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Croatia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities; however, a significant number of cases of missing persons from the 1991-95 conflict remained unresolved. The government reported that as of October 18, more than 1,500 persons remained missing, and the government was searching for the remains of 414 individuals known to be deceased, for a total of 1,922 unsolved missing persons cases. The Ministry of Veterans Affairs reported that in the period from January 1 to October 19, the remains of 14 individuals were exhumed (a 20 percent decrease from the previous year), and final identifications were made for 29 individuals (a 27 percent increase over the previous year). Progress remained slow due to jurisdictional, political, and technical challenges. Government officials met with Serbian counterparts in May to discuss cooperation on resolution of missing persons cases.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports of isolated and sporadic cases of physical and verbal mistreatment of prisoners and detainees.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were some reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: Several prisons remained overcrowded, such as Osijek Prison (159 percent). According to the February report of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), there were still instances of living space below the minimum of 10-square-feet per inmate. Prisoner complaints generally concerned inadequate facilities, quality and accessibility of medical care, and mistreatment.

There were reports of isolated and sporadic cases of physical and verbal mistreatment of prisoners and detainees by correctional officers. Some prisoners and detainees alleged mistreatment consisting mainly of slaps, punches, and kicks inflicted at the time of arrest, during questioning at a police station, and later in prison. According to the CPT, in a few cases, medical evidence supported the allegations. The CPT report on its 2017 visit also included allegations of physical mistreatment and verbal abuse of patients at prison hospitals by custodial staff.

According to the CPT report, inter-prisoner violence was also a source of concern. The report noted several cases involving serious physical injuries inflicted on inmates by their cellmates, including a case of subdural hematoma (internal bleeding around the brain) and broken ribs.

Administration: The Ombudsperson for Human Rights investigated credible allegations of mistreatment, and issued recommendations to improve conditions for detained persons, reduce the use of coercion, and improve investigation of police brutality cases. The Office of the Ombudsperson conducted 26 visits between January and June but reported no significant major system improvements.

Independent Monitoring: The law provides for appointment of independent civil supervisors of police. No members of a supervisory group have been appointed, however, which government officials attributed to a lack of interested candidates. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) reported progress cooperating with civil society organizations on the implementation of the individual punishment and education programs aimed at reducing recidivism.

The constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, have primary responsibility for domestic security. In times of disorder, the prime minister and the president may call upon the armed forces to provide security. The intelligence services are under the authority of the prime minister and the president. Civilian authorities maintained effective oversight over police, the armed forces, and the intelligence services. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Other than those arrested during the commission of a crime, persons were apprehended with warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence. Prosecutors may hold suspects for up to 48 hours detention. Upon request of prosecutors, an investigative judge may extend investigative detention for an additional 36 hours. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them. The law requires a detainee be brought promptly before a judicial officer, and this right was generally respected. The law limits release on bail to only those cases in which the sole concern of the state is flight risk. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or, if indigent, to one provided by the state.

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Cases of intimidation of state prosecutors, judges, and defense lawyers were isolated. The overall judicial backlog decreased 37 percent from 2013-17. As of September 30, the judiciary as a whole had a backlog of 426,763 cases (down from 474,345 in 2017), with the highest percentage of unsolved cases pending before municipal courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence. They must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants have a right to a fair, public, and timely trial and to be present at their trial. They have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to have one provided at state expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Any defendant who cannot understand or speak Croatian has free access to an interpreter, from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and prosecutors may file an appeal before a verdict becomes final, and defendants may file an appeal through the domestic courts to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may seek damages for, or cessation of, an alleged human rights violation. Individuals may appeal to the ECHR after all domestic legal remedies have been exhausted or after a case has been pending for an excessive period in domestic courts. Administrative remedies were also available. The backlog in domestic courts raised concerns regarding judicial effectiveness, efficiency, and the rule of law. NGOs reported that violation of the right to trial within reasonable time remained one of the fundamental problems of the judiciary. In some civil cases, especially with regard to property, proceedings lasted for more than a decade.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government has laws in place to support its responsibilities as a signatory to the Terezin Declaration. The government, however, continued to lack a legislative framework to resolve property restitution issues. Croatia has never accepted restitution claims for property seized during the Holocaust period (1941-45) and has inconsistently permitted noncitizens to file claims.

According to the 1996 Law on Compensation for the Property Taken during the Former Yugoslav Communist Regime, restitution of property seized during the Communist era was limited to individuals who were citizens of the country in 1996, when parliament passed the restitution law, and claims could only be filed within a specified window, which closed in January 2003. Consequently, the law did not apply to persons, including Holocaust survivors, whose property was expropriated but who left the country and obtained citizenship elsewhere. A 2002 amendment to the law allowed foreign citizens to file claims if their country of citizenship had a bilateral restitution treaty with Croatia. In 2010, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot require such a treaty as a necessary condition for restitution. In 2011 the Ministry of Justice attempted unsuccessfully to amend the legislation to reflect this finding and reopen claims. At the time the government estimated the amendment might benefit between 4,211 and 5,474 claimants. The government has taken no subsequent steps to amend the law. NGOs and advocacy groups reported the government did not make significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens.

Restitution of communal property remained a problem for the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Coordination of Jewish Communities in Croatia. There have been no restitutions of Jewish communal property since 2014, although several requests remained pending.

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. NGOs reported, however, that the government did not adequately investigate or prosecute cases in which journalists or bloggers received threats.

