Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Croatian FM Talks War Missing at UN Human Rights Council

ZAGREB, February 26, 2020 - Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman spoke at a UN meeting in Geneva on Tuesday about Croatian citizens missing from the 1990s war, saying it was their families' human right to find out the truth which, he added, could also help reconciliation between peoples once at war.

Croatia is still tracing 1,871 persons gone missing in the 1991-95 war between Croatian forces and rebel local Serbs and the former Yugoslav People's Army.

Speaking at the 43rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Grlić Radman said shedding light on the fate of the missing was very important for Croatia. "That is of regional and global significance and also provides greater chances for lasting reconciliation between peoples."

"That is the everyday life of hundreds of families in Croatia and that's why we must show special interest and compassion. That's our concern," the minister said.

A photo exhibition by Sandra Simunovic called "Portraits of Sadness", depicting disturbing stories about the Homeland War missing, was opened on the fringes of the meeting.

Grlić Radman also met with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, extending his support to her work on the protection of human rights in the world.

"In today's world, where international human rights and multilateralism are increasingly being violated, it's important to support the high commissioner's work," he said.

The minister also took part in a disarmament conference at which he underlined the importance of effectively complying with all international and regional agreements on disarmament.

At the UN Human Rights Council meeting, he also pushed for strengthening the economic status of women, preventing poverty, including children's, as well as social exclusion, and protecting children from violence.

More news about Croatia and the UN can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Government Condemns Burning of Effigy of Same-Sex Couple with Child

ZAGREB, February 24, 2020 - The government on Monday condemned the burning of an effigy of a same-sex couple with a child during carnival in the southern town of Imotski, saying that "judging" minorities in Croatian society is not in the carnival spirit or satire nor is it traditional, entertaining or in the spirit of Croatian and European values.

"The tradition of burning the carnival effigy usually consisted of a sort of humorous and mocking criticism of various events in Croatian society. That sort of carnival spirit can remain within the boundaries of satire when it 'judges' someone in power like the president, the prime minister, a mayor or some other politician, but by no means those who represent various minorities in Croatian society. That is not traditional, nor entertaining nor in the spirit of Croatian and European values. As such, we condemn that act," the government said.

Our approach is that we oppose any form of hate speech and aggression - political, ideological, verbal and physical - just like any other act that offends the feelings of the Croatian people and contributes to divisions in society, the government said in a response to Hina's query sent by spokesman Marko Milić.

A majority of parliamentary parties condemned the Imotski incident.

Social Welfare Minister Vesna Bedeković on Monday strongly condemned the burning of an effigy representing a same-sex couple with a child during the carnival in the southern town of Imotski, saying she acknowledged carnival traditions across Croatia but that this event was neither funny nor entertaining.

"I strongly condemn every form of hate speech. Building Croatia as an inclusive and tolerant society has no alternative. Therefore, I condemn this act which is not in the spirit of Croatian and European values," the minister said in a press release in connection with Sunday's incident.

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

Friday, 21 February 2020

Opposition Seeks Inquiry Commission for Organisations That Dissuade Women from Abortion

ZAGREB, February 21, 2020 - Twenty-two MPs on Friday tabled a proposal to set up an inquiry commission into the financing, work and influence of organisations which consult pregnant women in Croatia in order to prevent quackery and disinformation about abortion.

Independent MP Bojan Glavašević, Sabina Glasovac (SDP) and Vesna Pusić (GLAS) told the press that according to reports in Croatian and foreign media, so-called pregnancy crisis centres were spreading in Europe and Croatia as part of a global coordinated project aimed at disinforming women about their reproductive rights and health as well as introducing additional obstacles to abortion.

Those centres are organisations that try to dissuade women who are thinking about aborting by providing incorrect information and advice on reproductive health and medical services, which denies women the legal right to medical services and information based on scientific facts, they said.

There is evidence that some of those pseudo-medical institutions are receiving more and more funds from foreign organisations and governments, notably from the US as part of its policy to deny the right to abortion around the world, the three MPs added.

Such practice is dangerous to women's reproductive rights and health, as warned by the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights in a letter to the European Commission, the MPs said.

They recalled that under recommendations by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women published in July 2015, Croatia should stop retrograding with regard to sexual and reproductive health and that this included access to safe abortion.

The three MPs said the organisations that offered reproductive health advice and spread disinformation were exempt from mandatory oversight for institutions offering medical advice.

