This action plan was implemented to over sixty per cent but the economic recession had had adverse effects in this regard. Housing had so far been provided for 6,500 families in Croatia, and as of next year, 8,300 families in total would be given housing.
As for the appeals for reconstruction, there were 8,000 appeals at the moment. The delegation was of the belief that the reconstruction programme would soon be completed. Croatia also provided returning people with protected leases; they thus had similar conditions as they had in 1991.
On compensation for tenancy right holders, this was linked to the question of refugees who did not wish to return to Croatia, which was however a different question. Nevertheless, progress had been made in this regard. Croatia would fulfill all its legal and political obligations on refugees and housing.
On plans concerning training related to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the delegation said that this training was part of the regular curriculum at law schools. Furthermore, in the training programmes for civil servants, there was a part dedicated to international treaties. After the report of this Committee would be published, the document would moreover be published on the website of the Croatian authorities.
As for the judgments in which courts invoked the Covenant, the delegation said that they were three in number.
On the rights of minorities, and whether these were discriminatory against other minorities, the delegation said that positive discrimination must be the manner of treatment. As for the Roma minority, in Croatia there was a commission for Roma, consisting of representatives of relevant ministries and representatives of the Roma communities in Croatia. This commission was headed by the Prime Minister of Croatia. This body discussed all the aspects relevant to the life of Roma people, and in this way the Roma community was given the opportunity to directly influence the articulation of their problems and respective solutions. There was further the Council for National Minorities, whose members were elected by members of national minorities. Further, there was also a member of parliament who belonged to the Roma minority.
Regarding the participation of the Roma community in civil service, the delegation said that the Roma enjoyed constitutional rights to be represented in representative bodies. The Ministry of Administration kept records of national minorities and a comprehensive overview could be provided. The total share of Roma community in civil service was over 4 per cent. In this regard, the low number of candidates needed to be taken into account – the Roma community was very small and for each vacancy there were also specific professional requirements.
As for education of members of the Roma minority, the delegation said that regarding education there had been a clear political will and measures to improve the access of the Roma minority to education. The State allocated funds to local communities where pre-school training must be provided to members of Roma minorities.
As for the state of emergency as provided for in the Constitution of Croatia, the existence of direct threats to integrity and unity need to be emphasized. Furthermore, the scope of the right to liberty was proportionally protected. The state of emergency would also be discussed by the working group on institutional reforms.
Oral Answers by the Delegation
On discrimination, the delegation said that the Anti-Discrimination Act had very broad implementation and a very broad civil procedure. When talking about criminal charges relating to discrimination, it must be noted that most of these cases were defined as hate crimes. Labour law provisions gave opportunities to victims of discrimination to press law suits according to labour law when the discrimination occurred in the field of labour. There was also the national programme to fight discrimination from 2008-2013, which provided better conditions for the implementation of the Anti-Discrimination Act. The latter further provided all the possible measures for achieving equality in Croatia regarding sexual orientation.
As for participants in the former war, many of whom were traumatized, the delegation said that it was true that they were given priority regarding employment, but only when they had the same qualifications as any other candidate in the tender.
On hate crimes, especially ethnically motivated hate crimes, the delegation said that this subject matter was monitored and that no incidences of organized violence against certain groups were identified. Neither was there a tendency of this form of criminal offence increasing. There were also two criminal offences in Croatian law which related to hate crimes. As for the police training regarding these type of incidences, the delegation said that there had been a special programme with several rounds of training seminars; 26 police officers from across the country had been trained and were now, following the train-the-trainer approach, training their peers. Issues relating to hate crimes were also included in the curriculum of basic police education.
As for statistics and the practical implementation of the amnesty act, the delegation said that this act did not apply to several crimes including war crimes against prisoners of war and incitement to genocide, as well as to all the other most serious crimes violating international humanitarian law.
