Thursday, 30 April 2020

Rainbow Families NGO Calls for Inclusive Laws

ZAGREB, April 30, 2020 - President Zoran Milanović on Wednesday received a delegation of the Rainbow Families association, who informed him of the association's activities geared towards ensuring that all laws in Croatia are non-discriminatory and inclusive for all citizens, in line with the Constitution.

The representatives of this non-governmental organisation, which brings together same-sex partners, welcomed a decision by the Constitutional Court on the Foster Care Act under which life partners can also become foster parents.

They stressed that it was important that the Foster Care Act itself was amended in line with the Constitutional Court decision, the Office of the President said in a statement.

They warned that the current Family Act and the Act on Medically Assisted Reproduction put life partners in an unequal position in relation to other citizens, noting that they expect a debate to be launched on those laws and their alignment with constitutional values.

"We are not seeking greater rights, we just want Croatia to be a society of equals," the association said.

President Milanović said that the decision by the Constitutional Court was good because everyone should be equal before the law and he supported the association in its promotion of the equality of all Croatian citizens, the Office of the President said.

More news about Zoran Milanović can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Ombudswoman: Institutions Fail to Protect Children Against Violence

ZAGREB, April 11, 2020 - Croatian state institutions in 2019 failed children when it comes to protection against violence, Children's Ombudswoman Helenca Prinat Dragičević says in a report on her work last year.

She says that the dramatic increase in domestic violence from 2018, measured both by the number of domestic violence complaints and the number of reports of violence against children required urgent and effective measures to protect children.

The ombudswoman calls for coordinated action and consolidation of institutions that work on protection against violence as well as hiring more professionals.

Analysing last year, Pirnat Dragičević says that some children died or their life was in danger due to their parents' negligence, and in that context singles out the case of a father on the island of Pag who threw his four children off a balcony.

The year 2019 was marked by a sudden rise in child mortality caused by deaths in traffic accidents as well as by problems in the education system that culminated in a long teachers' strike.

Eighteen children were killed in traffic accidents, 203 sustained serious injuries and 1,100 light injuries, Pirnat Dragičević says.

She goes on to say that her office received almost 10% more complaints compared to 2018, opened 1,741 new cases, and acted in 933 cases, which, she says, had been carried over from previous years due to their complexity.

The office received 97 reports of domestic violence, 35 more than in 2018. Violence was most frequently reported by parents - in 35 cases by mothers, in 15 cases by fathers, and in 17 cases by institutions such as schools and kindergartens.

The ombudswoman also expresses concern about acts of cruelty against children.

The extensive report also says that close to 2,200 children could not meet and spend time with the other parent or did so for a shorter period of time than ordered by the court, the reason being manipulative behaviour on the part of the parent with whom the child lives.

The ombudswoman notes that in numerous cases there was no urgent and coordinated action by state institutions to protect such children.

As regards the strike of primary and secondary school teachers from October 10 to December 2, Pirnat Dragičević says that her office received 72 written complaints and several dozen phone calls by parents, children as well as teachers concerning breaches of children's right to education.

The complaints raise a number of questions regarding the timely provision of information to children on the suspension of classes, making up for classes lost, children's right to free time, and organisation and implementation of school-leaving exams, she says.

These questions should be answered so that in future similar situations, advantage is given to the protection of children's interests, says the ombudswoman.

Pirnat Dragičević also reports an increase in the number of children in need of institutional care, uneven territorial representation of foster families and lack of professional foster care.

At the end of 2019, there were 75 children in children's homes who met conditions for adoption, and during the year there were 25 adoptions, three more than in 2018.

The number of children who meet conditions for adoption is still high, and among them are children in whose adoption there is no interest, as well as children who oppose adoption and whose opinion should be respected, the ombudswoman says.

Commenting on the case of a same-sex couple who was denied the right to provide foster care, Pirnat Dragičević says the most important criteria in evaluating an applicant are the child's needs and the applicant's competencies and dedication and readiness to care about the child in a good and committed way rather than their sexual orientation. In making such a decision, "one should also take into account the child's opinion, in line with their age," she says.

More human rights news can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Milanović Says Electronic Communications Law Should Be Passed by Two-Thirds Majority

ZAGREB, April 10, 2020 - President Zoran Milanović said on Thursday that the law on electronic communications, which would legalise a large-scale tracking of citizens' mobile phones in the fight against the coronavirus, should be passed by a two-thirds majority.

