HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONSIDERS REPORT OF CROATIA


Human Rights Committee

15 October 2009

 

The Human Rights Committee has considered the second periodic report of Croatia on measures undertaken to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Presenting the report, Kristian Turkalj, Director General of the Ministry of Justice of Croatia, said that an entire decade had passed since Croatia had submitted its initial report and a lot of visible progress had been made since. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been highly influential with regard to these changes. Since the initial report of Croatia was submitted, three parliamentary elections had taken place with two peaceful changes of the political parties in power. These elections were conducted in a democratic and civilized manner in accordance with the articles of the Covenant which clearly demonstrated the maturity of the Croatian society and the awareness of the political parties.

As for the most important issues that Croatia had been dealing with during the last ten years, conciliation among citizens was certainly among the most important ones; impressive progress had been made in this regard. There were without any doubt many manifestations of the public will to attempt and streamline this conciliation and tolerance in society. The most visible one was the participation of the Prime Minister in important events regarding minority groups. The return of refugees was also a top priority of Croatia’s current policy as well as a pre-condition to entering the European Union. The last two years were perhaps the most dynamic in this regard. Croatia also had very high standards for the protection of minorities in constitutional law and there was consensus that Croatia’s constitutional law was one of the best examples for the rights of minorities. However, some of the provisions had not been implemented and an action plan had therefore been developed in collaboration with representatives of minority groups in Croatia. The return of refugees was also a top priority of Croatia’s current policy as well as a pre-condition to entering the European Union.

Over the course of two meetings, the Croatian delegation answered questions by Committee members relating to a number of issues, including gender-based violence and domestic violence; issues of housing and the return of refugees; rights of minorities; reforms to the Constitution; treatment of people held in mental health facilities; participation of the Roma community in civil service; and issues relating to war crimes.

Experts particularly highlighted that the report was very comprehensive and greatly appreciated by the Committee. The progress Croatia had made since the 1990s with regard to the human rights situation was spectacular. Committee members especially commended Croatia for having a great number of women in very high-level positions in public administration. However, there did not seem to exist enough gender sensitivity training. Further, on reforms to the Constitution of Croatia, there were some concerns regarding the non-discriminatory principle. Concerning war crimes, the same war crimes should also carry the same sentences, regardless of the ethnic background of the perpetrator. Croatia also needed to ratify the Convention on the Protection of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

The delegation of Croatia also included members of the Permanent Mission of Croatia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Government Office for Gender Equality, Human Rights, and National Minorities, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Regional Development, the Forestry and Water Management, the Ministry of Administration, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports and the Deputy Chief State Attorney.

When the Committee resumes its work this afternoon at 3 p.m. it will start its review of the sixth periodic report of the Russian Federation (CCPR/C/RUS/6).

Report of Croatia

The second periodic report of Croatia (CCPR/C/HRV/2) notes, with regard to discrimination, that everyone in Croatia enjoys all rights and freedoms regardless of race, color, gender, religion or other characteristics. The new Constitutional Act on the Rights of National Minorities was adopted in 2002 and the legislative framework for sanctioning discrimination is made up of the provisions of the Criminal Code. In 2006, the definition of hate crime was further introduced in the Criminal Code, demonstrating a clear commitment to sanctioning every conduct aimed at placing other persons in an unequal position. Moreover, since the last reporting period, Croatia’s Criminal Code has been brought in line with the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime concerning the criminalization of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems. Croatia has signed this instrument. The Criminal Code had also been subject to other important amendments, introducing new criminal offences and extending the range of sentences for existing criminal offences. The objective of these amendments was to bring the criminal legislation in line with international standards and offer individuals greater guarantees in the exercise and protection of human rights.

The report also notes, with regard to the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, that the Government of Croatia has initiated in 2005 the organization of a round table on the justification of the death penalty with a wide range of participants. Further, as to the concern of the Human Rights Committee regarding the violations of the provisions of the Covenant committed during the Homeland War, Croatia adopted the Act on the Application of the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal and on Prosecutions of Criminal Offences against the International Military and Humanitarian Law in 2003. Specific measures for the concentration of the best and most experienced professional staff have also been taken which would undoubtedly result in an even higher level and quality of war crimes trials. Furthermore, the Public Prosecution Service of the Republic of Croatia continuously examines indictments and requests for investigations instituted during and immediately after the war. Since 2006, working meetings have also been held between high-profile members of the Croatian Government and representatives of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, among others, where a wide range of subjects in relation to trying war crimes were discussed.

