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.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Anniversaries of International Recognition and Reintegration of Danube Region Marked

ZAGREB, January 15, 2020 - On this day, 28 years ago, the then member-states of the European Union recognised Croatia and on this day 22 years ago, the country completed the peaceful reintegration of its Danube region.

On 15 January 1992, Croatia's independence was recognised by the members of the EU and Germany as well as the Vatican were perceived as protagonists in those developments, while 15 January 1998 saw the completion of the peaceful reintegration of the until then occupied Danube River Region into Croatia's constitutional and legal order.

On 15 January 1992, Croatia was in the midst of the Homeland War and nearly one third of the country was occupied by the former Yugoslav army and Serb insurgents. Croatia's president Franjo Tuđman told his associates in the evening of 15 January 1992: "We have created the internationally recognised Croatia. Let's celebrate tonight and then roll up our sleeves and build a new democratic state."

Croatia's international recognition followed after it declared independence from Yugoslavia on 25 June 1991. On the same day, Slovenia too declared its independence from Yugoslavia and the next day the two newly- created states recognised each other.

At that time, the Soviet Union was disintegrating too, and although they were not internationally recognised yet, several of its former republics recognised Croatia during 1991 - Lithuania on July 30, Ukraine on December 11, Latvia on December 14 and Estonia on December 31.

Iceland - the first internationally recognised state that recognised Croatia

Iceland was the first internationally recognised state that recognised Croatia, on 15 December 1991, followed by Germany on the same day, although it decided that its recognition would go into force on 15 January 1992, together with the other EU member states.

On January 13, Croatia was recognised by the Holy See, which had announced that it would recognise Croatia and Slovenia the previous December 20. On January 14, Croatia was recognised by San Marino.

After being recognised by the EU on 15 January 1992, Croatia was recognised on the same day by Great Britain, Denmark, Malta, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Hungary, Norway, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Canada, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Luxembourg and Greece. On January 16, Croatia was recognised by Argentina, Australia, the Czech Republic, Chile, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Slovakia Sweden and Uruguay.

By the end of that January, Croatia was recognised by Finland, Romania, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Russia recognised Croatia on 17 February 1992, Japan did so on March 17, the US on April 7, Israel on April 16, however, the two countries established their diplomatic relations five and a half years later, and China on April 27.

The first Asian country that recognised Croatia was Iran on 15 March 1992, while Egypt was the first African country on 16 April 1992.

On 22 May 1992, Croatia joined the UN.

Croatia is observing on Wednesday the 22th anniversary of the peaceful reintegration of its Danube region. The process was completed during the term of the United Nations Transitional Administration of Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES) on 15 January 1998.

It was the Erdut Agreement, which was signed on 12 November 1995, that enabled the peaceful restoration of Croatian sovereignty over the Croatian Danube region which was under the control of Serb paramilitaries and rebels since the launch of the Great Serbian aggression against that part of Croatia in 1991.

The Erdut Agreement on eastern Slavonia, Baranja and western Srijem was signed on 12 November 1995 in Erdut and Zagreb by the then presidential chief-of-staff, Hrvoje Šarinić, the head of the Serb negotiating team, Milan Milanović, and by the then US Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, and UN mediator Thorvald Stoltenberg as witnesses. The treaty marked the beginning of the UN's two-year transitional administration in the area during which Croatia restored its sovereignty over the temporarily occupied parts of Osijek-Baranja and Vukovar-Srijem counties, which enabled reconstruction in the area ravaged in the Great Serbian aggression on Croatia and the return of refugees.

The Erdut agreement was reached by Croatian President Franjo Tuđman and Serbian President Slobodan Milošević at a peace conference in Dayton, Ohio. The 14-point document provided for a two-year transitional period under UN supervision, a transitional administration, formation of a multi-national police force, local elections, and demilitarisation 30 days after the deployment of international peacekeepers. Seven provisions of the agreement dealt with human rights, refugee return, and property restitution or compensation.