"I don't know who can wholeheartedly support such a measure at all. I would expect those who propose it to cry from the top of their lungs that we will all die if that law and those amendments are not adopted as soon as possible. But no, we are seeing a dogged determination to secure a second reading, I guess to wear people down so they give up," Milanović said in an interview with N1 television when asked about the bill on electronic communications.

He said that the insistence on the bill indicated that its sponsor had suspicious motives. "Why in God's name, who needs that? And (tracking would be with the consent) of the person tracked. Why? What is the purpose of the measure if the consent of the person tracked is required," he added.

He warned that people to be covered by tracking - and currently those were all Croatian citizens - had the right to compensation.

"This (measure) is actionable, why expose oneself to unnecessary risks. Adopt the measure by a two-thirds majority and it's a done deal," he said.

Milanović warned that due to the current crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic Croatia would experience a major economic downturn and that unemployment would grow as well, the only question being how much.

He also believes that the government's measures designed to alleviate the economic impact of the crisis are not belated but he also believes that the government has adopted them under pressure.

"When the first set of measures was adopted, I said that it was a work in progress. As for the latest measures, the question is how long they can last, and where the limits of our and everybody else's capacity are. This will hold water for a few months," he said.

He also said that the current crisis was completely different from the crisis of 2008.

The current crisis is a crisis of both supply and demand and if the crisis of supply lasts too long, it will cause inflation, provided people have money, the president said.

"There will be money but there won't be goods, so (the current crisis) is completely incomparable with the crisis of 2008, both in terms of the resilience of the banking sector and citizens and in terms of the unemployment rate, which is much lower than in 2008 in entire Europe. The circumstances are different. The current crisis has shocked everyone," he said.

As for the proposals to cut wages in the public sector, Milanović said that 250,000 people worked in this sector and that actually only minor savings would be made if people for whom it would not be right to reduce their wages were excluded from cuts. He noted that the government was now borrowing and would have to pay back this debt one day.

"Once this crisis is over, the government will have to repay this debt, which means that people working in the public sector will see their next raise in the distant future. That's why it makes no sense to reduce their pay twice," the president said.

Milanović said that banks would profit from this crisis. He recalled that the Croatian National Bank had released HRK 6.5 billion (€855m) to the government, adding that if the interest rate was more than one percent it would be profiteering.

Asked to assess the national healthcare system, the president said that it remained robust and, although a lot of things have been destroyed, it was still "a resilient structure." He warned that the system was strained by the costs of and large debts to the pharmaceutical industry.

Speaking of the situation in nursing homes in Split and Koprivnica where coronavirus cases have been reported, he said that the situation should be investigated.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Bill on Mobile Phone Surveillance Sent to 2nd Reading

ZAGREB, April 7, 2020 - Parliament on Tuesday sent a bill o amendments to the law on electronic communication to a second reading, which would legalise broader surveillance of citizens' mobile phones as a measure in the fight against coronavirus.

Initially the bill was to go on fast track, however following a lot of criticism from opposition parties that it would lead to a violation of human rights and that the amendments were too general, the bill was put to regular parliamentary procedure.

The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) caucus proposed that the bill be sent to second reading in order to achieve the greatest concurrence possible on the bill which is aimed at preventing the epidemic from spreading and at protecting citizens and their health. The proposal was adopted by lawmakers with 89 votes in favour and 41 against.

HDZ whip Branko Bačić told reporters that the party had proposed a second reading because certain doubts regarding the bill emerged during the debate in parliament.

He added that all of the opposition's amendments and suggestions would be forwarded to the Government to give its opinion. "I do not know when and if the Government will forward the bill, but all possible activities that the law regulates will be taken into account. We will see whether it will refer only to citizens in self-isolation and to what extent when the bill is sent to second reading," Bačić said.

MP Peđa Grbin of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) said that the best thing would be for the bill to never make it to second reading considering its contents and the proposed measures' ineffectiveness. "It is unnecessary and bad and it would be good for the government to withdraw it," said Grbin.

SDP's amendments call for the bill to clearly define the circle of people who can be monitored, that the person be informed that they are under surveillance, that it defines the precise duration of surveillance and how data will be treated after the epidemic. SDP also called for supervision of the implementation of the surveillance measures.

More news coronavirus can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Restricting Human Rights is Out of the Question, Says Božinović

ZAGREB, March 29, 2020 - Restricting human rights is out of the question, people are increasingly aware that the current situation is an emergency and extreme situation, which is why measures by the national civil protection authority are extreme, Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović said on Sunday.

"The institutions of this state, the government and the parliament, are functioning. The national civil protection authority is adopting decisions in line with epidemiologists' recommendations and they have to be implemented at the level of local civil protection authorities," Božinović, who heads the national civil protection team, said when asked to comment on President Zoran Milanović's statement that decisions restricting citizens' rights had to be adopted by a two-thirds majority.