Freedom of Expression: The law sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred, or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” The law provides for six months to five years imprisonment for conviction of such “hate speech.” Conviction for internet hate speech is punishable by six months to three years imprisonment. Although the law and recent Constitutional Court decisions technically impose restrictions on symbolic speech considered “hate speech,” including the use of Nazi- and Ustasha (the World War II regime)-era symbols and slogans, NGOs and advocacy groups complained that enforcement of those provisions remained inadequate.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media. Many private newspapers and magazines were published without government interference. Observers said, however, that information regarding actual ownership of some local radio and television channels was not always publicly available, raising concerns about bias, censorship, and the vulnerability of audiences in the country to malign influence.

On February 22, the Sisak city council prohibited Croatian Radio Television (HRT) journalist Igor Ahmetovic from entering an open city council session for reporting purposes. The Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) publicly demanded Sisak overturn that prohibition, stating the prohibition was a violation of the constitutional right to free reporting and access to information. A lawsuit filed by Ahmetovic against the city remained ongoing at year’s end.

Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported that physical attacks and threats, especially online threats, against journalists had an increasingly chilling effect on media freedom and that the government was insufficiently addressing this problem.

For example, in July the Zadar district attorney indicted soccer player Jakov Surac on charges he committed battery and made death threats against journalist Hrvoje Bajlo. The indictment stated Surac committed the crime specifically because of Bajlo’s work as a journalist. The case was ongoing.

Additionally, in August the Split district attorney declined to press criminal charges against war veteran Stipe Perkovic Tabak for online statements that Index.hr journalists should be killed. The CJA condemned this decision, stating the court allowed Perkovic Tabak’s veteran status to give him immunity.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported practicing self-censorship for fear of receiving online harassment, upsetting politically connected individuals, or losing their jobs for covering certain topics.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 67 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government in most cases cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. In August, however, UNHCR criticized the government for violent pushbacks of illegal migrants; the government stated that approximately 2,500 refugees and migrants were turned back at the border during the first eight months of the year.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International and domestic NGOs reported police violence against asylum seekers and migrants, particularly on the country’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

UNHCR and several NGOs published reports alleging border police subjected migrants to degrading treatment, including verbal epithets and vulgarities, destruction of property, and beatings, including of vulnerable persons such as asylum seekers, minor children, persons with disabilities, and pregnant women. NGOs reported several migrants alleged border guards beat them while they were holding their infants or toddlers. One female migrant told NGOs male border police officers subjected her to a strip search in the forest in the presence of adult male migrants.

NGOs reported cases in which authorities kept families of asylum seekers detained in correctional facilities rather than in asylum reception centers. They stated police confined the families in cells for long periods, and children did not have access to outdoor exercise, education, books, or age-appropriate toys. In April the ECHR ordered the government to release one family from detention and allow them freedom of movement. In September the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights called on the government to launch prompt and independent investigations regarding allegations of police violence and theft against refugees and migrants and of collective expulsion.

Domestic NGOs working on migrants’ rights reported police pressure, such as extensive surveillance and questioning of employees’ close associates and family members. Similarly, the ombudsperson’s 2017 report described pressure imposed on her office by some high-ranking officials from the Ministry of the Interior who said she should not have discussed nor debated cases in public. In October the ombudsperson said the Ministry of the Interior had repeatedly denied her access to information on police treatment of migrants. The Ministry of the Interior stated it adequately responded to the ombudperson’s requests.

The Ministry of the Interior publicly denied all allegations of violence or inhuman treatment of migrants and all allegations of pressuring humanitarian workers. In response to a query from the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, Minister of the Interior Davor Bozinovic wrote that the Ministry of the Interior investigated all complaints received but had not found enough concrete data to warrant a criminal investigation.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum and refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to asylum seekers. NGOs reported authorities at the border between Serbia and BiH prevented some migrants from applying for international protection, although officials denied these reports.

In June, claiming insufficient evidence, state prosecutors declined to prosecute a criminal case against police in the November 2017 death of a six-year-old Afghan girl killed by a train on the border with Serbia. The ombudsperson publicly called for an independent investigation into the actions of border police.

The Ministry of the Interior, in cooperation with several NGOs, provided applicants for international protection with housing and board, legal counseling, and psychological and humanitarian support. NGOs reported good cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior in the two asylum reception centers, Porin and Kutina, and asserted quality of services was generally good, giving education and medical services as positive examples. NGOS identified a need for increased psychiatric support, including for post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, and drug/alcohol dependence.

In August the Ministry of the Interior adopted a comprehensive Protocol to provide assistance to unaccompanied minors.

In November 2017 the government began refurbishment of the Zagreb Reception Center for Asylum Seekers at Porin, which remained operational, transferring some residents temporarily to Kutina Center.

Durable Solutions: The government committed to receive 1,583 refugees and asylum seekers (1,433 under an EU relocation plan and 150 under an EU resettlement plan). As of August the country had received 81 refugees from Greece and Italy and resettled 105 Syrian refugees from Turkey.

The government continued to participate in a five-year joint regional housing program (RHP) with the governments of BiH, Montenegro, and Serbia. The RHP aimed to contribute to the resolution of the protracted displacement situation of the most vulnerable refugees and displaced persons following the 1991-95 conflict. As of August, the RHP had provided housing to 229 families incorporating 510 individuals in the country.

Temporary Protection: The Ministry of the Interior reported that from January to August, the government granted subsidiary protection to 20 persons who did not qualify as refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR estimated there were approximately 290 persons stateless or at risk of statelessness in the country. Many of these persons were Roma who lacked citizenship documents. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for granting stateless individuals residency and eventual citizenship. Leaders from the Romani community reported stateless individuals faced significant barriers to employment, education, property ownership, and access to medical services.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 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, and the ombudsperson’s 2017 report described pressure imposed on her office by senior Ministry of the Interior officials (see section 2.d.). Ministry of the Interior officials have denied pressure on NGOs. 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 this limits the ability to do their jobs thoroughly and independently and imposes political influence over their work.

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

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