Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Hate Speech Should Be Punished, Not Just Removed

ZAGREB, November 13, 2019 - The Human Rights House on Wednesday organised a round table discussion at which it was said that dealing with the problem of hate speech required a good and broad social discussion and that hate speech should not only be removed but should also be punished.

"Hate speech constitutes a violation of human rights of marginalised groups, LGBT persons and members of ethnic minorities and it constitutes a basis for racial discrimination. That is why it is not enough to just remove it from the public arena but those who spread it should be punished," said Human Rights House programming director Ivan Novosel.

The round table discussion, held under the title "Regulating hate speech on social networks - challenges to the exercise of the freedom of expression", focused on an announced law on the prevention of undesirable behaviour on social networks. The purpose of the round table was to gain an understanding of the experiences and challenges of regulating hate speech on social networks in Germany and discuss possible challenges in the Croatian context.

Novosel warned that if the German model was copied, it could have a negative impact on the freedom of expression and operation of the media because, he claimed, experiences in Germany bore witness to the censorship of content on social networks and its removal without prosecution.

Assistant Justice Minister Vedrana Šimundža-Nikolić said that a working group was studying and comparing different laws in an effort to recognise the regulations that could or should be adopted in Croatia.

She said that the laws and solutions of other countries would not be "copied" and that the ministry would follow Human Rights House discussions and use its conclusions in its future work.

She also said that on-line hate speech and similar conduct should be restricted and banned and that a way should be found at EU level to impose certain rules of conduct on social networks to prevent any hate speech and intolerance.

More news about NGOs in Croatia can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Croatia Says HRW Report on Migrants Doesn't Contain Any Concrete Evidence

ZAGREB, November 9, 2019 - Croatia's Interior Ministry on Friday said in a press release that a report released by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) organisation consisted of very general claims about the alleged inhumane treatment of migrants by the local police and that it does not contain any concrete evidence.

"It is important to take into consideration that migrants, who are prevented from entering Croatia by police officers or other procedures have been undertaken for their readmission to the country from which they entered illegally, often falsely accuse police officers of violence, in the hope that these accusations will help them in a new attempt to enter Croatia and continue on their way toward their final destination," the Interior Ministry said.

The ministry underscored that advocates of illegal border crossing and illegal entry in the EU have for some time been reporting alleged unlawful conduct by Croatia's police, accusing the police in general of implementing pushbacks on the external EU border.

"In reality just the opposite is occurring in fact. Bosnia and Herzegovina has admitted several times that it cannot protect its border with Serbia and Montenegro due to a capacity shortage. In that situation of a virtually uncontrolled influx of migrants, Bosnia and Herzegovina's authorities are directing migrants to the Una-Sana Canton. Bosnia and Herzegovina has organised transport to that area and it is worth mentioning the coinciding fact that the railway line between Sarajevo and Bihać has been reopened after 27 years, at a time just when migrants are being directed toward the border with Croatia.

Despite efforts by the international community and Croatia, as a member of the EU which has provided funding for humane accommodation of migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina, those irregular migrants are being accommodated in the Vučjak camp which is located about six kilometres from Croatia's border, the Croatian ministry says adding that those irregular migrants are banned from entering Bihać and are instructed how to illegally cross a state border.

According to Bosnia and Herzegovina's law that route toward Croatia is an illegal crossing and liable to criminal proceedings, the Croatian ministry said.

The press release further notes that HRW did not present any facts in its report.

"There is rare or hardly any information of the smooth flow of migrants entering Bosnia and Herzegovina from Serbia or Montenegro which is indeed unusual considering that it is in fact the cause of the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and that the situation in Vučjak or Bihać is just a consequence of that and something that Croatia's police can absolutely not be responsible for," MUP said.

It adds that migrants illegally crossing the state border are treated according the Law on Aliens.

MUP said that all accusations by non-governmental organisations and other civil society organisations of alleged violence toward migrants are being checked, however, these reports generally do not have sufficient information required to launch a criminal investigation.

The ministry checks all allegations of unprofessional conduct by the police in detail, which often do not have sufficient information to verify the allegations and if there is any suspicion of a crime being committed that is reported to the State Prosecutor's Office to initiate the relevant procedure in its remit.

The ministry recalls that there have been several cases when Croatia's police have saved migrants from peril at the state border.

"Today even, thanks to the timely reaction by Croatian police a family of five with a woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy with three children has been taken care of in the Korenica area. The pregnant woman was taken to Gospić hospital while her husband and three children were taken to the local police station where they said that they would apply for international protection in Croatia," the press release said.

