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 »  Home  »  Media Watch  »  (E) HUMAN RIGHTS DEVELOPMENTS in Croatia
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  01/29/2002 | Media Watch | Unrated
They need some serious letters about serious subjects. For example Croatians 
in Vojvodina and Boka and Bosnia Herzegovina 
President Stipe Mesic's government often failed to confront entrenched ethnic 
Croat nationalists obstructing reform, particularly on issues of impunity for 
war-time abuses and the return of Serb refugees. The Parliament approved 
constitutional changes reducing presidential authority and abolishing the 
upper house of Parliament in November 2000 and March 2001 respectively. In 
local elections held throughout the country on May 20 nationalist parties 
made significant gains in some areas. Police intervention was required in 
some areas, such as Vojnic, where ethnic Croat nationalist demonstrators 
tried to keep elected Croatian Serbs from assuming office. 
Croatia's first census since 1991 took place on March 31, 2001. Some Croatian 
Serb organizations protested that the government did not do enough to include 
Croatian Serb refugees in the Fedral Republic of Yugoslavia and Bosnia and 
Herzegovina in the count. Serbian Democratic Forum (Srpski Demokratski Forum, 
SDF), a Croatian NGO, distributed over 50,000 census forms abroad. 
Comprehensive statistics were not available at this writing, but preliminary 
results indicated that Croatian Serbs made up approximately 5 percent of the 
population of 4.38 million in 2001, compared to approximately 12 percent in 
Optimism over the extent of Croatia's cooperation with the International 
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) cooled when the ICTY's 
chief prosecutor reported to the U.N. Security Council in November 2000 that 
the government's cooperation was unsatisfactory, particularly in providing 
access to documents requested by the tribunal. 
Demands by opposition parties to cease cooperation with the ICTY resurfaced 
in June, after the ICTY issued indictments against Croatian generals Rahim 
Ademi and Ante Gotovina. Opposition rhetoric cooled after the government, 
standing by its commitment to cooperate with the ICTY, survived a vote of 
confidence in July. General Ademi, indicted for killing at least thirty-eight 
people and other abuses committed by troops under his command in the Medak 
pocket near Gospic in 1993, surrendered voluntarily to the ICTY in July. At 
the time of writing, General Gotovina, indicted for killings, house 
destruction, and other abuses against Croatian Serbs in 1995 remained at 
large. The ICTY also publicly charged Yugoslav and Serb personnel for abuses 
committed in Croatia in 1991. In October, the ICTY published a previously 
sealed indictment against four members of the Yugoslav People's Army and Navy 
for crimes committed during attacks on the Dubrovnik region. Two of them, 
Pavle Strugar and Miodrag Jokic, surrendered to the tribunal in November. 
Also in October, the ICTY amended its indictment of former Serbian president 
Slobodan Milosevic to include charges of war crimes and crimes against 
humanity for the killings, torture, imprisonment, deportation, and other 
crimes amounting to persecution of the Croat and other non-Serb population of 
Croatia in 1991. 
Progress was also made on domestic accountability efforts. In February, 
Croatian authorities expanded their investigation into the killing of 
approximately forty Croatian Serb civilians in the Gospic area in 1991, 
naming as a suspect former Croatian Army general Mirko Norac, who reportedly 
ordered the formation of a firing squad. Protesters took to the streets to 
oppose General Norac's or ICTY involvement in his trial. The ICTY prosecutor 
had not indicted General Norac, however, and she decided not to request that 
the Croatian court cede jurisdiction to the international tribunal. In June, 
Croatian authorities arrested Fikret Abdic, the leader of the wartime 
breakaway Bihac pocket of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and charged him with war 
crimes. Bosnian authorities had long sought his arrest, but his Croatian 
citizenship prevented his extradition under Croatian law. In August, Croatian 
authorities in Bjelovar detained four men, accusing them of killing Croatian 
Serb civilians and prisoners of war in 1991. In September, six former 
military police were arrested on charges of torturing and killing non-Croat 
detainees in the Lora military prison in Split in 1991. 
Croatian authorities also pursued war-crimes charges against Croatian Serbs. 