On processing of war crimes, nationality of the perpetrators of criminal offences could not be the criteria influencing the sentence – the principle of legality was the only determinant. Of over 600 persons prosecuted for such crimes over 400 were prosecuted in absentia. Further, on the basis of a signed memorandum with the prosecution services of neighboring countries, such criminal offences were now detected and investigated more efficiently.
As for victim intimidation and protection, processing such cases was very complex and required much professionalism and work. A special victim protection unit had been established and included such measures as change of identity, in accordance with international agreements. As regards the question on trials before specialized chambers, there were special investigation courts, and country courts had jurisdiction for these trials according to the place where the crimes had been committed. Furthermore, constant professional training of judges and prosecutors working on war crimes cases has been conducted since 2001. Judges working on these cases were professionals and good experts were being equipped to conduct quality trials in these cases.
Also on war trials, as for trials in absentia, Mr. Turkalj said that he believed that this was something very important that Croatia had done. In the early 1990s, there had been some judgments which were not up to current quality standards, and therefore changes to criminal law and criminal procedural law had been made.
On the sentence in one particular case, the delegation said that the length of the sentence was in fact a matter of perception and some felt that the sentence was too light.
As to hate speech, the delegation said that there had recently been two incidents in this regard in Croatia. These incidents illustrated how Croatian society had changed since the whole society had condemned these incidents very strongly and immediately; there was no tolerance any more for this kind of behaviour.
Regarding special measures and action plans on gender equality, the Government for Gender Equality, among others, monitored the implementation of all special measures which were provided for by Croatia’s legislation. The special measures had yielded significant results and measurable success. Further, the stereotype that politics was only a male job was now dissolved. There had also been local elections this year and, to increase the participation of women, campaigns had been conducted during several months, leading to an increase of seven per cent compared to last year’s local elections. Further, there were also female participants in political affairs. As to reports that 60 per cent of Croatian women were unemployed, this was a fact; employers did ask women applying for jobs whether they planned to found a family or not. There was however currently a tender issued on advancing the position of women on the labour market, and within this tender there would be one million Euros dedicated to improving the situation of women on the labour market. As to education, Croatian textbooks may not contain any form of gender stereotyping.
On violence against women, the delegation said that the Government and non-governmental organizations had been implementing joint programmes in this regard. A round-table to remove stereotypes in the Croatian film industry had also been organized.
On the conditions in mental health facilities, Mr. Turkalj said that he was also shocked about the pictures discussed yesterday. The conditions in these institutions were not satisfactory and it was necessary to invest further efforts in this field.
Oral Questions by Committee Members
An Expert further asked whether there was a law governing exceptions and emergencies which would actually implement a state of emergency? Were there laws regarding the implementation of the article of the Covenant which banned all war propaganda? Further, was religious education compulsory in Croatia or was there a right to withdraw from religious education?
As for reports that Serbs had been prosecuted in a disproportional manner, was this information correct and, if so, what did the Government intend to undertake in this regard?
Another Committee member said that he hoped that the Government would invest in public information efforts regarding homophobia.
An Expert also noted that no answer had been provided on whether segregation of Roma was still a de facto problem.
On the ill-treatment of children in child homes, a Committee member said that the matter of the plight of the child must become an urgent priority of the Government both in terms of programming and resources.
As to witness protection programmes, what concrete measures were there before the trials as well as during and after court proceedings, an Expert asked? In which field were these witness protection programmes applied. Further, were specific measures for the protection of vulnerable groups, as women and children, included in witness protection programmes?
On the state of emergency, a Committee member asked whether there was any enumeration of the acts that threatened the unity of Croatia.
On domestic violence, an Expert wondered how many cases of domestic violence were brought before the courts, and whether there were any special courts or chambers which facilitated women’s access? And were there any safe shelters which were provided for women? More information was needed on what happened when victims presented themselves before law enforcement agents.
Answers by the Delegation
Answering these and other questions, the Croatian delegation said that after three rounds of elections and changes of Government, there were no more chiefs of police in Croatia who were from the early 1990s.