The UNTAES mission was created under UN Security Council Resolution 1037 of 15 January 1996 and ended on 15 January 1998.

Two Croatian military operations in 1995 – Operation Flash which was conducted in May that year in western Slavonia and Operation Storm that liberated the largest portion of the occupied territories – paved the way for the Erdut agreement and subsequently for the UNTAES mission.

On 1 January this year, Croatia, which was admitted to the European bloc on 1 July 2013, assumed the rotating six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The presidency over the EU is seen as an opportunity to promote the country-in-chair and making the local society more sensitive to EU-related topics.

"A strong Europe in a world of challenges" is the slogan Croatia has chosen for its presidency. The programme of its EU presidency is based on four themes or pillars - A Europe that develops; A Europe that connects; A Europe that protects; and An influential Europe.

In Croatia, a total of 161 events in relation to the presidency will be held. One of the major events will be a summit meeting between the EU and the Western Balkans, set for 7 May in Zagreb.

Apart from that, eight informal gatherings will take place in Zagreb, three in the biggest Adriatic city of Split and one in the coastal resort of Opatija.

Nine ministerial conferences will be organised in Croatia: five in Zagreb and four outside the capital city. A few expert-level meetings will be held in the eastern city of Osijek.

The accession of Croatia to NATO took place in 2009.

More info about the history of Croatia can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

RECOM War Victims Project Has Politically Failed

ZAGREB, December 17, 2019 - RECOM, the regional fact-finding commission on victims of the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia, is a project which has politically failed, Nataša Kandić, a peace activist from Belgrade, said in Zagreb on Monday at a regional gathering of activists for the protection of human rights.

Since 2006, RECOM has been trying to compile a joint list of victims without success due to political resistance to combining data on the circumstances of death and the names of about 130,000 victims of the 1990s wars in the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

RECOM has created a solid foundation for a regional list of victims but the project has failed politically, Kandić said at the gathering organised ahead of Croatia's presidency of the Council of the European Union.

"NGOs and civil society can't publicly acknowledge the victims because that is the task of the states," she said, adding that RECOM had been unable to meet with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović because they were told she was too busy and that naming victims was not a topic within her remit.

Vesna Teršelić, head of the Documenta Centre for Dealing with the Past, said no progress had been made this year in documenting war victims due to lack of political will to access the documents of Croatia's Homeland War Memorial Documentation Centre, which collects and has access to all official documents.

The Transition Justice Forum brought together representatives of European Commission institutions, lawyers and activists. Croatia was represented by Assistant Justice Minister Ivan Crnčec, who agreed that regional cooperation was not good, blaming Serbia for it.

He said that over the past two years Croatia had been trying without success to start cooperation with Serbia. About 3,600 war crimes cases have been instigated in Croatia, about 2,100 indictments have been filed and about 640 persons have been convicted, while the figures in Serbia have been paltry and show no trend of increasing, he added.

"There is still no prosecuting on command responsibility in Serbia, which both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have managed to do," Crnčec said.

Speaking of the exchange of lists of war crimes suspects between Croatia and Serbia, he said Croatian prosecutors had given Serbia 1,534 names and received 86 in return, including 43 from an indictment filed by the military prosecutor's office for subverting the constitutional order of the former Yugoslavia.

"They won't hand over other cases instigated by the military prosecutor's office. Regional cooperation requires a lot of work but there must be at least a minimum will on the other side too," Crnčec said.

Activists called out the Homeland War Memorial Documentation Centre for not making public its list of war victims.

"Croatia's Memorial Documentation Centre announced a year ago that it would make public the names of 13,500 victims of Croatian nationality and about 7,000 victims of other nationalities... but that hasn't happened," said Kandić.

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

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Commemoration Held for Zec Family

ZAGREB, December 8, 2019 - The Documenta Centre for Dealing with the Past and the Serb National Council (SNV) held a commemoration for Marija, Aleksandra and Mihajlo Zec who had been killed on Mount Medvednica, overlooking Zagreb, 28 years ago on Saturday, saying that they would ask the city authorities to name a Zagreb square or street after 12-year-old Aleksandra.

