COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CONSIDERS REPORT OF CROATIA



Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination

27 February 2009


The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the combined sixth, seventh and eighth periodic report of Croatia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Luka Maderic, Head of the Government Office for Human Rights of Croatia, said that Croatia continually worked on the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination of all vulnerable groups. The Constitutional National Minority Rights Act acknowledged the rights of minorities and instituted the Council for National Minorities, charged with the advancement, preservation and protection of the status of minorities in society. In addition, the Anti-Discrimination Act clearly defined all forms of discrimination and systematically introduced concepts such as indirect discrimination, segregation, and harassment. It also defined multiple discrimination, more severe forms of discrimination, incitement to discrimination and neglect of reasonable adaptations for persons with disabilities. In compliance with the Anti-Discrimination Act, Croatia had established a central anti-discrimination body – the Office of the Ombudsman. Amendments to the Criminal Code had also been vital, as they defined hate crimes and enabled sanctioning of all persons who perpetrated crimes motivated by hatred of a specific person due, inter alia, to race, skin colour, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other conviction or national or social origin. Notably, Croatia had been among the first countries in Europe to organize training for police officers to combat hate crimes, and over the past two years, eight hate crime convictions had been pronounced.

In preliminary concluding observations, Ion Diaconu, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Croatia, said that Croatia was a society on the move: there were many pieces of legislation and many measures were very recent. It was not clear yet what effect they would have. It was obvious that the problem of returnees had to be taken into consideration continuously, including issues of access rights; tenancy rights; equal access; and citizenship. Other areas of concern included education in the mother tongue; elimination of acts of violence; and the problem of the Roma. There was also the problem of disadvantaged areas, mostly war-affected areas, where the majority of minorities lived, and the relationship of the minorities with the private sector.

During the discussion, Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on a number of topics, including reports of persons who had traditionally lived on the territory of Croatia having difficulties in obtaining citizenship, in particular Roma and Bosnians; difficulties in access of minorities and the most vulnerable groups, including Roma, to schools and a lack of textbooks in some minority languages; labour discrimination against Serbs; persisting serious problems of interethnic relations and acceptance of the return process and the need to establish programmes to create an environment of tolerance; and a lack of legal aid or difficulties in obtaining it, and more information on the preparations for an act on the Right to Legal Assistance.

The delegation of Croatia also included Mirjana Mladineo, the Permanent Representative of Croatia to the United Nations Office at Geneva and other members of the Permanent Mission, as well as representatives from the Government Office for National Minorities; the Ministry of the Interior; the Ministry of Regional Development, Forestry and Water Management; the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and European Integration; the Central State Office for Administration; the Ministry of Justice; and the Ombudsman's Office.

The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the combined sixth, seventh and eighth periodic report of Croatia, presented in one document, at the end of its session, which concludes on 6 March.

When the Committee next reconvenes in public, on Monday, 2 March at 3 p.m., it is scheduled to take up the initial report of Montenegro (CERD/C/MNE/1).

Report of Croatia

The combined sixth to eighth periodic report of Croatia (CERD/C/HRV/8) says that the Government’s decisive political will has contributed to progress in the exercise of national minority rights, as it has made concrete moves to create conditions and opportunities for the exercise of minority rights. This is best reflected in increased budgetary funds for the needs of developing national minority cultural autonomy, and the incorporation of national minority representatives in Croatia’s public and political life as relevant partners. In this regard, possibilities have been opened for the comprehensive resolution of issues pertaining to the return of refugees and related status issues (Serbian national minority), and problems of social issues and integration (Roma national minority), through the Government’s Action Plan for the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 (2005) and the National Programme for the Roma (2003) as well as the financing of programmes of Roma non-governmental organizations through the Council for National Minorities.

