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Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 - Croatia

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 24 May 2012
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Annual Report 2012 - Croatia, 24 May 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fbe394441.html [accessed 18 December 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.

Head of state: Ivo Josipović
Head of government: Zoran Milanović (replaced Jadranka Kosor in December)
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 4.4 million
Life expectancy: 76.6 years
Under-5 mortality: 5.4 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 98.8 per cent

Progress in prosecution of crimes under international law committed during the 1991-1995 war was slow. Many crimes allegedly committed by members of the Croatian Army and police forces against Croatian Serbs remained unaddressed. Some efforts were undertaken by the President and the judicial authorities to deal with the wartime past, but there was little action by the government. Instead, key political figures engaged in attacks on judgements made by international courts. Discrimination against Roma, Croatian Serbs and lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people continued.

Background

In December, Croatia signed the EU Accession Treaty and was expected to join the EU on 1 July 2013. The EU continued monitoring, among other things, the implementation of Croatia's commitments to tackle impunity for crimes under international law committed during the 1991-1995 war.

Justice system

Progress in prosecution of crimes under international law committed during the war continued to be slow.

In April, the State Prosecutor's office started to develop plans for the implementation of the Strategy for the Investigation and Prosecution of War Crimes adopted by the government in February. In May, specialized courts in Osijek, Rijeka and Split were made operational, in addition to the existing court in Zagreb, in order to prosecute the most significant cases.

However, capacity to prosecute crimes under international law remained low, with only five final judgements delivered in the year. Investigations of around 370 alleged perpetrators were ongoing. There were around 540 cases at a pre-investigative stage, in which the perpetrators had not yet been identified.

The 1993 Criminal Code continued to be applied in these cases, although it did not accord with international standards. The Code lacked clear definitions of crucial criminal concepts such as the principle of command responsibility, war crimes of sexual violence and crimes against humanity. Its application resulted in impunity for many crimes.

Some progress was made in providing psychological support to witnesses, but witness protection measures continued to be inadequate. Those responsible for intimidation of witnesses were not brought to justice.

  • There was no proper investigation of the killing of Milan Levar, a potential witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (Tribunal), who had also campaigned for justice for war victims. In August 2000, he was killed by an explosive device underneath his car, after making statements to the media alleging that Mirko Norac and some other high level officials were responsible for crimes committed against the Croatian Serb population in the Lika region.

The authorities failed to provide victims of crimes under international law and their families with access to reparation. Survivors of crimes of sexual violence were denied access to psychosocial assistance and other support. Many of their perpetrators enjoyed impunity.

Some progress was made by the judicial authorities in prosecuting crimes under international law committed against Croatian Serbs. Several investigations were opened, including two into the crimes committed in Sisak and Pakračka poljana.

  • In June, an investigation was opened against three men for killings of Croatian Serb civilians in Sisak between 1991 and 1992. One of them was Đuro Brodarac, the war-time Chief of Police in Sisak. All three suspects were placed in detention. Đuro Brodarac died while in custody in July.

  • In June, Tomislav Merčep, former adviser to the Interior Minister and commander of the Ministry's special reserve unit, was indicted. He had been under arrest since December 2010. The charges were that due to his orders and omissions, 43 Croatian Serb civilians in the area of Zagreb and Pakračka poljana were killed or went missing.

Also in June, the State Prosecutor charged six individuals with crimes under international law committed during "Operation Storm" in 1995, although no one had been prosecuted by the end of the year. One was charged under command responsibility. According to the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, at least 677 people were killed in "Operation Storm".

Despite the existence of publicly available information, allegations against some high-profile military and political officials were not investigated. These included allegations against the Deputy Speaker of the Croatian Parliament, Vladimir Šeks, for holding command responsibility for crimes committed in eastern Slavonia in 1991. Allegations against him were based on information from court proceedings against Branimir Glavaš. A Croatian army general, Davor Domazet-Lošo, was also alleged to hold command responsibility for the crimes committed in 1993 in Međak Pocket. Allegations against him were based on court proceedings against General Rahim Ademi and General Mirko Norac.

In October, parliament adopted a law that would make indictments and other legal acts ineffective when issued by the authorities of Serbia, former Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) against Croatian nationals for crimes under international law committed in the territory of the Republic of Croatia. The law was passed after the Serbian judicial authorities requested co-operation from the Croatian State Prosecutor on processing indictments issued by the Military Prosecutor of the JNA in 1992. They included charges for crimes under international law committed by Croatian military and police forces in Gospić. Vladimir Šeks was among the accused.

