On 21 October 2020, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, published a statement in connection with the latest allegations of collective expulsions of migrants, denial of access to asylum, and the use of extreme violence by Croatian law enforcement officers. Numerous human rights organisations and international organisations have been documenting for a long time a consistent pattern of ill-treatment of migrants attempting to cross into Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina, committed by the Croatian law enforcement. The Commissioner said that despite her previous call on the authorities to ensure prompt, effective and independent investigations into those allegations, and the government asserting that all allegations are investigated, credible reports of such violations continue. Disturbingly, these reports suggest that violence and dehumanising acts accompanying pushbacks are increasing, and it seems that Croatian law enforcement officers continue to enjoy impunity for such serious human rights violations.
“I am concerned that the reaction of the Croatian government has been to dismiss reports published by NGOs or resulting from investigative journalism”, she said. In this respect, the Commissioner noted that the alarm has also been raised by the independent national human rights institution of Croatia, and by international bodies, most recently two UN Special Rapporteurs. In addition to her own work, various organs of the Council of Europe have relayed these concerns, such as the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees in his fact-finding report of April 2019, and the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons of the Parliamentary Assembly.
In the statement, she reiterated her call on the Croatian authorities to stop pushbacks and border violence and eradicate impunity for serious human rights violations committed against migrants by law enforcement officers. To this end, they should in particular ensure full cooperation with independent monitoring mechanisms, especially the office of the Croatian Ombudswoman.
In the spirit of full transparency, the Commissioner also called on the Croatian authorities to publish, as soon as possible after it is adopted, the report of the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) on their rapid reaction visit to the country, carried out last August, which included interviews and medical examination of many migrants who claimed they had been apprehended by Croatian law enforcement officials within the territory of Croatia and forcibly returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina.