Council of Europe Warns about Escalation of Intolerance in Croatia

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ZAGREB, May 15, 2018 – Racist hate speech against Serbs, LGBT persons and Roma in public discourse is escalating in Croatia, according to a report published on Tuesday by the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI).

The report, which analyses legislative issues, racist and homo-transphobic hate speech, violence and integration policies, notes a rise of nationalism, particularly from youth, which often takes the form of praising the former fascist Ustasha regime.

The fifth such report was prepared after an ECRI visit to Croatia in April 2017 and refers to the period until December 2017. “Racist and intolerant hate speech in public discourse is escalating; the main targets are Serbs, LGBT persons and Roma. There is a growing rise of nationalism, particularly among the youth, which primarily takes the form of praising the fascist Ustasha regime. In the regional media and on Internet, expressions of racism and xenophobia against Serbs, LGBT persons and refugees are commonplace, as is abusive language when referring to Roma. Physical attacks against these groups as well as their property also occur.”

The report decries an inadequate response by Croatian authorities to such increasing intolerance, as criminal action is too often ruled out. Most cases of hate speech and hate motivated violence are treated merely as misdemeanours.

While the report praises improved legal protection against hate crime through amendments to the Criminal Code, which includes a new provision criminalizing violent conduct in public places and punishing the establishment or running of groups which promote racism, it notes that anti-hate crime legislation is rarely applied, citing a lack of knowledge and expertise from law enforcement and the judiciary.

“The responses of the Croatian authorities to these incidents cannot be considered fully adequate. The authorities seldom voice any counter-hate speech message to the public. Criminal action is ruled out easily and most cases on hate speech and hate-motivated violence are treated as misdemeanours… The provisions on racist motivation as an aggravating circumstance are also rarely applied due to lack of knowledge and expertise among the judiciary in recognising hate crime.”

ECRI further notes that national Roma strategies are only partially implemented. The Roma continue to face high levels of social exclusion, and data suggests that their access to employment is alarmingly low and school drop-out rates still high.

While ECRI praises a new legislative framework for LGBT persons with the enactment of the Law on Registered Same-Sex Partnerships in July 2014, it notes that prejudice against them remains widespread and they experience different forms of discrimination in their daily lives.

ECRI praises legislative steps taken to ensure access to housing for returnees under the national Housing Care Programme.

Through the Migration Policy for 2013-2015, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection have had access, on an equal footing with Croatian nationals, to primary and secondary schooling free of charge, which is in line with ECRI’s previous priority recommendation. Furthermore, in November 2017, an Action Plan to integrate persons who have been granted international protection (2017-2019) was adopted.

Of recommendations to the Croatian authorities, two should be implemented as a priority, because they will be the subject of a follow-up by ECRI within two years.

The first says the authorities should introduce compulsory human rights education as part of civic education into all school curricula, especially regarding equality rights and prohibiting discrimination. Appropriate textbooks should be developed and teachers should continue receiving necessary training.

Furthermore, the National Roma Inclusion Strategy (2013-2020) must be accompanied by an evaluation of all integration projects implemented over recent years. The strategy should be revised systematically to include more targeted measures and success indicators to measure its impact and to redefine its parameters and goals. This should be done in close cooperation with regional and local authorities and with members of the Roma community, and adequate funding should be allocated for the strategy to be effective.

ECRI says Croatian politicians and high-ranking officials as well as all political parties should condemn hate speech and promote tolerance. Also, the authorities should ensure that the Action Plan for the integration of persons who have been granted international protection (2017-2019) has well-defined goals and targets, timeframes, funding, success indicators as well as a monitoring and evaluation system for its effective implementation.

It is also necessary to adopt an action plan for the prevention of homophobia and transphobia in all areas of daily life, including education, employment and healthcare.

In a few days, Croatia will take over the presidency of the Council of Europe.


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