The Republic of Croatia is a signatory to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its protocols. In the period from 2000 to 2006, Croatia was party to 45 cases in which the European Court of Human Rights considered possible discrimination, and it was ascertained that there were no violations of the ban on discrimination where Croatia was concerned. The most frequently cited grounds for discrimination were ethnicity, unfair treatment of retired military personnel as opposed to other retirees and general complaints alleging discriminatory treatment in the course of domestic procedures. In 2004, one case pertained to ethnically motivated discrimination, and this case is still in progress. Looking at national cases, statistically, acts subject to sanctions in the field of racial discrimination do not constitute a considerable share in the total number of perpetrated crimes and misdemeanours. During the period from 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2005, a total of four crimes specified in article 174 of the Criminal Code were committed, out of which only in one case the motive for the crime was ascertained to be the expression of racial intolerance against the victim of the attack. Specifically, the case involved a verbal and physical assault by members of a group of skinheads (two perpetrators) against a group of Arab-African students, who were visiting Zagreb on 6 February 2004. On this occasion, 10 persons were threatened, out of whom 9 were French citizens and 1 was a citizen of Cameroon. Over that period, no police reports were recorded which may be brought into connection with the perpetrators of these punishable acts.

Presentation of Report

LUKA MADERIC, Head of the Government Office for Human Rights of Croatia, said that, during the reporting period, Croatia had continued to build its legal and institutional framework to protect and promote human rights, which had been aligned with all international standards. Prohibition of discrimination was a constitutional value in Croatia. In that regard, freedoms and rights guaranteed in the Constitution could only be limited in cases where it was necessitated by the protection of the rights and freedoms of other individuals, the legal public order, public morals and health. In addition, any restriction of freedoms or rights had to be proportional to the nature of the need for such restriction in each individual case. Over and above the Constitution, there was also separate legislation which banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status, promoted equality and instituted non-discriminatory measures at all levels of social life.

The Croatian Government placed particular value on the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and independent institutions involved in the promotion and protection of human rights in all such activities in Croatia, and encouraged the active participation of NGOs in consultations tied to the enactment of regulations, policies and strategies that dealt with the problems surrounding human rights protection. That strategy had also been applied in drafting the present report, in which all relevant human rights institutions in Croatia had participated and which had been made public so that all interested parties could submit their positions on its content, Mr. Maderic observed.

Croatia continually worked on the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination of all vulnerable groups. In that regard, the Constitutional National Minority Rights Act acknowledged the rights of minorities, which they might exercise either individually or jointly with other persons who belonged to the same or different minority group. Furthermore, the Minority Rights Act guaranteed the members of minorities in Croatia the right to cultural autonomy, the right to self-organization and association to further their interests and the right to access to the media and publishing activities in the languages that they used. Any and all discrimination based on ethnic minority status was prohibited. Equality before the law and equal legal protection was guaranteed to the members of minorities.

The Minority Rights Act also instituted the establishment of the Council for National Minorities, which was charged with the advancement, preservation and protection of the status of minorities in society, Mr. Maderic continued. In that vein, the Council was entitled to propose specific measures to improve the status of minorities in the country, nominate candidates for posts in the civil service, seek reports on any issue concerning the status of minorities that would be deliberated by representative bodies of local or regional governments and submit opinions and proposals concerning the programming of radio and television stations aimed at minorities.

A high level of minority protection had been achieved in enforcement of the Minority Rights Act thus far, Mr. Maderic affirmed, and a clear political commitment to its full implementation had been demonstrated. One of the most important documents that ensured enforcement of the Act was the Action Plan for the act, which had fully enabled the improvement of representation of national minorities at the national and local levels in the civil service and the judiciary. The Action Plan did that by encouraging minorities to specify their minority status when seeking employment in the civil service, and by educating civil servants engaged in human resources management to sensitize them to the provisions of the Minority Rights Act.

In terms of political representation, in the current Parliament minorities had eight members, and all minority members were part of the governing coalition, which certainly contributed to the fact that protection of minorities was top priority of the Croatian Government. Another notable fact, Mr. Maderic highlighted, was that at the last parliamentary elections a member of the Roma minority had been elected to Parliament for the first time.

