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Croatia: Treatment of sexual minorities by society and government officials; laws, state protection and support services

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 3 April 2012
Citation / Document Symbol HRV104072.FE
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Croatia: Treatment of sexual minorities by society and government officials; laws, state protection and support services, 3 April 2012, HRV104072.FE, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fc4abab2.html [accessed 18 September 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.

1. General Situation
1.1. Social Attitudes and Treatment of Sexual Minorities

According to sources consulted by the Research Directorate, homosexual acts have been legal in Croatia since 1977 (ILGA May 2011, 9; GlobalGayz Dec. 2010). However, several sources state that sexual minorities are not socially accepted (Center for LGBT Equality 29 Mar. 2012; AI 13 June 2011; US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6; GlobalGayz Dec. 2010; Passport Oct. 2009). According to Amnesty International (AI), sexual minorities in Croatia are subject to [AI English version] "widespread discrimination" (13 June 2011). Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010, published by the United States Department of State, also states that "[s]ocietal discrimination against LGBT [lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals] persons was frequently manifested by insults, stereotypical jokes, and societal prejudices" (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6). Passport, an American gay and lesbian travel magazine (19 Dec. 2011), notes that there is "widespread intolerance towards gays and lesbians" (Oct. 2009), while GlobalGayz, an Internet site that describes the situation of sexual minorities around the world, states that "homophobia is strong" in Croatia (Dec. 2010). However, GlobalGayz adds that homosexuality is tolerated if it is "not obvious" (Dec. 2010).

In correspondence sent to the Research Directorate on 29 March and 2 April 2012, a representative of the Center for LGBT Equality (Centar za LGBT ravnopravnost) provided some details of the situation of sexual minorities in Croatia. The Center is an association of three NGOs, Zagreb Pride, Lesbian Organization Rijeka (LORI) and QueerZagreb-Domino, that provide services to sexual minorities in Croatia (Center for LGBT Equality 29 Mar. 2012; ibid. 2 Apr. 2012). The information provided by the representative was on behalf of these three organizations (ibid. 29 Mar. 2012).

According to the representative, Croatians have "strong" prejudices towards sexual minorities, and these minorities "are continually being excluded and pushed to the margins of the social and political domain" (ibid. 29 Mar. 2012). The representative of the Center also expressed concerns about the "growth of right-wing extremists", stating that they foster hatred and violence towards sexual minorities (ibid.).

According to the representative of the Center, sexual minorities are more accepted in northern Croatia, particularly in Zagreb County, as well as in western Croatia, more particularly in Istria, Primorje and the city of Rijeka (ibid.). The representative stated that other regions of the country are "hostile" towards sexual minorities (ibid.).

Some observers note that many homosexuals choose not to be open about their sexuality (GlobalGayz Dec. 2010; Passport Oct. 2009). Similarly, the representative of the Center for LGBT Equality stated that LGBT people are not very visible in most regions of the country but that they are more visible in the capital, Zagreb, and in the city of Rijeka, where LGBT rights NGOs are active (29 Mar. 2012). According to GlobalGayz, however, "homosexuals have become more visible in the media" (Dec. 2010).

Some sources state that the Roman Catholic Church has a key place in Croatian society and influence on the treatment of homosexuals (The New Civil Rights Movement 12 June 2011; Passport Oct. 2009). In an article on Croatia, the magazine Passport cites a representative of the gay community saying that the Church is particularly influential in the country's south (Oct. 2009). According to Country Reports 2010, some LGBT rights NGOs tried unsuccessfully to have a public school catechism textbook containing homophobic language removed (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6). A primary school teacher was charged with breaching the antidiscrimination law for stating that homosexuality was a "disease" (ibid.). Three hearings were held on this matter, but as of 8 April 2011, the process was still ongoing (ibid.).