As for the statute of limitation, the delegation said that in Croatia there was a trained and established network of non-governmental organizations and there was therefore no worry that any case was forgotten or overlooked.
On segregation of the Roma minority, the delegation said that there were separate Roma classes in elementary schools because Roma children did not speak the Croatian language. This was frequently the case for local schools. As for the 2008-2009 school year, there were 944 classes where there also were Roma students integrated.
On religious education in Croatia, the State had agreements with different religious communities. Religious training in school was an optional offer and not compulsory, and it was two hours per week and not two hours per day. Those who did not wish to attend this training were free to do so.
With regard to sanctioning war propaganda, every instigation of war propaganda was prohibited in Croatia. Croatia had changed its criminal legislation and implemented the provisions of the Covenant since the last periodic report. Croatia had also sanctioned the instigation of any type of war propaganda. There were also amendments regarding terrorism, introducing two new criminal offences.
As for domestic violence, the delegation said that legislation had been adopted in 2003 in this regard and this legislation was now being amended. On statistics regarding convictions for domestic violence, in the year 2007, 625 persons had been convicted, and in 2008 there was an increase of sanctions and 667 persons had been convicted.
Further Oral Answers to Written Questions Submitted in Advance by Experts
The delegation said that regarding trafficking of human beings, a three year programme to combat such trafficking was initiated and there had been a relevant public campaign in 2007.
As for the prison system, the law on the enforcement of prison terms was amended in 2008. A strategy was drafted. Last year many heads of prisons were removed and replaced by better managers.
As for the return of refugees, over 5 billion dollars had been invested to this end.
On the aliens act, the delegation said that this was fully in line with similar acts in European Union Member States.
On the reform of the judiciary, this was among the highest problems and an action plan was adopted last year. Measures were also undertaken to ensure that justice could be implemented in a shorter time and that all courts would be equipped with information technology equipment within the next five years. The law on courts was amended and transparent criteria introduced. Further, training for all court presidents was organized to improve their managerial skills.
Concerning physical attacks on journalists, competent authorities had reacted immediately to such attacks. It was not true that such attacks were related to investigations on war crimes. However, some of the most prominent cases were still not solved.
Oral Questions by Committee Members
Experts said that they would be grateful for more information on the situation of trafficking. Further, the Committee member asked whether the delegation could give them some idea regarding Croatia’s cooperation with partners in the region to deal with this issue.
Concerning attacks on journalists, Croatia had a serious problem with the sheer number of such attacks. According to civil society reports, the Government did not seem to do enough in this regard – could the delegation comment on this? And what special actions did the Government intend to take to restore its credibility and to free the media?
With regard to raising public awareness of the Covenant, an Expert said that dissemination required more than putting documents on a website. To improve dissemination, it was suggested that all proceedings were placed in public libraries in Croatia and distributed to parliament and local governments.
A member of the Committee said that Croatia had not yet faced the Universal Periodic Review. The Expert encouraged Croatia to comply with the suggestion of the Human Rights Council that the review was prepared in consultation with civil society.
On prison and detention centers, a member of the Committee said that the 23 closed correctional institutions operated at more than 30 per cent overcapacity. Further, the need for adequate conditions for so-called risk groups needed to be taken into account. There were also reports of detainees who allegedly were not granted access to a lawyer and social worker and a female prisoner was reportedly subjected to inhuman treatment.
An Expert also appreciated that many refugees had returned to Croatia. However, the special needs and vulnerabilities of such persons, including the heightened risk to be subjected to violence and suffer human rights abuses, needed to be taken into account.
On housing for people wishing to return home but unable to do so, these were also people with particular vulnerabilities and some persons had been unable to return for the single reason that they were not capable of financing their return. This needed to be addressed by the State party.
On the amendment to the foreigners act, could the delegation clarify the object of the amended provision on foreigners temporarily permitted on the territory for their use of real estate? And could comprehensive information be provided on those provisions in the act that pertained to issues of expulsion and to accommodation in accommodation centers for foreigners?
