia, the Ministry of Family, Veterans' Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity in November 2004 was in the process of drafting amendments to this act (ibid.).

Governmental Resources

Croatia indicated to CEDAW that it was drafting a new policy on gender equality for the period of 2005-2010 (UN 19 Jan. 2005, 9) and that it had adopted in 2001 the National Policy for the Promotion of Gender Equality and the Implementation Programme of the National Policy for 2001 to 2005 (ibid., 3; StopVAW 6 July 2005).

The government did not provide shelters for victims of domestic violence; however, four shelters were operated by NGOs (StopVAW 6 July 2005; UN 19 Jan. 2005; Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 5). According to Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004, these shelters were located in Karlovac, Rijeka, Osijek and Sibenik, and hotlines, counselling and legal assistance programs were also available to victims of domestic violence (ibid.). Another source names seven institutions that have agreed to accommodate victims of domestic violence (UN 2 Nov. 2004, 12).

The Office for Gender Equality was established in 2004 according to the Gender Equality Act (StopVAW 6 July 2005). In its first year, it created gender equality commissions in 10 counties (UN 19 Jan. 2005). However, Croatia has indicated that the Office for Gender Equality is under-funded (ibid.; StopVAW 6 July 2005) and that these commissions "are active in less than half (from the total of 21) counties and only a portion of them are extremely active" (UN 2 Nov. 2004, 5).

The Office of the Gender Equality Ombudsperson was also established in accordance with the Gender Equality Act (Croatia 18 July 2003; StopVAW 6 July 2005). The ombudsperson for gender equality was appointed in October 2003 (UN March 2005, 108; UN 15 Feb. 2005, Para. 4) and the office became fully operational in the summer of 2004 (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 5). Its mandate is to improve the situation of women with regards to employment, education and gender violence (UN Mar. 2005, 108) as well as to oversee the implementation of the Gender Equality Act (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 5).

The Gender Equality Committee, which is part of the Croatian Parliament, was established to promote and monitor the "application of the principles of gender equality in the legislation of the Republic of Croatia" (Croatia n.d.a).

According to a Croatian news agency, the government adopted "a national strategy for the prevention of domestic violence, providing for the speedy settlement of all domestic violence cases at courts, the establishment of courts for family-related issues and free psychological and social assistance" (HINA 8 Mar. 2005). Information on the existence of this strategy was corroborated by a representative of the Ministry of Family, Veterans' Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity, who provided the Research Directorate with a copy of the National Strategy of Protection Against Family Violence for 2005 to 2007 (Croatia 2005). The news agency HINA added that this strategy would also provide for new shelters and counselling centres (9 Dec. 2004).

Non-governmental Resources

Be active Be emancipated (B.a.B.e.) is an NGO located in Zagreb, Croatia that advocates for women's rights (B.a.B.e. n.d.a). It is an "NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations" (ibid.). It offers the following programs: LEGALINE, a legal advice hotline for women; MONITORINE, a project that monitors and analyzes laws affecting women's rights; SEELINE (South Eastern European Legal Initiative), another project that monitors laws from a gender perspective, in connection with 10 countries in the South Eastern Europe region and with the objective of creating joint proposals for amendments to legislation; EDUKATORINE AND LOKALINE, an education campaign for women's human rights; WOMEN AND MEDIA, a project that examines how women are portrayed in the media and that seeks to diminish stereotypes and raise awareness of discrimination; INTERNETINE, a project to introduce women to information technologies and to give them access to such technologies; and SUPPORTINE, the newest project of B.a.B.e. that attempts to strengthen the women's movement in Croatia (ibid. n.d.b).

Zenska Infoteka is a women's information and documentation centre that promotes the women's movement in Croatia and that supports women's groups trying to achieve equality (Zenska Infoteka n.d.). It publishes a quarterly feminist magazine called Bread and Roses (ibid.) and a bimonthly newsletter WINFO (Rewind Net n.d.).

The Autonomous Women's House Zagreb (AWHZ) is a shelter for women and children victims of domestic violence and is located in Zagreb, Croatia (AWHZ n.d.a). It was established in December 1990 "as the first women's shelter in Eastern Europe, after squatting an empty state owned apartment. It was officially registered (as AWHZ) in June 1992" (ibid. n.d.b). Besides shelter, AWHZ also offers counselling services to victims of domestic violence and has an educational project which provides ongoing education on crisis intervention, stress management, assertiveness, conflict resolution and self-defence (ibid. n.d.c). It also campaigns for women's rights, networks with other women's organizations and contributes to the collaborative project STOP Violence Against Women, which collects and distributes information regarding violence against women, analyzes the legislative framework and proposes amendments to the laws affecting women's rights (ibid. n.d.d).

The Center for Education, Counselling and Research (CESI) is an NGO, located in Zagreb, that promotes women's and minorities' rights (CESI n.d.a). According to its Website, CESI fronts three main projects: "Building Gender Awareness," which promotes gender equality, non-violence, tolerance and solidarity by acquiring knowledge and skills; "Support, Education and Development of Civil Initiatives," which provides support to women's organizations and promotes involvement of women, networking, and exchange of information between women NGOs; and "Women's Human Rights," which advocates for women's human rights and attempts to eliminate inequality and discrimination against women (ibid. n.d.b).