The representative of the Center for LGBT Equality provided some statistics on discrimination and violence towards sexual minorities gathered in a survey conducted in 2007 by the NGO LORI in the cities of Zagreb, Rijeka and Osijek (Center for LGBT Equality 2 Apr. 2012). According to that survey, nearly 25 per cent of the respondents would find it "extremely unpleasant" to know that a neighbour or work colleague was homosexual, and only 14 per cent of respondents had gay or lesbian friends or colleagues (ibid. 29 Mar. 2012). The representative also explained that, according to a survey on the political literacy and attitudes of secondary school students in October 2010 by GONG, an independent organization that monitors the elections in Croatia and encourages political participation (EU n.d.), 68 per cent of the students surveyed agreed with the statement that "[h]omosexuals should be banned from public appearances since they can have [a] bad influence [on] youth," and 44 per cent of them thought that homosexuality was a "disease" (ibid.). According to the representative, another survey, this one of male students in secondary school, conducted by Care International in 2009, determined that 39 per cent of the students surveyed had threatened or verbally assaulted people who they thought were homosexual or too effeminate; that same survey revealed that 19 per cent of the students surveyed had physically assaulted homosexuals or people deemed too effeminate (ibid.). In addition, 83 per cent of the students surveyed would not like to have a homosexual for a friend and 95 per cent were "disgusted" when men "behave like women" (ibid.).

1.2 Cases of Violence

According to the representative of the Center for LGBT Equality, hate crimes towards sexual minorities are "still quite common, especially in areas where LGBT communit[ies are] visible" (29 Mar. 2012). The representative cited a survey of almost 600 homosexuals conducted in 2007 by the NGO LORI, in which about 50 per cent of respondents said that they had been a victim of "some form of violence, most often hate crime or hate speech"; this violence took place mainly in public places such as public transportation (Center for LGBT Equality 29 Mar. 2012; ibid. 2 Apr. 2012). The representative pointed out that most of the people who commit hate crimes are young men, aged 16 to 25 (ibid.).

In June 2011, participants at a gay-pride march were attacked in the city of Split, in southern Croatia (EU 13 June 2011; AI 13 June 2011; AP 11 June 2011). Some sources report that about 200 people participated in the march (ibid.; The New Civil Rights Movement 12 June 2011) while other sources state that thousands of other demonstrators were also there to protest the march (ibid.; AP 11 June 2011; EU 13 June 2011). According to some estimates, nearly 10,000 demonstrators protested the march (EU 13 June 2011; The New Civil Rights Movement 12 June 2011; RFE/RL 12 June 2011). The protesters threw stones and other projectiles at those participating in the march (EU 13 June 2011; The New Civil Rights Movement 12 June 2011; AP 11 June 2011). Sources say that several march participants were injured (EU 13 June 2011; AI 13 June 2011; The New Civil Rights Movement 12 June 2011), including some journalists (ibid.; EU 13 June 2011). Human rights organizations accused the police at the event of not protecting the participants in the march (ibid.; The New Civil Rights Movement 12 June 2011; AI 13 June 2011). According to sources, it was the first pride march organized in Split (ibid.; The New Civil Rights Movement 12 June 2011; EU 13 June 2011).

There was another gay pride march in June 2010 (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6; AI 2011). Amnesty International says that this march took place in Zagreb (ibid.). According to Country Reports 2010, this march was the target of an anti-gay protest, in which people "carried banners with abusive language" and "raised their arms in Nazi salutes" (US 8 Apr. 2011, sect. 6). Amnesty International reports, however, that no major incident was recorded and that the 500 participants were protected by the police (2011). The two sources note, however, that two participants in the march were attacked after the event had finished, but, at the end of 2010, the attackers had not yet been identified (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6; AI 2011).

Country Reports 2010 states that, in January 2010, a transsexual woman was attacked and threatened by three men in a town in eastern Croatia, (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6). In addition, four gay men were victims of violence in three separate attacks in Zagreb, in April and November 2010 (ibid.).

1.3 Differences in the Treatment of Sexual Minorities

According to the representative of the Center for LGBT Equality, lesbian women are "double discriminated" because of their sexual orientation and gender (29 Mar. 2012). The representative added that some cases were reported in which lesbians were victims of abuse and threats of sexual abuse, in addition to physical violence as part of hate crimes (Center for LGBT Equality 29 Mar. 2012). He also stated that gay men experience violence much more often (ibid.). He pointed out that lesbian women report more frequently being victims of discrimination (ibid.).

