ZAGREB, April 24, 2019 – Violence targeting migrants and journalists, threats towards ethnic minority groups, corruption, the issue of missing persons from the 1991-1995 war, and women’s inequality remain a problem in Croatia, the US State Department says in its annual report on the state of human rights in Croatia in 2018.
The document says that significant numbers of high-profile corruption cases were underway last year and that officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
It says that the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality, adding that cases of intimidation of state prosecutors, judges, and defence lawyers were isolated.
“The overall judicial backlog decreased 37 percent from 2013-17. As of September 30, the judiciary as a whole had a backlog of 426,763 cases (down from 474,345 in 2017), with the highest percentage of unsolved cases pending before municipal courts,” the report says.
“The backlog in domestic courts raised concerns regarding judicial effectiveness, efficiency, and the rule of law. NGOs reported that violation of the right to trial within reasonable time remained one of the fundamental problems of the judiciary. In some civil cases, especially with regard to property, proceedings lasted for more than a decade,” it adds.
The document says that civilian authorities maintained effective oversight over police, the armed forces, and the intelligence services, and that the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.
The State Department says that several prisons in Croatia remained overcrowded, such as the one in Osijek, and that there were reports of isolated and sporadic cases of physical and verbal mistreatment of prisoners and detainees by correctional officers.
“A significant number of cases of missing persons from the 1991-95 conflict remained unresolved. The government reported that as of October 18, more than 1,500 persons remained missing, and the government was searching for the remains of 414 individuals known to be deceased, for a total of 1,922 unsolved missing persons cases,” the report says.
The document says that the government generally respected the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the constitution and law. “An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.”
However, NGOs reported that the government did not adequately investigate or prosecute cases in which journalists or bloggers received threats. The enforcement of provisions on hate speech, including the use of Nazi- and Ustasha-era symbols and slogans, remained inadequate.
“Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction,” the report says and adds: “Observers said, however, that information regarding actual ownership of some local radio and television channels was not always publicly available, raising concerns about bias, censorship, and the vulnerability of audiences in the country to malign influence.”
The document notes that “members of the press reported practicing self-censorship for fear of receiving online harassment, upsetting politically connected individuals, or losing their jobs for covering certain topics.”
The report says that the government in most cases cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organisations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
“In August, however, UNHCR criticized the government for violent pushbacks of illegal migrants; the government stated that approximately 2,500 refugees and migrants were turned back at the border during the first eight months of the year,” the US State Department says.
International and domestic NGOs reported police violence against asylum seekers and migrants, particularly on Croatia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“UNHCR and several NGOs published reports alleging border police subjected migrants to degrading treatment, including verbal epithets and vulgarities, destruction of property, and beatings, including of vulnerable persons such as asylum seekers, minor children, persons with disabilities, and pregnant women. NGOs reported several migrants alleged border guards beat them while they were holding their infants or toddlers. One female migrant told NGOs male border police officers subjected her to a strip search in the forest in the presence of adult male migrants,” according to the report.
Domestic NGOs working on migrants’ rights reported police pressure, such as extensive surveillance and questioning of employees’ close associates and family members. The Ministry of the Interior publicly denied all allegations of violence or inhuman treatment of migrants and all allegations of pressuring humanitarian workers.
NGOs reported good cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior in the two asylum reception centres, Porin and Kutina, and asserted quality of services was generally good, giving education and medical services as positive examples. They identified a need for increased psychiatric support.
The US State Department says that violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem in Croatia.
“Police and prosecutors were generally responsive to allegations of domestic violence and rape, but there were isolated reports that local police departments did not consistently adhere to national guidelines regarding the treatment of victims of sexual assault,” the report says.
It mentions the trial of Požega-Slavonia County prefect Alojz Tomaševic on charges of domestic violence against his wife, who testified that he almost killed her. Tomašević was removed from his HDZ party but retained his position as prefect.
The report notes that the law on sexual harassment was not enforced effectively.
It says that women experienced discrimination in employment and occupation, and that representation of women in major political parties remained low.
“The law requires that the ‘less represented gender’ make up at least 40 percent of candidates on a party’s candidate list, with violations punishable by a fine. After the May 2017 elections, the Electoral Commission noted all major political parties fell short of this threshold, but there were no reports of fines imposed on political parties for this reason,” the document says.
The 2017 report of the ombudsperson for gender equality noted women’s salaries averaged 88.7 percent of men’s salaries, and that the wage gap was higher in the public sector than the private sector.
Citing the ombudsperson for human rights, the US State Department says that ethnic discrimination was the most prevalent form of discrimination in Croatia, particularly against ethnic Serbs and Roma.
“Some Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Semitic rhetoric online and in the media, and an increase in anti-Semitic and Ustasha graffiti in the streets. NGOs reported cases of violent reprisal against community members who attempted to paint over swastikas,” the report says.
The Jewish community also stated government officials did not sufficiently condemn, prevent, or suppress Holocaust revisionism.
“In June, Jasenovac officials condemned a presentation on HRT by writer Igor Vukić in which Vukić denied that crimes were committed at Jasenovac. They expressed concern that state-owned television presented a Holocaust denier as an authority on the subject of the concentration camp at Jasenovac,” the document says.
As for the Romani minority, the report says that the government allocated funds and created programs for development and integration of Romani communities, but discrimination and social exclusion of Roma remained problems.
Another problem is the restitution of property seized from Holocaust victims. The State Department says that the government lacks a legislative framework to resolve this issue, noting that “Croatia has never accepted restitution claims for property seized during the Holocaust period (1941-45) and has inconsistently permitted noncitizens to file claims.”
Restitution of communal property also remained a problem for the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Coordination of Jewish Communities in Croatia. “There have been no restitutions of Jewish communal property since 2014, although several requests remained pending,” the report says.
The State Department also quoted NGOs as reporting that investigations into hate speech against LGBTI persons remained unsatisfactory. “Police initiated court proceedings in only two of 19 cases in 2017,” it said.
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