ZAGREB, March 26, 2019 – The NGO Human Rights House Zagreb said on Tuesday that in 2018 Croatia experienced a strong polarisation between conservative and liberal values which was further intensified by two referendum initiatives, the situation in the media sector, a deterioration at the public broadcaster HRT, and inadequate regulation of sexual and reproductive rights.
The organisation held a press conference to present its report on human rights in Croatia in 2018, which is based on interviews with over 50 civil society associations and academics.
The coordinator of the Human Rights House, Ivan Novosel, recalled that last year two referendum initiatives – one calling for the abrogation of the Istanbul Convention and the other for changing the election system – had made use of deficiencies of the Referendum Act and attempted to reduce vested human rights.
Although a bill on the protection of whistle-blowers was passed in 2018, human rights were not high on the government’s agenda, according to the report.
Croatia still does not have fundamental public policies for the protection and promotion of human rights such as a national plan for the protection and promotion of human rights or a national plan for gender equality.
Apart from the fact that Croatia still does not have a media strategy, the NGO also criticised the authorities for interfering in the work of media outlets. To make things worse, at least 1,163 civil lawsuits are currently being conducted against media outlets and their journalists for defamation, which further affects media freedoms, the report said.
The NGO warned of hate speech in public discourse, notably anti-Serb, anti-Romany and anti-LGBT statements.
Sanja Cesar of the Centre for Education, Counselling and Research spoke of women’s reproductive rights, saying that the growing number of doctors exercising the right to conscientious objection, the inadequate regulation of medical procedures and the high costs of those services were limiting women’s access to abortion.
In five of 27 state-owned general hospitals and clinical centres, all gynaecologists refuse to perform a pregnancy termination on request, invoking the right to conscientious objection. In the remaining institutions 60 percent of doctors exercise the right to conscientious objection, Cesar said.
Because of the lack of information about the possibility of using anaesthesia, as many as 32 percent of women underwent gynaecological procedures without anaesthesia, such as curettage, assisted reproduction procedures or a biopsy of reproductive tissue.
Prosecution of cases of violence against women has improved.
Although a number of measures were adopted last year to improve the economic situation of citizens, there are still great inequalities between urban and rural areas, where higher rates of unemployment and poverty are recorded. About 20 percent of citizens live at risk of poverty.
Access to social services, the labour market, healthcare and education is difficult for people with disabilities, women, children and young people.
Human rights ombudswoman Lora Vidović said that cooperation between the civil sector and government was the only way for society to move forward and tackle all the challenges.
She said that most of the complaints her office received last year related to discrimination in general, the judiciary, work relations and healthcare, with complaints concerning the rights of war veterans increasing the most.
More news about human rights in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.