The European Commission took account of the HRW report when evaluating Croatia's preparedness to join the Schengen area and concluded that Croatia continued to fulfil its commitments towards human rights protection, European Commission spokeswoman Tove Ernst said on Friday.

She recalled that the Commission had made its recommendation in a report three weeks ago, in which it concluded that Croatia continued to fulfil its commitments relating to the protection of human rights. Now it is up to the Council of the EU to decide on Croatia's accession to the Schengen area, she added.

The non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch said in a report on Friday that the Commission's conclusions from October about the technical readiness of Croatia to join the Schengen area did not hold in the face of evidence of violent pushbacks of migrants from the Croatian border. As proof of its claim, HRW released a video on its website documenting the abuses.

The European Commission said it was in close contact with Croatian authorities and would continue following the situation together with them.

The Commission always takes allegations of mistreatment of migrants very seriously, Ernst said

As for Croatia, the protection of the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers, accusations that they are denied access to the asylum-seeking process and accusations that police use force, that remains a challenge. We are in close contact with Croatian authorities regarding this issue. They have committed to looking into these accusations and we will continue following the situation together with Croatian authorities, she added.

The spokeswoman said that a monitoring mechanism had been put in place at the Commission's request to ensure full compliance with EU law by border authorities.

We supported the efforts by the Croatian authorities to ensure respect for fundamental rights, primarily on the borders, and a portion of the 7 million euro emergency aid package that has been granted to Croatia is intended for strengthening border management and for monitoring. As we specified a few weeks ago, Croatia continues to meet its commitments in this area. We have acted by setting up the monitoring mechanism, for which we have granted funding, and we remain in close contact with the Croatian authorities, Ernst said.

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

Friday, 8 November 2019

Journalists Association Shocked by Recent Rulings Against Media

ZAGREB, November 8, 2019 - The Croatian Journalists Association (HND) said on Thursday it was shocked by a Virovitica Municipal Court sentence against journalist Ivan Žada as well as recent sentences against the media in which the plaintiffs are members of the ruling HDZ party, adding that it would notify the international public.

On November 6, the Virovitica court gave Žada a suspended sentence of four months with one year's probation for recording without authorisation a phone conversation with HDZ MP Josip Đakić and posting part of it as a transcript on Facebook and the website. The sentence may be appealed.

The conversation took place in October 2018 after Đakić's son Ivan threatened Žada that he would "break his neck" or "pay someone in Zagreb 500 euro to do it."

Žada said he called Đakić to tell him that "because I was afraid for my safety and the safety of my family," and that he told Đakić he was a journalist.

The HND believes the sentence is not in line with European standards of protection of freedom of expression because that was not a private conversation and that state officials' communication with journalists is always of public interest.

The HND has been concerned about other recent sentences against the media in cases in which the plaintiffs were HDZ members.

HDZ vice president Milijan Brkić was recently awarded 40,000 kuna in damages pending appeal over an article in Večernji List daily which criticised him.

The Split Municipal Court recently delivered a sentence against Slobodna Dalmacija daily over journalist a comment by journalist Andrea Topić on inventor Luka Vuković, who was awarded 30,000 kuna in damages. The court ruled against the newspaper because Topić mentioned that Vuković is a member of the HDZ, which is in power in Split county, and implied that he received money from the county budget for one of his inventions because of that.

In particular, the HND criticised the part of the sentence in which judge Maja Anušić said that a column "cannot state something that cannot be defended in court" such as "positions, opinions and ideas."

The HND said it would notify the international public that journalists were being given suspended sentences in an EU member state which would chair the EU in the first half of 2020.

More news about pressures on journalists in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 1 November 2019

ECHR Rules in Favour of Croat Who Complained about Conditions in Zagreb Jail

ZAGREB, November 1, 2019 - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday stated in its judgment in the case of Dušan Ulemek versus Croatia that inadequate conditions in the Zagreb jail reached the level of "degrading treatment".

The court says in a press release that Ulemek, a Croatian national, who was given a prison sentence of 18 months for aiding and abetting robbery, complained in his application about the conditions of his detention in two prisons and of a lack of effective domestic remedies.

The applicant spent 27 days in Zagreb Prison in 2011 and the rest of his sentence in the Glina jail before being released on parole in September 2012.

He complained about the conditions of his detention in Glina Prison while still incarcerated.

Among other things, he alleged overcrowding, a lack of facilities, the poor organisation of activities, that he had been harassed by other prisoners, and that he had been kept isolated. His complaints were dismissed by the prison’s governor, a sentence-execution judge and the appeal court.

