Croatia continues to have problems with discrimination against ethnic minorities and with freedom of the media, while heightened nationalist rhetoric and hate speech during election time contributed to growing ethnic intolerance and insecurity in the country, global human rights watchdog Amnesty International said in its annual report on the state of human rights in the world in 2016/2017.
AI recalled that the new, centre-right government of Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic was formed in January 2017 after the government led by Tihomir Oreskovic collapsed in June 2016.
“The period of political instability around the turn of the year was accompanied by a surge in nationalist rhetoric and hate speech targeting specific groups, in particular ethnic Serbs, refugees and migrants. Civil society groups recorded increased instances of the media and public officials ‘evoking fascist ideology’ from the past by promoting the use of inflammatory iconography and generally fuelling an anti-minority sentiment,” the report said.
“Although instances of incitement to discrimination and even violence against minorities were rarely investigated, courts regularly prosecuted cases of defamation and insult to the honour and reputation of persons. These offences were classified as serious criminal offences under the Criminal Code. Journalists remained vulnerable to prosecution in these cases,” it added.
“Persistent threats to freedom of the media and attacks against journalists continued. In March, the government abruptly ended the contracts of nearly 70 editors and journalists at the public broadcaster Croatian Radio Television, in what was perceived as an attempt to influence its editorial policy. Simultaneously, the authorities decided to abolish state subsidies for smaller non-profit media and independent cultural initiatives, further threatening media pluralism. Croatia was downgraded from place 54 to 63 in the World Press Freedom Index.”
AI noted that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) had raised concerns about “the pace and effectiveness of prosecutions by the national courts of crimes committed during the 1992-1995 war.”
“The law regulating the status of civilian victims of war passed in 2015 helped ease access to reparations and made it easier for survivors to access crucial services, but challenges remained in providing all victims, especially ethnic minorities, with equal and effective access to justice. For the second consecutive year, no progress was made in establishing the fate and whereabouts of 1,600 persons disappeared during the war,” the organisation said.
AI warned that discrimination against ethnic minorities and Roma remained widespread. “The legislative framework for the prevention of discrimination provided adequate protection in law, but was severely under-utilized.”
“UNHCR recorded that about 133,000, over half, of the ethnic Serbs who fled the country during the war had returned by the end of 2016, but it expressed concern about persisting obstacles for Serbs to regain their property. The number of ethnic minorities employed in public services was below the national targets. Serbs faced significant barriers to employment in both the public and private labour market. The right to use minority languages and script continued to be politicized and unimplemented in some towns,” the report says.
“Despite the authorities’ efforts to improve the integration of Roma, Roma continued to face significant barriers to effective access to education, health, housing and employment. UNHCR registered 2,800 Roma without permanent or temporary residence who were at risk of statelessness. Roma experienced difficulties obtaining identity documents which limited their access to public services.”
AI is satisfied with the acceptance of refugees and migrants by Croatia, saying that UNHCR and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights stated that conditions in reception centres were adequate. It, however, warned that Croatia was yet to implement a comprehensive policy to ensure effective long-term social integration of refugees and migrants.
Croatia remains a transit country for refugees and migrants heading to Western Europe, and only a limited number of people have claimed asylum and remained in Croatia for an extended period of time. Last year, Croatia received 50 refugees, including 30 Syrians from Turkey, as a part of the EU resettlement scheme, and 10 asylum-seekers each from Greece and Italy under the relocation scheme. Croatia has committed to accept a total of 1,600 refugees and asylum-seekers under the EU resettlement and relocation schemes until the end of 2017, according to the report.
AI noted that human rights organisations had warned of shortcomings in asylum and immigration legislation, and criticised a Draft Aliens Law adopted by the government in May. The Bill included provisions criminalising social and humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants and retained measures requiring migrants subject to deportation to pay the cost of their accommodation and removal from the country./IBNA