According to the representative of the Center, transgender people mostly report bureaucratic problems related to name changes or sex classification in the birth registry, as well as cases of "extreme" abuse such as attempted murder and human trafficking (ibid.).

2. State Protection
2.1 Legislation

The age of consent for homosexual acts is the same as the age for heterosexual acts (ILGA May 2011, 11; GlobalGayz Dec. 2010). According to GlobalGayz, a law recognizing homosexual couples has been in effect since 2003 (GlobalGayz Dec. 2010). There is also labour legislation that prohibits discrimination in the labour market on the basis of sexual orientation (ILGA May 2011, 13; GlobalGayz Dec. 2010). According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), this law has existed since 2003 (ILGA May 2011, 13), and legislation has also existed since 2009 that prohibits occupational segregation based on gender identity (ibid., 14). According to GlobalGays, legislation exists prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals applying for admission to university (GlobalGayz Dec. 2010). GlobalGayz also states that the Croatian penal code prohibits producing and distributing homophobic material, and that legislation exists that prohibits presenting homosexuals and homosexuality in a degrading way in the media (ibid.). The ILGA states that hate mongering based on sexual orientation has been prohibited by law since 2003 (ILGA May 2011, 17), and that, since 2006, hate crimes committed based on sexual orientation are considered to be crimes with aggravating circumstances (ibid., 16).

2.2 Action Taken by the Authorities

According to Amnesty International, some Croatian NGOs say that the law concerning homosexual couples "has done little to reduce the discrimination and abuse LGBT people face" (13 June 2011). The representative of the Center for LGBT Equality also said that the Croatian government has made little effort to apply the laws against discrimination (29 Mar. 2012). According to the representative, the government shows little interest in the fight against transphobia (Center for LGBT Equality 29 Mar. 2012). He also stated that government representatives and parliamentarians "seldom clearly and unambiguously condemn cases of discrimination" and violence against homosexuals (ibid.).

However, some sources note that government representatives have condemned cases of violence and discrimination against sexual minorities (US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6; RFE/RL 12 June 2011). Country Reports 2010 says that the Minister of Interior proclaimed a "zero tolerance" for hate crimes and crimes motivated by homophobia after one of the attacks that occurred in November 2010 in Zagreb (US 8 Apr. 2011, sect. 6). Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) also points out that the Croatian president and prime minister condemned the violence that occurred at the gay pride march in Split in 2011 (12 June 2011).

2.3 The Police and the Judicial System

According to sources, the police have been criticized for failing to protect sexual minorities (Center for LGBT Equality 29 Mar. 2012; US 8 Apr. 2011, Sec. 6). According to the representative of the Center for LGBT Equality, on several occasions, crimes against sexual minorities were not identified by the police as hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity; the police instead treated those crimes as "misdemeanours" (29 Mar. 2012). The representative noted, however, that, since 2011, the police have made progress in distinguishing between hate crimes and "regular street violence" (Center for LGBT Equality 29 Mar. 2012). However, according to the representative, the number of hate crimes against sexual minorities is much higher than that reported by the police; he estimated that only six per cent of LGBT people report hate-based violence to the police (ibid.). The representative also noted cases in which members of sexual minorities were treated poorly by the police (ibid.).

According to the representative, the majority of the judgments for hate crimes proclaimed by the courts are "symbolic," leading to sentences of probation, and the majority of the charges of discrimination based on sexual orientation were dismissed by the courts (ibid.).

3. Support Services

The support services offered to sexual minorities in Croatia include Zagreb Pride (Center for LGBT Equality 29 Mar. 2012), LORI (ibid.; GlobalGayz Dec. 2010), the lesbian group Kontra (Lebijska Grupa Kontra) (Center for LGBT Equality 29 Mar. 2012; GlobalGayz Dec. 2010) and Isktorak (ibid.). According to the representative of the Center for LGBT Equality, Zagreb Pride and LORI receive around 40 complaints annually and Kontra receives about 10 (29 Mar. 2012).