"On his release he began proceedings for compensation for the allegedly inadequate conditions of his detention in both prisons. His claim was rejected at first instance, on appeal and by the Constitutional Court," reads the press release.

"Relying in particular on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicant complained about the conditions of his detention in both prisons."

The Strasbourg-court ruled that there was violation of Article 3 (degrading treatment) – concerning the conditions of Mr Ulemek’s detention in Zagreb Prison.

It ruled that there was "no violation of Article 3 – concerning the conditions of Mr Ulemek’s detention in Glina State Prison"

Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights is about prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment.

The applicant is entitled to an award of just satisfaction: 1,000 euros (non-pecuniary damage) and 2,890 euros (costs and expenses).

The ruling is not final, and both sides can appeal against it before the Grand Chamber.

Ulemek's lawyer Lidija Horvat told Hina on Thursday that the ruling was of great importance for rights of incarcerated persons.

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

Monday, 28 October 2019

Most Croats Consider Minorities Acceptable in Highest Positions, But Not in Their Families

ZAGREB, October 28, 2019 - Most Croats would not mind a person with a disability, a person of a different skin colour, religion or ethnic background than the majority or an LGBTI person holding the highest elected position in the country, while at the same time slightly more than a half would not feel comfortable if their child was in a love relationship with a same-sex person, shows a special Eurobarometer survey on discrimination in the EU.

Last Thursday the European Commission published the findings of the special Eurobarometer in which citizens of all 28 EU member-countries were asked about their views on discrimination and social acceptability of groups at risk of discrimination.

The survey, published on October 24, was conducted on May 9-25 and covered 27,438 persons from the 28 member-countries.

Most Croats would have nothing against the highest elected political position being held by a woman (89%), a person perceived as young (81%), a person with a disability (83%), a person perceived as old (80%), a persons of a different skin colour than the majority population (68%), a person of a different religion than the majority (71%), or a person of a different ethnic background (68%).

Asked how they would feel if that position was held by a homosexual, lesbian or bisexual, 45% of those polled said they would feel comfortable, 15% said they would feel moderately comfortable, while 35% said they would feel uncomfortable.

As for an intersex person holding the highest elected political position, 37% said they would feel comfortable about it, while 36% would feel comfortable about such a position being occupied by a transgender person.

Most respondents, or 54%, would feel comfortable about a Roma person holding the highest political position, 19% would feel moderately comfortable and 24% would feel uncomfortable.

As regards the respondents' children, the survey shows a lower level of tolerance towards persons belonging to minority groups.

When asked how comfortable they would feel if one of their children was in a love relationship with a white person, 87% said they would feel comfortable, 87% said they would feel comfortable about their child being in a relationship with a Christian person, 76% said they would feel comfortable about their child being in a relationship with a young person, 65% would feel comfortable about an atheist person, 64% about a person with a disability, 57% about a Jewish person, 46% about an Asian person, 45% about a black person, 48% about a Buddhist person, 35% about an old person, 25% about a person of the same sex as their child, 47% would feel comfortable about a Muslim person, 36% about a Roma person, 19% about an intersex person and 18% about a transgender person.

The least acceptable relationship is one with a transgender person - 57% of the respondents said they would feel uncomfortable about their child being in such a relationship, 55% would feel uncomfortable about their child being in a love relationship with a transsexual and 54% would feel uncomfortable about their child being in a relationship with a person of the same sex.

Compared with a survey of four years ago, the share of those who would feel totally uncomfortable about their son or daughter being in a same-sex relationship has grown from 40 to 41%, while the share of those who would feel totally comfortable about it is 11%, the same as four years ago.

While 93% of Dutch respondents would find it totally acceptable if their prime minister was a homosexual, in Bulgaria that share is 17%. Three percent of Bulgarians find it totally acceptable to have a same-sex son-in-law or daughter-in-law, while 69% of Dutch and Swedish respondents think so.

An average 69% of respondents in the EU would feel comfortable if their child was in a love relationship with a Jewish person, which is 9% more than in 2015, and 55% would find it acceptable if their child was of the same-sex sexual orientation, 11% more than four years ago.

More statistics about Croatia can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Survey Debunks Belief About Young People Being Intolerant and Radical

ZAGREB, October 22, 2019 - The widely held belief in Croatia that young people are radical and intolerant has turned out to be wrong, the head of the Croatian Helsinki Committee on Human Rights, Ivan Zvonimir Čičak, said on Tuesday while presenting the results of a survey.