Within the social groupings of minorities, the Roma constituted a particularly vulnerable group both in Croatia and at the international level, he observed. In the interest of the most rapid possible integration of the Roma into Croatian society, the Government had adopted the National Roma Programme, with the objective of systematically and comprehensively rendering assistance to the Roma to improve their living conditions, to become involved in social life and decision-making, and to preserve their distinct identity, culture and traditions. The Programme also called for more active involvement by local and regional governments in activities that were aimed at improving the life of the Roma minority.

To fully include members of the Roma minority the Government had also adopted the Action Plan for the Decade of Roma Inclusion, 2005-2015, which, through a series of goals in the fields of education, health care, employment and housing aspired to the integration of Roma into the political, economic, social and cultural life in Croatia. In the field of Roma minority education significant progress had been achieved, and the number of Roma children involved in preschool, primary and secondary education had increased over the past three years. The numbers of Roma with jobs had also increased.

The Parliament had also enacted an Anti-Discrimination Act to protect the most vulnerable groups in society, such as the ethnic minorities. Besides laying down a meticulous normative framework on non-discrimination in Croatia, the law also made it possible for victims of discrimination to exercise their right to equality when it had been violated. The law clearly defined all forms of discrimination and systematically introduced concepts such as indirect discrimination, segregation, harassment and sexual harassment. The law also defined multiple discrimination, more severe forms of discrimination, incitement to discrimination and neglect of reasonable adaptations for persons with disabilities.

In compliance with the Anti-Discrimination Act, Croatia had also for the first time established a central anti-discrimination body – the Office of the Ombudsman, Mr. Maderic said. Three specialized ombudsmen in Croatia – the children's ombudsmen, the disabilities ombudsmen and the gender equality ombudsman – were authorized to take action under the provisions of the law pertinent to their jurisdictions.

Mr. Maderic observed that Croatia was still dealing with the consequences of wartime devastation. One of the Government's priorities in the promotion and protection of human rights and alleviation of wartime repercussions was thus the completion of the refugee return process and the housing accommodation of the former tenancy right holders. The Government had therefore implemented a multitude of activities aimed at creating the financial and social conditions for sustainable returns, particularly in solving the problems of returnees. Particularly notable results had been achieved in the restitution of property, for almost all appropriated private property had been restored to its rightful owners. By the same token, the reconstruction of family homes destroyed or damaged during the war had almost been completed.

Croatia was sensitive to all forms of racist propaganda, hate speech and racially motivated violence. That was why, besides the Anti-Discrimination Act, amendments to the Criminal Code had also been vital, as they defined hate crimes and enabled sanctioning of all persons who perpetrated crimes motivated by hatred of a specific person due to his/her race, skin colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other conviction, national or social origin, property, birth, education, social status, age or state of health. Also notable was that Croatia was among the first countries in Europe to organize training for police officers to combat hate crimes. Over the past two years, eight hate crimes conviction had been pronounced, Mr. Maderic noted.

Equal access to the courts and the right to a speedy trial were important elements of the Government's policies aimed at the protection of human rights. In the interest of resolving the backlog in the courts, the Government had therefore adopted a Judicial Reform Strategy, and an action plan to implement it had been issued in June 2008 which defined numerous measures aimed at improving institutional capability, reducing the case backlog, reducing the duration of trials, and improving the organization of the judicial system.

In conclusion, Mr. Maderic said Croatia was aware of the fact that the process of creating a society with zero tolerance for all forms of discrimination was both long-term and ongoing, and they would therefore invest additional effort in the coming period to ensure that their activities and results complied as closely as possible with the provisions of the Convention.

