Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Oral Hearing in Slovenia's Case Against Croatia Begins at ECHR

ZAGREB, June 12, 2019 - An oral hearing began at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Wednesday on the admissibility of an application which Slovenia lodged against Croatia in September 2016 over receivables of defunct Ljubljanska Banka's Zagreb branch dating back to the 1980s.

During the hearing, the Grand Chamber must decide whether the Court can rule in this case given that applications against states are rare and it generally admits cases related to human rights violations of individuals or groups of people.

If the Court finds the application admissible, it will decide on the merit of the case and its decision will be final.

Presenting Slovenia's case, the government's high representative on succession issues, Ana Polak Petrić, said that over the past 30 years Ljubljanska Banka's Zagreb branch, despite the numerous proceedings brought in Croatian courts, had been unable to collect receivables dating back to the 1980s.

The receivables mainly refer to corporate loans. Slovenia claims it was defrauded of 429.5 million euro.

The application claims that Croatian authorities systematically intervened in the court proceedings brought by Ljubljanska Banka to prevent the repayment of debts owed by companies such as IPK Osijek and INA.

Slovenia claims that in doing so Croatia violated a number of European Convention on Human Rights provisions which guarantee the right to the use of property, the right to a fair trial and the use of a legal remedy, and the right to equal treatment in court.

Slovenia decided to sue Croatia after the ECHR, in 2015, declared Ljubljanska Banka's case against Croatia inadmissible because the bank was government-controlled.

Croatian Economy Minister Darko Horvat said on Wednesday that whatever the European Court of Human Rights decided on Slovenia's application against Croatia over Ljubljnanska Banka's Yugoslav-era receivables, the decision would not destabilise Croatia's economy.

Speaking to reporters, he recalled the ECHR's earlier decision on the inadmissibility of the defunct Slovenian bank's application against Croatia in the same case.

Horvat said Croatia would honour any decision the court in Strasbourg made and estimated that, if the ECHR ruled that the application was admissible, it would take years before a decision was handed down.

More news about relations between Croatia and Slovenia can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Ombudswoman Calls on European Parliament Candidates to Champion Child Rights

ZAGREB, May 10, 2019 - Children's ombudswoman Helenca Pirnat Dragičević on Friday called on all Croatian candidates running in the forthcoming European Parliament elections to advocate children's rights in their future work and to formally become child rights champions.

The ombudswoman's office has joined the international campaign "Vote for Children" together with many international organisations for the protection of children's rights and interests, such as Eurochild, Save the Children, Terre des Hommes and UNICEF.

The campaign seeks to ensure that issues of interest to children are given priority in election programmes of future members of the European Parliament, calling on election candidates to become child rights champions. It says that children in Europe and the world are facing numerous threats, such as poverty, social exclusion, discrimination and violence.

About 100 million children live in the European Union today, of whom over 25 million are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The ombudswoman says that particularly vulnerable are children of migrants and refugees, hundreds of thousands of children are still institutionalised rather than living in a domestic environment, and that children in Europe are also threatened by climate change.

The ombudswoman called on Croatian candidates for members of the European Parliament to help break the cycle of poverty, inequality and conflict for future generations, invest in children inside and outside Europe, listen to children's voices, involve them in decisions affecting them and act on children's views.

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

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Roma Children Most Deprived Group in Croatia

ZAGREB, May 9, 2019 - Children's ombudswoman Helenca Pirnat Dragičević said in parliament on Thursday that inequality was one of the key challenges in the exercise of children's rights, that their quality of life depended on the place of residence or birth, and that Roma children were the most deprived group.

Roma children have no access to a broad range of services, mostly because their families are poor, yet positive examples from some communities show that their lives can be changed, she said.

Submitting a report on the work of her office in 2018, i.e. on the rights of 800,000 children in Croatia, she warned about a high poverty risk and unequal availability of services, for example healthcare, which she said created big differences between children already from birth.

As for the most frequent violations of children's rights, the ombudswoman said children in institutions were especially vulnerable, followed by violations of their rights in education and violence against children.

"Children in Croatia suffer violence and neglect at home, in school, in the community and the digital environment," she said, adding that one in four children under 16 had been physically or psychologically punished, or witnessed violence between their parents.

Saša Đujić of the opposition Social Democratic Party asked if it was abuse of children's rights or normal when a politician, for example, visited a school and took pictures with children, read them stories and gave them candy.

The ombudswoman said it was "certainly not" normal but that headmasters were also responsible as "they must see to the best interest of the children."