They said they would also ask the city authorities to put up a memorial plaque on the Adolfovac mountain lodge where Aleksandra and her mother Marija were shot dead by members of a special police unit under Tomislav Merčep.

Members of the unit came to the home of the Zec family in Zagreb's Trešnjevka district shortly after 11pm on 7 December 1991 and shot dead 38-year-old Mihajlo Zec as he tried to escape. Marija and Aleksandra, who witnessed the murder, were then taken in a van to Adolfovac where they were killed and the mountain lodge later burned down.

Shortly after the police found the bodies, the members of Merčep's unit Munib Suljić, Igor Mikola, Siniša Rimac, Nebojša Hodak and Snežana Živanović were arrested. Some of them confessed to the murders before an investigating judge, but at trial it was found that they did not have a lawyer present during their interviews with the investigating judge as required by law. Their earlier statements were thrown out and they were released.

Aleksandra, Marija and Mihajlo Zec are buried in Mihajlo's place of birth Gornja Dragotinja, near Prijedor, northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Journalist Drago Pilsel said at the commemoration that their murder "is one of the most shameful chapters in modern Croatian history."

"Some of the murderers later advanced in their careers and were even decorated by the then President Franjo Tuđman, which brings into question the defensive nature of the Homeland War," Pilsel said.

The head of Documenta, Vesna Teršelić, wondered if Croatian politicians and citizens "will remember not just the victims of the Homeland War, for whom Parliament has designated a special date in the calendar, but also all the children, more than 400 of them, killed in the Homeland War."

Speaking on behalf of the SNV, Saša Milošević said that the 1990s was "not just a glorious period, but also a very sad, dark, tragic and shameful period of Croatian history."

The Documenta and SNV representatives laid a wreath and lit three candles, members of the public laid roses, and a minute's silence was observed for the dead.

Among those attending were Zoran Pusić of the Antifascist League and the Civic Committee on Human Rights, and SNV president and member of Parliament Milorad Pupovac.

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

Monday, 18 November 2019

Memorial Procession Passing Down Vukovar

ZAGREB, November 18, 2019 - Tens of thousands of citizens led by the defenders of Vukovar, together with members of the families of killed, unaccounted-for and captured Vukovar defenders, are marching down the eastern town on Monday in a memorial procession, honouring in a dignified manner the 2,717 killed in the military aggression on Vukovar in 1991.

Also in the procession are President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, who will lay a wreath and light candles at a monument to the victims at the local cemetery. A wreath will also be laid and candles lit by a delegation of Vukovar's defenders, the town and Vukovar-Srijem County.

According to police, the commemorative events are passing peacefully and there have been no incidents.

Also in the procession is Lyliane Fournier, whose son Jean Michel Nicolier, a French volunteer, was killed at Ovćara near Vukovar.

She told reporters she expected the person responsible for her son's death to be brought to justice and that she had information on the killer's identity. She pushed for blocking Serbia's EU accession until it hands over all war criminals.

"Of course, Serbia's EU entry should be blocked until they provide information on where the mass graves are, extradite war criminals and apologise as the aggressor on Croatia," she said.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Monday that the government constantly invested efforts to help the City of Vukovar in its development and was also dedicated to the resolution of the issue of missing people.

"State institutions will not cease working until this issue is settled," the premier said ahead of the start of the main commemoration of the 28th anniversary of the fall of the eastern town of Vukovar into the hands of Serb rebels and the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA).

Concerning the search for people who went missing in the 1991-1995 war of independence, Plenković said that his cabinet dealt with that issue committedly.

Croatia also holds dialogue with other countries, international organisations, in hope of accomplishing results and every year headway is made, he said.

Asked by the press whether Zagreb mulled the possibility of blocking Serbia's journey towards the European Union until the issue of missing persons was settled, Plenković said that for many years, Croatia had been tackling that issue and that its settlement required political will.

