The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has published a report on its ad hoc visit to Croatia from 10-14 August 2020. The report is made public pursuant to Rule 39§3 (*) of the Rules of Procedure of the CPT, following written statements made by a senior Croatian official on the content of the report, which were made public. The Committee deemed such statements to be a misrepresentation of the report’s contents, the professional integrity and the modus operandi of the CPT delegation members. Consequently, the Committee decided to publish the report of the visit in full.
In the report, the CPT urges the Croatian authorities to take determined action to stop migrants from being ill-treated by police officers and to ensure that cases of alleged ill-treatment are investigated effectively. The Committee carried out a rapid reaction visit to Croatia from 10 to 14 August 2020, in particular along the border to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), to examine treatment and safeguards afforded to migrants deprived of their liberty by the Croatian police.
The report highlights that for the first time since the CPT started visiting Croatia in 1998, there were manifest difficulties of cooperation. The CPT’s delegation was provided with incomplete information about places where migrants may be deprived of their liberty, and it was obstructed by police officers in accessing documentation necessary for the delegation to carry out the Committee’s mandate.
The report documents several accounts of migrants being subjected to other forms of severe ill-treatment by Croatian police officers, such as migrants being forced to march through the forest to the border barefoot and being thrown with their hands still zip-locked into the Korana river, which separates Croatia from BiH. Some migrants alleged being pushed back into BiH wearing only their underwear and, in some cases, naked. A number of persons stated that when they had been apprehended and were lying face down on the ground, certain Croatian police officers had discharged their weapons into the ground close to them.
In acknowledging the significant challenges faced by the Croatian authorities to deal with large numbers of migrants entering the country, the CPT stresses the need for a concerted European approach. Nevertheless, despite these challenges, Croatia must meet its human rights obligations and treat migrants who enter the country through the border in a humane and dignified manner.
In conclusion, the CPT nonetheless wishes to pursue a constructive dialogue and meaningful cooperation with the Croatian authorities, grounded on a mature acknowledgment, including at the highest political levels, of the gravity of the practice of ill-treatment of migrants by Croatian police officers and a commitment for such ill-treatment to cease.
(*) Rule 39, paragraph 3 of the Rules of Procedure of the CPT reads as follows: “Similarly, the Committee may decide to publish the whole report if the Party concerned makes a public statement summarising the report or commenting upon its contents”.