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By Nenad N. Bach | Published  10/20/2003 | Politics | Unrated




by Brian Gallagher

The Croatian Herald, Australia No. 985 - 26th
September 2003

The New York based human rights group Human Rights
Watch (HRW) has released a report recently entitled
"Broken Promises: Impediments to Refugee return to
Croatia". This report criticises the Croatian
government over its record over Serb refugee return.
The report is seriously flawed. It portrays an image
of Croat antipathy towards Serbs being based on purely
ethnic grounds, as opposed to the more rational
grounds of mass murder of thousands of Croats by the
Serbs during the war. Furthermore, it uses a former
Serb occupation official in Croatia and Greater Serbia
enthusiast - the notorious Savo Strbac - as a
"credible" source.

The HRW report plays down the crimes of the Serbs and
in particular the 'Republika Srpska Krajina' ('RSK'),
the Serb occupation structure in Croatia. Moral
equivalency between aggressor and victim runs
throughout the report. It implies that discrimination
against Serbs is due simply to their ethnicity -
something that no-one can justify. HRW emphasises this
by referring to a poll which states that over 80% of
Croats have no objection to marrying Italians and
Hungarians, but only 54% to Serbs. However, if there
is antipathy towards the Serbs, it is due to their
criminal behaviour during the war, not merely their

The Serbs invaded, occupied and ethnically cleansed
one third of Croatia. This involved the mass slaughter
of up to 20, 000 Croats, ethnic cleansing of hundreds
of thousands, the destruction of Vukovar and many
villages, bombardment of Dubrovnik, Zadar, Osijek and
other cities. Many Croatian Serbs participated in all
this. Those are the reasons why Croats have no great
love for the Serbs. This is not to justify
discrimination. But it does mitigate and provides a
more rational reason for dislike of Serbs than simple
bigotry. Indeed, that marriage poll shows over 50% of
Croats not objecting to marrying Serbs. Given the
circumstances, that demonstrates Croat tolerance, not

The report even fails to mention that the Serbs fled
Croatia under the orders of the 'RSK' leadership -
which they have admitted - in a well prepared process
in order to settle in areas of Kosovo and
Bosnia-Herzegovina that had been cleansed of
non-Serbs. Such an omission conveniently gives the
wrong impression that Croats ethnically cleansed them.

Serbian crimes are played down to prevent the Croats
being portrayed as victims; in light of the full
circumstances few would agree to the pressure HRW
demands the international community put on Croatia.
HRW's shameful omission of such information distorts
the entire report, and one can only conclude it was
politically motivated to help the international
community have a stick to beat Croatia with.

HRW are clearly unsympathetic to Croat suffering. They
insensitively demand the Croatian government "build a
public atmosphere in which the populace would welcome
return of Croatian Serbs". What they mean is that
Croats should simply forget about the horrors of
Vukovar etc. Many in the international community will
be delighted with HRW's crass comment - after all,
many of them backed the Serbs during the war.

Shockingly, the report also uses information from Savo
Strbac and his Veritas organisation, of whom I have
written before. In a footnote, we are informed that
the information Strbac provides appears 'credible'. We
are told however, that the Croatian press considers
Strbac to be biased. Strangely, HRW fails to inform us
why. I am delighted to reveal what HRW don't want its
readers to know.

Mr Strbac is a Greater Serbia enthusiast. He was an
occupation official in the the 'RSK'. The 'RSK' was
part of the "joint criminal enterprise" - as defined
in the Hague Milosevic Croatian indictment - to
cleanse "Croat and other non-Serb population from
approximately one third of the territory of the
Republic of Croatia".

Strbac made his views well known during the occupation
of Croatia. As 'government secretary' of the 'RSK' he
told Agence France Presse in 1995 that "Our final goal
is union with other Serbs (in Bosnia and the Republic
of Serbia)". Strbac's views have not changed;
reportedly he still wants to restore the criminal
enterprise of 'RSK' - presumably cleansed of its Croat
population. Don't take my word for it. Have a look at
the Veritas website at The first
thing you see is Greater Serbia imagery.

It gets worse. It emerged during the Milosevic trial -
29 October 2002 - that Strbac was the head of a Serb
bodies commission that exchanged bodies with a Bosnian
counterpart. Horrifyingly, this involved one exchange
which included six people murdered specifically for
this purpose. This incident is also related in the
May/June 2003 edition of the respected US journal
Foreign Affairs in an article by Gary J Bass. HRW
should be aware of it - they are quoted in the piece.

It is disturbing to note also, that Strbac is a top
adviser to the Hague Prosecutor - thus compromising
all their investigations into Croat crimes in Croatia.

It beggars belief that such a man could be considered
a reliable source. Surely Strbac is not the kind of
individual any human rights group should take

Mr John Kraljic, President of the National Federation
of Croatian Americans, wrote to HRW regarding Mr
Strbac's role in the report. HRW remarked on Mr
Kraljic's comments in an email to a concerned member
of the public. Incredibly, they state that even if
everything Mr Kraljic wrote was true it does not
matter because Strbac's information was "accurate" -
apparently because it coincides with OSCE figures and
anyway he is only mentioned in 8 footnotes out of 333.

It does not seem to occur to HRW that the use of
Strbac casts a shadow over the entire report. One
wonders about the other sources they use. Furthermore,
Strbac's views and background are well known in
Croatia. What does that say about the biases of those
compiling the report?

Another source they use is the 'satirical' magazine
Feral Tribune. This magazine insults people they
dislike as 'Shit of the Week'. They also have
'Championshit' and 'Shit of the year'. This is a
credible source? And isn't that sort of language like
the 'hate speech' human rights groups are supposed to

So what do we have in all? A report that implies some
Croats antipathy towards Serbs is based purely on
ethnicity rather than Serbian war crimes, and whose
sources include a Greater Serbia enthusiast and a
magazine which labels people 'Shit of the Week'. Not
very good, is it?

Lets be clear: Serbs should be treated lawfully and
properly, just like anyone else. But this report is a
disgrace. Croat associations around the world - and
all those concerned with human rights - should protest
this report to their elected representatives, NGO's
and the media. HRW are demanding others be held to

Let us hold them to account. And whilst we do, lets a
spare a thought for those people allegedly murdered to
make up that bodies exchange. Who is seeking justice
for them? Not Human Rights Watch, that's for sure.

© Brian Gallagher

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