A Committee member also encouraged Croatia to give highest priority to investigating and prosecuting attacks on journalists.
Experts further wished to know whether a survey among non-returnees had been conducted to identify the reasons for their non-return? This could also guide policy. And were there any minority-ombudsmen who could directly report to high-levels of national Government in case local authorities were perceived as intimidating.
Further, were there enough lawyers to provide Croatian citizens with access to free legal aid?
Answers by the Delegation
Responding to these questions, the delegation said that in Croatia all citizens had the right to free legal aid. Croatia also adopted a new criminal procedure which had entered into force this year.
Regarding minority ombudsmen, as there was an Office for Minorities and a Minority Council, there were many ways of voicing concerns. Further, Serbian minorities were part of the Government and could thus also directly solve the problem in Government.
On the issue of the judicial reform, the system would further be improved. As for backlogs, the alternative dispute resolution was in operation in Croatia, and backlogs were not as serious a problem as four years ago.
On prison overcrowding, the Government was aware of this problem and had taken measures to improve the prison capacity and reduce the prison population. Croatia also was at the stage of enacting the probation act which should provide for more alternative sanctions in lieu of prison sentences.
As for the question on citizenship, the Croatian delegation said that the constitutional provisions guaranteed equal access to citizenship to all. As for proofing the membership of Croatia, this proof had to be given on the basis of the general administrative act. As for those cases where persons did not succeed to prove this, it was not an obstacle to obtain another form of residence, for example a minimal residence period of five years.
With regard to amendments to the aliens act, the circle of persons who could acquire residence permits for the reason of family reunification was broadened. According to Croatian law, it was also possible to acquire a residency permit for university education, health reasons, and work purposes, among others. Regarding the enquiry whether stay was permitted to victims of human trafficking, this was indeed the case and hitherto residence had been granted to 21 persons on these grounds. There were also changes to legislation with regard to the refusal of entry to or exit from the Croatian territory.
On trafficking in human beings, the delegation said that since the enactment of the anti-discrimination act this year there had been 170 complaints in this regard. Croatia was aware that trafficking could only be combated effectively if all countries in the chain were collaborating, and Croatia was involved in several projects in this regard.
As for domestic violence, the Government of Croatia was financing and supporting shelters for victims, also supporting relevant non-governmental organizations.
On attacks on journalists, Croatia was aware of the problem and took this seriously. Croatia had tried to process this systematically; in the past 16 years a total of 40 such cases had occurred. The severity of such offences meant for the police that special attention was given to these events. In one particular case of journalist killing, there was extraordinarily successful regional cooperation. Intensive police measures were conducted regarding all attacks on journalists, but the nature of such events complicated investigations.
On return of refugees, the delegation said that pre-conditions were created for people wishing to return and nobody was forced to return. There was also a group of 200 persons, many of whom were elderly and disabled, who were serviced in two special facilities. Special incentives in terms of taxes, wages and entrepreneurship were also provided in Croatia, regardless of whether the people were Serbs or Croats. As for the study among non-returnees in Serbia, such a study had been conducted and among the reasons for non-return was that children had established themselves abroad and did not wish to return for this reason.
The Croatian delegation further said that the recommendations to undertake additional efforts to make information on the Covenant available would be followed.
Further, cooperation with all non-governmental organizations who were interested to participate regarding Croatia’s Universal Periodic Review would be ensured.
Mr. Turkalj thanked all members of the Committee for their comments and remarks which would be carefully considered. The preparation of Croatia’s periodic report was an important opportunity for it to look back on the past ten years which had highlighted that significant improvements had been made. The climate in Croatia was very different today than in the past and Croatia was looking forward to seeing the concluding observations of the Committee; this would further help Croatia in its efforts to protect human rights. Croatia had recognized the same issues as the Committee and had already taken proactive measures in this regard.
The Chairman of the Committee said that the dialogue with the delegation of Croatia had been a good and rich one on the basis of which the Committee would make its concluding observations. These would hopefully help Croatia even further improve the situation of human rights.