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Croatia should eliminate shortcomings in transitional justice, immigration and media freedom

Country visit report
Strasbourg 05/10/2016
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Ježevo detention centre for foreigners near Zagreb, Croatia

Ježevo detention centre for foreigners near Zagreb, Croatia

“Croatia has substantially improved its human rights law and practice in the last years. However, some recent developments put at serious risk these achievements” said Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, while releasing today a report based on his visit to the country carried out last April.

The Commissioner is concerned about the recent regression of inter-state co-operation in the region on the prosecution of wartime crimes committed during the 1990s. “It is worrying to see the persistence of impunity in Croatia for certain serious human rights violations committed in the past. The authorities should put an end to this, and effectively prosecute, try and sanction the perpetrators of wartime crimes”.

Whilst welcoming the enactment of the law which provides for reparation for the victims of wartime crimes of sexual violence, the Commissioner urges the authorities to remedy the remaining shortcomings in the law and in its implementation. In particular Croatia is urged to ensure that all victims of war-related crimes and their families are provided with effective access to justice and adequate reparation. In addition, Commissioner Muižnieks calls for stepping up national and regional efforts to solve the pending cases of missing persons and recommends Croatia’s accession to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Commending the authorities’ efforts to ensure adequate conditions for the return of persons displaced during the 1991-1995 armed conflict, the Commissioner recommends that the authorities pay more attention to the needs of returnees belonging to national minorities, so that they can fully enjoy their economic, social, cultural and linguistic rights. He also urges Croatia to accede to the Council of Europe treaties concerning nationality and statelessness and to improve its legislation to resolve the problem of more than 2 800 persons, including Roma without permanent or temporary residence in the country, who remain stateless or are at risk of statelessness.

The reported rise in manifestations of ethnic intolerance and hate crime and its negative impact on social cohesion in Croatia should urgently be addressed. “It is positive that the legislative and institutional framework in this field has been strengthened. Now there should be more resolute action to ensure awareness-raising and the effective implementation of this legislation, particularly by improving the system of recording hate crime data and by systematically training law enforcement officials and legal professionals.”

Commending the authorities’ humanitarian approach in dealing with migrants, including asylum seekers, who transited through the country in 2015 and 2016, and the important positive role played in this context by the Ombudsman and civil society, the Commissioner recommends avoiding weakening the legal safeguards which apply to migrants. In this context, he stresses the importance of repealing from the draft Aliens Law the provisions which criminalise social and humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants and which oblige migrant detainees subject to deportation to pay for their accommodation and removal.

As regards media freedom, the Commissioner is concerned that long-standing problems and more recent developments are eroding the ability of the media to provide an unbiased public service. “The authorities should repeal all criminal provisions concerning defamation and condemn, investigate and sanction all acts of violence which have affected journalists’ freedom of expression. The recent abrupt and numerous staff changes in public service media and allegations of censorship also evoke concern as regards the media situation in the country. The authorities should shield the media from any undue interference and ensure the broadcast regulator’s independence, including by avoiding political bias in the domestic procedures for the nomination, appointment and tenure of its members.”

Lastly, stressing that non-profit media play an important positive contribution to pluralism, the promotion of democracy, tolerance and multiculturalism, the Commissioner recommends that Croatia reconsider the decision to abolish state subsidies allocated to these media.