"I think that political will should be shown in Belgrade to provide Croatia with the data it keeps, so that we can learn what happened with our people," said Plenković.

Considering Serbia's EU membership aspirations, Plenković said that the process was strict and full of preconditions and it would take long under the new methodology.

These are so-called fundamental issues that should be addressed under the (policy) chapters that concern fundamental rights, the premier added.

Plenković said that 28 years after the war, one should also look to the future.

In that context he mentioned legislation on investment stimulation and added that Zagreb was conducting negotiations with the European Union to ensure a special status for Vukovar.

He said that Vukovar should be given prospects in the "homeland which has, since the tragedy of Vukovar, accomplished its national tasks thanks to the statesmanlike policy of President (Franjo) Tuđman, and this includes the peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Danube region and everything we have done in recent years to make Croatia economically strong, socially integrative and internationally positioned."

Vukovar was peacefully reintegrated into Croatia in January 1998. The peaceful reintegration began in January 1996 with the assistance of the UNTAES (UN Transitional Authority in Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium) mission.

Before the commemoration, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović briefly stated: "Respect to all, respect to the victims of Vukovar!"

More Vukovar news can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Croatia Paying Tribute to Vukovar, Škabrnja Victims

ZAGREB, November 18, 2019 - On the eve of Vukovar Memorial Day and the 28th anniversary of the Škabrnja massacre, candles were lit and prayers were said throughout Croatia to commemorate the victims of the 1991-95 Homeland War and the defeat of Vukovar's defence forces on November 18, 1991.

Candles were traditionally lit along Zagreb's Vukovarska Street and numerous citizens gathered in front of a monument to Croatia's first president Franjo Tuđman, where Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, too, lit a candle for the Vukovar victims.

The commemoration in front of the monument to Tudjman was also attended by Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović, Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić and representatives of associations of the Homeland War defenders and victims.

On the eve of the 28th anniversary of the Vukovar tragedy, a prayer was said outside the Vukovar General Hospital and candles were lit at a monument dedicated to the victims of the 1991 aggression, with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović attending the event.

Participating in the prayer were also Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić-Radman, War Veterans Minister Tomo Medved, State Assets Minister Mario Banožić, Vukovar Mayor Ivan Penava, Vukovar County head Božo Galić, hospital staff and numerous residents of Vukovar.

They were joined by pilgrims who were arriving in the city to attend the central commemoration of the 28th anniversary of the city's plight in the Homeland War and Vukovar Memorial Day.

Candles were lit for the victims of Vukovar also in Split, Osijek and Varaždin.

On the eve of the 28th anniversary of the Škabrnja massacre, when enemy and Serb rebel forces seized that village in the Zadar hinterland, killing dozens of villagers and defenders and setting houses on fire, local residents lit candles and organised a concert of sacred music to commemorate the victims.

Candles were also lit in a number of Croat communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with several thousand people heading off to Vukovar to attend commemorative events on Monday.

More Vukovar news can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Croatia Protests over Monument to Serbian General Who Led Attack on Vukovar

ZAGREB, November 8, 2019 - Croatia on Friday protested to Serbian authorities over a monument commemorating a Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) general who led the attack on Vukovar in 1991 and called on Belgrade to stop glorifying war crimes.

The memorial plaque to Mladen Bratić, commander of JNA and Serbian para-miltiary forces during the attack on Vukovar, was unveiled in a Serbian army complex in the northern city of Novi Sad on Friday.

Bratić was killed on 2 November 1991 at Borovo Naselje, a suburb of the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar which was occupied by Serbian forces on 18 November after killing over 2,000 people there.

In a diplomatic note presented to the Serbian Embassy in Zagreb, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs condemned this act and called on Serbian authorities to stop playing down and glorifying war crimes.

"Serbia is once again called upon to focus on the process of facing its own past and its role in the war it initiated in the 1990s," the Croatian ministry said. Such decisions and moves by Serbian authorities go against Croatia's efforts to build good neighbourly relations, it added.

