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
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The law was in most cases effectively enforced. A separate law provides misdemeanor sanctions for family violence. Sentences range from fines to jail, depending on the crime’s severity. Rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment. Conviction for domestic violence is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment; the law provides for misdemeanor punishments and further protects victims’ rights. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. Six family members, including a 10-year-old child, were shot and killed in Zagreb by a 30-year-old man who later killed himself. Local media reported the suspect’s former wife and her partner were among the victims. In another high-profile case, police charged five suspects with raping and blackmailing a 15-year-old girl in the Vrsi municipality near the city of Zadar. The investigation continued at year’s end.
Domestic violence NGO #spasime (“Save me”) held protests in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, and Split to show support for victims and demanded that the “system” adequately protect victims. Prime Minister Plenkovic attended the protest held in Zagreb, met with protest leaders afterward, and said he was ready to address the issue of domestic violence.
Police and prosecutors were generally responsive to allegations of domestic violence and rape. According to the 2018 report by the ombudsperson for gender equality, the number of misdemeanor cases of domestic violence decreased by 10.7 percent since 2017; however, the same period saw an increase in the percentage of criminal acts committed against close family members, indicating the severity of domestic violence offenses.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men with regard to family, employment, religion, inheritance, and voting. The law requires equal pay for equal work. In practice, women experienced discrimination in employment and occupation (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: Authorities registered all births at the time of birth within the country or abroad. Citizenship is derived by descent from at least one citizen parent or through birth in the country’s territory in exceptional cases.
Child Abuse: Amendments to the Penal Code which entered into force in January provided stricter penalties for the abuse of children. Penalties depend on the crime’s gravity and include long-term imprisonment if the consequence is death of a child. Child abuse, including violence and sexual abuse, remained a problem. On February 28, a 54-year-old man threw his four children, ages three, five, seven, and eight, off the balcony of their home, significantly injuring one. Following the attack, all the victims were released to their mother. The father was detained for 30 days and indicted with a charge of attempted murder. Both parents were previously convicted in 2017 of child neglect. The ombudsperson for children reported that police and prosecutors generally were responsive in investigating such cases.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18; children older than 16 may marry with a judge’s written consent (see Sec. 7.c.).
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children; the sale, offering, or procuring of a child for prostitution; and child pornography, and authorities enforced the law. Amendments to the Penal Code which entered into force in January provided stricter penalties for the sexual exploitation of children. The Office of the Ombudsperson for Children stated that crimes and violence committed against children increased during the year, and claimed many crimes remained unreported. The Ministry of the Interior conducted investigative programs and worked with international partners to combat child pornography. The ministry operated a website known as Red Button for the public to report child pornography to police. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
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.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, including in access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, and the judicial system or other state services, but the government did not always enforce these provisions effectively. While the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, building owners and managers did not always comply, and there were no reported sanctions.
The 2018 Ombudsperson for Persons with Disabilities Report stated that the government inspected state care facilities for persons with disabilities and found cases of use of questionable forms of restraint, including separation and physical restraint, but no human rights violations were recorded. The ombudsperson, however, remarked that the findings proved that certain state facilities’ protocols for restricting the behavior of persons with disabilities violated the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Children with disabilities attended all levels of school with nondisabled peers, although NGOs stated the lack of laws mandating equal access for persons with disabilities limited educational access for those students.
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.
The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, nationality laws, housing, access to education, and health care based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Representatives from minority groups said these provisions were not consistently enforced. In response to civil society concerns, the government revised the 2016-20 National Plan for Combating Discrimination to address lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues.
LGBTI NGOs noted the continuation of the judiciary’s uneven performance in discrimination cases. They reported members of their community had limited access to the justice system, with many reluctant to report violations of their rights due to concerns about the inefficient judicial system and fear of further victimization during trial proceedings. NGOs reported that investigations into hate speech against LGBTI persons remained unsatisfactory. The Split Municipal State’s Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment on October 3 against a 34-year-old, who was charged with inciting violence and hatred against LGTBI persons on Facebook during a pride parade in Split in mid-June.
Organizations which opposed the ratification of the Istanbul Convention continued promoting anti-LGBTI sentiment in their rhetoric, declaring same-sex couples, same-sex parents, and transgender persons a threat to the country and to traditional society. In June during Split’s pride parade, graffiti appeared on an overpass stating, “only dead gay is OK.” Following the pride parade in Zagreb, the Zagreb Pride Association noted a decrease in violence and discrimination.
Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. The NGO Croatian Association for HIV (HUHIV) reported some physicians and dentists refused to treat HIV-positive patients. HUHIV reported violations of the confidentiality of persons diagnosed with HIV, with some facing discrimination, including in employment, after disclosure of their status. There were reports that transplant centers refused to place HIV-positive patients on their lists of potential organ recipients.
HUHIV reported that the government’s National Plan for Fighting HIV helped combat the stigmatization and discrimination of persons with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, HUHIV reported that an HIV diagnosis was no longer listed on government-supplied sick leave forms, protecting the privacy of HIV-positive individuals.