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

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Discrimination Much More Present than Reported

ZAGREB, April 25, 2019 - A conference marking the tenth anniversary of the Anti-Discrimination Act heard in Zagreb on Thursday that the law had helped make the constitutional principle of equality a reality but warned that more work was needed to prevent discrimination because its presence in society was much greater than was reported to relevant institutions.

The conference, organised by Ombudswoman Lora Vidović and the House of Human Rights, warned that there were many areas where human rights violations and discrimination were reported.

Vidović said that the most prevalent form of discrimination was the one based on ethnicity, discrimination in the area of work and employment, and discrimination based on gender and disability. "The system established under the law is broad, it has made the constitutional principle of equality a reality and has introduced European principles of equal treatment," Vidović said, adding that there was a large number of institutions in charge of preventing discrimination.

Even though citizens may seek protection against discriminatory practices, surveys show that the presence of discrimination is much greater than it is reported, she warned.

She said that two of three respondents said that they did not report discrimination because they did not think that it would change anything, because they were afraid the situation might get worse, did not know who to report it to, or believed court proceedings would be complicated, long and expensive.

Speaking of irregularities in police conduct in cases concerning the public use of the Ustasha salute "For the homeland ready", Vidović said that she had requested information from police on such conduct in a number of cases.

In that context, she cited the case of singer Marko Perković Thompson, who, she said, had not been prosecuted for chanting the salute while youths who wore T-shirts with that slogan had.

Another example was a recent commemoration in Split for members of a unit named after an Ustasha commander that fought in the Homeland War, Vidović said, adding that it was worrying the event was attended by representatives of the Veterans Affairs Ministry.

She said that in the case of the commemoration no criminal report had been filed, which she said was uneven practice and was contrary to the practice of the High Misdemeanour and Administrative Courts.

The director of the House of Human Rights, Ivan Novosel, called for introducing appropriate content on human rights in civics and for stepping up activity at local level. He said slow courts and inadequate application of legal provisions was a major problem in preventing discrimination.

"Two years ago, we witnessed controversies regarding the adoption of the national plan for the prevention of discrimination. The then foreign minister Davor Ivo Stier and his associates tried to have ethnic minorities and LGBTQ persons removed from the national plan," said Novosel, adding that citizens did not trust state institutions sufficiently, with a 2016 survey showing that one in five said they had experienced discrimination once or more times in the last five years.

Recalling the process of adoption of the Anti-Discrimination Act, former prime minister Jadranka Kosor, during whose term in office the law was adopted, said that nongovernmental organisations, too, had been involved in drawing up the law.

The adoption of the law promoted a number of negative comments, notably from the Church, individual NGOs as well as individual politicians, Kosor recalled.

She added that she was not sure such a law could be adopted in today's Croatia given social stakeholders who maintained that the Anti-Discrimination Act stated that only couples with children constituted family.

Kosor called for discussing prevention of discrimination more often, notably on the political scene.

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

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

US State Department Lists Human Rights Problems in Croatia

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.

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

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Mustač Sues Croatia at ECHR over Extradition to Germany

ZAGREB, April 13, 2019 - As Yugoslav-era Croatian intelligence agents Josip Perković and Zdravko Mustač await transfer to a Croatian prison from Germany, which convicted them for participating in the assassination of Croatian dissident Stjepan Đureković, Mustač's defece has sued Croatia at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over his extradition to Germany on a European arrest warrant they claim should not have been executed in April 2014 because of the statute of limitations.

Mustač's attorney Lidija Horvat has told Hina that at the time of the extradition the law was not entirely clear and that there was no standardised court practice, so Perković and Mustač could not have assumed what would happen to them.

"Under the law in force at the time, the statute of limitations was an obligatory reason not to grant the handover. It really was to be expected that Croatian courts would reject the European arrest warrant," she has told Hina.

Horvat says an ECHR ruling in Mustač's favour would be mere satisfaction to him, but that it would be of great importance for the legal certainty and equality of all citizens as well as states, regardless of their size and international influence.

In August 2016, a Munich court sentenced Perković and Mustač to life, finding them responsible for the Đureković murder near Munich in 1983. The perpetrators remain unknown.

The Zagreb County Court has modified Perković's sentence into a 30-year sentence he is to serve in a Croatian prison. Mustač is still waiting for the Velika Gorica County Court to modify his German sentence.

The modification is required for the two to return to Croatian prisons as they were extradited to Germany on the condition that, after being convicted, they would serve their sentences in Croatia.

Perković's attorney Anto Nobilo says he doesn't know when they will return to Croatia, although at the end of last year one could have concluded that this would happen in January.