Božinović said that during the current crisis, last Sunday's earthquake in Zagreb was a critical moment, when a large number of citizens went out and some left Zagreb, mostly for the coast, where medical capacity in the wintertime is not as good as in the rest of the year.

He explained that that was the reason why the authority had introduced a ban on leaving one's place of residence.

Božinović confirmed that a prison guard in Split had been diagnosed with COVID-19, that some of the people who had been in contact with him were in self-isolation and that the situation in Split was under control.

He said that 99 police officers were currently in self-isolation, and that four police officers were infected. Self-isolation measures have been lifted for 25 police officers.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Civil Society Groups Warn Democracy Must Not Be Forgotten

ZAGREB, March 28, 2020 - Ombudswoman Lora Vidovic believes human rights and freedoms must be restricted to protect people's health in the current epidemic, the House of Human Rights says the restrictions must pass the test of proportionality, while GONG says that democracy must not be forgotten despite the current situation.

Over the past few weeks, the national civil protection team has adopted a number of restrictive decisions with the aim of curbing the spread of the coronavirus, including a ban on the work of restaurants and bars and public gatherings and on leaving one's place of residence.

Human rights ombudswoman Lora Vidović says that some of the rights and freedoms need to be restricted in order to protect people's health and the freedoms and rights of others in the current epidemic.

She underlines, however, that restrictions may be introduced only by law or based on an explicit legal authority, their scope being the smallest possible to protect public interest.

Ivan Novosel of the House of Human Rights nongovernmental organisation says that restrictions must be proportionate to the danger of a certain phenomenon and be introduced on the basis of individual cases.

Asked how citizens can protect themselves against arbitrary restrictions in the current crisis, Novosel says that crises do not rule out democratic safeguards through which citizens protect their rights and that those safeguards cannot be suspended.

Human rights violations can be reported to the body supervising police work, the ombudswoman, nongovernmental organisations for human rights, as well as to parliamentary committees, he says.

Vidović says that dozens of citizens contact her on a daily basis.

"Most of the cases are workers who have been laid off, who are worried about their workplace safety during the epidemic, who work under a compulsory work order or who inquire about their rights during the period of unemployment. They also inquire about issues related to health insurance, restrictions on the work of farmers' markets, changes in the prices of goods, the obligation to wear face masks when entering offices, etc. We have also received a few complaints regarding measures restricting the freedom of movement," Vidović says.

Oriana Ivković Novokmet of the election monitoring NGO GONG says the task of the civil society in the current crisis is to prevent attempts to create authoritarian states and societies of control.

She says that the introduction of restrictions in the fight against the coronavirus is understandable but that preventing the misuse of those restrictions is of paramount importance.

"Just as in times of major crises, such as this epidemic, we must not forget about democracy," she says.

All restrictions must be compatible with democracy and human rights and be motivated exclusively by reasons of public health, be implemented in line with the Constitution and be time-limited.

Ivković Novokmet, Novosel and Vidović point to shortcomings of the government-sponsored bill on electronic communications, which was put forward to enable the tracking of citizens in self-isolation via their mobile phones, and they believe that the bill should be further amended.

Vidović, who has submitted an amendment to the bill, says that the bill restricts the constitutional right to privacy, which is why it needs to specify the persons to whom tracking applies, limit the duration of the measure and provide for oversight.

"It is important to enable the parliament to work as long as possible so that all relevant decisions are made through the parliament and so that the parliament can oversee the management of this crisis," says Novosel.

Ivković Novokmet says that in some countries parliamentary work has been suspended as part of measures to curb the spreading of the disease and that Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, too, made such an attempt, proposing that the government be given the authority to pass decrees and regulations with legal force, thus shutting out the parliament.

She warns that without the parliament's oversight, a small group of people could be deciding about issues such as restriction of movement and the tracking of people via their mobile phones, as well as possible changes to the Labour Act, suspension of collective agreements and the like.

"There is no democracy without parliament," she says.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Parliament Speaker to Request Opinion on Restrictions of Civil Liberties

ZAGREB, March 25, 2020 - The Speaker of the Croatian Parliament, Gordan Jandroković, announced on Wednesday he would request an opinion of the Constitutional Court on "restrictions of civil liberties" imposed as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I will request an opinion of the Constitutional Court on whether we should apply Article 17 of the Constitution, meaning that the Croatian Parliament should decide by a two-third majority on restricting certain freedoms, or we can do so by directly applying Articles 16, 32 and 50 concerning freedom of movement and freedom of enterprise without Article 17," Jandroković told the press after a meeting of the Parliament Presidency.