Oral Questions Raised by the Rapporteur and Experts

ION DIACONU, the Committee Expert serving as country Rapporteur for the report of Croatia, noted, on the positive side, the many laws adopted over the past 10 years relevant to the elimination of racial discrimination, including the Constitutional Act on the Rights of National Minorities and the Labour Act of 2002, as well as changes introduced into the Criminal Code. Also noted was that, at least at the central political level, there was a decisive political will to act for the exercise of minority rights.

The key concerns of the Committee related to the application of the Convention continued to stem from the 1991-1995 war, particularly with reference to the return and reintegration of Croatian Serb refugees and the rights of the Serb and Roma minority in general together with the accountability for war crimes.

First of all, many reports confirmed severe underdevelopment and poverty of conflict areas of the country, including environmental degradation and the presence of mines, which happened to be the areas where the most numerous minorities lived, including the Roma. In some cases, electricity was not offered to more than 100 villages inhabited by members of a national minority, while the neighbouring villages were receiving it. Whatever the causes that led to that situation, it contained a discriminatory pattern, and the State had to eliminate disparities between regions of the country.

Moreover, reports showed that in spite of legal acts and government measures, there was resistance in some local areas by politicians and media to implement policies of return and to ensure the position of ethnic minorities in local administration and to combat discrimination in the private sector.

As for the accountability for war crimes, Mr. Diaconu said that different sources retained as a fact that Croatian Serbs still formed the vast majority of those prosecuted and convicted on war crimes charges, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission had demonstrated an inconsistent approach towards Croat and Serb defendants in relation to prosecution for such crimes. A true reconciliation and justice for all victims needed equal treatment for all, both defendants and victims, irrespective of their ethnic origin.

On minority participation in government and decision-making, Mr. Diaconu asked a number of questions, including how members of one minority community could be supposed to represent 10 minority communities; what was the situation of "Muslims" and "Yugoslavs"; how the confirmation process of the existence of minority communities in given districts was carried out for the purposes of designating representatives to the National Minority Councils; and concern that the fact that the Government appointed members to the Council of National Minorities might raise doubts about the Council's representativity.

While welcoming new legal provisions in the area of discrimination, such as the amendments to the Criminal Code, Mr. Diaconu pointed out that there was still no prohibition of organizations and activities promoting or inciting racial discrimination. He recalled that such legislation was an obligation under the Convention.

Mr. Diaconu also raised concerns based on reports that the participation of ethnic minorities in local administration, although specifically provided for by the law, was either non-existent or insufficient. In particular, Croatian Serbs were underrepresented in the State administration and in the judiciary and in the so-called "areas of State concern", where ethnic Serbs represented 22 per cent of the population, they only represented 9 per cent working in the public sector.

With regard to the security of persons and protection against bodily harm, Mr. Diaconu said different NGOs and other sources had reported killings, beatings and other incidents with clear or possible ethnic motivations in cities and towns of Croatia and, despite the strong political response by the Government, the police had failed in most cases to apprehend the perpetrators and to protect victims. In particular, in 2007, the European Court of Human Rights had found Croatia in violation of the 1950 Human Rights Convention, because Croatian authorities had failed to thoroughly and impartially investigate a crime against a Romani man and the perpetrators remained unpunished. The Government should redouble its efforts and take effective measures to prosecute and punish all such violent acts and ensure the protection of members of ethnic and other minorities.

The situation of the Romani minority raised concern on many grounds, including reports that most of them were unemployed, particularly among women; the fact that only 1 per cent in urban areas would be included in school or kindergarten programmes, and when they were included were regulated to separate schools or classes. Acknowledging the information about the National Programme for the Roma, 2003, and the Integration Action Plan, 2005-2015, Mr. Diaconu asked for information about results achieved as well as special measures the Government intended to take in favour of that disadvantaged minority?

Other areas of concern touched on by Mr. Diaconu included reports of some people who had traditionally lived on the territory of Croatia in obtaining citizenship, in particular Roma and Bosniaks, and concern that they might remain stateless; difficulties in access of minorities and the most vulnerable groups, including Roma, to schools and a lack of textbooks in some minority languages; labour discrimination against Serbs; persisting serious problems of interethnic relations and acceptance of the return process and the need to establish programmes to create an environment of tolerance; and a lack of legal aid or difficulties in obtaining.