Late last year, Perković and Mustač sued Germany at the ECHR, alleging that the Munich court did not give them a fair trial. Their lawyers believe that, based on this suit, the ECHR might quash the German ruling against them.

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

Monday, 8 April 2019

NGO Publishes Two Picture Books About Same-Sex Families

ZAGREB, April 8, 2019 - The association "Domino" has published Croatian translations of two picture books that deal with the topic of same-sex families by American author Lawrence Schimel, who writes both in Spanish and English, and instead of a classical book launch, it will organise two workshops on different types of families and the importance of LGBTQ literature for children.

The two picture books depict everyday situations from the lives of children and their pets in same-sex families.

The picture books, entitled "Pronto por la manana" (Rano ujutro, Early in the Morning) and "No es hora de jugar" (Ovo nije vrijeme za igru, It's Not Playtime), were translated from Spanish into Croatian by Nikolina Židek, while the illustrations were made by Latvian author Elina Braslina.

The books will be presented at two workshops for parents and children, to be held in Zagreb's "S.S. Kranjčevic" and "Bogdan Ogrizović" libraries.

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

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Discrimination, Higher Poverty Risk Remain Biggest Challenges

ZAGREB, March 30, 2019 - Human Rights Ombudswoman Lora Vidović submitted to parliament on Friday a report for 2018 which says the biggest challenges Croatia encountered last year were discrimination on ethnic, age and income grounds, a higher poverty risk rate, notably for the elderly, citizens' strong distrust of institutions, and emigration.

Last year, when Vidović's office processed 5,082 cases, the number of citizen complaints rose 8.6% on the year. Twelve percent were about discrimination, 11% about work relations, and 10% about the justice system and healthcare.

The largest increase (70%) was recorded in the number complaints about the protection of the rights of war veterans and their families, notably regarding veteran status, material and other rights. The largest decrease (40%) was recorded in the number of complaints about distraint, property rights relations, reconstruction and housing.

In 2018, as in previous years, the largest number of complaints came from the county and city of Zagreb, followed by Primorje-Gorski Kotar, Split-Dalmatia and Sisak-Moslavina counties.

Work and employment accounted for the largest number of complaints (42.9%), often about age discrimination and union membership in the private sector as well as about political affiliation in the public sector. Of said complaints, 27.1% were about discrimination at work and 15.8% about hiring.

Despite a labour shortage, citizens pointed to irregularities in hiring, fixed-term employment contracts, unlawful and unpaid overtime, inadmissible dismissals, salary payment irregularities as well as harassment at work. Many of those who complain do not know how to protect their rights. There is also fear of victimisation, so people contact Vidović's office anonymously.

In 2018, grounds for discrimination were consistent with previous years, with race, ethnicity, and skin colour being the most cited. Roma, Serbs and migrants submitted 20.8% of all complaints.

Roma remain faced with obstacles in education, employment, housing and healthcare as well as with social exclusion and prejudice.

Members of the Serb minority are also more strongly exposed to ethnic discrimination and the relationship of the public majority and some political and public stakeholders towards this community has been deteriorating for years, the report says.

Vidović's office continues to receive complaints from migrants and associations which point to difficult access to international protection, lack of systematic application of integration measures, and police violence towards migrants who illegally cross the border, which is not being efficiently investigated, the report adds.

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

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

NGO Warns of Polarisation between Conservative and Liberal Values

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.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

One in Five Croatian Citizens Lives at Risk of Poverty

ZAGREB, February 20, 2019 - Human rights ombudswoman Lora Vidović said on Wednesday that one in five Croatian citizens lived at risk of poverty, especially in rural areas, that welfare was not enough to meet the basic needs, and that pensioners were especially at risk.

Croatia still has no strategy on welfare housing or homelessness, or solutions for sustainable food banks, which are some of the recommendations for eliminating the problems citizens are faced with, Vidovic said in a press release on the occasion of World Day of Social Justice, observed today.

One in four persons over 65, i.e. nearly half the persons in single person households, is at risk of poverty. Last December, nearly 250,000 pensioners, i.e. over one in five, received monthly pensions below 1,600 kuna.

Vidovic said that despite the drop in unemployment, finding a job did not mean coming out of poverty because it was easier to lose than find a job, notably for the elderly, who are often laid off with the excuse of redundancies. Another problem are fixed-term contracts, she added.

Low income citizens are the most exposed to income discrimination, which prevents them from participating in the public and social life and increases the risk of social exclusion, said Vidović.

The key to social justice lies in job creation and better access to work for those with no income, she said, adding that a minimum wage should guarantee a dignified and better life for the most at-risk citizens.

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

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