Presentation of the Report

KRISTIAN TURKALJ, Director General of the Ministry of Justice of Croatia, introducing the report, said that an entire decade had passed since Croatia had submitted its initial report and a lot of visible progress had been made since. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had been highly influential with regard to these changes. Since the initial report of Croatia was submitted, three parliamentary elections had taken place with two peaceful changes of the political parties in power. These elections were conducted in a democratic and civilized manner in accordance with the articles of the Covenant which clearly demonstrated the maturity of the Croatian society and the awareness of the political parties.

As for the most important issues that Croatia had been dealing with during the last ten years, conciliation among citizens was certainly among the most important ones; impressive progress had been made in this regard. There were without any doubt many manifestations of the public will to attempt and streamline this conciliation and tolerance in society. The most visible one was the participation of the Prime Minister in important events regarding minority groups. The return of refugees was also a top priority of Croatia’s current policy as well as a pre-condition to entering the European Union. The last two years were perhaps the most dynamic in this regard.

Croatia also had very high standards for the protection of minorities in constitutional law and there was consensus that Croatia’s constitutional law was one of the best examples for the rights of minorities. However, some of the provisions had not been implemented and an action plan had therefore been developed in collaboration with representatives of minority groups in Croatia. As a result, they had a document of good quality and its contents were currently being implemented.

Much energy was also invested in war crimes issues; the years 2008 and 2009 marked a radical change and closing in this area. The Government of Croatia was engaged in intensive dialogue with the international community to consider those issues which were still problematic and to find adequate solutions. Among the most important issues tackled over the last two years was witness protection. Furthermore, adequate defense was important; the defense had not always been up to highest standards in the past. Some changes in criminal law had also been made. As for hitherto not prosecuted crimes, an action plan was developed in this regard. Full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was also important to Croatia, and much effort was deployed to fully satisfy the Tribunal’s requirements. Currently, there was merely one request where Croatia could not provide the necessary documentation.

All former recommendations from this Committee were tackled by several actions and substantial progress had been made in each area of the conclusions of the Committee of 2001. From today’s and tomorrow’s discussion Croatia expected that the focus would be on some specific issues which were part of Croatia’s recent history. As the efforts of Croatia were recognized with some delay, the Committee would hopefully better understand the efforts made by the Government thanks to the explanations provided by the delegation.

Oral Answers to Written Questions Submitted in Advance by Experts

Mr. Turkalj explained, regarding the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that this Covenant was very important to the internal system of Croatia. Croatia was a party to the Covenant since 1991, and was also a party to both Optional Protocols. Croatia was particularly proud of its achievements in the areas of non-discrimination and gender equality. Furthermore, the Government had adopted several very important national plans in this regard, including the national programme for the protection of human rights for 2008-2012, as well as the gender equality act of 2008.

On gender equality, the delegation said that currently there was a female Prime Minister for the first time in Croatia’s history. There were also many other leading political figures who were women. For example, 47 of the judges in the Supreme Court were females, but there was nevertheless scope for further improvement; the positive trend would continue.

With regard to housing care programmes, it was important to note that the return of refugees was a priority for Croatia.

On minorities, Croatia’s institutional and legislative framework was in place, and the Office for Minorities and the Council for Minorities were among the most important cornerstones. The Roma community was a particularly visible minority group. Croatia had been paying special attention to this group, as highlighted by the fact that the Prime Minister was heading the commission on issues regarding the Roma community. From 2005 to 2008, the financial assistance to the Roma community was further increased by over 600 per cent. The focus was on health, education and housing. For the first time, there was also a Roma member of parliament.

On the tax for national minority groups, Croatia had a very clear legal framework in this regard and the criminal law was amended in 2006. Special instructions were given by the Director of Police on how to gather evidence in cases of incidence, which were however decreasing. Croatia’s justice system had started to produce first judgments in this direction.

As for the reform of the judiciary, in 2005 Croatia had adopted a strategy for the reform of the judiciary and last year it had adopted the revised action plan. Further, the backlog of cases had now been reduced by 50 per cent. Croatia had also invested in impartiality and professionalism. The judicial academy would become an independent institution. A comprehensive legal aid system was introduced for all citizens in need but not able to have access to justice.