Other Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on subjects pertaining to, among other things, a rise in ethnic tensions in the region again, in particular in Bosnia, and what the Government was planning to do to address such tensions in Croatia; examples, if any, of class actions brought claiming discrimination; details of the sentences in the eight cases where convictions had been handed down for hate crimes; more information on the preparations for an act on the Right to Legal Assistance, mentioned in the report; a lack of statistical tables in the report; whether Croatia was a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; concern about the possibility of issuing a waiver for young girls to get married, particularly Roma girls, and what such decisions were based on as well as whether there was an absolute minimum age for marriage in Croatia by judicial request; how many seats were there in Parliament in total and how were the allocations for minorities distributed; whether Roma were receiving disproportionate attention in Government programmes and plans than other vulnerable minorities; and whether the Government had any contacts with Croatian minorities in neighbouring countries?

An Expert asked the delegation for a general overview of the ethnic differences of relevance to the situation in Croatia, in particular what constituted "Croatian" identity as opposed to Serb or Bosniak?

Response by Delegation to Oral Questions

Responding to Experts' questions, on the situation of the Roma, the delegation pointed out that the State had formulated policies to assist the Roma not only because of discrimination that they faced at the national level, but in view of the discrimination they faced internationally. Also, there were thought to be many more Roma in the country than the official estimates showed, with unofficial estimates showing some 30,000 to 40,000 Roma. One of the reasons for the low official numbers was that Roma were reluctant to self-identify as such.

Great strides had been made in the education sector for Roma, the delegation affirmed, in particular the enrolment of Roma in schools had greatly increased over the past four years. In 2005, there were 1,013 in primary school, and today there were over 3,000. To increase the number of Roma in secondary school, the government had introduced scholarships for all Roma children. In 2005, there had only been 75 Roma in secondary school. There were now over 200 and there were 12 Roma studying at university level.

As for segregation concerns with Roma in educational institutions, this happened in several cases because the Roma themselves were highly concentrated in certain villages or settlements. In addition, Roma found themselves in special needs classes because of a lack of knowledge of the national language. Segregation into separate classes was not a problem in Zagreb, for example, because the Roma did not constitute a large percentage of the population.

With regard to other social services, the delegation said that a special housing project addressed the issue of concentrations of Roma in settlements. In addition, every year, the number of Roma in employment was increasing. There were now 400 Roma employed in the public sector and the Government was funding Roma employment for two years if they were employed by the private sector.

In the national Parliament there were eight seats reserved for national minorities: three for Serbians; one for Italians; one for Hungarians; one for Czechs and Slovaks; one for five national minorities that were traditionally found on the territory, including Bosniaks and Montenegrins; and one for the twelve smallest minorities. At the current Parliament the latter representative was a Roma.

Concerning the cooperation of Croatia with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the delegation said Croatia was working together with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in this regard. Last year huge progress had been made in improving the collaborative system and in tackling some of the challenges this presented. They were not focusing on the perpetrators, but on the incidents. That meant the focus was taken away from ethnicity and was placed on facts. They had created a database of 700 incidents for which perpetrators were being sought.

In addition, Croatia had changed its Criminal Procedure Law to allow the Public Prosecutor to request renewal of certain cases that had been inadequately prosecuted. Work was also being undertaken to provide special training for lawyers involved in these prosecutions, and a first training session for over 100 lawyers was beginning next week. As another innovation, Croatia was experimenting with using videolinks to gather testimony of witnesses that were afraid to come forward or who were in other countries.

