Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, Ms. Raquel Rolnik

Mission to Croatia - 4 to 13 July 2010

At the invitation of the Government, I undertook an official visit to Croatia from 4 to 13 July 2010. I wish to express my warmest gratitude to the Government of Croatia for the invitation, the constructive dialogue and its support throughout the visit. I also wish to sincerely thank the offices of UNDP and UNHCR for their support.

During my visit, I met with high ranking officials and representatives of the national and local government, international agencies as well as non governmental organizations. I have also visited and talked to former and current refugees, internally displaced people, settlers, returnees and other people living in Croatia. Apart from Zagreb, I visited several cities such as Knin, Kistanje, Zadar, Plitvice, Osijek and Vukovar as well as numerous villages in those regions. The main purpose of the mission was to examine the current housing situation, as well as the institutional, policy and legal framework regarding access to adequate housing in the country

The current housing situation in Croatia is strongly shaped by a complex combination of two factors: the effects of the armed conflict on housing; and the transition from a socially-owned housing paradigm to a private market oriented model. In addition, the economic recession in the country has posed additional challenges to the already difficult housing situation.

The Government of Croatia has made immense efforts to reconstruct damaged houses, restitute occupied private property, attract new settlers in depopulated areas, and more recently open ground for the return of Croat refugees from abroad. These efforts were almost completely undertaken with funds from the national budget. I acknowledge the quantity and quality of the housing stock built and reconstructed under different programmes. Nonetheless, there are drawbacks in the measures adopted by the government in the context of the transition and post-conflict recovery. Although most of the work is done, the process is still to be completed.

During my mission, I have encountered on numerous occasions problems created by cumbersome and complex administrative procedures and regulations, which have resulted in a slow, non-transparent and un-accountable processes. The superposition of laws, regulations and bylaws created a complex framework that opened the ground for the adoption of discretionary decisions and different solutions for those with equal housing rights in the socialist and pre-war period. One of the most striking examples concerns the right of former occupancy tenancy rights (OTR) holders to stay in their apartments and buy them with very favourable conditions. While a great number of OTR holders were able to do so, those OTR holders residing in privately owned houses or in certain military properties, as well as returnees who were forced to leave their homes during the war, among others, were prevented to do the same. Moreover, some programmes imposed unfeasible requirements to applicants, especially taking into account the difficulties of accessing documents in post conflict situation, the existence of outdated land registries in some regions, amongst other constraints.

In addition, a significant number of the applications for the different programmes offered over time had been rejected, leading to a number of appeals that are still pending. Numerous persons were not able to submit their documented application within the tight deadlines, especially outside the areas of special state concern. For this reason, I cannot state that the process is completed yet.

While the issues mentioned above as well as most of the efforts adopted by the Croatian Government in recent years sought to solve the problems of the past, Croatia is now facing the challenges of the present and the future. The private market in the country will never offer an adequate housing solution for the entire population. Low-income, vulnerable, marginalized, and other groups will require the adoption of durable and permanent public housing policies, which currently do not exist at the national level. The impact of the economic recession and unemployment is becoming evident in the housing sector. A particular concern that I have in this regard is the situation of Roma settlements. Although some programmes have been adopted by the Government to address this issue, in Roma settlements I have witnessed the worst living conditions in the country.

To close this chapter of Croatia’s past and to be able to open a new era of adequate housing for all, I strongly recommend that the Government of Croatia considers reopening the processes of application for programmes which provide durable housing solutions, including outside the areas of special state concern. I also encourage the Government to define and unify tenure arrangements applicable to those with similar housing rights in the outset, including the possibility to purchasing with favourable conditions houses in which they reside.

An open issue is the more than 70,000 Croatians who are still refugees after 20 years, residing in neighboring countries, amongst them, more than 60,000 in Serbia. The full integration in the country in which they currently reside and/or their return to Croatia, needs to be addressed jointly by the different governments in the region, especially those of Croatia and Serbia. International agencies, including financial institutions, should also be partners in these efforts. Coherence amongst the policies and actions of these agencies and institutions is necessary to make it possible for the Croatian Government to significantly contribute to the provision of adequate durable housing solutions, especially in a context were the Government is indebted and requested to payback the loans used for its reconstruction, as well as to cutback public expenditures.

To face the present and upcoming housing challenges, the Government of Croatia must adopt comprehensive housing policies to be implemented without discrimination and particularly addressed to vulnerable groups, including Roma communities. Adequate housing cannot be treated as a sectorial issue without considering the overall conditions of economic development, access to employment and sources of livelihood and essential social infrastructure. Recovery in areas affected by the conflict, especially those in deprived regions of the country, require a holistic strategy, including economic and social policies as well as a significant investment in a culture of non-discrimination, peace and tolerance.