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Croatia

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups sometimes operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Domestic NGOs working on migrants’ rights issues, however, reported police pressure. Two NGOs claimed their contracts to provide refugee services in asylum seeker reception centers were terminated due to their public criticism of police for alleged violence against migrants (see section 2.f.). Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country has an ombudsperson for human rights who investigated complaints of human rights abuses, as well as three additional ombudspersons for gender equality, disabled persons, and children. The law stipulates that parliament cannot dismiss the ombudsperson for human rights because of dissatisfaction with his or her annual report. Parliament may dismiss the other three if it does not accept their annual reports. Ombudspersons admitted that this limited their ability to do their jobs thoroughly and independently and imposed political influence over their work.

The law authorizes ombudspersons to initiate shortened procedures in cases where there is sufficient evidence of the violation of constitutional and legal rights.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Anti-Semitism

The World Jewish Congress estimated the country’s Jewish community at 1,700. Some Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the use of symbols affiliated with the Ustasha and historical revisionism, and some students reported bullying in schools. The January Holocaust Revisionist Report, a study examining how individual EU states deal with the legacy of involvement in or complicity with the Holocaust, pointed to the contemporary use of the wartime Ustasha salute, Za Dom Spremni (“For the Homeland, Ready”), and to the government’s and the Croatian Catholic Church’s apparent unwillingness to address the roles of the state and the church in the Holocaust as issues. The report also noted that the country lacked a consensus about what happened at the concentration camp in Jasenovac. On January 24, the Catholic Church unveiled a large banner on the Zagreb Cathedral commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Cardinal Josip Bozanic, archbishop of Zagreb, “declared it unacceptable to permit the re-emergence of anti-Semitism.” Observers from minority religious groups noted that this was a conspicuous and positive gesture given complaints by minority groups that the Church minimized its complicated role in the country during the Holocaust.

The Jewish community also stated government officials did not sufficiently condemn, prevent, or suppress Holocaust revisionism. For example, the NGO Simon Wiesenthal Center urged authorities to ban a book denying crimes committed by the country’s pro-Nazi regime during the Holocaust, saying the book “denies that mass murders of Serbs, Jews, Roma, and Croatian antifascists were carried out frequently in the notorious Jasenovac concentration camp.” The book was not banned. The law imposes a maximum sentence of three years for creating or distributing printed material which incites violence or hatred against a group of persons based on religion and national or ethnic origin, or approves, denies or diminishes the crime of genocide.

On April 14, the government held its official annual commemoration for victims killed by the Ustasha regime at Jasenovac. The Jewish community, along with the Serb National Council (SNV) and the Alliance of Antifascist Fighters, boycotted the official commemoration for the fourth year in a row and held their own commemorations on April 12. Jewish Community leaders said the separate commemoration was necessary due to the government’s “tacit approval” of the use of the Ustasha salute and increased revisionism regarding the history of the country’s World War II fascist regime. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic visited the Jasenovac memorial site on her own on April 13.

On August 14, media reported that the High Misdemeanor Court fined a singer who used the Ustasha-affiliated salute “Za Dom Spremni” in the performance of a popular nationalist song. The court stated that the salute conveys hatred toward persons of different races, religions, and ethnicities, and fined the singer 965 kuna ($150). The ruling contributed to a body of legal decisions that characterize the use of “Za Dom Spremni” as hate speech.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Constitutional provisions against discrimination applied to all minorities. According to the ombudsperson for human rights, ethnic discrimination was the most prevalent form of discrimination, particularly against Serbs and Roma.

According to the SNV, the Serb national minority faced hate speech, graffiti, physical assaults (including an assault against Serbian seasonal workers) and significant discrimination in employment registration of Serb schools in Eastern Slavonia, and in the justice system, particularly with respect to missing persons and war crimes cases.

On August 21, masked assailants wielding clubs and a machete attacked patrons and damaged property at a cafe frequented by Serbs in Uzdolje, during the airing of a Serbian soccer match. Police reported 16 suspects to the state prosecutor in connection with the attack and charged them with violent behavior, destruction of a property, and causing bodily injuries. As of December, 11 of the suspects remained in investigative detention. The state prosecutors reported at year’s end the investigation was ongoing.

On February 9, a group of reported nationalists attacked Serbian water polo players in Split ahead of a match. Four suspects were arrested on February 11 and charged with several criminal acts, including hate crimes. The State prosecutors reported that at year’s end the cases were still ongoing.

On July 12, the president of Constitutional Court, Miroslav Separovic, announced a July 2 ruling by the court that the use of the Serbian language and Cyrillic script for official purposes in Vukovar city should be enhanced. According to the decision, ethnic Serb city councilors should have the same access to official documents in their own language and script as ethnic Croatian councilors.

The government allocated funds and created programs for development and integration of Romani communities, but discrimination and social exclusion of Roma remained a problem. According to a World Bank Group report from February, 93 percent of Roma lived below the national at-risk-of-poverty threshold in comparison to the overall rate of 19 percent, and only 30 percent of Romani women and men had completed primary education. Completion rates of schooling at upper secondary and higher-level educational institutions were 6 percent for Romani women and 24 percent for Romani men. The unemployment rate for Roma 16 years and older was 74 percent for men and 51 percent for women. The report further stated that Romani girls were disproportionately excluded from early childhood development opportunities in comparison with their male peers, and 78 percent of Romani girls left school early, in comparison with 60 percent of Romani boys.

In June approximately 1,000 individuals rallied in the northern town of Cakovec to protest the alleged dangerous and criminal behavior of the Roma in their community. Protesters claimed state institutions failed to “protect” them from the local Romani population. After the rally, Medjimurje County police affirmed their decision to allow the protest, which they said included no hate speech or incitement to racial, religious or ethnic intolerance. The Government Office for Human and National Minority Rights condemned the protest.

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