Regarding free legal aid, that was adopted last year in June and it entered into force on 1 February 2009 for beneficiaries. This was not something new for Croatia, it had been separately identified in a number of areas, such as for asylum seekers. The new law had been enacted to fill in the gaps. The sole criteria for assigning legal aid under the law was financial need. It did not distinguish between citizens or non-citizens or between the different ethnic minorities. The first 400 requests had been received for legal aid. If requests for legal aid were refused, there was recourse to appeal that decision.

On questions related to the return of refugees, the delegation said that Croatia had received a lot of criticism in past years about the situation, in particular the return of property. However, today the situation was quite different. Providing some overall numbers, there were something like 14,000 requests filed by families who were ex tenancy right holders. Of that number, something like 8,500 had been solved, with housing or apartments provided in Croatia. The remaining families were those who had not opted to return to Croatia. For those persons, Croatia's position was that it did not want to provide financial compensation but wanted to provide solutions to Croatian citizens for their sustainable return. That policy had engendered some criticism. But OSCE and other international organizations working in Croatia had recently made very positive reports on the housing programme in Croatia. By the end of this year, Croatia would finish the bulk of the cases, with only some remaining cases where individuals had not completed their claims on time.

Croatia had completed return of houses in 2005. What was still outstanding were six cases in one area, involving something like six hectares of land. But it was a huge problem for the 25 owners who wanted to repossess their land, which had been occupied by six former combatants. The legal framework to resolve that issue, and compensate all those involved, was now in place, however, the delegation said.

The electrification problem had now been resolved. In 2005, the Government had launched a huge project to reconnect houses to the electrical grid. That project had been completed last year. Other problems had occurred because certain houses were connected to the Bosnian electrical system, as well as the Bosnian water system. The majority of those cases had now been resolved.

There had been 126,000 Serb returnees to Croatia. Those Serbs were living in the so-called "Areas of Special Concern". The truth was that only 40 per cent of the people living in those areas had returned. She explained some of the reasons cited in a survey of Serbs living abroad for not returning, of which having created a new life and new roots elsewhere and a lack of a desire to return to rural life topped the list.

There were no statistics on discrimination class action suits yet in Croatia. The Anti-Discrimination Law which contained the provision for class action suits had only just entered into force on 1 January 2009, the delegation explained.

Croatia was the second country to ratify the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. About 10 per cent of the Croatian population had a disability, the delegation observed.

Concerning the local councils of national minorities and confirmation of their composition, the delegation said it was important to underscore that the national minorities councils were elected by minorities themselves. They did not have their composition affirmed or approved by any other entity, neither the Government nor the National Council for Minorities. They were simply registered with the Government as an independent legal entity. Last year they had registered 217 national minorities councils. The councils received allocations from the State budget, as well as donations. This year, the State will allocate 100,000 euros for the work of those councils.

On the results of the National Programme for Roma, the delegation said the Programme had been adopted in 2003 and very good results had been achieved in all fields. Free legal aid was available on status issues for Roma, and all citizenship issues concerning Roma had been resolved. To address the problem that Roma children were not proficient in Croatian when entering primary school, free preschool education had been made available via the National Programme. There were now more than 5,000 Roma in the regular school system. The Croatian Agency for Employment paid salaries for Roma employed in the private sector for the first 24 months.

As for housing, infrastructure improvement projects had been carried out in Roma settlements, targeting electricity, water and other areas. To promote and preserve Roma culture, the Government had allocated approximately 1 million euros for Roma cultural activities. Two Roma dictionaries had recently been published, and had been well received by Roma in Croatia and in the wider region. In addition, this year 400,000 euros had been allocated in the State budget for a number of Roma information centres to be located throughout the country.

Regarding education of national minorities, if they wished to be educated in their mother tongue they had three options: complete tuition in their mother tongue, with compulsory classes in Croatian; bilingual education; or education in Croatian with five lectures on history, geography and art in the national minority language. Not all options were available for all minorities. Most minority pupils were in the first and third models, with only a small amount in bilingual education.