He said that after the Court gives its opinion, he will organise a vote. "Protecting the health and lives of citizens is of paramount importance, but freedom, democracy and rule of law must also be taken into account," he added.

"Parliament is extremely important right now because it is a guarantor of democracy and rule of law. We are a law-making body and must insist on this for as long as necessary," Jandroković said.

He said that parliamentary debates will be shortened, each parliamentary group will have ten minutes to present its view on an item on the agenda and each MP will be allowed to take the floor for five minutes. Voting will be conducted by rotating groups of not more than 50 MPs.

Jandroković said that Parliament would sit in the old headquarters of the INA oil company until the quake-damaged Parliament building was repaired.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

NGO Says Emergency Measures Can Last Only for Duration of Pandemic

ZAGREB, March 19, 2020 - The GONG nongovernmental organisation has said that measures being introduced by the Croatian government and most countries to alleviate the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic must not be misused, must be in line with the Constitution and must be in force only during the pandemic.

Restrictions that are being introduced must be motivated solely by reasons related to public health and they must be implemented in line with the Constitution, the NGO said on Thursday, underlining the importance of respect for rights and procedures in crisis situations.

As for Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović's announcement about the introduction of an information system for tracking infected persons and persons in self-isolation and other information solutions, GONG said that it raised the question of possible abuse and the need for supervision.

"The rule of law and civil liberties must not be forgotten due to the fear of infection. Restriction of individual rights and freedoms (Article 17 of the Constitution) requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority. If the parliament stops working, the prime minister and the president of the republic take over. Such measures must be proportionate and precisely defined," GONG said.

More coronavirus news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Friday, 6 March 2020

Forum 2020 Calls for Humane and Sustainable Solutions to Migrant Crisis

ZAGREB, March 6, 2020 - Several Croatian civil society organisations gathered within the informal platform Forum 2020 called on the European Union on Friday to urgently adopt sustainable and solidary solutions to the humanitarian crisis at the land border between Turkey and Greece, on the Greek islands and at the external borders of the European Union.

The organisations held a press conference under the motto "For an open Europe" ahead of an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers in Zagreb. They condemned statements by senior EU officials aimed at undermining the rule of law, and were particularly concerned about the idea of sending troops to deal with civilians at the EU's external borders.

"Currently we are witnessing a political war between Turkey and the EU in which both sides use people for bullets. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said that Greece must be Europe's shield," said Tajana Tadić of the organisation Are You Syrious?

She said that support by EU politicians to countries such as Greece and Croatia, which are expected to do a dirty job by protecting the EU's borders, even at the cost of human lives, was "concerning and hypocritical".

Tadic said that a legal and constructive EU response to the crisis should include "a solidary sharing of responsibility for asylum seekers among all the member states, rather than abolishing human rights and continuing a political trade with despots such as Erdogan."

"Weapons are not and cannot be an answer to a cry for help," said Sara Kekuš of the Centre for Peace Studies, adding that "Europe must not send troops to deal with people fleeing war and conflict."

Kekuš said that during its presidency the Croatian government should put the reform of the common asylum system on the agenda of the Council of the EU.

She said that the reform should include providing appropriate protection and honouring the principle of non-refoulement, an in-depth review of the Dublin system with a permanent sharing of responsibilities, sanctioning countries that violate human rights and refuse to participate in the sharing of responsibilities, and providing funding for integration rather than continuing to invest in the militarisation of the borders and deportation of people.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Police to Carry Out Probe Into Burning of Gay Couple Effigy at Imotski Carnival

ZAGREB, February 27, 2020 - The Split Municipal Prosecutor's Office has instructed the police to collect information concerning a criminal complaint Social Democrat MP Arsen Bauk filed against the organisers of a carnival procession in Imotski, where an effigy of a gay couple was set on fire this past weekend.

The effigy of a gay couple holding a "child" - SDP MP Nenad Stazić, with a five-pointed star on his forehead - was burned at the traditional carnival procession in Imotski last Sunday.

The criminal complaint against the organisers of the procession, the Bakove Svečanosti association, which is headed by Milivoj Djuka, was filed by SDP MP Bauk with the local police on Monday.

Sources at the Split prosecutor's office told Hina that police were expected to carry out a preliminary investigation and take other measures to collect information for a decision on the complaint while the prosecutor's office will make a decision within its remit once it receives the information requested.

More news about LGBT rights can be found in the Politics section.

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