Oral Questions by Committee Members

An Expert said that the report was very comprehensive and greatly appreciated by the Committee. The progress Croatia had made since the 1990s with regard to the human rights situation was spectacular. However, could further information be given on the number of invocations of the Covenant by courts? And were there any plans in place with regard to specific training on the Covenant, especially in view of the fact that this was not the same as the European Convention.

On reforms to the Constitution of Croatia, there were some concerns regarding the non-discriminatory principle. In fact, the discriminatory provision in favour of one particular minority could be seen to be in contradiction with the universal non-discriminatory principle – could the delegation provide further information in this regard?

With respect to the issue of minorities, could the delegation confirm that the category of "other" minorities would be maintained regardless of the number of minorities which would be explicitly mentioned in the future? Could the delegation give an actual per cent of Roma in parliament and other senior levels of public service? Was there still was a problem in some schools regarding the differentiation of a Roma stream and a mainstream?

On the state of emergency provision, an Expert said that he remained unconvinced regarding the compatibility of the Constitution of Croatia and the Covenant in several aspects.

As for the treatment of people held in mental health facilities, the Committee had seen pictures of little children in cages which was apparently an ongoing practice in Croatia. What did the State party intend to undertake in this regard, especially in view of the fact that this situation was a straightforward violation of the Covenant.

As to combating discrimination, it was not clear whether the new anti-discrimination act protected all persons, including non-citizens. Further, how many claims had been filed under this act since January, and what were the outcomes of these cases, if there were any. The Committee member also asked for an explanation on why incidents motivated by discrimination against the Serb nationality minority had been prosecuted as minor offences. Moreover, what was being done to ensure that police and local authorities reacted promptly and appropriately to ethnically motivated incidences? And did the State party still have laws giving priority to members of the Croatian forces during the Homeland war regarding employment opportunities?

On Croatia’s amnesty law, were any statistics available on the number of amnesties granted by the judiciary under this law?

As for gender equality, an Expert commended Croatia for having a great number of women in very high-level positions in public administration. However, the Committee was also looking for results of the special measures and action plans that had been put in place. Further, could the delegation comment on reports by non-governmental organizations regarding the rising unemployment among women? And how far had the Government gone in challenging traditional stereotypes conflicting with gender equality?

With regard to gender-based violence and domestic violence, Croatian non-governmental organizations had reported that the Croatian legal system did not protect women from violence despite the existing legal provisions; women’s complaints were for example often trivialized by police. There therefore did not seem to exist enough gender sensitivity training for such staff.

On war crimes, Experts asked whether there was an illustration procedure as a matter of self-governance, and if not, why not? And should there not be a suspension of statutes for the limitation regarding war crimes, the member of the Committee asked. Why were there no statistics on the number of cases considered before the tribunal of war crimes? Furthermore, what kind of victim protection programme had Croatia established and what were the proactive measures it had taken in this regard? Why had there been acquittals and quite light sentences for some specific closed cases of war crimes. What measures must be taken to persuade former Serbs to go back to their fields and houses.

Also on war crimes, the same crimes should carry the same sentences, regardless of the ethnic background of the perpetrator. A Committee member was not convinced that this was the case. Further, was there a comprehensive study by an independent body which analyzed all convictions to see whether there had been a bias in favour of the so-called defenders in the Homeland war? If such a document did not exist at present, the expert would encourage the Croatian Government to commission such a study.

Another Committee member said that Croatia was a party to almost all of the human rights treaties. However, it also needed to ratify the Convention on the Protection of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Moreover, there must be a revision of the criminal code to enshrine measures to fight intolerance. There was a great backlog in courts; this had been posing problems in the judiciary and, to some extent, was due to a lack of training, especially training on racism and intolerance. Special training schools for judges also needed to be set up to deal specifically with war criminal know-how.

As for jailed children in child homes, a Committee member urged for this practice to be utterly abolished in Croatia.

Answers by the Delegation

The Croatian delegation said, with regard to issues of housing and the return of refugees, that refugees were in fact returning to Croatia. Further, there was no need for special federal police units because the rule of law was supreme in Croatia. The cases which had been mentioned were merely individual cases. As for one specific case of housing which was of concern to the Committee, the delegation said that the victim in question had been provided with housing in Zagreb. Croatia had found a good remedy for this case. The efforts undertaken by the Government in the area of housing were also acknowledged by many international organizations. Regarding refugees, to facilitate the return of not yet returned refugees, Croatia had put in place the relevant law and rules. To accelerate their accommodation, the Government had also established the action plan for the accelerated housing provision. 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.

Concluding Remarks

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.

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