The law breached Croatia's obligation to co-operate with the Republic of Serbia in criminal matters. It could result in impunity for crimes under international law committed by Croatian nationals if Croatia refuses to prosecute or extradite them. In October, the President announced that he would request that the Constitutional Court assess compatibility of the law with the Constitution.

The law would allow judicial authorities not to act on requests from the Republic of Serbia for legal assistance in criminal proceedings if acting on those requests was contrary to the Croatian legal order and detrimental to its sovereignty and security. The Minister of Justice, who would be authorized to decide on how to respond to such requests, might dismiss indictments issued by the Serbian juridical authorities.

  • In September, the Ministry of Justice released Mirko Norac after he had served over two-thirds of his 15-year prison term for war crimes, including murder, inhumane treatment, plunder and wanton destruction of property, against Croatian Serb civilians and prisoners of war during military operations in 1993.

  • Branimir Glavaš, convicted in 2010, continued serving his five-year sentence for crimes under international law committed against Croatian Serbs in Osijek.

International justice

Five cases related to crimes under international law committed on Croatian territory during the 1991-1995 war were pending before the Tribunal in The Hague.

  • In April, the Tribunal convicted two generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač, for crimes against humanity and war crimes. They were found guilty of having participated in a joint criminal enterprise during and after "Operation Storm" between August and November 1995, with the aim of permanently removing the ethnic Serb population from the Krajina region of Croatia.

The Tribunal found military forces and the Special Police responsible for a "large number of crimes" against the Serb population during "Operation Storm". Ante Gotovina held the rank of Colonel-General in the Croatian Army and was the Commander of the Split Military District at the time. Mladen Markač held the position of Assistant Minister of Interior in charge of special police matters. They were convicted of persecution, deportation, plunder, wanton destruction, murder, inhumane acts and cruel treatment of the civilian Serb population. They were sentenced to 24 and 18 years' imprisonment respectively.

Government representatives immediately rejected the Tribunal's judgement. The Prime Minister stated repeatedly that the Croatian government found it unacceptable, and that the Croatian nation should be proud of all people who took part in the operation and contributed to the Croatian victory. In May, both generals appealed against the judgement.

  • The trial of Vojislav Šešelj, who was accused of crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the Vojvodina province of Serbia, continued. He was indicted for crimes against humanity, including persecution on political, racial or religious grounds, deportation and inhumane acts. He was also accused of war crimes, including murder, torture, cruel treatment, wanton destruction of villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity, destruction or wilful damage done to religious or educational institutions and plunder of public or private property. In October, the Trial Chamber found him guilty of contempt for publishing confidential information on protected witnesses and sentenced him to 18 months' imprisonment.

  • In July, Goran Hadzić was arrested in Serbia on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in eastern Slavonia in Croatia. He was transferred to the Tribunal where he awaited trial at the end of the year. Goran Hadzić had been President of the self-declared Republic of Serbian Krajina. His charges included, among others, extermination, murder, torture, imprisonment and persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds.

Discrimination

Ethnic minorities

Roma continued to face discrimination in access to economic and social rights, including education, employment and housing, while measures undertaken by the authorities remained insufficient.

The authorities failed to implement the judgement by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Oršuš and Others v. Croatia, announced in 2010. The Court had concluded that the placement in 2002 of 14 Romani schoolchildren in separate classes based on their command of the Croatian language amounted to discrimination on the basis of ethnicity.

Croatian Serbs continued to face discrimination, especially in access to adequate housing. During Croatia's UN Universal Periodic Review in November 2010, several states recommended that Croatia take steps to combat discrimination against ethnic minorities. Croatia supported recommendations to strengthen its efforts to combat racial discrimination against the Serb minority, in particular in the area of housing, and to increase measures to integrate ethnic Serb and Roma minorities into the fabric of Croatian life.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people

The first attempt to hold a Pride march in Split was made in June. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights activists had organized the march to call for the equal rights of same-sex couples and an end to the widespread discrimination the LGBT community suffers in Croatia. However, it was interrupted by violence. At least five Pride participants were injured when counter-demonstrators from far-right groups threw rocks and other missiles. One was hospitalized with a head injury.

The police failed to adequately protect the participants from attacks and the Pride march had to be stopped; 44 individuals were prosecuted by the authorities in Split for crimes committed against the Pride participants.

A week after the violent events in Split, the annual Pride march in Zagreb was held successfully without major incident.

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