The OSCE noted a substantial increase in such cases, many of which involved 
defendants arrested pursuant to longstanding dormant indictments. Although 
some suspects were refugees arrested when attempting to return to Croatia, 
others had been present in Croatia for years. In many cases charges were 
subsequently dropped, raising suspicions that the arrests were politically 
founded and arbitrary. When three men from Glina were arrested in March on 
the basis of a 1993 war-crimes indictment, the alleged witnesses, who had 
been tortured at a detention center, were unable to identify any of the three 
as having been present at the scene of the crimes. At least two of the 
suspects had been living in Croatia for over a year and one had regularized 
his status as a returnee with the authorities. Although these men were 
acquitted, fear of such arrests deterred many Croatian Serb men from 
returning to Croatia. 
Obstacles to the return of Croatian Serb refugees remained a significant 
human rights concern. Although by August 2001 over 100,000 Croatian Serbs had 
returned according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, most were 
elderly. According to international organizations, significant numbers of 
these returnees may have again departed for the Federal Republic of 
Yugoslavia or Bosnia-Herzegovina after only a short stay in Croatia. 
Human rights violations contributed to the reluctance of refugees to return 
and to their renewed flight. While violent attacks on Croatian Serbs 
continued to decrease in frequency, isolated serious incidents contributed to 
apprehension about return. Croatian authorities frequently condemned 
ethnically motivated attacks and opened investigations, but arrests or 
judicial proceedings did not always follow. 
A complicated web of discriminatory and confusing legislation meant that few 
Croatian Serbs were able to repossess their pre-war homes or obtain governme 
nt reconstruction assistance. Although the Croatian authorities acknowledged 
the difficulties and modified some legislation, in many cases these changes 
simply exacerbated confusion over implementation. For example, the 
reconstruction law had excluded housing destroyed by "terrorist acts" from 
reconstruction (a category the authorities often used to describe the tens of 
thousands of Croatian Serb properties burned and looted following Croatian 
military operations in 1995). Although this provision of the law was 
repealed, some county offices refused to consider such applications, claiming 
that the amended reconstruction legislation contradicted other laws. With few 
exceptions, courts also failed to rule favorably in repossession cases where 
the prewar housing had been socially owned and occupancy rights revoked 
because the residents were absent as refugees or internally displaced 
persons. There were no mechanisms for compensating people deprived of such 
property rights. 
Even when their property rights were recognized, Croatian Serbs also faced 
discriminatory practices when attempting to physically repossess their 
property. For example, in most jurisdictions, officials failed to implement 
court decisions, particularly with regard to evictions of ethnic Croats from 
Croatian Serb property. Although the authorities acknowledged this common 
problem, they failed to condemn even the most flagrant cases, nor did they 
take action against officials who refused to implement the law. 
Croatia's vibrant civil society continued to make an active contribution to 
public life despite legislation restricting associations. In a serious but 
isolated incident, lawyer Srdj Jaksic of Dubrovnik, who was known for taking 
on human rights cases, was shot and injured shortly after his Montenegrin 
client accused of war crimes was acquitted in December 2000. At the time of 
writing, there had been no substantial progress in the investigation. 
United Nations 
The U.N. Commission on Human Rights decided in April 2001 to exclude Croatia 
from the mandate of its special representative on the former Yugoslavia. The 
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights maintained a field presence 
in Croatia, however, focusing primarily on technical assistance to the 
authorities. In March, the Human Rights Committee considered Croatia's 
initial report on implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and 
Political Rights. While commending Croatia on constitutional reforms, the 
committee criticized the continued impunity for killings and torture 
committed during the armed conflict. The U.N. observer mission in Prevlaka 
was extended until January 2002. In May, Croatia ratified the Statute of the 
International Criminal Court. 
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) 
In June, the OSCE Mission to Croatia reported to the Permanent Council on 
Croatia's progress in meeting its international commitments, highlighting the 
continuing obstacles to the sustainable return of Croatian Serb refugees. The 
mission's mandate was extended until December 2001, although staff numbers 
were reduced in June. 
Council of Europe 
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance published its second 
report on Croatia in July. It found that despite the good will of national 
authorities, discrimination endured, particularly against Croatian Serbs in 
war-affected areas, but also against Roma. 
European Union 
Croatia further advanced its ties to the European Union, in May initialing a 
Stabilisation and Association Agreement, establishing favorable economic and 
trade relations and cooperation in justice and internal affairs. The European 
Union also continued to provide significant reconstruction and development 
aid to war-affected areas. 
United States 
Continuing its support for moderate and non-nationalist reforms, the United 
States funded reconstruction and demining efforts, as well as development and 
technical assistance. The U.S. Agency for International Development did not 
directly engage in housing reconstruction, but it did fund community 
infrastructure and other projects. 
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