As for national affiliation, and the status of categories "Muslim" or "Yugoslav", the delegation noted that, in the former Yugoslavia, it had been possible to declare oneself as either "Muslim" or "Yugoslav". But Yugoslav was not really an ethnic affiliation, and Muslim was a religious category. To resolve that problem the category of Bosniak had been created following the war.

Regarding returns and their citizenship status, the delegation explained that all former inhabitants of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had not only national citizenship, but also citizenship in one of the Federal Republics. Children born in one Republic of parents of another Republic acquired their parents' citizenship status, but could also acquire citizenship of the Republic where they were born at their parents' request. With respect to all those in Croatia on 8 October 1991 who had Croatian Republican citizenship, they were granted Croatian citizenship. Those who were residing in Croatia on that date and had citizenship in another Republic had received permanent residence permits, and those who had been living in Croatia for five years could apply for Croatian citizenship. The process for obtaining Croatian citizenship was similar to that of many European countries, as Croatia followed the Council of Europe rules, requiring five years of residence, knowledge of the language and respect for the Croatian laws. Some 1 million persons had been accepted for Croatian citizenship since 1991, out of a total population of just over 4 million.

Regarding citizenship of Roma, the Roma who had lived in Croatia before 1991 had citizenship just like any other Croatian citizens. In one county, there were almost no Roma who were not Croatian citizens, as they had lived there for hundreds of years. There were issues with Roma in the Capital, Zagreb, who had migrated from other Republics. Many of them did not have papers, had no training or education, and lacked Croatian language skills. There were mobile teams that targeted areas where Roma lived to help those who had not acquired citizenship and to instruct them and assist them in obtaining identity documents, so as to facilitate their acquisition of citizenship.

As for the citizenship situation for Bosnians, there was no problem whatsoever with their obtaining citizenship and they were among the best integrated minority groups in Croatia, the delegation affirmed.

With regard to some overlaps in anti-discrimination laws, the delegation noted that there were plans to revise the Criminal Code completely, and as part of that it was contemplated to have a single, comprehensive anti-discrimination act.

As for marriage laws, the age for marriage was set at 18, with an exception for those requests that were accepted, to allow marriage at 16.

Regarding relations with the Serb national minority, which for obvious reasons were perhaps among the most difficult, the delegation noted that, today, the leading Serb political party was part of the current ruling Government coalition in Parliament and that the Deputy Prime Minister was a Serb.

In terms of results of laws favouring recruitment of national minorities in the civil service, the delegation noted that, today, out of some 50,000 civil servants there were over 2,000 coming from national minority groups.

Regarding sanctions in the eight convictions handed down in hate crime cases, those included penalties ranging from probation to six months' in prison, the delegation said.

A representative for the Ombudsman's Office in Croatia also made a statement, noting that the Ombudsman's Office was not an instrument of international law, but a European-law entity. However, it was a very strong tool for the suppression of all forms of racial or ethnic discrimination, and also included other grounds such as religious or national origin, which were areas that often intersected with racial discrimination. The Office had the power to mediate in cases of discrimination, to conduct research, to give recommendations to the Government on legislation, and reported to the Parliament. The Office was too young to issue a critical assessment of the delegation's presentation at this time. One point that needed to be stressed was the need for capacity-building of the Office, in particular additional resources.

Further Oral Questions Posed by Experts

In a second round of questions, an Expert said he was puzzled as to why Roma were not self-identifying as such if there were affirmative action programmes available for them. That must mean that either the affirmative action packages were not attractive enough, or that the stigma attached to being a Roma was so severe that it outweighed any benefits such packages brought. He would appreciate a comment from the delegation on his concern.

Other questions by Experts included a request for statistics on the prison population, and how many of them were from the ethnic minority groups; a report that up to 60 per cent of returnees actually did not stay in the areas to which they returned; information on how history was taught in Croatia; an update on the status of the ongoing war crimes trials both in the Hague and in Croatia; whether the European Union accession process was seen as bringing concrete benefits with regard to human rights in Croatia; how Croatia viewed Croatians coming into the country from other areas, for example, Bosnia; whether there were political parties based on national affiliation in Croatia; and a reiteration of concerns over multiple discrimination faced by Roma girls, particularly underage Roma mothers.