Following criticism of Serbia's plan to unveil a memorial plaque for Yugoslav Army Major General Mladen Bratić, Serbia's President Aleksandar Vučić on Friday in Geneva said that Croatia has streets named after Mile Budak, a writer who served as a minister in the NDH governments.

The unveiling of a memorial plaque in the Serbian army complex in Novi Sad to Bratić has come across criticism in Croatia but also in civil society activists in Serbia. The plaque has been described as "unacceptable and incomprehensible," and "mocking the victims of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide committed in the 1990s."

"Reporters from Serbia asked me how it can be that Croatian reporters can ask that of me when there are streets named after Mile Budak in Croatia," Vučić said. Budak was a minister in the Nazi-style Ustasha regime in Croatia from 1941 to 1945 and he is also known for his literary work.

Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenković announced that Croatia would send Serbia a protest note regarding the plaque honouring Bratić.

Earlier in the day Croatia's Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlić Radman condemned Serbia's actions.

"Unveiling a memorial plaque to a war criminal, certainly doesn't contribute to stabilisation and good-neighbourly relations. That direction in Serbia's foreign policy is unacceptable and incomprehensible," Grlić Radman told reporters in Rijeka.

A coalition of non-government organisations in Vojvodina known as Civic Vojvodina described the unveiling of the plaque as "a mockery of the victims of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide in the 1990s." the "021.rs" web portal reported on Thursday.

Civic Vojvodina condemned the planned unveiling, saying in a press release that Bratić "commanded the attacks on and destruction of Vukovar, which was one of the most shameful military operations in the history of modern warfare, leaving an indelible stain on (northern Serbian province of) Vojvodina's capital."

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

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Number of War Veterans Reaches 508,605

ZAGREB, October 9, 2019 - There are 438,000 people in Croatia with war veterans' status, War Veterans Minister Tomo Medved said at a round table debate on veterans' pensions, saying that defenders were a foundation of society and not a burden and that they did not pose a threat to the pension system.

Medved said the round table would focus on the existing legal framework regulating pensions granted under special regulations, including veterans' pensions.

"We will pay special attention to the structure of the war veteran population, the number of pension beneficiaries, their age and their years of service," he said.

Ministry data that were presented at the round table show that in September 2019, 508,605 people - living, killed, missing and deceased - had the status of war veteran.

Of that number, 438,262 were living.

The number of veterans - pensioners, with their pensions being divided in nine categories, stood at 151,892 and their average pension amounted to 4,200 kuna (approx. 570 euro).

The highest veterans' pension, in the amount of 7,000 kuna (946 euro), was received by families of fallen defenders, and the number of beneficiaries in that category was the highest.

Disabled war veterans received an average pension of 5,700 kuna (770 euro).

The number of employed war veterans stood at 190,408 and there were also 6,954 veterans who both worked and received a pension. The number of veterans who were not employed and did not receive a pension stood at 74,627.

The average number of years of service in the war veteran population was 28, while the average number of years of service of disabled veterans was 20.

The average number of years of service of other pension recipients in the country is 30 years, it was said at the round table.

"I expect this round table to send a strong, well-argued message to the public that Croatian defenders-pensioners do not pose any threat to the pension system," said the minister.

More news about veterans can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Plenković Commemorates Air Raid on Government Building 28 Years Ago

ZAGREB, October 7, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković laid a wreath on the memorial plaque on the government building commemorating a Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) air raid on the building 28 years ago.

Plenković said that the attack marked a turning point in the process of Croatia's gaining independence from Yugoslavia. "Fortunately, the state leadership survived the attack, which was followed by the key and definitive decision at a secret session of Parliament to sever all constitutional and legal ties with the structures of the former state," he said.

"This day is also important in terms of respect for the Homeland War, Croatian defenders, the first president Tuđman, the clearly expressed will of the Croatian people in the independence referendum, the eventual international recognition and the fact that Croatia became an international entity," the prime minister told reporters.

More news about the Homeland War 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.

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