The proposal was signed by MPs from GLAS, IDS, HSS, HSU, Bridge, SDP, SDSS, SNAGA, Democrats, New Politics and independents Glavašević and Marko Vučetić.

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

Friday, 14 February 2020

GLAS for Enabling Life, Informal Partners to Provide Foster Care

ZAGREB, February 14, 2020 - MPs of the GLAS opposition party said on Friday they had tabled amendments to the Foster Care Act whereby life and informal partners too would be included in the definition of a foster family.

Referring to a recent Constitutional Court decision that life partners should be able to become foster parents, Anka Mrak Taritaš said the court had pointed out that everyone had the duty, in their everyday activity, to abide by the constitution which, she added, banned discrimination and guaranteed that everyone was equal under the law.

"The Constitutional Court also reminded us that in foster care, it's not important what kind of union foster parents live in, but that they give their best to the child or adult they foster," she told reporters.

The court warned us that when the Foster Care Act was moved and adopted, which is in the remit of the government and parliament, neither convincing nor objective arguments were put forward that would justify its restrictiveness, stressing that same-sex partners have the status of a family union and all the rights that entails, Mrak Taritaš said.

"The Constitutional Court reminded us that, regardless of our cultural, religious or any other views of the world, we should have more respect and understanding for one another," she added.

Health problems, ethnicity, number of siblings make adoption of a large number of children more difficult

Goran Beus Richembergh said more than 1,000 children were growing up in homes instead of foster families. For a large number of them, because of various health problems, ethnicity, mostly Roma, or number of siblings, it is not easy to find foster parents, he added.

We find it necessary to amend the Foster Care Act as soon as possible to include life or informal partners in the definition of a foster family, which would prevent any interpretation of the law at the expense of life partners, the MP said.

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

Friday, 24 January 2020

Plenković: We Have to Work on Protecting Human Rights

ZAGREB, January 24, 2020 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and other state officials laid wreaths in the Jewish section of the Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb on Friday on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is observed on January 27, saying that Croatia needs to work on a culture of remembrance, protecting human rights and promoting tolerance in society.

"We want the reminder of this great atrocity to be carved into everyone's memory so that such crimes are never repeated. Today we have to work not only on a culture of remembrance but also on protecting human rights and promoting tolerance in society," Plenković said after the wreath-laying ceremony.

The government delegation came to pay their respects to the victims of the greatest atrocity in the history of humankind, he said, but also to remember the 117 Croatian Righteous Among the Nations who helped save Jews in those most difficult times.

Asked about complaints by minority organisations about the revival of Ustasha ideology, he said that manifestations of that kind must always be prevented.

"We are working on that because they are not the values we share. Our programme contains the highest standards of respect for human and minority rights and we will persist in that because they are the values of the free and modern Croatia," he underscored.

Rabbi Kotel Da-Don of the Jewish Bet Israel community in Zagreb said that antisemitism was on the rise in the world as never before while the sentence "let it never be repeated" was constantly being repeated.

"That shows that we have a serious problem in society and that words can no longer help. In Croatia too we have a problem if people are still convinced that 'For the Homeland Ready' means something good for Croatia," Da-Don underscored.

Asked how he thought the government was handling this, Da-Don said that he believes it has good intentions however some issues have still not been resolved.

About 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, or nearly two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe. Five million people of other ethnic groups were also killed.

In the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), which was ruled by the Nazi-allied Ustasha regime during the Second World War, of 39,000 Jews more than 30,000 were killed. Most of them perished in Ustasha-run concentration camps and about 7,000 were dispatched to Nazi death camps, most of them to Auschwitz. Fewer than 9,000 Jews survived, including about 5,000 in Croatia and 4,000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to the Croatian Encyclopaedia.

More news about the Holocaust in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

HRW: Croatia Bears No Consequences for Pushbacks of Migrants

ZAGREB, January 15, 2020 - The Human Rights Watch (HRW) warns in its latest annual report on human rights' state of affairs worldwide that despite reports "about illegal and violent pushbacks of migrants by Croatian police into Bosnia and Serbia, in breach of EU refugee and human rights law, Croatia faced no consequences from EU institutions."

This New-York based international non-governmental organisation described these reports as credible.

It cited statistics provided by the Croatian Ministry of Interior which show that "in the first eight months of 2019, 11,813 new migrants and asylum seekers were recorded, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey, an increase of more than 8,600 compared to the same period in 2018."

"In the same period 974 people claimed asylum and authorities approved 71 asylum requests, including 13 from 2018.

