Annual Report: Croatia 2013

Report
May 23, 2013

Annual Report: Croatia 2013

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REPUBLIC OF CROATIA

Head of state Ivo Josipović

Head of government Zoran Milanović

Despite some progress in prosecuting crimes under international law committed during the 1991-1995 war, the measures taken to address impunity remained inadequate. Many crimes allegedly committed by members of the Croatian Army and police forces against Croatian Serbs and other minorities remained uninvestigated. Discrimination against Roma, Croatian Serbs and LGBTI people continued.

Crimes under international law

The European Commission reported in October that further arrests, indictments and court rulings related to crimes under international law were being pursued in the implementation of Croatia’s 2011 Strategy for the Investigation and Prosecution of War Crimes. Additional cases were transferred to the four Special War Crimes Chambers in Osijek, Rijeka, Split and Zagreb.

However, the Commission reiterated that tackling impunity for past crimes remained a major challenge, and that the government needed to take measures to facilitate the attendance of witnesses at trials, especially in cases transferred to the Special War Crimes Chambers.

Impunity for war crimes was exacerbated by the use of the 1993 Basic Criminal Code in the prosecution of crimes committed during the 1991-1995 war, although it failed to meet international standards. It did not include crimes against humanity and most crimes of sexual violence, while superior and command responsibility for crimes under international law was also not recognized. Those gaps led to impunity.

Some progress was made in providing witness support, but witness protection measures continued to be inadequate. Those responsible for intimidation of witnesses were not brought to justice. Twelve years after it began, the investigation into the killing of the witness Milan Levar continued to make no progress.

The authorities failed to provide victims and their families access to reparation.

At the end of the year, 490 incidents giving rise to allegations of war crimes registered in Croatia since the end of the war had resulted in the opening of 1,090 criminal cases. Alleged perpetrators were identified in 316 incidents, resulting in 849 criminal cases. However, out of the total number of registered cases only 112 cases (10%) were completed before the domestic courts. In 174 war crime incidents, resulting in 241 criminal cases, the alleged perpetrators were still unidentified.

  • Tomislav Merčep, former Assistant Minister of the Interior and the commander of the Ministry’s special reserve unit, who was indicted in 2011 and had been under arrest since 2010, was released in July. He had been charged in relation to the killing and enforced disappearance of 43 Croatian Serb civilians in the area of Zagreb and Pakračka poljana.
  • Allegations against the Deputy Speaker of the Croatian Parliament, Vladimir Šeks, for his command responsibility for crimes committed in Eastern Slavonija in 1991, were not investigated, despite publicly available information about his alleged role. The evidence included several witness testimonies in criminal proceedings related to crimes committed in Eastern Slavonija, orders from the then President of the country as well as statements in court by Vladimir Šeks himself.
  • Former Croatian Army general, Davor Domazet-Lošo, continued to evade prosecution. He had been named in the May 2008 judgement in the case against Rahim Ademi and Mirko Norac as having an effective command responsibility for the crimes committed in 1993 in Medak Pocket. The judgement had acquitted Rahim Ademi of responsibility for the crimes committed in Medak Pocket because it was ruled that Davor Domazet-Lošo held effective command responsibility.

International justice

Several cases concerning Croatia were pending before the International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia (the Tribunal).

The trial of Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, continued.

Following his arrest in Serbia and transfer to the Tribunal in 2011, the trial of Goran Hadžić, President of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina, accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes, commenced in October.

The appeal procedure on the 2011 judgement on Momčilo Perišić started in October and had not concluded by the end of the year. The Tribunal had sentenced him to 27 years’ imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was convicted on the basis of individual criminal responsibility in BiH, and on the basis of superior criminal responsibility in Croatia, the latter in relation to the shelling of Zagreb.

In November, the Appeals Chamber of the Tribunal acquitted two generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač. The Appeals Chamber reversed their convictions for crimes against humanity and war crimes, for which they had received sentences of 24 and 18 years. The verdict resonated strongly in region, prompting a surge in nationalistic rhetoric in both Croatia and Serbia. While the two generals were welcomed back to Croatia by government officials, human rights defenders in the region reiterated the importance of holding perpetrators accountable for the crimes committed against Serb civilians between 1991 and 1995.

Discrimination

Roma continued to face discrimination in access to economic and social rights, including education, employment and housing. Measures undertaken by the authorities remained insufficient. The authorities failed to implement the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling to end segregation of Romani children in schools.

Croatian Serbs continued to face discrimination, mainly in relation to housing and employment.

Hate crimes

Legal protection against homophobic and transphobic hate crimes was improved; amendments to the Criminal Code adopted in 2012 included gender identity as a ground for prosecution of hate crimes. However, with no specific guidelines for police, physical attacks against LGBTI people were sometimes classified as minor offences, while alleged hate motives were often not investigated.

Amnesty International visits/reports

  • Amnesty International delegates visited Croatia in February, March and June.
  • The right to know: Families still left in the dark in the Balkans (EUR 05/001/2012)
  • Inadequate protection: Homophobic and transphobic hate crimes in Croatia (EUR 64/001/2012)
  • Protection of LGBT people must go beyond the Pride (EUR 64/004/2012)
  • Medak Pocket arrests: Senior officials must be investigated (PRE01/119/2012)