Croatia’s recently announced border monitoring mechanism, meant to provide for independent human rights monitoring of border operations, appears to fall short of the standards needed to ensure its effectiveness and success, eight human rights and humanitarian aid organizations said.
In the joint press release, published on Human Rights Watch official web page was emphasized that any border monitoring mechanism should be independent in law and practice and has sufficient resources and a robust mandate to monitor border-related operations anywhere on the territory of a state. It should be capable of ensuring that all documented human rights violations are promptly and thoroughly investigated and of effectively pursuing accountability for those responsible for violations and access to justice for anyone whose rights are violated.
“Recent media reports and official statements about the newly established border monitoring mechanism in Croatia, however, raise serious concerns, particularly with respect to the mandate, effectiveness, and independence of the body. The Croatian government announced that the negotiations on the mechanism have concluded, but has not publicly disclosed further details about its structure or functioning,” stressed the press release signed by Amnesty International, Are You Syrious, Centre for Peace Studies (CMS), Danish Refugee Council, Human Rights Watch, International Rescue Committee, Refugee Rights Europe and Save the Children.
Based on information received by the groups, the mechanism’s mandate would be limited to police stations around the border, border crossing points, and detention centres. As the vast majority of documented unlawful practices take place outside Croatia’s official border crossings, police facilities, or formal procedures, and deep inside of the country’s territory, any geographic or procedural limitations on border monitoring would create blind spots and enable violations to continue, the groups said.
“Recent guidance from the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture makes clear that effective human rights border monitoring requires unfettered access to border areas without notice, to the relevant documentation, and to alleged victims of violations. It also requires the authority to engage directly with prosecutors’ offices, and others with information relevant to its investigations, including international organizations, civil society, and the media,” reads the document.
Investigating violations of fundamental rights by police, border guards, or other government actors is politically sensitive. To ensure that the mechanism is credible and effective, it needs to involve independent institutions or organizations that have monitoring experience – such as civil society organizations, United Nations agencies, and national human rights institutions – that are not financially dependent on the government.
Any agreement on a national mechanism in Croatia that does not align with this standard and best practice would set a negative precedent for future border monitoring mechanisms and seriously undermine the commitment of the European Commission to put an end to violations on its external borders, groups said.
“Given the serious abuses at the Croatian border widely documented by human rights organizations and media, and the precedent the Croatian border monitoring mechanism could set for other European Union member states, it is critical that the European Commission ensures that it can truly serve as a model for respecting human rights at national borders. The commission should actively review and assess the mechanism to ensure that Croatian authorities put in place a system that can credibly monitor compliance with EU law in border operations and should provide political and financial support only to a system that meets the above standards,” group of NGOs said.
Furthermore, Croatian authorities should immediately release the relevant parts of the cooperation agreement containing the details about the structure and the functioning of the independent monitoring mechanism and allow the necessary public debate on this important process.
The commission should also press Croatia to end its violations of fundamental rights at its borders and provide solid evidence of thorough investigations of allegations of collective returns and violence against migrants and asylum seekers at its borders.