"Croatia reported that it blocked entry to 9,487 people at its borders in the first 8 months of the year," reads the HRW report's section headlined " Croatia Events of 2019 - Part of the EU Chapter".

The HRW organisation also reports that "in January, a Europe-wide universities-led Holocaust Remembrance project found historical revisionism in Croatia among the highest in the European Union".

"During a year that saw several violent attacks on Croatian Serbs, Croatia’s ombudswoman and civil society groups expressed concern about the climate of intolerance against minorities.

Between January and September 2019, Documenta, an NGO, registered 39 war crime cases against 59 defendants before courts in Croatia. In the same period, 15 people were convicted for war-related crimes, including one for sexual violence.

In July 2019, Croatia ratified the Safe Schools Declaration pledging to refrain from the military use of schools in wars. According to the Ombudswoman for Children, Roma children were most deprived group in 2019, with limited access to services, reads the report's section on Croatia.

"Despite the consistent recommendations to Croatia from international bodies to facilitate community-based support for all people with disabilities currently in institutions, Croatia persisted with plans to place adults with disabilities in foster care, publishing a draft law in December 2018. In January 2019, the Ministry of Social Policy indicated that 4,216 adults were placed in 1,481 foster care families," reads the report.

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

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Croatian Politics 2019: A Year in Review

What follows is a review of events in Croatian politics in 2019, as reported by TCN. If you would like to refresh your memory about the events which has led us here, read the reviews for the three previous years (2016, 2017, 2018).

The year started with a high-profile failure by the government. Months after it was announced that Croatia would buy used Israeli F-16 fighter planes, the US government vetoed the sale and the whole project fell through. Despite earlier warnings from experts that the deal was in question, ministers continued to claim that everything was alight. However, after a meeting between high-ranking officials from the United States and Israel, the truth was revealed. Ministers lost their nerves and the government launched an immediate investigation, which expectedly ended without any real results, and also announced that it would re-start the process. To show its level of seriousness, it even established a commission! Twelve months later, the process of deciding which aircraft to buy still hasn't move any further on and is not expected to end for at least another year.

The migrant crisis continued to be in the news this year. The inflow of migrants over the borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia increased somewhat, together with media coverage about alleged brutality of Croatian police and illegal pushbacks of migrants to Bosnia. The authorities were quick to deny everything, but the sheer number of documented cases makes it apparent that at least some of the allegations are founded.

Efforts to limit media freedoms continued this year and some reporters were even briefly arrested. Journalists, NGOs and international organisations stood up to these attempts, but the final score is still unknown.

Repression continued in other ways as well, with courts ruling that peaceful protesters should go to prison, Croatia's human rights situation being criticised from abroad, ethnically-motivated assaults (several of them) taking place, ombudswomen’s warnings not being heard, journalists receiving instructions from the president on what to do, and diplomats spreading hate...

Historical revisionism was in full force once again this year. As a result, representatives of Jews, Serbs and anti-fascist organisations once again boycotted the government’s annual commemoration at the site of the Jasenovac concentration camp.

European elections were held in May (with even Pamela Anderson giving recommendations to Croatian voters). While the ruling HDZ party had high hopes earlier in the year (and was supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who attended one of its rather controversial rallies in Zagreb), the actual results were much tighter and were interpreted by everyone as a success for the opposition (particularly SDP) and a disappointment for the government.

June brought us a few days of excitement when it seemed possible that prime minister Plenković might just succeed in his life-long dream of getting a top EU job. Despite denying he ever wanted such a thing, he was rumoured to be trying to become president of the European Commission (or president of the European Council, or perhaps something else). In the end, he had to return to Croatia empty handed, again denying his alleged attempts.

Unlike Plenković, foreign minister Marija Pejčinović-Burić was more successful in the area of career development. In June, she was elected secretary-general of the Council of Europe. She promptly resigned her post in Croatia and has not been heard about since. Another happy politician is Dubravka Šuica, who has been appointed Croatia’s commissioner in the European Commission.

Mostly good economic news continued. Public debt is at its lowest level in decades, the European Commission concluded that Croatia no longer suffered from excessive economic imbalances, and GDP growth is holding up.

One of the companies which was in the public focus this year was Croatia Airlines, Croatia’s national flag carrier. Its business results were dismal and the search for possible strategic partners was on, but without any real results. The government eventually decided to cover some of the debts, but as the year comes to and end, there is no long-term solution in sight. In the meantime, Zagreb Airport continues to lose airlines using its services.