The representative also explained that sexual minorities can contact the ombudsman for human rights or the ombudswoman for gender equality, but that they rarely did so (Center for LGBT Equality 29 Mar. 2012). Other human rights organizations exist, such as BaBe (Be active, Be emancipated) and the Center for Peace Studies, both members of the Human Rights House Network (HRHN) in Zagreb (ibid.; HRHN n.d.).

According to the representative of the Center, all of the Croatian LGBT human rights organizations are located in Zagreb and Rijeka, with new initiatives developing in Split (Center for LGBT Equality 29 Mar. 2012). The representative explained that the ombudsman and ombudswoman offices are also located in Zagreb, so that homosexuals in the rest of the country can rely only on the police for local support (ibid.).

The representative explained that the LGBT human rights organizations receive assistance from the government for health-related and cultural projects but not for their human rights efforts (ibid.). However, he added that the members of the Center for LGBT Equality cooperate with the government in human rights and gender equality by implementing small-scale activities, such as organizing training for the police on combating hate crimes (ibid.).

The representative of the Center also indicated that the NGOs have few resources for defending the rights of sexual minorities in Croatia, stating that, in total, in the entire country, there are only 10 people who are employed full time, in addition to five associates, such as lawyers or psychologists (ibid.). He also stated that, although bodies promoting equality have existed for 20 years, it was only in 2011 that they began to collaborate with the LGBT rights NGOs to fight discrimination in the courts, with not much yet in the way of concrete results (ibid.). No other information concerning the resources available to NGOs who defend the rights of sexual minorities could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

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 sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Amnesty International (AI). 13 June 2011. "La Croatie doit garantir le droit à la liberté de réunion et d'expression." (EUR 64/009/2011) [Accessed 3 Apr. 2012]

_____. 2011. "Croatie." Amnesty International - rapport 2011 : la situation des droits humains dans le monde. [Accessed 3 Apr. 2012]

Associated Press (AP). 11 June 2011. "Croatia Gay Pride March Disrupted by Extremists." [Accessed 21 Mar. 2012]

Center for LGBT Equality. 2 April 2012. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate by the coordinator.

_____. 29 March 2012. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate by the coordinator.

European Union (EU). 13 June 2011. The European Parliament's Intergroup on LGBT Rights. "Unsafe Pride Event in Croatia Casts Shadow over Accession Prospects." [Accessed 21 Mar. 2012]

_____. N.d. Comité européen des associations d'intérêt général. "GONG - Croatia." [Accessed 13 Apr. 2012]

GlobalGayz. December 2010. Richard Ammon. "Gay Croatia." [Accessed 21 Mar. 2012]

Human Rights House Network (HRHN). N.d. "Human Rights House Zagreb." [Accessed 3 April 2012]

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). May 2011. Eddie Bruce-Jones and Lucas Paoli Itaborahy. Homophobie d'État : une enquête mondiale sur les lois qui criminalisent la sexualité entre adultes consentants de même sexe. [Accessed 21 Mar. 2012]

The New Civil Rights Movement. 12 June 2011. Tanya L. Domi. "Croatia President, Prime Minister Condemn Violence at Gay Pride Parade." [Accessed 21 Mar. 2012]

Passport [New York]. 19 December 2011. "About Us." [Accessed 13 April 2012]

_____. October 2009. Curtis M. Wong. "Croatia's Adriatic Coast." [Accessed 21 Mar. 2012]

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). 12 June 2011. "Croatian Leader Slams ‘Shamful' Gay Pride Parade Violence." [Accessed 21 Mar. 2012]

United States (US). 8 April 2011. Department of State. "Croatia." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010. [Accessed 3 Apr. 2012]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact some representatives of Iskorak and of Kontra were unsuccessful.

Internet sites, including: Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice; Asylumlaw.org; Care International; Croatian Times; ecoi.net; European Commission on Sexual Orientation Law; European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights; Factiva; Gay.hr; Gay Law Net; GONG; Heinrich Böll Foundation; Human Rights Watch; International Homo/Lesbian Information Center and Archive; Lesbian Group Kontra; United Nations — Refworld, Integrated Regional Information Networks.

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 http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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