The survey, entitled "Tolerance and religiousness of students", debunks stereotypes based on young people's behaviour on social media and shows that incidents that occur in Croatia do not reflect the practice of the majority, Čičak told a round table.

The survey was led by sociologist Ivan Markešić from the Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences, who polled 324 students from four faculties of humanities in Zagreb via Facebook. It shows that humanities students are tolerant towards others and those who are different and are opposed to discrimination against minorities.

The students were given a high average grade of 4.07 on a scale of 1 to 5, said Erik Brezovec, an assistant lecturer at Croatian Studies who was involved in the conduct of the survey.

Brezovec noted that there was no difference between religious and non-religious students in their attitude towards those different. The survey also revealed that a majority of those polled do not agree that the Church should play a decisive role in society, he added.

Speakers at the round table highlighted the need for more surveys of this kind, including one on the attitude towards the native Muslim community in Croatia and Muslim migrants, and for expanding the sample to include the entire country.

The round table was organised by the Croatian Helsinki Committee on Human Rights and the Electronic Media Council with the participation of prominent intellectuals, philosophers, theologians, students and dignitaries of religious communities in Croatia.

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

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Protests Held in Support of Victims of Sexual Violence

ZAGREB, October 19, 2019 - Several thousand people rallied in Zagreb's King Tomislav Square on Saturday for a protest in support of all victims of sexual violence who do not receive appropriate protection from state institutions, with speakers at the event saying that the non-punishment of crime is a crime in itself.

The protest was prompted by the case of an underage girl from Zadar and the release from custody of five young men suspected of raping, sexually exploiting, blackmailing, and physically and mentally harassing the 15-year-old for a year, which prompted public outrage.

Meanwhile, a panel of Zadar County Court judges granted the prosecution appeal and ordered that all five young men be remanded in 30 days' investigative custody.

According to the organisers of the protest, the Zagreb rally brought together around 7,000 people. Apart from Zagreb, peaceful rallies were held in about 15 towns, including Zadar, Split, Rijeka, Pula and Osijek.

The protesters in Zagreb carried banners expressing support to victims of sexual violence and opposition to mild penalties for perpetrators of sexual offences.

The protest was organised by several women's organisations and platforms, which called for urgent action to be taken to protect the victim from Zadar and punish the perpetrators.

The NGOs called on the justice ministry to launch disciplinary proceedings against the investigating judge in the case over unprofessional conduct jeopardising the victims' safety and dignity.

They also called on the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor to transfer the case from the Zadar County Court to another county court to prevent possible influence by interest groups to the detriment of the victim.

The protesters also called on the police and social workers and court authorities to do their best to protect the victim's dignity and privacy in relation to the local community and media, as well as to provide her with psycho-social support and make sure investigative proceedings are conducted in such a way to prevent causing her additional trauma.

They also called for urgently amending the Penal Code to remove the crime of forced intercourse and introduce harsher penalties for rape, in line with a current bill drafted by the Justice Ministry.

The associations also called on members of the public to refrain from undemocratic and uncivil attacks on judges and suspects.

"The Zadar case that we all have been appalled by reveals the structural and institutional nature of violence against women, the ruthlessness of perpetrators of violence grows with their social, economic and political power. Unfortunately, this case is only one in a sea of such cases," said Petra Karmelić of the Platform for Reproductive Rights.

The dark and violent reality is due to the lack of a systematic programme of prevention, lack of support for victims and inadequate punishment of perpetrators, she said.

"Institutions and we as a society have failed," she said, adding that girls and boys were raised unequally, that there was a lack of expert and research-based education programmes, and that institutions protected perpetrators of violence and took part in it themselves.

"... We as a society are the problem and that is why the society must change," she said.

Karmelić went on to say that there were 15-20 unreported cases of violence per every reported case because victims were afraid to speak about what had happened to them and did not trust the institutions that were supposed to protect them.

In terms of autonomy, our judiciary ranks 126th in the world, and interest groups are given preferential treatment in trials, she said.

Ivan Blažević of the Solidarna foundation said that his definition of a cool guy simply does not work in Croatia.

This country needs men, who unlike cool guys, give their children love and affection

"In this country cool guys are those who hold high political positions, who govern regions and who beat their wives, the biggest thieves socialise with untouchable judges, war criminals and hate-mongers become reputable members of parliament, thugs officially open schools, and cool guys' children become cool guys who run over pedestrians with impunity, who beat reporters or own a hotel before turning 30," said Blažević.

He said that the country needed men who "unlike cool guys, give love and affection to their children, who tell boys that they can cry and tell girls to be strong and independent."