The construction of an LNG terminal on the island of Krk has apparently started out with strong support from the US government, after many years of delays and announcements. The project is funded from the state budget, since there was no interest among anyone to actually use the terminal. The government claims that there will be interest once the terminal is built, but it would not be the first major government-funded project in Croatia’s history to fail to deliver on its promises.

The construction of Pelješac bridge continues to go at an even faster pace than expected (despite occasional Bosnian protests), mostly thanks to the efforts by the Chinese construction company which won the tender, which also brought about a marked improvement in the relations between Croatia and China. Unfortunately, the construction of the access roads leading up to the bridge has not progressed nearly as fast, with tenders being decided just several months ago. It is quite possible that, when the bridge is built, it will be unusable for a while because there will be no roads leading to it.

Emigration continues amid Croatia's demographic crisis, although somewhat slower than in previous years, probably as a result of the fact that most of those who could have left have already done so. The authorities talk about demographic revival, but nothing much has happened so far.

Political scandals were as numerous as ever. The regional development minister had an accident while driving without a driving license, the agriculture minister forgot to list all his assets on an official statement, the administration minister had his own scandals which were too numerous even to count, and the state assets minister had problems of his own. The Prime minister strongly supported his ministers before some of them resigned, and then he changed his mind and dismissed the rest of them.

The ruling coalition remained stable this year, despite occasional rumours of impending collapse. Ultimatums were rejected, resignations demanded, talks announced, decisions to stay in coalition made, threats given... Just the usual stuff.

As expected, the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia has not been resolved this year. Slovenia was disappointed with the EU’s decision not to get involved in a dispute between its two members. The chances that this issue will feature in our review for 2020 are quite high.

In October, the European Commission announced that Croatia has fulfilled all the technical conditions to join the Schengen area. However, the final decision will require the unanimous support of all EU member states, and Slovenia does not seem ready to give its approval until the border dispute with Croatia is resolved. 

Another major project is the introduction of euro in Croatia. After a lot of talk, the government has finally sent an official request. The process will certainly take years and opinion is divided as to whether it is a good idea or not.

One of the highlights were the trade union's activities. Earlier in the year, the unions managed to collect enough signatures for a referendum against the government’s pension reform and an increase in the retirement age. The government capitulated and revoked already approved laws (although it previously warned that such a decision would be a disaster).

The other major trade union success was the primary and secondary school strike later in the year. After almost two months, the government capitulated and gave the unions more or less everything they had asked for.

One of the highlights of the next six months will be Croatia’s EU presidency. The government is promoting it as a great success, although all EU member states sooner or later get their chance to hold the rotating presidency. While Croatia's plans are ambitious, their delivery will probably be more modest.

The major event at the end of the year was the first round of Croatia's presidential elections.

While the post is largely ceremonial, elections are held every five years and still manage to occupy public attention for months. Three major candidates launched their bids: incumbent president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (officially an independent candidate who in reality is HDZ), former SDP prime minister Zoran Milanović, and singer Miroslav Škoro, who presented himself as a candidate of change, despite having been an MP, a diplomat and a former HDZ member.

The first round was held on December 22. Zoran Milanović won with 29.6% of the vote, followed by Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović with 26.7%. Škoro was third with 24.5%. Milanović and Grabar-Kitarović will take part in the run-off on January 5.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Government Opinion on Human Rights Report Short, With Fewer Responses to Recommendations

ZAGREB, December 21, 2019 - Human Rights Ombudswoman Lora Vidović said on Saturday the government's opinion on her report for 2018 had never been shorter and with fewer responses to the report's recommendations.

Of the 209 recommendations, the government did not state its position on nearly half and only 26 were accepted fully or in part, Vidović said on Croatian Radio, adding that the government's opinion came in early November, seven months after she submitted her report on the state of human rights.

Vidović said the recommendations were based on citizens' complaints and that the point of the report was not her telling the government what it wanted to hear or agreeing with it on everything, but to oversee and analyse the state of human rights and make concrete proposals on how to improve it.

"It's very bad to be defensive and to look on the report as an attack or criticism because the common goal of my office and the government is that the state of human rights in Croatia be better," she said.

To a large extent, Croatia's problems are similar to those in other EU member states but in some segments the situation in Croatia is below average, notably concerning the perception of the judiciary, which is the worst in the EU. Healthcare indicators are deteriorating as is elderly poverty, which stands at 28% in Croatia, as against 15% in the EU.