The Women's Group Karlovac is an NGO and has a shelter that provides help and support to women and children victims of domestic violence (n.d.a). The organization, located in Karlovac, was established in August 1998; the shelter opened on 1 July 2002 (ibid.). It provides free legal advice and legal services to women and has an educational program to give options to women in situations of domestic violence (ibid. n.d.b). The Women's Group Karlovac also has an "SOS hotline" for women and children subjected to violence, and performs field work, i.e. visiting remote areas to provide information and help, organizing public lectures, transporting victims to the nearest shelter or health care facility and distributing humanitarian help (ibid.).

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 for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Age of Consent. N.d. "Croatia – Age of Sexual Consent." [Accessed 28 Dec. 2005]

Autonomous Women's House Zagreb (AWHZ). N.d.a. "Info." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]
_____. N.d.b. "History." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]
_____. N.d.c. "Educational Project." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]
_____. N.d.d. "Campaigning, Networking, Public Outreach Work." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]

Bank of Canada. 30 January 2006. "Currency Conversion Results." [Accessed 30 Jan. 2006]

Be active. Be emancipated (B.a.B.e.). 2003. "Croatian Legal Framework of Domestic Violence." [Accessed 28 Dec. 2005]
_____. N.d.a. "Be active. Be emancipated." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]
_____. N.d.b. "B.a.B.e.'s Activities Are Project Oriented." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]

Center for Education, Counselling and Research (CESI). N.d.a. "CESI Mission." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]
_____. N.d.b. "CESI Programmes." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]

Coalition for Work with Psychotrauma and Peace (CWWPP). August 2004. Sasa Bjelanovic and Charles David Tauber. "Domestic Violence in Eastern Croatia." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004. 28 February 2005. United States Department of State. [Accessed 19 Dec. 2005]

Croatia. 15 March 2005. Permanent Mission of the Republic of Croatia to the United Nations Office. Statement by H. E. Ms. Jadranka Kosor, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia. [Accessed 23 Dec. 2005]
_____. 28 February – 11 March 2005. Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Statement submitted to Commission on the Status of Women. Synergies Between National-Level Implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. [Accessed 23 Dec. 2005]
_____. 2005. "National Strategy of Protection Against Family Violence, for the Period from the Year 2005 till the Year 2007." Provided by the Vice-President of the Republic of Croatia, Minister of Family, Veterans' Affairs and Intergenerational Solidarity through correspondence to the Research Directorate on 18 January 2006.
_____. 18 July 2003. Gender Equality Act. or [Accessed 23 Dec. 2005]
_____. N.d.a. Croatian Parliament. "Gender Equality Committee." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]

Freedom House. 11 August 2005. "Croatia." Freedom in the World 2005. [Accessed 22 Dec. 2005]

The Guardian [London]. 29 April 2005. Ian Traynor. "Rape Accusation by US Athlete Sparks Croatian Sex Crime Debate." (Factiva)

HINA News Agency [Zagreb]. 8 March 2005. "Panel Discussion on Domestic Violence and Women Organised by Three Embassies in Zagreb." (Factiva)
_____. 9 December 2004. "Croatian Government Adopts Domestic Violence Prevention Strategy." (BBC Monitoring/Factiva)
_____. 25 November 2004. "Domestic Violence on Increase in Croatia." (BBC Monitoring/Factiva)

Lincolnshire Echo [Lincoln, UK]. 26 February 2005. "Phillip's Rebuilding the Thin Blue Line." (Factiva)

Rewind Net. N.d. "Reports." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]

South Eastern European Women's Legal Initiative (SEELINE). 15 February 2005. Gordana Lukac-Koritnik. "Croatian Criminal Code Report." [Accessed 22 Dec. 2005]

Stop Violence Against Women (StopVAW). 6 July 2005. "Croatia." [Accessed 23 Dec. 2005]

United Nations (UN). March 2005. Barbara Limanowska. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR). Trafficking in Human Beings in South Eastern Europe. [Accessed 23 Dec. 2005]
_____. 15 February 2005. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Concluding Comments: Croatia. [Accessed 22 Dec. 2005]
_____. 19 January 2005. United Nations Information Service. Committee to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women Considers Reports of Croatia. (WOM/1478). [Accessed 23 Dec. 2005]
_____. 2 November 2004. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Responses to the List of Issues and Questions for Consideration of the Combined Second and Third Periodic Reports. (CEDAW/PSWG/2005/I/CRP.2/Add.1). [Accessed 23 Dec. 2005]
_____. 27 October 2003. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. (CEDAW/C/CRO/2-3). [Accessed 22 Dec. 2005]

Women's Group Karlovac. N.d.a. "Women's Group Karlovac." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]
_____. N.d.b. "Activities." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]

Zenska Infoteka. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 29 Dec. 2005]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact two oral sources were unsuccessful.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International, Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights (CHC), European Country of Origin Information Network, Human Rights Watch, International Helsinki Federation, International Labour Organization, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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