More news about women rights in Croatia can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Youth Initiative for Human Rights Wins Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize

ZAGREB, September 30, 2019 - The Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) Balkan regional network has won the prestigious Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, which has been awarded by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe since 2009, the network said on Monday.

A representative of the YIHR was presented with the prize at a ceremony in Strasbourg on Monday, and YIHR shares the prize with Ilham Tohti, advocate and defender of the rights of the Uyghur minority in China.

The programming director of the YIHR chapter in Serbia, Ivan Đurić, said at the award-giving ceremony that YIHR would continue to work across the region on creating a future and societies in which views would not be based on prejudice and unreliable information, but on personal experience and competence.

YIHR sees the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize as a motive to even more strongly oppose the nationalist rhetoric with which leaders of the Western Balkans attempt to undermine peace in the region, as well as to create even more possibilities for citizens to strengthen cooperation between the region's societies and states through regional exchanges and dialogue, said Đurić.

YIHR will also continue to encourage the process of coming to terms with the past, without which societies in the region cannot achieve a lasting and sustainable peace, the NGO said.

The Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, which honours the former president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, has been awarded since 2009 to organisations and individuals for their outstanding contribution to protecting and promoting human rights in Europe and beyond.

Until 2013 it was called the Human Rights Prize of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

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

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Parliament Marks 70th Anniversary of Geneva Conventions

ZAGREB, September 25, 2019 - A round table was held in the Croatian Parliament on Wednesday to mark 70 years since the adoption of the Geneva conventions relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts, highlighting the importance of protecting and respecting international humanitarian law and the role of national parliaments in their promotion.

The chair of the Committee on International Cooperation, Romana Jerković, warned that violations of international humanitarian law continued to present a major problem in the world and that it was necessary to raise awareness of this matter.

Lawmakers should ensure respect for international humanitarian law in cooperation with civil society organisations, media and other stakeholders, Jerković said, recalling that Croatia had experienced serious violations of international humanitarian law during its 1991-1995 Homeland War.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Željko Reiner said that Serbian forces had repeatedly violated international humanitarian law and the Geneva conventions during the Homeland War, especially in the case of the Vukovar hospital which was shelled despite a Red Cross sign on its roof. This also happened with other Croatian hospitals, including those in Gospić and Vinkovci, he added.

Reiner also drew attention to the issue of missing persons from the war, saying that Croatia had managed to resolve about 82 percent of such cases, but that 1,892 people remained unaccounted for.

The chairman of the Executive Board of the Croatian Red Cross, Robert Markt, said that international humanitarian law was a civilizational achievement that should be preserved. He stressed the importance of providing assistance and protection to persons whose lives were at risk from armed conflict.

More news about Homeland War can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Violence Reflects Inequality of Men, Women in Society

ZAGREB, September 21, 2019 - Gender Equality Ombudswoman Višnja Ljubičić said on Saturday that violence against women, whether physical or verbal, perpetuated the unequal balance of power between women and men in society, adding that legal changes were just one segment of the fight against domestic violence.

Croatia observes National Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women on September 22 in memory of the day in 1999 when, during a divorce hearing at the Zagreb Municipal Court, three women were killed and a female court employee was seriously injured.

Speaking on Croatian Radio, Ljubičić said 535 crimes in which women were victims of domestic violence were recorded in 2018 as against 639 in the first eight months of this year.

She said there was no clear distinction between the misdemeanour and criminal aspect of domestic violence, adding that more than 10,000 such misdemeanours were recorded in Croatia annually.

Ljubičić noted that under new amendments to the penal code and the law on protection from domestic violence, physical violence was no longer treated as a misdemeanour. "We believe that some progress will be made."

She said dealing with domestic violence was not one-dimensional and underlined the need to establish procedure protocols for everyone involved in protection from domestic violence.

Legal changes are just one sphere of dealing with domestic violence as, aside from laws, there are other ways to protect and help, including psychological support, shelters and free legal aid, Ljubičić said, adding that the bulk of the funding for such protection came from the state budget.

Local communities should also provide major funding for their shelters and help centres, she said. "So far, they have been allocating 1% for gender budgeting, which is not enough. There should be synergy in decision making at the national and local levels."

Ljubičić said that in terms of norms, Croatia had defined itself over the past 20 years as a society with zero tolerance towards any form of violence. She added, however, that cases of violence on a daily basis, including sexist and verbal violence by public office holders, perpetuated the unequal balance of power between men and women in society.

More news about the status of women in Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

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