Vidović warned about unfavourable data on hate speech, the treatment of migrants and rising inequality.

Big problems include poverty, the social exclusion of vulnerable groups such as singles, pensioners close to the poverty threshold and elderly Serbs in rural parts of the country.

Speaking of migrants, Vidović said the authorities responded quickly to queries but that the answers were superficial, taking account only of the position of police and not the other side. She added that state prosecutors investigated such complaints.

Her 2018 report, submitted in March, was based on 5,082 complaints submitted by, among others, the public authorities, civil society organisations, trade unions, employers, universities, churches and religious organisations.

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

Friday, 6 December 2019

Mijatović: Treatment of Migrants by Croatian Police Is Unacceptable

ZAGREB, December 6, 2019 - Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović on Friday criticised the treatment by Croatian police of illegal migrants coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina and called on Bosnian authorities to treat migrants more responsibly and to urgently close down the Vučjak camp outside the northwestern town of Bihać.

Mijatović has been in Bosnia and Herzegovina this week to see for herself the scale of the problem of illegal migration, visiting all refugee camps in the country. Addressing an end-of-visit press conference in Sarajevo on Friday, she explicitly condemned the conduct of Croatian border police as unacceptable, particularly their practice of pushing migrants back over the border into Bosnia and Herzegovina.

She said that many doctors had given her "consistent statements" about violence being used by Croatian police. She added that there was a disturbingly large number of testimonies of violence against and abuse of migrants and of migrants being robbed of their property.

Mijatović said that the practice of pushbacks used by Croatian border police was a violation of the human rights convention, including the right to asylum and prohibition of torture.

She said she had requested an explanation from Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković in October 2018, but the situation had only worsened since then. I am mentioning this again because nothing has changed, she underlined.

Mijatović called for an independent investigation into police abuses to identify the perpetrators and bring them to account. She said she would continue closely monitoring the illegal migration situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region and act at the European level.

Whether that will bring about change is a matter of political will and not resources. The migrants I have met asked me to be their voice, Mijatović said.

Mijatović, herself from Bosnia and Hezegovina, has visited the migrant centres in the country this week and called for the Vučjak camp near Bihac to be immediately closed down because of inhumane conditions.

She said she was shocked by what she had seen in Vučjak. Human beings, including minors, cramped in mud at a former waste disposal site next to minefields, she added.

Mijatović said she expected the camp to be closed down very soon because there were not many people there, about 500 to 600, and appropriate accommodation should be found for them. She added that she had received guarantees from Security Minister Dragan Mektić that this would happen soon.

Mektić later said that the Vučjak camp would be dismantled by the end of next week, and the people staying there would be transferred to other camps.

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

Friday, 6 December 2019

Breaches of Right to Effective Investigation Account for 5% of Croatian Cases at ECHR

ZAGREB, December 6, 2019 - Ksenija Turković, a Croatian judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), said on Thursday that by the end of 2018 the ECHR had passed 22 verdicts for breaches of the right to an effective investigation against Croatia, which accounts for around 5% of all ECHR verdicts related to Croatia.

Turković was speaking at a conference of the Croatian Association for Criminal Sciences and Practice.

Breaches of articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms concerning the effectiveness of investigations are among the more frequent cases from Croatia that were adjudicated by the ECHR, it was said at the event, which focused on ways to strengthen the effectiveness of criminal proceedings by applying ECHR standards.

The event brought together researchers, representatives of prosecutorial authorities, judges and criminal lawyers as well as representatives of other high judicial institutions in Croatia and Europe.

The association's president, Zlata Đurđević, said that by the end of 2018, 22 cases of violation of the right to an effective investigation had been determined in cases from Croatia. The figure includes a number of cases of war crimes against civilians and cases from other areas, she said.

ECHR judge Turković said that the 22 cases in which the effectiveness of the investigation was violated accounted for around 5% of all ECHR verdicts against Croatia, which, she said, was not a negligible percentage.

She said that in terms of their number, that type of violations stood out considering that there was not one dominant group of cases from Croatia and the cases were varied.

Turković said one of the reasons for the high number of such cases was the fact that Croatia lacked its own mechanism to deal with breaches of the right to an effective investigation, so all such cases immediately ended up before the ECHR.

She expressed hope a solution would be found soon, noting that the Constitutional Court had been considering issues related to investigation effectiveness since 2014.

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

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