Population: 4.6 million (873,000 under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 20,800
Compulsary Recruitment Age: 18
Voluntary Recruitment Age: none
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 1 November 2002
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182, ICC

There were no reports of under-18s serving in the armed forces.


Impunity for war crimes committed during the 1991-5 war remained widespread. The Croatian judicial system failed to address adequately wartime human rights violations, regardless of the ethnicity of the victims or of the perpetrators.1

The government, supported by UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and domestic institutions, provided a national program for child victims of the war to combat long-term consequences such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and somatic and psychological symptoms.2


National recruitment legislation and practice

Conscription was provided for in Article 47.1 of the 1990 constitution, and was further regulated by the 2002 Defence Law. The length of military service was six months, and all men between the ages of 18 and 27 were eligible for conscription. Reservist obligations applied up to the age of 55 during wartime.3

In its Initial Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the Optional Protocol, the government stated that "[a]lthough there is no need to bring a treaty into the legal system by enacting a specific law, the Defence Law (Official Gazette Nos. 33/2002 and 58/2002) has specific provisions related to compulsory recruitment of male conscripts, but only those who have reached the age of 18, as the Defence Law has no provision for the compulsory recruitment of children.... Under the provisions of articles 34, 42 and 43 [of the Defence Law], the requirement to enlist takes effect at the beginning of the year in which the person subject to military service reaches the age of 19, and under all circumstances, lapses at the end of the year in which he turns 30.... Croatian legislation does not recognize the institution of 'voluntary recruitment' ('enlisting')."4

In February 2007 it was reported that Croatia was initiating a large-scale plan for all-volunteer armed forces. One of the first steps toward this would be the suspension of compulsory military service, only voluntary recruits being enrolled in the armed forces. However, obligatory military service could be periodically reactivated if there were not enough recruits to meet defence needs. An all-volunteer Croatian army would most likely not be achieved before 2010.5

Military training and military schools

In its Initial Report on the Optional Protocol, Croatia stated that it had "no high schools operated by or under the control of the armed forces within the meaning of article 3, paragraph 5, of the Protocol. Nevertheless, pursuant to article 4 of the Law on the Service in the Armed Forces of the Republic of Croatia (Official Gazette Nos. 33/2002, 58/2002 and 175/2003) a conscript is also a cadet who is defined as a 'person educated at a military school under a contract of education', but the point here is that a person of age is educated at university (faculties) for the requirements of the Croatian Armed Forces."6 In January 2005 the Ministry of Defence introduced student scholarships at Zagreb University and Split University. Successful candidates would have the status of "cadet", take part in army training and be obliged to stay in the armed forces for at least ten years after graduating.7


In its Concluding Observations on Croatia's Initial Report on the Optional Protocol, the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that violation of the provisions of the Optional Protocol regarding the recruitment and involvement of children in hostilities be explicitly criminalized in legislation and that extraterritorial jurisdiction be established for these crimes when they are committed by or against a citizen of or someone with links to Croatia.8

In October 2007 Croatia endorsed the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The two documents, which were previously endorsed by 59 states at a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, reaffirmed international standards and operational principles for the protection of and assistance to child soldiers, following a wide-ranging global consultation jointly sponsored by the French government and UNICEF.

1 Amnesty International Report 2007.

2 Initial report of Croatia to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on implementation of the Optional Protocol, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/HRV/1, 11 January 2007.

3 Quaker Council for European Affairs, The Right to Conscientious Objection in Europe, 2005, www.wri-irg.org.

4 Initial report, above note 2.

5 Vjesnik On-line, in Croatian, www.vjesnik.hr.

6 Initial report, above note 2.

7 Croatian Ministry of Defence, www.morh.hr.

8 Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of report submitted by Croatia, Concluding observations, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/HRV/CO/1, 5 October 2007.


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.