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to those questions and others, on the impact of the ICTY on ethnic tensions in Croatia, the delegation noted that over the past few years there had been no serious incidents of violence between the Croatian majority and the Serbian minority. Croatia was fully committed to compliance with the ICTY and was of the opinion that those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity should be punished.

The accession process to the European Union was affecting the human rights situation in Croatia. The delegation compared the process to undertaking a thorough house cleaning: it required a screening of legislation and programmes, a focus on shortcomings and the need to take action to overcome them. The accession process also gave impetus to resolve such administrative and governmental issues faster. Among the positive impacts were the Law on Free Legal Assistance, the Action Plan for the implementation of the Constitutional law on minorities, the Anti-Discrimination Law, the consolidation of pension rights and the huge progress made in the process of refugee return and the health care programme.

Updating the delegation on the status of war crimes prosecutions, the delegation said that there were two major groups of war crimes proceedings Croatia was now focusing on: the renewal of judgments rendered in absentia – and Croatia had identified 86 such judgments for which new trials were requested; and prosecuting those war crimes which had been identified by the war crimes database for which no perpetrators had been identified so far. Two action plans had been established last year to accomplish those tasks.

Regarding why the Roma would not self-identify if there were affirmative action plans for their benefit, the delegation pointed out that the statistics on the Roma population dated to the 2001 census, whereas the affirmative action plan was established in 2004. It should be noted that the Roma were a minority category where the reported numbers had been increasing, from 6,000 in the census of 1991 to 9,004 in 2001.

As an example of what was being done to assist relations between the Croatians and the Serbian minority, the delegation pointed to the situation of Vukovar, a city that had been completely destroyed in the 1991-1995 war. Immediately after the war, the Government began rebuilding and had allocated 1 million euros for special programmes for integration, including legal aid, psychological help and others to the Serbian joint council for municipality.

It was possible to have political parties based on nationality in Croatia, the delegation confirmed. There was a Serbian party, as had been mentioned earlier, and there was also a Roma party.

The problem of earlier marriages among the Roma were the result of dropping out of school, the delegation felt. In resolving the school question, which they were working on, they would combat the phenomenon of earlier marriages.

Regarding a report that 65 per cent of the refugees/returnees that had returned did not stay, the delegation said that they did not know where that statistic came from. Of the 130,000 that had returned, the majority had stayed in Croatia. However perhaps 15 or 20 per cent of them commuted to visit their relatives or children for a few months, either in the countries in which they had taken refugee or elsewhere in Croatia. So they did not stay in the areas to which they returned year round.

Preliminary Concluding Observations

In preliminary concluding observations, ION DIACONU, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Croatia, said that much had been clarified in the dialogue with the delegation, especially in terms of the fresh information provided. Croatia was a society on the move: there were many pieces of legislation and many measures were very recent. They did not know what effect they would have or whether they would fulfil the Convention. It was obvious that the problem of returnees had to be taken into consideration continuously, including issues of access rights; tenancy rights; equal access; and citizenship. Other areas of concern included education in the mother tongue; elimination of acts of violence; and the problem of the Roma. The Roma was a small group, but it was a disadvantaged one, and it had to remain on the agenda. There was also the problem of disadvantaged areas, mostly war-affected areas, where the majority of minorities lived, and the relationship of the minorities with the private sector.

Mr. Diaconu suggested that now that they were looking to revise the Criminal Code it was a good opportunity to fill gaps in their legislation, such as with regard to article 4 (prohibition of racist organizations).

There had been many steps in the right direction, but they had to be continued, Mr. Diaconu underscored. It was hoped that at the next meeting the delegation would bring news of new progress in the implementation of the Convention.
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